Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Tottenham on Sunday is a decent result if we consider how stretched the squad is with Ramsey, Walcott, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck, Rosicky and Bellerin sidelined by injuries. Trailing 1-0 at halftime, Wenger only had Iwobi as an attacking option on the bench. In the end, the equalizer came from Gibbs, who scored just four minutes after replacing Campbell.
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The Gunners were no threat in the first half as Tottenham deservedly took the lead by creating three clear-cut chances. Sanchez and Cazorla had an off day while Ozil struggled to have an impact in midfield. In the second half, Cech kept the hosts in the game with a couple of fine saves. It’s only in the last 20 minutes, when the Spurs started tiring, that Arsenal finally found the net after wasting opportunities from set pieces.
Before we analyze the draw with Tottenham, here are a few lessons from the 5-1 debacle at Bayern Munich on Wednesday: 1. Mertesacker’s decision-making is becoming an issue. Paulista looked bad on the opening goal because he followed Mertesacker’s lead. There was no pressure on the ballholder, so it made no sense to play the offside trap. 2. Defending requires a team effort. Cazorla failed to close down Thiago on the first goal, while Sanchez and Campbell allowed Lahm and Alaba to overlap for the second and fourth goals respectively. 3. At the top level, you get punished for losing duels in the final third. On the second goal, Coman beat Debuchy to the ball and Mertesacker failed to block Muller’s shot. On the third goal, Cazorla lost possession on the edge of the box while Coquelin and Paulista failed to close down Alaba. On the fourth, Robben got ahead of Paulista to convert Alaba’s cross. 4. Against top defenders and teams that are tactically sound, Sanchez should release the ball more quickly instead of cutting inside and running into traffic. 5. The Gunners are still vulnerable on counterattacks. Costa outpaced Chambers, Coquelin and Debuchy to feed Muller for the last goal. There’s something wrong when a player runs half the length of the pitch unchallenged.
Giving away free headers
The Spurs’ goal looked similar to Lewandowski’s opener. Mertesacker played a risky high defensive line even though Campbell did not press the ballholder, Rose. Koscielny reacted a split second late and played Kane onside. The Tottenham striker made a run between Mertesacker and Koscielny to chase Rose’s long ball and beat Cech with a low strike in the 32nd minute.
Mertesacker has been the cornerstone of the Arsenal defense over the past couple of seasons but his decision-making has become dodgy lately. He misread a long ball in the 15th and only a missed first touch prevented Kane from being clean through on goal. Mertesacker then put Cech in trouble in the 57th by forcing him to come off his line for a ball that had very little pace. The Czech goalkeeper nearly lost possession on the edge of his own area under Lamela’s pressure. In the 72nd, a poor clearance from Mertesacker gave Tottenham a half-chance. The ball fell to Kane, whose low drive sailed wide.
The German centerback used to compensate for his lack of pace with a good reading of the game and some sound positional play. But if Mertesacker starts making poor decisions, then the manager should look for alternatives at the back.
The way we defend set pieces is still a total mess. The Spurs should have opened the scoring in the 25th but Dier, unmarked at the far post, headed Eriksen’s free kick wide. We made similar marking mistakes against West Ham and Chelsea. The zonal marking was completely wrong as we had three or four Gunners surrounding Kane but none keeping an eye on Dier.
Tottenham came close to doubling the lead in the second half. Eriksen combined with Kane to pull Koscielny out of position and fire an angled strike that took a deflection off Flamini for a corner in the 51st. Koscielny then gave too much space to Kane, who collected a through ball from Eriksen only to drag his shot wide in the 64th. Five minutes later, Campbell failed to close down Rose, who crossed the ball for Kane, but Koscielny cleared the danger.
We boast the second tightest defense in the Premier League behind Manchester United, but I can’t help thinking that our pair of centerbacks is not good enough for a title contender. Cech pulled off a couple of fine saves to make up for mistakes from Mertesacker and Koscielny. Walker got the better of Sanchez in the 64th and squared the ball back to Eriksen, whose diagonal strike was parried by Cech. Koscielny was late for a block on that play. Cech then denied Alderweireld with a reflex save in the 70th. Alderweireld escaped Mertesacker’s marking for a point-blank header from a corner.
Coquelin put in a good shift by making 2 interceptions and winning 76.9% of his duels and 4 of 6 tackles. However, he didn’t get much help from his teammates as Cazorla, Ozil, Sanchez and Campbell had a low percentage of duels won. In his post-match interview, Wenger said Cazorla felt dizzy. The Gunners added more aggression in midfield by replacing Cazorla with Flamini at halftime.
Our wingers’ workrate was really poor. Sanchez and Campbell only made one tackle each while Dembele and Lamela made 7 and 8 tackles respectively. Sanchez may be hitting the wall physically after enjoying a good run of form in October. Campbell had a good game against Swansea but struggled on Sunday. He tried to control a cross from Sanchez in the sixth minute while the better option was a first-time pass for Giroud. His only scoring chance came in the 48th when he cut inside Rose for a low drive that Lloris palmed away. That was also Arsenal’s first chance of the match.
Giroud proved extremely wasteful against Tottenham just a few days after scoring a spectacular goal against Bayern Munich. Relying on Ozil’s outstanding service, the Frenchman had five goal attempts, but only one was on target. That’s a really poor shooting accuracy. Giroud got the better of Vertonghen to meet an Ozil free kick in the 54th, but his header bounced off the bar. He then lost Dier to have a free header from a corner in the 60th but missed the target from six yards. Giroud connected again with an Ozil corner in the 79th only to send a half-volley over the bar from 13 yards. He finally caught the frame from an Ozil cross in the 84th, but Lloris turned his header around the post.
One goal or assist per game
What saved Arsenal from Giroud’s wastefulness and the poor form of Sanchez and Cazorla was Ozil’s quality delivery. Pochettino did a good tactical job to neutralize Arsenal’s passing game. So there was no through ball or defense-splitting pass. All our chances came from crosses and set pieces with Ozil’s technical accuracy helping make a difference.
Giroud wasn’t the only target for Ozil’s left boot on Sunday. Koscielny headed a free kick from Ozil wide in the 58th. The equalizer came in the 77th from an unlikely target, Gibbs, who ghosted past Walker at the far post to beat Lloris with a bouncing volley from close range. Gibbs could have scored the winner two minutes later. Mertesacker connected with a header from Sanchez for an overhead kick that sailed into the path of an unmarked Gibbs. However, Lloris beat Gibbs to the ball and knocked it away.
Ozil finished the game with seven shot assists. The only negative was a cheap turnover on the stroke of halftime that forced Cech to parry Kane’s angled strike. In 11 Premier League games this season, Ozil has racked up 1 goal and 10 assists for an average of 1.00 goal or assist per game. That’s better than Fabregas’ performance in 2007-08 when the Spaniard had 7 goals and 20 assists in 32 league games for an average of 0.84 goal or assist per game. And it’s very close to Fabregas’ stats in 2009-10 when he scored 15 goals and made 13 assists in 27 league games for a 1.04 average.
The Germany playmaker deserves the praise poured on him at the moment. But his current stats also show he under-performed in his first two seasons at Arsenal. Ozil had 5 goals and 9 assists in 26 league games for an average of 0.54 in his first season at the club. That average dipped to 0.41 in his second season. Those stats were well below his level at Real Madrid where he averaged 0.64 goal or assist per Liga game in his first season, 0.60 in his second season, and 0.69 in the 2012-13 season. I doubt Ozil can keep up such high standards, but finishing the season with more than 25 goals or assists in the Premier League is definitely a realistic target for him.
Now we must hope that no Gunner will come back injured from the international break and that some players on the disabled list will be fit again for the next game at West Bromwich Albion on Nov. 21. It will be the first of six games in a 23-day span before the busy Christmas period. More injuries, and we could quickly slip in the standings.