The Gunners have racked up 11 points from their first eight matches in the Premier League and are on course to finish the season with a total of 52 points. This is their worst start since 2011 when Arsenal had 10 points after an infamous trolley dash in the last days of the summer transfer window. To put things in context, the Gunners topped the league at the same stage last season with 19 points. Our current schedule is a bit tougher than a year ago, but we should also notice that the Blues still managed to get 22 points despite facing Manchester City, Arsenal and Everton.
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Watching the Gunners this season has been so frustrating because we know they can do much better than that. They have dropped too many points against average sides, winning only one of their last seven Premier League games after drawing 2-2 with Hull City on Saturday.
The obvious excuse is that Wenger has to deal with a depleted squad. We missed Giroud, Ozil, Walcott, Debuchy and Koscielny through injury on Saturday while Chambers was suspended. But in my eyes, we had enough quality on the pitch and the bench to beat the Tigers. The most worrisome part in this third month of competition is that Chelsea and Manchester City have already hit their stride while our Gunners are still trying to find their feet.
A soft heart
Arsenal enjoyed 67 percent of ball possession and had 10 corners to none for the Tigers. But the Gunners struggled to create clear-cut chances and were really poor in the final third. It’s definitely a matter of improving our final ball and decision-making inside the box. But maybe the manager also needs to tweak a bit his approach. In the next couple of weeks, Arsenal will play teams that will park the bus, waste time and make cynical fouls. We will therefore need more penetration, more movement and more accuracy in our passing game.
Five months ago, the Gunners needed an extra-time goal to beat Hull 3-2 in the FA Cup final. On Saturday, the Tigers used again a 3-5-2 system that turned into a 5-4-1 formation whenever Arsenal had the ball. The visitors had very little ambition but somehow exposed the soft heart of our defense by converting two chances out of three.
The first chance came from a set piece in the sixth minute. Dawson met a free kick from Huddlestone but headed the ball straight into Szczesny’s arms. The second resulted from some poor officiating in the 17th. Diame made a heavy touch and pulled Flamini back to keep hold of the ball before chipping Szczesny to equalize. Every spectator at the Emirates stadium saw the foul but neither the linesmen nor the referee could spot it. That was a blatant officiating mistake but that does not explain why Flamini failed to play to the whistle. The Frenchman could have cleared the ball but he preferred to stop running in the hope of getting a free kick.
Toothless for 74 minutes
The third chance showed the Gunners’ lack of focus in the 46th. Wilshere gave Huddlestone too much space for a cross and Hernandez beat Mertesacker to the ball to head home for a 2-1 lead. As a fan, it really hurts to see that the team was let down by our two most senior players on the pitch. Welbeck, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Bellerin are still young players and that’s not the kind of example you want to set for them.
Hull’s equalizer put the Gunners off as they failed to create any chance between the 13th and the 87th. It’s difficult for any side to win a match when it goes missing for 74 minutes. It’s also a telling example of the lack of leadership within the team. In such circumstances, it’s up to the most senior players to make sure we get over that injustice and keep performing well.
Wenger made three changes from the side that lost 2-0 to Chelsea. Bellerin made his first Premier League start by deputizing for the suspended Chambers while Monreal and Chambo replaced the injured Koscielny and Ozil. The bench looked a bit thin with the inexperienced Ajayi as our only defender by trade. Podolski was left out of the squad officially because of a stomach bug. However, you kind of wonder whether the German international was punished for saying he was “not happy” with his situation at the club.
Sanchez’s mazy runs
I thought the manager’s team selection was fine on paper with Sanchez and Chambo on the wings, providing penetration, and Cazorla and Wilshere in midfield, delivering the final ball. It was a different story on the pitch with some poor understanding and a lot of stray passes. The performances of Sanchez and Bellerin were the only positives from that match. At 19, Bellerin showed great composure, read the game well and achieved a fine balance between defensive duties and offensive contributions. However, the Spanish fullback will have to improve his aerial abilities because Dawson outjumped him for Hull’s first scoring chance.
Sanchez has lived up to his billing since the club signed him for 35 million pounds this summer. His work rate was again impressive although he must have been more tired than his teammates after playing in South America on Tuesday night. He charged down the right wing in the fifth minute to make a cross for Wilshere, who headed wide from 12 yards.
The Chile international opened the scoring with a mazy run in the 13th, dribbling past Davies to fire into the bottom corner from a tight angle. Sanchez played as a second striker after Campbell replaced Wilshere in the 69th and the team shifted from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 system. He met a cross from Monreal in the 87th but Jakupovic tipped his header over the bar. In the first minute of stoppage time, Sanchez slalomed past three Tigers to find Welbeck inside the area. The England forward took a touch before shooting past Jakupovic for the equalizer.
Fighting for consistency
Welbeck salvaged a point but didn’t really get good service throughout the match. His only other chance came in the sixth minute when he controlled a long ball and shot straight at Harper from a tight angle. Sanchez pounced on the rebound but was denied by the Hull goalkeeper, who was replaced by Jakupovic in the 42nd. Somehow, Arsenal could have won the game in the last minute of stoppage time. Gibbs connected with a ball over the top from Sanchez, but his sliding half-volley was saved by Jakupovic.
Chambo and to a lesser extent Cazorla produced disappointing performances on Saturday. At 21, the challenge for Chambo is to perform consistently at the top level. Chambo clearly had an off day, but experienced players overcome that with their work rate and reading of the game. Cazorla was a threat with his long-range strikes, forcing Harper to turn a curling shot around the post in the 10th and Jakupovic to palm away a low drive in stoppage time. He also troubled the Tigers with his close control as Chester and Huddlestone received yellow cards for cynical fouls on the Spaniard. However, I felt Cazorla could have done a bit more to restore some order in the team’s passing game. The Gunners struggled to develop plays once Hull more tightly marked Wilshere in midfield.
The manager’s dilemma
The Gunners know their start to the season has been mediocre. The longer it takes to hit their stride, the more pressure they will feel and the more difficult it will be to play their best football. The manager must also find ways to cope without Koscielny and Ozil.
Ozil picked up a knee injury in the loss to Chelsea and will be sidelined for a couple of months. That could be a blessing in disguise for the Germany playmaker, giving him time to bulk up a bit and think about his game and the improvements needed in terms of commitment and desire. His absence will also give Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla and Rosicky more responsibility in the team’s passing game.
Koscielny has been suffering from tendonitis in both heels since the summer. That tells you the Frenchman is doomed to have an average season. He may feel fine in some games, but the pain will affect his performance in other games. Our defensive options are limited. Chambers and Monreal can deputize at centerback, but the Spaniard is a bit weak in the air. The manager is facing a real dilemma: do you let Koscielny rest for a long period and play Chambers at centerback, or do you take the risk of playing an injured Koscielny even it may cost the team in a few games?