What about playing all our games on the road? The Gunners won at Crystal Palace and Newcastle this season but they lost to West Ham and drew with Liverpool at the Emirates stadium. That’s quite mind-boggling since teams are supposed to perform better at home in theory. Arsenal edged the Magpies 1-0 on Saturday to stay five points behind Manchester City in the Premier League while going three clear of Chelsea.
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The manager made three changes to the side that dropped points against Liverpool with Koscielny, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott replacing Chambers, Ozil and Giroud in the starting lineup. There was no jitter at the back as the Gunners had the match under control with 74 percent of ball possession and 22 goal attempts to just one for Newcastle (an angled shot from Sissoko that missed the target in the 13th minute).
Coquelin put in a great shift by winning four tackles and 82 percent of his duels, reaching a passing accuracy of 95 percent and not conceding any foul, the best stats of any midfielder at St. James’ Park. He also drew three fouls, which means that he read the game well since you must be well positioned to win or shield the ball. The only drawback is that Coquelin is not an organizer like Arteta. So you get more defensive security with Coquelin but you also lose a bit of fluidity in the buildup.
Smelling a rat
Newcastle’s game plan was pretty simple: rough up the Gunners and make cynical fouls to disrupt play. We were lucky that the referee had a good feel for the game and quickly smelled a rat. When you see Newcastle desperately trying to leave nasty tattoos on the Gunners’ ankles, there can be no doubt about what’s going on. The Magpies finished the match with six yellow cards and a red, and all those bookings were justified.
Sissoko got the first yellow card of the game for a deliberate stamp on Monreal’s ankle in the third minute. The second went to Mbemba for killing a counterattack with an obstruction on Sanchez in the 19th. Thauvin earned the third for a late tackle on Coquelin in the 26th. Anita was lucky not to get booked for a stamp on Ramsey in the 34th but he still received the fourth for a cynical foul on Sanchez in the 48th. The most stupid card went Wijnaldum for talking back to the referee in the 50th. Coloccini earned the last card in stoppage time for bringing down Coquelin. The Newcastle centerback could have been booked in the 61st for stopping a fast break by shoving Walcott from behind. I thought the referee was a bit lenient with Colback, who got away with repetitive fouling and broke plays with a late challenge on Ramsey in the 20th and shoves on Sanchez in the 50th and 90th.
Some Newcastle fans were shocked by Mitrovic’s red card in the 16th but they shouldn’t. The Serbian striker has quickly acquired a reputation for being a thug on the pitch and his stamp on Coquelin’s shin in the 16th won’t help improve his image. I think Wenger provided the key info in his post-match interview when he said Mitrovic “didn’t play the ball at all.” That wasn’t a 50-50 challenge. Mitrovic came in very late and didn’t show any restraint after the ball left Coquelin’s foot.
In search of consistency
Mitrovic’s ejection was the turning point of the match for Newcastle fans but paradoxically things proved more difficult for us from that moment. Arsenal’s passing game was quick and sharp in the opening minutes. Once the Magpies were down to 10 men, we lost a bit of urgency and our passing game became less crisp with too many touches and a slower pace. Despite this numerical superiority, the Gunners could only create two clear-cut chances in the first half.
The lone goal came from the Ox in the 52nd. Krul parried a 20-yard shot from Ramsey into the path of the Ox, who chested down the rebound to fire a diagonal strike that Coloccini diverted into the bottom corner. The Ox had a poor game with a high turnover rate, no successful dribble and no shot assist. He said afterwards that he felt a bit rusty because he had not started the two previous games. Well, sorry Alex but there’s competition for starting spots in most squads. That means you must be ready to perform anytime you’re called upon.
I’m a big fan of the Ox and I believe this could be his breakthrough season, but at 22 he needs to show more consistency in his game. The Ox was involved in our first two chances, finding Bellerin on the right flank in the ninth minute. Bellerin played Walcott in with a first-time cross, but Krul denied the England forward with a leg save. Three minutes later, the Ox fed Bellerin, who was inadvertently tripped by Thauvin inside the area. It should have been a penalty but the referee had a poor view of the play and just gave a goal kick. The Ox faded as the game wore on. He wasted a good counterattacking situation with a poor touch in the 42nd and missed the target from a Monreal cutback in the 62nd.
Missing the target from 4 yards
The Gunners needed an own goal from Coloccini to win the game because Walcott and Giroud couldn’t find the net. Walcott is a very frustrating player to watch. When Sanchez doesn’t score, you can still notice his runs, his tackles, his dribbles and his passes. But there’s no such thing with Walcott, who’s not involved in the buildup because of his weak link-up play and inability to hold the ball up. What makes it even more frustrating is Walcott’s poor work rate. Sanchez ended up pressing Krul in the 24th even though Walcott was initially closer to the Newcastle goalkeeper.
Walcott failed to convert Bellerin’s cross from eight yards in the ninth minute. I won’t blame him on that play as Krul quickly came off his line and Walcott had very little room to slot the ball past the goalkeeper. On the other hand, I thought Walcott should have done a better job when Krul spilled a 30-yard drive from Sanchez in the 32nd. Walcott pounced on the rebound but sent the ball over the bar from four yards. There was a bounce that forced Walcott to hit the ball with his shin but you still have to catch the frame in that kind of situation.
Wenger’s rationale for using Walcott as a lone striker was to hit Newcastle on the fast break. However, Mitrovic’s ejection led the Magpies to sit back and play with 10 men behind the ball, making it more difficult for Walcott to run in behind the defense. Walcott struggled badly to play as a traditional target man. The Newcastle defense easily headed the ball away when Coquelin sent a ball over the top for Walcott on the stroke of halftime.
Where’s the complete package?
Realizing the tactical setup was more favorable for Giroud, the manager sent on the French striker for Walcott in the 69th. You can bet Giroud would have lacked the pace to get Walcott’s chances in the first half. But with a congested Newcastle area, maybe Giroud’s physical presence could make the difference.
The Magpies quickly adjusted by playing Giroud offside twice. Then Giroud was sent clean through on goal in the 74th but was not fast enough to shake off Haidara, who recovered the ball. Giroud made up for his sluggishness by challenging for the ball in the air, heading a Cazorla corner wide in the 76th. His good movement inside the box also helped Giroud connect with a Monreal cutback in the 77th but his first-time effort was aimed straight at Krul. In the last minute of stoppage time, Ramsey played Giroud in with a backheel flick. The Frenchman attempted a chip that Krul saved.
Saturday’s game reminded Arsenal fans that we still miss a complete centerforward, i.e. a pacy striker with good technique and good link-up play, who can hold the ball up, beat defenders, be strong in aerial challenges and score many goals. We used to have the complete package with Henry and Van Persie. Now our choices are limited to Giroud and Walcott and we become very predictable when we play one or the other.
Imposing our authority at home
In my eyes, Ramsey was our best player at St. James’ Park. He started poorly with an overhit pass for the Ox in the second minute and a flick-on for Sanchez that went straight into touch in the sixth. But Ramsey’s mental toughness is legendary and he stepped up his game. The Wales midfielder squared the ball back for Sanchez, who took a touch before forcing Krul into a save at the near post in the 58th. Ramsey also set up Cazorla for an angled strike in the 66th, finishing the match with five chances created.
We clearly have scoring problems. In four games, bottomside Sunderland scored twice as many goals as Arsenal. Can the manager sign a striker who will improve our squad? The deadline for summer transfers is Sept. 1. Chelsea and the two Manchesters have beefed up their offense while we still haven’t made any move yet.
Another issue is our poor home form. We seem pretty confident on the road but lack the authority to impose our game at the Emirates stadium. Cazorla is our most senior midfielder with Rosicky. I believe the Spaniard should display more leadership on the pitch to dictate the tempo when our passing game is too slow, to press when some players are reluctant and to keep a solid shape when some don’t track back. Cazorla’s skills and performance levels definitely give him the legitimacy for that role.