The Gunners already have a depleted squad after a month and a half of competition as two key players got injured in the 1-1 draw with Tottenham on Saturday. Ramsey pulled his hamstring while Arteta strained his calf. Wenger also said Wilshere had an ankle problem.
You can’t blame the manager for those injuries since Ramsey and Arteta did not play in the 2-1 loss to Southampton in the League Cup on Tuesday. But you can second-guess the fitness staff for the muscle injuries suffered by those two players, who did not even participate in the World Cup this summer. Why is it happening so early in the season?
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Ozil and Welbeck shone in the 3-0 victory over Aston Villa about a week ago. But it was a different story against a Tottenham side that denied space. Welbeck feels comfortable in counterattacking situations where his pace can make the difference. He flicked the ball past Vertonghen to bear down on goal in the 14th minute but had his effort blocked by Kaboul. Welbeck then met a cross from Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 21st and cut inside Naughton to fire a low strike that Lloris saved. Those two plays showed his old instincts as a winger.
At 23, Welbeck is still a young player and I believe he can improve his link-up play to become as efficient as Giroud in tight spaces. Welbeck was mostly deployed as a winger at Manchester United. Now he has to adjust to a new position that requires different skills. It will also take a few more weeks for Welbeck to get familiar with his teammates’ moves and preferences. Ramsey picked him out in the 26th. Back to goal, Welbeck set up Wilshere, who took a touch before sending the ball straight into Lloris’ arms. That looked like a basic play but Welbeck needed quick decision-making and technical accuracy to make it possible.
Watching Ozil can be frustrating. He has improved tactically since his departure from Werder Bremen in 2010 but I feel that he has regressed in his personality. No one will deny that he is a selfless player who improves his team’s passing game. Mertesacker connected with a free kick from Ozil in the 58th but Lloris saved the header from the German defender. The trouble with Ozil is that he doesn’t leave his fingerprints on the match. A playmaker is someone who makes things happen. Unfortunately, Ozil was unable to impose his philosophy of the game, letting the Spurs play at a slow tempo.
Guess who caught the match by the scruff of the neck and started pulling the strings in midfield? It was Wilshere. The England midfielder has never won the World Cup or any league title but he showed more leadership on the pitch than Ozil. After some defensive work from Welbeck led to a Tottenham turnover in the fifth minute, Wilshere fed Ramsey to his right but the Wales midfielder could only muster a tame effort. Wilshere then challenged the Tottenham defense with a mazy run in the 31st and should have been awarded a penalty when Rose kicked his ankle, but the referee failed to spot the foul.
In the second half, Wilshere created a chance with a first-time pass to Ozil, who was denied by Lloris. Wenger decided to let Wilshere’s ankle heal by replacing him with Sanchez in the 63rd. The Chile forward has enjoyed a good start to the season by scoring four goals in all competitions so far. However, he struggled to find his feet on the left wing. In the end, the equalizer came from Chambo, whose velocity and directness created problems for a compact Tottenham defense.
A cross from Chambo in the 23rd took a deflection, forcing Lloris to palm the ball away. Ramsey then dribbled past Mason in the 43rd to connect with Chambo, whose low curling shot from the edge of the box was parried by Lloris. Chambo also made an incisive run in the 63rd but his pass for Welbeck was intercepted by Kaboul. His efforts were finally rewarded in the 74th when Kaboul failed to clear an off-target attempt from Cazorla. Welbeck made poor contact with the loose ball, but Chambo at the far post fired into the top corner for the equalizer.
At 21, Chambo is still honing his skills but he could make a significant contribution by bettering his stats from last season, when he played 20 matches in all competitions and scored three goals. A realistic target for this season would be 30 games and between six and eight goals. When you can’t crack a defense with your passing game, the only options left are long-range strikes and running at defenders. And Chambo can do both.
The final third
I thought Arsenal dropped two points against a Tottenham side that lacked ambition and seemed happy to split the points. The Spurs’ game plan was to keep a compact shape and wait for counterattacking opportunities. Obviously, injuries to Arteta and Ramsey limited Wenger’s maneuvering room. If you make a substitution at halftime and a player gets injured early in the second half, that means you have to play with only 10 men for more than 30 minutes.
The Gunners enjoyed 69 percent of ball possession but they created very few clear-cut chances. Nowadays, what happens in the final third is more important than possession. At the World Cup, Spain dominated possession against the Netherlands and Chile but lost both matches because their opponents defended and attacked better in the final third.
Arsenal lacked sharpness in the final third against Tottenham as well as against Leicester. The team’s passing game worked well last season but relied heavily on Giroud and Ramsey. Now that these two players are sidelined, I guess the manager might have to opt for more directness and therefore tweak his tactical approach.
Vulnerable on counterattacks
The Spurs had many opportunities in the first half but couldn’t find the net. Tottenham wasted two counterattacks in the 11th and 15th respectively because of some poor decision-making. But each time, they easily skipped past Arteta. It’s no secret that the Gunners are vulnerable on the fast break and have weaknesses at centerback and in the holding midfielder position. Chadli outpaced Flamini in the 29th and slipped the ball to Mason as Mertesacker missed his interception. However, Mason’s cross-shot went straight into the arms of Szczesny. Chadli then took advantage of Koscielny’s poor positional play in the 44th to beat the offside trap but dragged his shot wide. A minute later, Koscielny was a split second late for a block, allowing Adebayor to unleash a half-volley that Szczesny turned around the post.
Tottenham also exposed Arsenal’s frailties on set pieces. Szczesny was not troubled by Adebayor’s tame header from a free kick in the 23rd. But it took a brilliant save from the Poland goalkeeper in the 41st to prevent an own goal from Mertesacker under Vertonghen’s pressure.
Ironically, the Spurs had only one scoring chance in the second half but they converted it. Flamini took a pass from Mertesacker in the 56th but let the ball roll away from him with a poor first touch. Eriksen won the ball and Lamela fed Chadli, who beat Szczesny with a low diagonal strike.
Flamini was obviously the main culprit, but I thought Gibbs and Koscielny could have done better on that play. Gibbs tracked back when Flamini lost possession but then he slowed down when the Frenchman challenged Eriksen. That hesitation prevented Gibbs from intercepting Lamela’s pass for Chadli. Koscielny was marking Chadli at the start of that play. When Lamela got the ball, Koscielny chose to protect the center and let Chadli run toward the right side of the area. I thought the better choice was to keep tracking Chadli and let Flamini deal with Lamela even if it meant giving the Argentine winger a clear sight of goal for a long-range shot.
Chambers was arguably the best of our four defenders on Saturday. He nearly scored with a long-range volley that sailed over the bar in the 73rd. Knowing the inability of Arteta and Flamini to stop counterattacks, it makes sense to hear that the manager thinks about using Chambers in midfield. His pace and energy would be an upgrade but his youth could also cost the team stupid fouls and cards.
A lost opportunity
We’re already at the end of September and I feel like the Gunners haven’t really kickstarted their season yet. If we don’t take into account the Community Shield, they still haven’t won two consecutive matches in all competitions this season.
There’s no shame in losing to Southampton in the third round of the League Cup. But it still hurts the club because that competition is a great opportunity to blood youngsters and give some playing time to benchwarmers. The League Cup helped Fabregas, Song, Denilson, Walcott and Diaby mature during the 2006-07 season. Now youngsters like Hayden and Akpom may need a loan to keep improving. More seasoned players like Podolski, Rosicky and Campbell did very little on Tuesday to earn a starting spot. They will have to step up otherwise the manager won’t be able to rotate as much as he’d like.