Tag Archives: Iwobi

Fulham vs. Arsenal: Emery makes tactical tweak in 5-1 win

The Gunners snatched 4th place from Spurs in the Premier League by smashing Fulham 5-1 on Sunday for their 9th straight win in all competitions. Cynics will point at the schedule. It’s true that the Gunners haven’t faced any top club during that winning run. But it’s still an improvement compared to last season when Arsenal badly struggled on the road under Wenger, even against the weak sides.

Fulham vs. ArsenalPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Emery had a surprise for the fans at Craven Cottage. The Spanish manager relied on a 4-2-3-1 formation for the first 7 league games. On Sunday, he switched to a flexible 4-4-2 system with Iwobi and Mkhitaryan on the wings and Lacazette and Welbeck up front. It morphed into a 4-2-3-1 formation when Welbeck swapped positions with Iwobi on the left wing or when Mkhitaryan drifted inside and Lacazette made runs on the right wing.

Other teams have resorted to that kind of tactical flexibility. During the World Cup, France played in a 4-4-2 formation while attacking. But when the French lost possession, they would shift to a 4-3-3 system with Matuidi moving from the left wing to central midfield and Griezmann drifting wide to defend on the left wing. Likewise, Klopp is known for using a 4-3-3 formation at Liverpool. But when the Reds lost possession in the Champions League last season, they would morph into a 4-4-2 system with Salah staying up front with Firmino while Mane dropped deeper to defend.

Fulham vs. Arsenal M4ed.jpgArsenal’s 4-4-2 formation at Craven Cottage. (Photo credit: BT)

A manager should be able to make tactical changes instead of always sticking to the same formation. It’s about creating problems for the opponents and figuring out what’s the best system for an optimal use of the players. I felt Wenger was too conservative in his last years at the club. That’s why it was such a shock when he switched to a back three in April 2017 for the first time in 20 years. Maybe Arsenal could have finished in the Top 4 that season if Wenger had made that decision earlier. Who knows.

Element of surprise

The main advantage of the 4-4-2 formation is that Lacazette and Aubameyang can play together in their best positions. Aubameyang replaced Welbeck in the 62nd minute to lead the line alongside Lacazette until Emery yanked Lacazette off to send on Guendouzi in the 81st. During that 19-minute spell, the Gunners scored 2 goals.

Another advantage of the 4-4-2 system is that Ramsey is more comfortable on the right flank than in the No. 10 role. Ramsey played on the right wing when he replaced Iwobi in the 67th. Wenger already used Ramsey in that position. Some managers might be tempted to play Ramsey in the hole behind the striker when they check his stats for goals and assists. But they should rather take a look at his position on the pitch at the start of the plays where he scores or makes an assist. Ramsey has enough room to make his late runs from central midfield or from the right wing while there’s no element of surprise when he plays like a second striker.

Emery made 6 changes to the side that started the Europa League game in Azerbaijan with Monreal, Holding, Leno, Iwobi and Welbeck retaining their starting spots. Ozil was not in the squad because of a back strain while Ramsey and Aubameyang were on the bench for different reasons: Aubameyang had just recovered from illness and Ramsey’s wife was expecting twins.

The Gunners showed diversity in their scoring. Arsenal’s first two goals came from long balls, the third and the fourth capped counterattacks and the fifth was the result of playing the ball out from the back. Lacazette gave the lead to the Gunners with a low effort on the turn in the 29th. He made it 2-0 by taking his chance from 25 yards and firing into the bottom corner in the 49th. Lacazette also played a key role in the build-up to the third goal in the 67th, showing a great understanding with Ramsey and Bellerin. His work-rate was quite impressive as he won 2 of 2 tackles and made 7 ball recoveries, tied with Xhaka and Torreira for the most by an Arsenal player, according to the club’s website. The only blemish in Lacazette’s outstanding performance was his 5 turnovers.

Welbeck as a target man

Lacazette and Aubameyang have scored 4 goals each in the Premier League this season. During his 30-minute cameo, Aubameyang showed what he could do in the centerforward position, notching 2 goals and 1 assist. Aubameyang crossed the ball to Ramsey for the third goal. The Gabon striker then controlled a cross from Bellerin and spun to bury the ball into the far corner for a 4-0 lead in the 79th. He sealed the win in stoppage time by collecting a through ball from Ramsey to beat Bettinelli with a 16-yard strike.

Welbeck is not in the same class as Lacazette and Aubameyang. The England international had 0 shot but worked selflessly for his teammates, leading all Gunners with 3 key passes, including an assist for Lacazette’s second goal. At times, Welbeck played the role of target man as he was involved in 8 aerial duels in Fulham’s half, according to whoscored.com. If the Gunners can’t beat the press, then they need an out ball and Welbeck is the most obvious choice because of his physicality, pace and aerial abilities.

On the left wing, Iwobi made the penultimate pass for the opening goal, slipping the ball to an overlapping Monreal. The Nigeria international also made a pinpoint cross for Mkhitaryan, whose effort was blocked in the sixth minute. Iwobi led all players with 4 successful dribbles out of 6 but also had the lowest passing accuracy for an Arsenal player with 65%, according to the club’s website. He still needs to work on his decision-making as he wasted a good situation in the 13th. If you look at the screen capture below, you will see that Iwobi could have picked out an unmarked Mkhitaryan at the far post while the Fulham defense was busy with Welbeck and Lacazette. In the end, Iwobi took on Odoi and lost possession.

Fulham vs. Arsenal M13ed.jpgWelbeck and Lacazette are marked while Mkhitaryan is free. (Photo credit: BT)

Like Iwobi, Mkhitaryan struggled to have an impact in the Fulham area. He should have found the net in the 32nd when he met a cross from Welbeck for a sliding effort that didn’t trouble Bettinelli. Mkhitaryan still contributed to the scoreline by making the penultimate pass for Arsenal’s third and fourth goals, releasing Aubameyang down the left flank in the 67th and switching play with a crossfield pass to Bellerin in the 79th.

Speed of execution

At this stage of the season, Ramsey has a slight edge over Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Iwobi in Emery’s mind. The Wales international is more versatile than the other attacking midfielders and has better stats with 1 goal and 3 assists compared to 2 goals for Ozil, 1 goal and 1 assist for Mkhitaryan and also 1 goal and 1 assist for Iwobi.

The Gunners’ third goal summed up what Ramsey is all about and why it doesn’t make sense to play him in the No. 10 role. Bellerin won the ball inside the Arsenal area and found Ramsey near the corner flag. At the start of that play, Ramsey was 20 yards behind Lacazette. But by the time Aubameyang made the cross, Ramsey was more than 10 yards in front of Lacazette to score with a backheel flick inside the far post.

Fulham vs. Arsenal M67The passing chain for Ramsey’s goal. (Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com)

The choreography of that swift counterattack almost looked like a ballet performance. That play was also a good example of verticality and speed of execution. The goal was the result of 9 passes involving 5 players (Bellerin, Ramsey, Lacazette, Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang). There were 5 first-time passes and the other 4 passes only required 2 touches each. Bellerin’s backheel flick slowed down the play a bit, forcing Ramsey to head the ball twice, but it wasn’t enough to kill the momentum of the attack.

That kind of high-energy transition game is the reason why I think Ramsey would be a good fit for Liverpool. Ramsey would be a perfect replacement for an aging Milner although they don’t have the same profile. The Wales midfielder is a bigger goal threat while Milner has better defensive awareness. In his 25-minute cameo, Ramsey also made an assist, taking a pass from Xhaka to play Aubameyang in for the last goal. If you watch the end of the replay, you will only notice his through ball and his position in the No. 10 role. You have to watch the start of the play to understand that Ramsey’s main asset is his movement. Ramsey was on the halfway line when Xhaka got the ball. But then Ramsey ran into a pocket of space between the Fulham defense and the midfield to create danger.

A new song for Torreira

Emery should build the team around Ramsey and Lacazette. The trouble is that Arsenal recently withdrew their offer to Ramsey, which basically means that he will leave the club either in January or next summer. History is just repeating itself, unfortunately. Wenger also tried to build his team around two talented players: Ozil and Sanchez. We all know how the story ended. Sanchez joined Manchester United last January while Ozil stayed at Arsenal but with a fat contract.

The Gunners never managed to press as a unit under Wenger. Their best pressing effort was the 3-0 demolition of Manchester United in October 2015. But that 20-minute blitz against Van Gaal’s Red Devils was the exception that confirmed the rule. Arsenal simply lacked the personnel for a high press. If Wenger had made one key signing in midfield, it could have been a different story. But the French manager had too high hopes for Coquelin. It’s true that Coquelin and Cazorla formed a complementary duo in central midfield. However, Coquelin’s limitations prevented Arsenal from switching to a formation favoring a pressing game.

It’s quite ironic that the Gunners finally have that smart ballwinner now that Wenger is gone. With Torreira, Arsenal could have played a 4-3-3 a la Liverpool. If they had managed to keep Oxlade-Chamberlain last year, they could have deployed a three-man midfield with Torreira, Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain.

On Sunday, many Arsenal fans acknowledged Torreira’s importance in the balance of the team by chanting his name to the tune of the old Vieira song. Torreira produced an outstanding performance, winning 78% of his duels, the most for any starting midfielder according to the club’s website. He also won 0 of 2 tackles, had 7 ball recoveries and made 6 interceptions, the most for any player according to whoscored.com. The Uruguay international has adapted to the physicality of the Premier League by better using his body to shield the ball and draw fouls. Torreira was fouled 4 times, the most for any Gunner.

Keeping the ball on the ground, or not

Xhaka had a decent game defensively, winning 3 of 3 tackles and making 1 interception and 7 recoveries. Offensively, the Switzerland international missed almost everything, overhitting a long ball for Welbeck in the eighth minute, sending a pass to nobody in the 51st and missing his pass for Iwobi in the 52nd. At least, Xhaka was able to spot Ramsey’s run for the last goal in stoppage time. It was a bit surprising that when Emery switched to a 4-3-3 system in the 81st to stuff the midfield, he moved Torreira to the right side and played Xhaka in the holding midfielder role. Maybe it was aimed to cover Bellerin on the right flank and contain Sessegnon’s runs.

The Cottagers lacked creativity when they had the ball. So it was no coincidence if their best chances came from Arsenal turnovers. Vietto intercepted a sloppy pass from Bellerin in the third minute and tested Leno with a drive that took a deflection off Holding. Then Holding underhit his pass for Monreal in the 18th, forcing the Spain international to rush and miss his clearance. Seri wasted the subsequent half-chance by overhitting his final ball for Mitrovic. The Gunners played again with fire while attempting to build from the back. Holding made a risky crossfield pass for Bellerin in the 42nd. Sessegnon intercepted the ball to feed Schurrle, who fired wide.

Fulham finally leveled in the 44th when Monreal missed his long ball for Welbeck. If you look at the screen capture below, you can see that Monreal had no short passing option because of Xhaka’s lack of mobility. His best passing options were Welbeck down the middle or Iwobi along the touchline. Iwobi was the safer option but required a lobbed pass to prevent an interception from Christie. Welbeck was the bolder option but required a ball over the top with a lot of accuracy to prevent the goalkpeeper from catching the ball. Monreal decided to keep the ball on the ground and it proved a costly mistake.

Fulham vs. Arsenal M44ed.jpgMonreal’s two best options to evade Fulham’s press. (Photo credit: BT)

Anguissa intercepted Monreal’s pass and slipped the ball to Vietto, who played Schurrle clean through on goal. The former Chelsea forward chipped Leno to level the game just before halftime. Monreal was out of position after his sloppy pass, forcing Holding to drift wide. Schurrle saw the gap between Holding and Mustafi and made a timely run between the two Arsenal centerbacks. Mustafi showed poor positional play by reacting too late to cover Holding and mark Schurrle.

A title bid?

Monreal made the assist for the opening goal but you still expect a fullback to ruthlessly patrol his flank. The Spaniard won only 38% of his duels, the lowest percentage for any Arsenal defender. And Fulham wingback Christie had so much freedom that he led all players with 5 key passes. On Bellerin’s flank, Sessegnon only managed to make 2 key passes. Monreal was out of position in the seventh minute, leaving Xhaka in a 1v2 situation with Vietto and Christie. Vietto made a cross for Mitrovic, whose first-time effort was deflected out by Mustafi for a corner. Then Monreal failed to stop dangerous crosses in the 24th and 61st.

Bellerin has been among the Arsenal players improving under Emery. He was involved in Ramsey’s goal and made the cross for Aubameyang’s first goal. Bellerin could have scored in the 48th but Bettinelli palmed away his powerful strike. His offensive contribution has never been questioned under Wenger but there were question marks about his defensive performance. It looks like Bellerin has found the right balance between attack and defense under Emery. Bellerin won 2 of 2 tackles and made 1 block and 5 recoveries, compared to 2 of 3 tackles won, 1 interception and 3 recoveries for Monreal, according to the club’s website.

In the heart of the Arsenal defense, Mustafi showed better discipline than in the previous games. The German centerback made no silly foul and had no turnover. He also won 71% of his duels, the highest percentage for any Arsenal defender. Besides his slow reaction on the equalizer, his only blemish was a passing accuracy of 68%, while centerbacks usually have a percentage above 80%.

Some fans are already talking about a title bid because the Gunners trail Liverpool, City and Spurs by just 2 points. I think it’s premature at this stage of the season. To have a shot at the title, Arsenal would need to keep winning against the weak and average sides while getting some points against the big clubs. The Gunners lost against City and Chelsea and they haven’t faced United, Spurs and Liverpool yet. By contrast, the Reds defeated Spurs and drew with City and Chelsea while beating clubs outside the Top 6. It will be interesting to see whether Emery sticks to a 4-4-2 formation after the international break.

 

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Qarabag vs. Arsenal: A few thoughts on the 3-0 win

In their 8th straight win in all competitions, the Gunners routed Qarabag 3-0 on Thursday to stay top in Group E of the Europa League, level on points with Sporting Lisbon. Emery rested several regular starters by making 9 changes to the side that defeated Watford last weekend with only Monreal and Holding retaining their starting spots. The Spanish manager still had Lacazette, Ozil, Torreira, Xhaka, Bellerin and Mustafi available on the bench if things didn’t go well. On the other hand, Ramsey, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang missed the trip to Azerbaijan. Mkhitaryan did not travel for political reasons while Aubameyang is recovering from illness and Ramsey’s wife is expecting a baby.

Qarabag vs. ArsenalPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

The main surprise in Thursday’s game was the 3-4-3 formation used by Emery in the first half. Sokratis played alongside Holding and Monreal in a back three while Kolasinac and Lichtsteiner got up and down the flanks like wingbacks. Emery replaced Monreal with Torreira at halftime to switch to a back four. In the 4-3-3 system, Torreira played behind Elneny and Guendouzi in midfield. Then, Emery shifted to a casual 4-4-2 formation by replacing Smith-Rowe with Ozil in the 65th. Elneny and Iwobi patrolled the flanks while Ozil and Welbeck stayed up front.

To a certain extent, it felt like those pre-season games where the manager wants to make tactical experiments. That’s a welcome change from the 4-2-3-1 system that Emery has been using since the start of the season. Nowadays, managers need to be flexible tactically. First, because a formation may prevent some players from expressing their potential. And second, because you can’t afford to be too predictable. Everything is analyzed in the modern game, so you must always find ways to create problems for your opponents.

  1. Smith-Rowe is taking his chances

What a difference a year can make. Last season, Wenger gave some playing time to Nelson, Nketiah, Maitland-Niles and Willock in the Europa League. While Nelson has been loaned out to Hoffenheim, Nketiah, Maitland-Niles and Willock haven’t played yet in the Europa League under Emery. In fact, Emery has used only one academy player in that competition: Smith-Rowe.

Smith-Rowe reminds me of a young Raul because of his flair for finding good positions in the final third. Obviously, Smith-Rowe is not the finished product yet. He needs to work on his composure in the final third and his reading of the game. For instance, Smith-Rowe killed the momentum of a counterattack in the 36th minute by making an inside run whereas an outside run would have given Iwobi a passing option and helped stretch play.

Still, his performance against Qarabag was quite impressive for a teenager. Smith-Rowe found the side-netting with a sliding effort in the 18th. He then met a cross from Kolasinac for a volley that bounced wide in the 38th. His efforts were finally rewarded in the 53rd when he took a pass from Iwobi to slip the ball through Vagner’s legs for a 2-0 lead. That was Smith-Rowe’s first goal in a competitive game with the first team. Besides that goal, Smith-Rowe also made 1 key pass and had just 2 turnovers.

  1. Kolasinac lacks defensive awareness

Somehow, Kolasinac embodies the failures of the scouting department under Wenger. He loves charging forward like a winger but he simply doesn’t have the mindset of a defender. Kolasinac led the Gunners with 3 key passes in Baku but his defensive lapses clearly outweighed his offensive contribution. He failed to stop dangerous crosses from Medvedev in the 10th and 39th. Then Medvedev in the 44th and Madatov in the 52nd made runs in behind Kolasinac. The cherry on the cake was Madatov’s nutmeg on Kolasinac just before testing Leno with a low strike in the 27th.

  1. Guendouzi is still a raw player

Some Arsenal fans have high expectations for Guendouzi. There’s no doubt that Guendouzi has strong potential but he’s still a raw player. I remember Denilson was also highly touted after a few games at the club before his career went downhill by 2011. The optimists will only remember Guendouzi’s first Arsenal goal in the 79th. Guendouzi took a pass from Lacazette and created space to bury a diagonal drive into the bottom corner for the final goal. The pessimists will only remember Guendouzi’s 4 turnovers, the most for any Arsenal player according to whoscored.com. Guendouzi has average pace and limited dribbling skills. Yet, he ran into traffic in the 8th and the 34th and lost possession on both occasions. Guendouzi was also robbed on the edge of the Arsenal box by Zoubir in the 14th and Michel in the 24th.

  1. Elneny showed his limitations

The Egypt midfielder led all players with a passing accuracy of 98%, according to whoscored.com. His main contribution was to replace Xhaka and Ozil for corner kicks. Monreal met a corner from Elneny in the fourth minute for a header that deflected off Sokratis to beat Vagner. Welbeck also connected with another corner from Elneny in the 21st but his header sailed wide. From open play, Elneny struggled to have an impact at both ends of the pitch. He completely missed his cross in the 25th when 4 Gunners were waiting inside the area. And his final ball for Kolasinac in the 57th rolled out of play. Defensively, Elneny won no tackle and his lost duel in the 27th led to a scoring chance for Madatov.

  1. Iwobi’s péché mignon

Much has been said about Iwobi’s improvement under Emery. The stats don’t lie. Iwobi already has 1 goal and 4 assists from 7 games in all competitions this season. By contrast, he had just 3 goals and 7 assists from 39 games last season, according to transfermarkt.com. However, Iwobi shouldn’t relax in his efforts. He can still have that tendency to take on players when he shouldn’t. The Nigeria international tried to dribble past 3 Qarabag players in the 30th and lost possession. Then he attempted to dribble out of trouble on the edge of the Arsenal area and was dispossessed by Michel in the 55th.

 

Arsenal vs. Watford: Iwobi makes an impact in 2-0 win

The Gunners rode their luck in a 2-0 victory over Watford on Saturday to stay level on points with fourth-place Spurs in the Premier League. That seventh straight win in all competitions is giving Emery more time to figure out what his best starting lineup is.

Arsenal vs. Watford.jpgPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Saturday’s performance was similar to the Everton game a week ago. Nobody would have been shocked if Watford had come away with a draw. In fact, the Hornets outperformed Arsenal in the key stats: 14 goal attempts to 9, 6 big chances to 3, 5 shots on target to 2, 15 interceptions to 7 and 23 tackles to 10, according to the club’s website. The Gunners’ attacking play looked poor but a brief scoring spell in the last 10 minutes and some dreadful finishing from Watford made the difference.

Emery needed 5 league games to understand that the midfield pairing of Xhaka and Guendouzi was a flawed partnership. It’s only since Torreira has started alongside Xhaka that the midfield seems more balanced and that the Gunners have kept clean sheets. Now the question is: how many games Emery needs to realize that the attacking setup is dysfunctional? Here’s how the team looked like at kickoff:

Arsenal formation 4-2-3-1

On paper, it’s a 4-2-3-1 formation, but on the field, it often morphed into a narrow 4-4-2 or 4-2-4 system. The problem with the starting lineup is that Lacazette, Aubameyang, Ozil and Ramsey all prefer to play through the middle. So there’s an obvious lack of width when Ozil drifts inside and when Aubameyang makes diagonal runs to be in scoring positions. Ramsey occasionally moved to the left to make some space for Ozil and fill in the void vacated by Aubameyang, but that positional change impacted Ramsey’s main strength, which is to make penetrative runs.

Another issue with that starting lineup is the poor wing play. Ozil and Aubameyang barely combined with the fullbacks and also often left Monreal and Bellerin in 1v2 situations, allowing Holebas and Navarro to make dangerous crosses.

Can Ozil & Ramsey play together?

The front four is not clicking because Aubameyang, Lacazette, Ramsey and Ozil can’t play together without at least 2 of them sacrificing their qualities. The main loser in that configuration has been Aubameyang because he doesn’t have the all-around game to play on the left wing. Instead of leading the line like in his former club Borussia Dortmund, Aubameyang suddenly becomes a bit player. Can Aubameyang and Lacazette play together? Of course, they can. A 4-4-2 formation would be the most obvious solution:

Arsenal formation 4-4-2

In that 4-4-2 formation, Iwobi or Welbeck would play on the left wing while Ozil or Mkhitaryan would play in the half-space between the right flank and the central area. Emery would also optimize Lacazette’s potential with that system because the France international is more a second striker than a pure centerforward.

Aubameyang and Lacazette could also play together in a traditional 4-3-3 formation:

Arsenal formation 4-3-3

Lacazette has the all-around game to play on the right wing like Salah does at Liverpool. His technique is good enough to make accurate crosses. That positional change shouldn’t affect Lacazette’s scoring record since he gets most of his chances on the right side of the area. To balance the attacking setup, a creative player would have to roam down the left wing. Iwobi seems more comfortable on that side of the pitch than Ozil or Mkhitaryan.

A more risky option would be Emery’s favorite 4-2-3-1 formation:

Arsenal formation 4-2-3-1 bis

Aubameyang and Lacazette could rely on service from Ozil and Iwobi in that system, but it would also make the Arsenal midfield more vulnerable because of Ozil’s poor work-rate and Xhaka’s lack of mobility.

Can Ozil and Ramsey play together? Under Wenger, it wasn’t an issue because Ramsey played alongside Xhaka in central midfield. As a result, the back four got very little protection. The partnership formed by Torreira and Xhaka this season is a bit more solid than the Ramsey-Xhaka duo. Emery might be tempted to pair Ramsey with Torreira, but Ramsey is not a pacesetter like Xhaka and has a higher turnover rate.

The only formation in which Ramsey and Ozil could play together without hurting the balance of the team would be a 4-3-3 system:

Arsenal formation 4-3-3 bis

It would mean that Aubameyang or Lacazette would have to be sacrificed. Lacazette might be willing to play on the left wing, but he would have to drift inside to be in scoring positions and the team would look narrow again.

Emery’s tactical rigidity

Emery doesn’t know what his best team is. He also doesn’t know how to optimally use some of his key players. In the second half, Emery tinkered tactically by asking Aubameyang and Ozil to swap positions. It didn’t really work. So he made two substitutions that finally provided the width his team needed, sending on Iwobi for Ramsey in the 63rd minute and Welbeck for Aubameyang in the 76th.

Maybe the most surprising part of Emery’s tenure at the club so far has been his tactical rigidity. The Spanish manager has used the same 4-2-3-1 formation for all his Premier League games. He could have tried a different formation more suitable for his best players. Managers like Guardiola, Pochettino and Mourinho are more flexible tactically.

At least, Emery is aware of the intensity of the game in England as he made 8 changes to the side that knocked Brentford out of the League Cup on Wednesday with only Monreal, Mustafi and Holding retaining their starting spots.

Although Lacazette finished the game with 0 of 4 shots on target, he was still involved in Arsenal’s best chances. Lacazette should have been awarded a penalty when Kabasele tripped him in the fifth minute, but Lacazette was too honest and stayed on his feet. Ten minutes later, Lacazette created his own chance by robbing Cathcart to be clean through on goal. With just Foster to beat, Lacazette sent his chip wide. He then managed to connect with a cross from Aubameyang in the 54th only to head the ball wide.

Lacazette’s efforts were finally rewarded in the 81st when he got ahead of Cathcart to meet a cross from Iwobi. The Watford defender could not sort out his feet and diverted the cross into his own net. Two minutes later, Lacazette swapped passes with Iwobi before setting up Ozil for the second goal. Besides the assist, Lacazette showed good work-rate, winning 2 of 2 tackles and making 1 interception and 2 ball recoveries, according to the club’s website.

The understanding between Iwobi & Lacazette

By contrast, Aubameyang had a miserable afternoon with 0 shot, 0 tackle, 0 interception and 0 recovery. Two plays summed up his performance: he produced an air shot while attempting to volley Bellerin’s cross in the 39th and his ball over the top for Ozil bounced out of play in the 58th.

At 22, Iwobi could be starting to make the kind of impact that his breakthrough season suggested in 2016. He made the cross that led to the opening goal and it would have counted as an assist if Lacazette, and not Cathcart, had touched the ball. The Nigeria international also made the right decision on the second goal by slipping the ball to Lacazette instead of taking on a defender. The main positive from Saturday’s game is that Iwobi showed some good understanding with Lacazette whereas their connection on the pitch was poor last season.

Ozil was again a peripheral figure for most of the game. On paper, it wasn’t a game for him because of the Hornets’ physical approach. Until the 83rd minute, Ozil had 0 shot and 0 key pass. His best move in the first half was a lobbed pass for Monreal, who tried to find Lacazette with a header in the 21st. Surprisingly, Ozil’s technique let him down in the 24th. Aubameyang made a run in behind the Watford defense to be clean through on goal but Ozil overhit his long ball for the Gabon striker. Playing in a more central role after Emery’s substitutions, Ozil scored with his first goal attempt, side-footing Lacazette’s cross into the bottom corner. In stoppage time, Ozil made his first key pass of the game by heading the ball into Lacazette’s path.

Ramsey struggling under Emery

Despite his 2 assists against Everton, Ramsey is clearly struggling in Emery’s 4-2-3-1 system where he’s playing in a more advanced position than under Wenger. It’s true that Ramsey also plays as a free-roaming midfielder for the Wales team, but it’s because they lack quality up front to support Bale. The situation is completely different at Arsenal where Emery has many attacking options. Wenger preferred to play Ramsey in a deeper position because his late runs and his work-rate were more valuable in central midfield.

Ramsey had a poor game, leading all players with 5 turnovers, according to whoscored.com, and winning only 30% of his duels, the lowest percentage for any midfielder according to the club’s website. His work-rate was average with 1 of 2 tackles won, 0 interception and 0 recovery, compared to 1 of 3 tackles won, 1 interception and 8 recoveries for Torreira and 1 of 2 tackles won, 0 interception and 5 recoveries for Xhaka.

Has Ramsey been affected by the breakdown of the contract talks with the club a few days ago? Whatever the outcome, it doesn’t reflect well on the Arsenal board because it creates an atmosphere of uncertainty around the squad. It’s also bad business because both Ramsey and Welbeck could leave for free next summer. It will be very difficult to find 2 players of the same quality with a transfer kitty of £60 million. Some fans want Emery to bench Ramsey because he has not committed to the club. But I have no problem with starting Ramsey if he can make a significant contribution on the pitch. I mean, the club’s priority is to finish in the Top 4. It would make no sense to weaken the team and hurt Arsenal’s bid for a Champions League spot.

Holding’s solid performance

In central midfield, Torreira’s performance was a mixed bag. He led all midfielders by winning 61.5% of duels, but he also had 4 turnovers, compared to just 2 for Xhaka. Torreira got a taste of the physicality of the Premier League when Hugues bullied him off the ball in the 18th. Ozil and Bellerin were also outmuscled by the Hornets. Out of frustration, Torreira tried to reply with a late challenge on Deeney in the 45th only to receive a yellow card. Torreira was credited with an error for giving the ball away in the 88th when Pereyra fired a speculative shot over the bar. However, I thought Torreira’s worst mistake was when he misread a play in the 75th and dived in, allowing Deeney to turn and play Success clean through.

Alongside Torreira, Xhaka had a low-key performance in midfield. Offensively, Xhaka tested Foster with a low drive in the 39th and sent a ball over the top for Monreal, whose sliding volley sailed wide in the 67th. Defensively, Xhaka was no match for the hard-working Capoue and Doucoure in midfield. The Switzerland international lost a key duel in the 36th when Kabasele outjumped him to head a cross from Holebas. But Cech made the save and managed to catch the rebound before Deeney could hit it. Xhaka also switched off defensively in the 17th when Hugues made a reverse pass to Deeney. The Watford striker ran past a static Xhaka to make a dangerous cross for Gray.

At the back, Holding produced a solid performance, winning 75% of his duels, having a passing accuracy of 89% and making 1 block, 3 interceptions and 9 recoveries, while Mustafi only won 45.5% of his duels, had a passing accuracy of 77% and made just 1 block, 2 interceptions and 4 recoveries, according to the club’s website.

Leno’s distribution

Holding made a crucial block in the 72nd, but two plays exposed his average pace. He lost a foot race with Gray, who chased a through ball from Deeney only to be denied by Leno in the 68th. Then Holding was on the wrong side of Success, whose chip brushed the far post in the 75th. Because Holding doesn’t have the recovery pace of a Koscielny in his prime, he must find a way to improve his reading of the game and his positional play.

The Hornets created many chances in great part because Mustafi had a poor game. Mustafi was caught ball-watching when Deeney knocked the ball toward an unmarked Hugues in the 11th. He also let Deeney run in front of him to meet a free kick from Holebas in the 52nd. His lack of composure led Mustafi to give away silly free kicks in the 23rd, 35th and 73rd.

The Gunners can definitely thank Leno for the clean sheet. He came off the bench to replace Cech on the stroke of halftime. Leno made a couple of outstanding saves, turning Deeney’s volley around the post in the 52nd, and denying Gray in the 68th and Cathcart in the 74th. His only dodgy moment was when he went for a high ball in the 57th and completely missed his catch. Leno will certainly start the next few games as Cech pulled his hamstring with a goal kick. The German goalkeeper had a much better distribution than Cech with a passing accuracy of 67% compared to 39% for the Czech veteran.

I expect Emery to rest his key players against Qarabag in the Europa League on Thursday because the Premier League game against Fulham on Sunday starts at noon. There’s a too big risk of injury with the long trip to Azerbaijan and the short rest between those 2 games.

Arsenal vs. Vorskla: A few thoughts on the 4-2 win

The Gunners started their Europa League campaign with a 4-2 victory over Vorskla to top Group E on Thurday, level on points with Sporting Lisbon. It was a more one-sided contest than the scoreline might suggest. The Gunners earned a fourth straight win in all competitions but they still haven’t kept any clean sheet this season.

Arsenal vs. Vorskla.jpgPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Emery lifted the Europa League trophy 3 times with Sevilla. Of course, he’d like to lead Arsenal to glory in that competition but he’s also aware that the Premier League remains the top priority for the club. The Spanish manager therefore made 8 changes to the side that defeated Newcastle last weekend with only Monreal, Sokratis and Aubameyang retaining their starting spots.

  1. Aubameyang is more comfortable in the centerforward role

The Gabon striker has been less efficient under Emery than when he played under Wenger on the left wing. On Thursday, Emery played Aubameyang up front and the positional change worked wonders. Aubameyang met a cross from Iwobi to open the scoring with a sliding effort in the 32nd minute. That goal boosted Aubameyang’s confidence as he killed a counterattack with a sliding tackle on Kobakhidze in the 46th before creating a chance for Welbeck with a low cross in the 50th.

Aubameyang made it 3-0 in the 56th by taking a pass from Mkhitaryan to fire into the bottom corner from 20 yards. With a bit of luck, Aubameyang could have notched a hat trick. He cut inside 2 defenders on the stroke of halftime to curl a shot that hit the base of the post. Then he missed the target from 8 yards with an off-balance volley in the 53rd. Managers are usually reluctant to yank off a player on a hat trick. But Emery clearly had the Premier League game against Everton in mind as he replaced Aubameyang with Ozil in the 57th.

  1. Torreira shielded the back four

Vorskla had no scoring chance as long as Torreira was on the pitch. Despite his diminutive stature, Torreira was not afraid of playing physical. He even took a knock when Kulach made a late tackle in the fourth minute. In a solid all-around performance, Torreira made 2 key passes and took a free kick in the 38th that flirted with the post. His only blemish was a missed interception in the 12th but the Arsenal defense managed to clear the danger. Guendouzi replaced Torreira in the 57th and was late to make the block in stoppage time when Sharpar scored with the last kick of the game.

  1. Can Emery improve Iwobi?

Iwobi’s development stalled under Wenger. The poor decision-making and the lack of end product were the obvious weaknesses in his game. At 22, Iwobi still has room for improvement, but he will soon reach an age at which he should fulfill his potential. On Thursday, Iwobi led all players with 4 key passes, including an assist for the opening goal. It could have been 5 key passes if Elneny had not wasted a scoring chance with a poor first touch in the 22nd.

The Nigeria international is not the finished product yet. He still needs to work on his technique. Iwobi led all players with 9 turnovers, 4 more than any other Gunner according to whoscored.com. His passing accuracy also dipped to 76%, the lowest percentage for any Arsenal player. To his credit, Iwobi provided some width on the left wing while neither Mkhitaryan nor Welbeck stretched the Vorskla defense on the right wing.

  1. Mkhitaryan’s creativity made a difference

The Armenia international was involved in the first 3 goals. He led the counterattack for the opening goal, made the cross for Welbeck’s header in the 48th and found Aubameyang on the edge of the area for the third. A live wire in the final third, Mkhitaryan didn’t enjoy much success with his finishing. He was denied by Shust in the 45th and 58th, missed the target in the 47th and was let down by a poor first touch on the stroke of halftime, allowing the Vorskla goalkeeper to collect the ball.

  1. European football fits Sokratis

While Sokratis’ average pace can be exposed in the Premier League, the less frenetic pace of the Europa League plays to his strengths. Sokratis had a good game, leading Arsenal defenders with 3 tackles won, 1 interception and 1 block, according to whoscored.com. He covered Lichtsteiner in the 54th by making a timely tackle on Rebenok. The Greece centerback also created the fourth goal by sending a ball over the top in the 74th.

  1. Lichtsteiner is the second choice at right back

Arsenal fans sometimes complain about Bellerin, but there’s no way Lichtsteiner can dislodge him. Lichtsteiner was involved in the 2 goals scored by the weak Ukrainian side. He struggled to control a loose ball in the 77th and was dispossessed by Chesnakov who fired into the top corner. In injury time, Lichtsteiner failed to stop Rebenok’s cross for Sharpar, who cut the deficit to 4-2 with another powerful strike. On the bright side, Lichtsteiner found Ozil with a lobbed pass for the fourth goal.

Arsenal vs. West Ham: Gunners earn 1st win under Emery

When a manager joins a new club, he quickly needs results to win his players’ support and get the fans and journalists off his back. A manager can be a smart tactician and have a stellar resume, but if his team can’t win games, his words will ring hollow in the dressing room. Somehow, Emery managed to buy a bit of time with Arsenal’s 3-1 victory over West Ham on Saturday.

Arsenal vs. West HamPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Wenger was the consummate man-manager, always protecting his players, almost cajoling their ego. You would never see him make a substitution before the 60th minute unless there was an injury. There is no such diplomatic consideration with Emery, who doesn’t mind making early changes if a player is underperforming. The Spanish manager replaced Ramsey in the 54th minute against Manchester City and yanked Xhaka off at halftime against Chelsea.

On Saturday, Emery replaced Iwobi at halftime and Guendouzi in the 56th before pulling Aubameyang out in the 75th. Those moves paid off as two of the substitutes had a major impact on the game: Lacazette initiated the second goal in the 70th while Welbeck put the result beyond doubt in stoppage time.

The Gunners are not yet playing the way Emery wants them to. They still struggle to implement Emery’s pressing game and no longer put a strong emphasis on playing the ball out from the back. Although Arsenal enjoyed more ball possession on Saturday than in their first two games, Cech made only 24 passes against the Hammers compared to 36 against Chelsea and 42 against City.

However, one obvious break from the Wenger era has been the way the Gunners reach the final third. Slow build-ups with a lot of back passes were common under Wenger. Now the team moves the ball forward more quickly under Emery. The aim is to prevent the opponents from parking the bus. That means making more first-time passes, even in midfield. If you see players making a lot of stray passes, it’s because they’re taking more risks.

What kind of front three?

My main impression from the first three games is that Emery still hasn’t found his best starting lineup and is still experimenting. Emery won’t change his back four until Koscielny is back in contention for a starting spot. By contrast, the front three is a mystery, especially Emery’s choice of wide players. So far, Emery has always started with 2 attacking midfielders (Ozil and Mkhitaryan against City, then Iwobi and Mkhitaryan against Chelsea and West Ham), which is strange because he used to play with 3 forwards at Paris Saint-Germain with Neymar, Cavani and Mbappe.

I definitely think that playing with 2 attacking midfielders in the wide positions is the worst option because they tend to drift inside and make the play too narrow. Another problem is the absence of a natural finisher on the wings and the over-reliance on the pass to beat a defense. Arsenal only had 9 successful dribbles to 17 for West Ham, according to whoscored.com. The Gunners need more aggression in the final third. They could play with 3 forwards like Liverpool under Klopp (Mane, Firmino, Salah) or under Rodgers (Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling). There’s also the hybrid solution with an attacking midfielder on one wing and a forward on the other like when Arsenal played with Pires and Ljungberg more than a decade ago.

The midfield is a work in progress, too. Emery made just one change to the side that lost 3-2 at Chelsea with Ramsey replacing Ozil in the starting lineup. Ozil was not even in the squad because of illness. For the third game in a row, Emery kept his faith in the flawed partnership formed by Xhaka and Guendouzi to protect the back four and it completely failed. The Arsenal defense was so open in the first half that the Hammers could have scored 3 or 4 goals.

A soft midfield

West Ham had numerous counterattacking opportunities and found plenty of space in midfield because Arsenal oscillated between a high defensive line and a medium one. The Chelsea game showed that the Gunners were vulnerable to balls over the top. Mustafi and Sokratis therefore played in a slightly deeper position against West Ham. The problem is that it left more space in midfield for the Hammers to run into while Xhaka and Guendouzi drowned because the team was not compact enough.

Emery will face that kind of dilemma for the rest of the season because he has the wrong personnel for his tactics: Sokratis is sluggish, Mustafi poorly reads the game, Monreal has lost a step, Bellerin’s positional play is dodgy, and Xhaka lacks mobility. Either the Gunners press high up the pitch and have to squeeze play by playing a high defensive line, which makes them vulnerable to balls over the top. Or they play a medium defensive line and therefore leave too much space in midfield, forcing Xhaka and Guendouzi to chase shadows.

Playing between the lines, Anderson did a lot of damage in midfield because neither Xhaka nor Guendouzi could catch him. Unchallenged by Xhaka and Bellerin, the Brazilian midfielder ran 50 yards in the 25th to set up Arnautovic, who opened the scoring with a strike into the bottom corner. Then Xhaka failed to close down Anderson, who fed Antonio for a tame effort in the 32nd. The Arsenal midfield looked soft again in the 37th when a West Ham fast break led to a 2v2 situation. Arnautovic beat Cech but the goal was disallowed for a marginal offside.

Anderson also made an interception in the 55th and ran 60 yards before picking out Arnautovic, who shot straight at Cech. Emery didn’t find the tactical answer because Anderson kept creating chances after Torreira had replaced Guendouzi in the 56th. Anderson cut inside Mkhitaryan and Torreira in the 68th to fire a low drive that Cech spilled. The Brazilian midfielder showed no sign of exhaustion as he ran again 50 yards in the 84th to find Perez, who overhit his cross.

4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1?  

Xhaka can’t flourish as a holding midfielder because he lacks the pace to stop counterattacks. That’s why he plays alongside Behrami in the Switzerland team. Xhaka led all players with 5 fouls and was lucky to escape a booking in the 44th for stamping on Snodgrass’ ankle. He tried to stop Anderson in the 51st but ended up giving away a free kick with a late challenge.

Guendouzi didn’t perform at the same level as against Chelsea, but his work-rate on Saturday was decent. He won 2 of 2 tackles and made 1 interception and 6 ball recoveries in 56 minutes, according to the club’s website. In fact, those stats are better than those of Xhaka and Ramsey, who played the full 90 minutes. Ramsey won 2 of 2 tackles and made 1 interception and 7 recoveries while Xhaka won 1 of 3 tackles and made 0 interception and 9 recoveries. The French teenager will still need to cut some basic mistakes out of his game. Guendouzi gave the ball away in the 20th and his risky pass in the 55th led to a scoring chance for West Ham.

In the role of a free-roaming midfielder, Ramsey tested Fabianski in the 37th and 83rd and was involved in Arsenal’s second goal by heading a loose ball toward Lacazette. He also created a chance for Aubameyang by rounding a defender in the 72nd. Ramsey has already played in that position with the Wales team but I still think that it negates some of his strengths, especially his late runs in the box. I’d prefer to see Ramsey play on the right side of a three-man midfield, but that would require a switch to a 4-3-3 formation. Emery has preferred to rely on a 4-2-3-1 system so far.

Lacazette’s hunger

Up front, Aubameyang had an off day with just 1 of 3 shots on target, but he worked hard for his teammates, leading all players with 4 key passes, according to whoscored.com. Somehow, Aubameyang survived a nasty tackle from Diop in the 41st. Diop was lucky to get only a yellow card because TV replays showed his studs on Aubameyang’s shin. You can bet that Diop would have been sent off if the Premier League had adopted VAR technology. Welbeck came off the bench to replace Aubameyang in the 75th. The England international sealed the win in stoppage time by controlling a cross from Bellerin to shoot past Fabianski from close range.

The poor performance from the wide players also helps explain why Aubameyang got very little service. Iwobi remained on the periphery of the game with 0 shot, 1 key pass and only 12 passes in the first half. He made one crucial tackle to stop a counterattack in the 17th, but one of his turnovers also led to the Hammers’ goal. Decision-making in the final third is still an issue for Iwobi, who decided to run into traffic in the 25th, taking on 3 players. A few seconds later, Arnautovic opened the scoring for the visitors.

Emery sent on Lacazette for Iwobi at halftime. The France international showed his hunger in the 53rd with a long-range strike straight at Fabianski. Four minutes later, Lacazette took a pass from Torreira and forced a fine save from the Polish goalkeeper with a low shot on the turn. The West Ham defense finally cracked in the 70th when Lacazette chested down a header from Ramsey and attempted a high pass toward Aubameyang. The ball bounced off Diop to beat Fabianski. In his 45-minute cameo, Lacazette had 2 of 2 shots on target as well as 2 key passes. Emery saw Lacazette play for Lyon and is therefore aware of the striker’s versatility. I hope the Spanish manager will also consider playing Lacazette as a false winger or as a second striker to optimize the potential of his squad.

A static Sokratis     

On the right wing, Mkhitaryan had a poor game like Iwobi. The Armenia midfielder led all players with 7 turnovers and made 0 key pass, according to whoscored.com. His only positive contribution was a snapshot from 16 yards that Fabianski parried in the 11th and the pass for Bellerin in the build-up to the equalizer in the 30th.

At the back, Mustafi produced a decent performance. He intercepted Arnautovic’s cross for Sanchez to kill a counterattack in the third minute. The truth is that Mustafi looks average when he plays alongside Koscielny. But when he teams up with Sokratis, the Germany international can almost look good.

Sokratis is the main reason why playing a high defensive line will always be a problem. His lack of pace is a too big liability in any foot race. Saturday’s game also exposed his lack of agility. Sokratis failed to intercept Snodgrass’ through ball for Arnautovic in the 12th. Then he missed his clearance in the 21st but Arnautovic couldn’t connect with Snodgrass’ cross. Sokratis also failed to block Arnautovic’s low drive on the opening goal in the 25th. I believe Koscielny would have made the block in his position. On the stroke of halftime, Sokratis failed again to intercept Antonio’s through ball for Snodgrass. Like Lichtsteiner for City’s second goal, Sokratis looked incredibly static when Arnautovic escaped his marking in the 55th to take a pass from Anderson and test Cech. To cap his mediocre performance, Sokratis earned a yellow card in the 90th for time-wasting.

3 weeks to find a fix

Bellerin’s performance on Saturday divided the fans. No one can deny his huge offensive contribution. Bellerin set up Mkhitaryan in the 11th before making the crosses for Arsenal’s first and third goals. But his defensive contribution is questionable. Bellerin can definitely improve his positional play. He played Arnautovic onside in the 12th, was flagged offside in the 23rd, and let Antonio ghost past him in the 32nd. Antonio also cut inside Bellerin to curl a shot wide in the 39th. If Emery wants Bellerin to play like a wingback, then he needs someone to cover him down the right flank. It can’t be Mkhitaryan because he plays in a too high position. So it has to be one of the midfielders.

On the left flank, Monreal played in a more conservative way than Bellerin but still managed to net the equalizer. The Hammers exposed Monreal’s declining pace twice on the stroke of halftime. First, Arnautovic made a run in behind Monreal to chase a ball over the top from Masuaku. Then, Snodgrass ghosted past Monreal to collect a through ball from Antonio only to shoot straight at Cech.

The Gunners have plenty of work to do on the training ground. They can’t afford to be so open against better sides than West Ham. Emery has three weeks to fix the defensive issues. Once the Europa League starts, Emery won’t have time anymore because Arsenal will play two games per week and the focus will then be on recovering.

 

Chelsea vs. Arsenal: More pressure on Emery after 3-2 loss

It looks like the summer tour has been of no use to Emery because the Spanish manager still has no idea what his best team is. Time is running out after Saturday’s 3-2 loss at Stamford Bridge. Arsenal hired Emery in May while Chelsea only appointed Sarri last month. Yet, Sarri has adapted more quickly to the Premier League than Emery as the Blues have 6 points from their first two games compared to zero for the Gunners.

Chelsea vs. ArsenalPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Emery relied on a 4-2-3-1 formation again with Xhaka and Guendouzi in central midfield, Ozil in the hole, Iwobi and Mkhitaryan on the wings and Aubameyang up front. I thought the team selection was wrong. That’s the kind of starting lineup you might use in a home game against a weak side but definitely not against the Blues, who enjoyed 62% of ball possession. Although Xhaka and Guendouzi failed to protect the defense against Manchester City, Emery kept persisting with that flawed partnership. And picking 3 attacking midfielders, whose work-rate is questionable, also hurt Emery’s pressing plan.

In the first half, the Arsenal defense was all over the place. There was no coordination in the high press. Chelsea often put the visitors in trouble with balls over the top because the Gunners played a very high defensive line without closing down the ball holder. That’s exactly what happened with the first two goals. Arsenal also struggled again to play the ball out from the back. Like in the summer friendly, the Blues’ high press proved more efficient and they often won the ball back inside Arsenal’s half. What saved the Gunners from a complete disaster was Chelsea’s inability to defend crosses. Arsenal could have led by a couple of goals at halftime but they were let down by some really poor finishing.

The second half was pretty much one-way traffic with the Arsenal defense under siege. The Gunners switched back to the Wenger way with a low defensive line as the first half clearly exposed Sokratis’ lack of pace. Fans sometimes wonder why Arsenal didn’t implement a pressing game under Wenger. Saturday’s game showed why: the French manager had the wrong players for such a tactical ploy.

Better wing play

The Gunners were unlucky to face such a brutal Premier League schedule but at least they learned a lot from those first two games. While Ozil and Mkhitaryan too often drifted inside against City, the Gunners improved their wing play against the Blues as Iwobi and Mkhitaryan stretched the Chelsea defense by staying wide. The Gunners also improved their final ball, which was poor against City. They created some big chances against Chelsea because of the quality of their crossing.

One area that Emery must get right for the next game is the midfield. Jorginho had too much time to release Alonso down our right flank in the ninth minute. Pedro converted Alonso’s cross to open the scoring. If you look at the screen capture below, you will see several mistakes on that play. First, Willian pulled Bellerin out of position, creating space for Alonso to run into. Bellerin shouldn’t be wandering into Chelsea’s half, it should have been Xhaka’s job to track Willian in that part of the pitch. Second, Ozil failed to close down Jorginho when he took Willian’s pass. Third, Mkhitaryan failed to mark Alonso down the right flank. And fourth, the high defensive line exposed Sokratis’ lack of pace. The Greek centerback was 5 yards behind Pedro when Alonso made his cross.

Chelsea vs. Arsenal M09ed Willian pulls Bellerin out of position before slipping the ball to Jorginho. (Photo credit: BT Sport)

The second goal looked similar. Azpilicueta hit a ball over the top for Morata, who toyed with Mustafi before beating Cech with a low shot in the 20th. First, Iwobi made no effort to close down Azpilicueta. And second, it made no sense for the Arsenal defense to play an offside trap on the halfway line for the simple reason that a player in his own half is never in an offside position. From the moment Morata walked back into his own half, Sokratis or Mustafi should have decided to drop off.

Ozil’s poor work-rate

Emery must have a serious chat with Ozil because his work-rate is not good enough. Mendy had too much freedom a week ago because Ozil didn’t close down the City leftback. Emery thought he could solve the problem by moving Ozil to the No. 10 position against the Blues but the Spanish manager made the problem worse. Jorginho capitalized on Ozil’s laziness to dictate play and lead all players with 99 passes. Besides the opening goal, Jorginho created chances by sending balls over the top to Barkley in the sixth minute and to Kante in the 13th.

In 67 minutes, Ozil won 0 tackle and made 0 interception and just 2 ball recoveries, according to the club’s website. By contrast, Barkley who played in a similar position with Chelsea won 0 tackle and made 2 interceptions and 4 recoveries in 60 minutes. It’s quite surprising Emery didn’t realize that Ozil is a defensive liability. When he was the PSG manager, Emery could see how Verratti and Di Maria took advantage of Ozil’s poor work-rate to drop back and send balls over the top in the 2016 Champions League games between Arsenal and the French club.

Ozil’s offensive contribution was just as poor as his defensive work. He made 0 key pass and had 0 shot on target. Monreal gave him a chance to shine in the eighth minute but Ozil’s volley sailed wide of the far post. Ozil then failed to anticipate a teasing cross from Aubameyang in the 47th. Emery replaced Ozil with Ramsey in the 67th and the Wales midfielder proved a greater goal threat in his cameo. Ramsey tested Kepa with a low strike in the 77th before firing a half-volley over the bar in the 90th.

Emery has a big problem on the right wing because Ozil couldn’t contain Mendy a week ago and Mkhitaryan struggled badly against Alonso on Saturday. Obviously, you don’t face leftbacks as good as Mendy and Alonso every weekend but you can bet that other Premier League teams have spotted that chink in the Arsenal armor.

The understanding between Mkhitaryan and Iwobi

Mkhitaryan worked harder than Ozil as he made 2 interceptions and 9 recoveries. He was arguably Arsenal’s best player, finishing the game with 1 goal and 1 assist and leading all players with 5 key passes. The Armenia international found the net in the 37th by pouncing on a loose ball to fire into the bottom corner from 18 yards. Then Mkhitaryan set up Iwobi for the equalizer with a low cross in the 41st. Interestingly, Iwobi and Mkhitaryan seemed to strike an understanding in that game. Iwobi cut the ball back for Mkhitaryan, who blazed over the bar from 9 yards in the 32nd. They swapped roles on the stroke of halftime as Iwobi met a low cross from Mkhitaryan only to miss the target from 12 yards. If Emery had to choose between Ozil and Mkhitaryan, the latter made a strong case that it should be him.

Iwobi’s performance was a mixed bag. On the bright side, he showed end product with 1 goal and 2 key passes. Iwobi picked out an unmarked Aubameyang, who shot wide from 8 yards in the 44th. I believe he still needs to improve his work-rate and cut his turnovers to become a solid starter. The Nigeria international won no tackle and made just 1 interception and 4 recoveries. He also led all players with 6 turnovers and had a passing accuracy dipping to 56%, the lowest percentage for any player according to whoscored.com.

In central midfield, Guendouzi performed better than against City. He not only cut some mistakes out of his game but also won 2 of 4 tackles and 82% of his duels, had a passing accuracy of 94%, and made 4 interceptions, 1 block and 8 recoveries, according to the club’s website. Those are much better stats than Xhaka, who won 0 of 1 tackle and made 0 interception and 1 recovery in the first half. Guendouzi showed an eye for a pass in the 19th by releasing Bellerin down the right flank. The Spaniard made a low cross for an unmarked Aubameyang, who fired over the bar from 8 yards with the goal at his mercy.

Guendouzi as an all-rounder

Obviously, Guendouzi still has a lot of room for improvement, but I can see why Emery started the French teenager. If you love total football and watch the Liverpool midfield or the City midfield, you would think that Guendouzi could make the cut as an all-rounder. He made a timely tackle on Hazard as the last defender in the 83rd and took his chance in the 43rd with a long-range strike that Kepa easily saved. Like Pires some 18 years ago, Guendouzi will have to toughen up a bit. Jorginho brushed him off the ball in the fourth minute to create a half-chance for Pedro.

It’s just a question of weeks before Emery drops Xhaka from the starting lineup because he is not a good fit for the manager’s tactics. Xhaka simply lacks the mobility and pace to press or show for the ball when the team tries to play out from the back. The Switzerland international gave the ball away in the 13th and was booked in the 27th for a late tackle on Pedro. Xhaka was replaced at halftime by Torreira, who seemed to lack match sharpness. Torreira was dispossessed by Pedro on the edge of the Arsenal box in the 52nd and received a yellow card in the 71st for a foul on Kovacic. The Uruguay midfielder was also guilty on the last goal as he failed to track Alonso in the 81st.

Chelsea’s winning goal started with a turnover from Lacazette, who replaced Iwobi in the 75th. Lacazette attempted a risky back pass toward Torreira. Hazard intercepted the ball and the play developed on our right flank where Hazard dribbled past Lacazette to square the ball back for Alonso,who shot past Cech. Lacazette got some stick for his turnover but Bellerin failed to stop Hazard’s cross and Torreira let Alonso run past him.

If you look at the screen capture below, you can see that Lacazette only had one safe passing option: Aubameyang. But Lacazette panicked because he felt Luiz’s presence behind him. Lacazette is simply not comfortable playing with his back to goal. He played as a centerforward for Lyon but he’s still not used to the physicality of the Premier League. I don’t understand why Wenger and Emery both played Aubameyang on the left wing and Lacazette up front when Aubameyang is a more natural choice for the centerforward position. Lacazette should be playing on the right wing or as a second striker.

Chelsea vs. Arsenal M80ed Lacazette ignores his best passing option, Aubameyang. (Photo credit: BT Sport)

Aubameyang could have notched a hat trick with better finishing. Unmarked, he missed the target from 8 yards in the 19th and 44th. He also chased a long ball from Mustafi in the 17th to fire a low effort straight at Kepa. Despite that poor performance, Aubameyang should still retain his starting spot for the next game because he’s more clinical than Welbeck and has more pace than Lacazette.

Lack of leadership

It’s hard to find any positive at the back. Bellerin made the penultimate pass for the equalizer but he’s still playing too much like a wingback. He needs to improve his positional play and find the right balance between attack and defense. Hazard too easily rounded him in the 70th. Bellerin also let his teammates down in the 78th. The Spaniard casually jogged back, letting Mkhitaryan and Ramsey deal with Pedro and Alonso on the right flank. Pedro made a cross for Kante, who headed over the bar.

Monreal initiated Arsenal’s first goal by dispossessing Willian but Saturday’s game also confirmed that he has lost a step. In the 14th, Monreal failed to stay with Pedro, who chased a ball over the top from Willian. Then Pedro easily turned Monreal in the 55th before Barkley rounded Monreal in the 57th to test Cech with a low strike.

Mustafi led Arsenal players with 3 fouls. He got booked in the 77th for fouling Hazard from behind. Mustafi is not a world-class defender like Koscielny and simply lacks the leadership to marshal the back four. Playing a high defensive line will be an issue for Emery because Sokratis has no recovery pace while Mustafi’s reading of the game can be poor.

The Gunners threw caution to the wind in the closing minutes. Cech saved them from an embarrassing scoreline by making a couple of fine saves, parrying an angled shot from Hazard in the 86th and denying Giroud in the 87th and in stoppage time. Cech occasionally played out from the back, but when he felt that it was too risky, he opted for a long kick.

This is a transition season for Arsenal. But the club can’t afford a poor result against West Ham on Saturday. Even Manchester United under Moyes never lost three straight games in the Premier League. And if the Gunners were to fall in the relegation zone, that would be the start of a crisis. In any club, most fans call for the sack of the manager when their team stays in the drop zone for weeks.

A few thoughts on the Arsenal tour in Europe

The summer tour has been positive overall with 2 wins and 2 draws, but it is still difficult to see Emery’s impact on the Arsenal team. The Gunners drew 1-1 with Chelsea on Wednesday before defeating Lazio 2-0 on Saturday.

2018 European TourPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Both games raised concerns about the Arsenal defense. Chelsea looked sharper and could have put the game to bed in the first half while Lazio played at a slower tempo and couldn’t find the net despite torturing the Gunners with crosses.

  1. Implementing the pressing game

Pressing is a defensive tool to stop counterattacks but it’s also an attacking tool to create chances. Chelsea and Arsenal both tried to press high up the pitch when they lost possession. The Gunners still have a long way to go. The Blues looked better drilled, forcing turnovers in dangerous areas, while Arsenal’s pressing never really troubled Chelsea.

  1. Same old defensive frailties

The last years of Wenger’s tenure were defined by recurrent defensive issues: the Gunners often looked vulnerable on set pieces and crosses as well as on the fast break. The Blues took advantage of some poor defensive organization to open the scoring in the fifth minute. Rudiger lost Smith-Rowe to head in Fabregas’ corner. A rookie shouldn’t be marking one of Chelsea’s main aerial threats. The problem wasn’t fixed at halftime as Rudiger toyed again with Smith-Rowe in the 57th only to head a corner wide.

The Blues also did a lot of damage on the fast break. Fabregas wasted a counterattack in the 10th by slipping the ball to an offside Morata. Then Hudson-Odoi dispossessed Elneny in the 24th to feed Morata, who was denied by Cech. Three days later, the Lazio game exposed Arsenal’s poor job in stopping dangerous crosses. Yet, Caicedo in the 16th, Lulic in the 37th and Parolo in the 35th and 49th all missed the target.

This is not Emery’s team yet. Fans will need to show a bit of patience for what is mostly a transition season. But if those defensive issues are not corrected by the end of the season, then the club may not have hired the right manager.

  1. The back four is a worry

The Gunners have a problem at leftback. Kolasinac picked up a knee injury against Chelsea and will be sidelined for 2 months, while Monreal didn’t play in any summer friendly and currently has a knee problem preventing him from training with the team. Wenger got some stick last season for playing Maitland-Niles in the leftback position but the irony is that Emery did the same thing against Lazio.

At rightback, Hudson-Odoi had Bellerin in his pocket and even won a penalty when the Spaniard tripped him in the 14th. Bellerin is expected to get a bit of competition from Lichtsteiner, who made his Arsenal debut on Saturday and had a more comfortable evening against Lazio veteran Lulic. There are big question marks about Lichtsteiner’s ability to adapt to the pace of English football. Lichtsteiner performed well with Juventus, but Serie A games don’t really match the intensity of the Premier League.

Sokratis and Mustafi started at centerback against Chelsea and looked vulnerable when Arsenal played a high defensive line. The Blues capitalized on Sokratis’ lack of recovery pace to send balls over the top. Hudson-Odoi collected a long ball from Jorginho in the 42nd but had his effort cleared off the line by Mustafi.

If Sokratis and Mustafi perform poorly or get injured, the back-up options are very limited. Koscielny will miss the first half of the season. That means Holding, Chambers or Mavropanos would have to step up. Chambers was so slow in the 26th that Lulic was able to charge down his clearance. Lulic got again the better of Chambers, who made a cynical foul on the Lazio veteran in the 54th. Meanwhile, Holding put himself in trouble with some poor decision-making, attempting a risky pass that was intercepted in the 31st and losing possession after dribbling inside his own half in the 77th.

  1. The Gunners need more creativity

Over the past 12 months, the club has lost a lot of creativity with the departures of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanchez, Cazorla and Wilshere. The responsibility for creating chances now rests on the shoulders of Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Iwobi. Against Chelsea, Mkhitaryan had an off day. The Gunners played better when Nelson replaced Mkhitaryan in the 72nd. The academy player made a cross that Lacazette converted in stoppage time to force a penalty shootout. Nelson also opened the scoring against Lazio, tapping home a rebound in the 18th after Iwobi struck the post with a low diagonal strike.

At 18, Nelson is a very promising youngster. He can deliver the final ball and dribble past defenders. But he is unlikely to perform consistently in the Premier League. If you add Iwobi’s own inconsistency issues, that means Arsenal can only rely on Ozil and Mkhitaryan for a significant number of assists this season. Maybe the Gunners could sign another creative midfielder this summer if they manage to offload for a good fee the players that Emery does not want.

  1. The Arsenal midfield is too soft

Elneny, Guendouzi and Smith-Rowe started in midfield against Chelsea. That trio would badly struggle against any decent Premier League side. It’s true that Torreira, Xhaka and Ramsey are more likely to be the starters in a three-man midfield. But I can’t help thinking that Wilshere, Cazorla and the Ox were better options than Elneny, Guendouzi and Smith-Rowe.

There’s no doubt that Guendouzi has great potential as a deep-lying playmaker, but the brutal contrast with Jorginho’s flawless performance on Wednesday showed the gap between those 2 players. Guendouzi is simply too casual for such a key position. He put his team in trouble against Atletico by dribbling on the edge of the Arsenal area.

You would have thought that Guendouzi learned his lesson, but he didn’t. The French teenager was reckless against Chelsea, attempting again to dribble on the edge of the Arsenal box. Guendouzi was lucky to draw a foul in the 20th, he nearly lost possession in the 28th, and he was dispossessed in the 33rd as the Blues hit Arsenal on the fast break. As long as Guendouzi doesn’t cut those mistakes out of his game, it would be foolish to start him in a Premier League game.

Torreira finally made his Arsenal debut on Saturday. He’s definitely the kind of defensive midfielder that the club has been missing since Gilberto Silva. His strong tactical discipline and his sound positional play make him a better fit for the No. 6 role than Xhaka.

It was quite intriguing to see Torreira play with Xhaka in a 4-4-2 formation against Lazio. Maybe Emery will use that system if Ramsey is still injured or leaves the club. Ramsey picked up a calf strain while warming up for the Chelsea game and was replaced by Smith-Rowe in the starting lineup. Chelsea and Liverpool seem both interested in the Wales midfielder, who only has a year left on his contract. The Blues don’t have that type of player in their squad while Ramsey would be a perfect fit for Liverpool’s football style.

  1. How much gas does Cech still have left in the tank?

At 36, Cech is in the twilight of his career. Past the age of 35, some goalkeepers can still perform at the top level (Zoff, Van der Sar, Buffon), while others tend to decline sharply (Taffarel, Casillas). Cech was the player who made the most errors leading to a goal in the Premier League last season. Can he catch a second wind?

His performance against Chelsea seems to suggest that Cech may still have one season left at the top. He saved Morata’s tame penalty in the 15th and helped Arsenal stay in the game with a couple more outstanding saves. In the penalty shootout, Cech stopped Loftus-Cheek’s spot kick before Iwobi converted the last kick of the game.