Tag Archives: Jenkinson

Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace: Top 4 hopes dealt a blow in 3-2 loss

   Sunday’s 3-2 loss to Crystal Palace was a bad result for Arsenal’s hopes of finishing in the Top 4. The Gunners slipped to fifth place in the Premier League and you have to keep in mind that the home game against the Eagles was one of the easiest fixtures in their run-in, at least on paper. The defeat against Hodgson’s team was all the more disappointing that it came after 3 straight clean sheets in all competitions. Somehow, the result simply confirmed that the Arsenal squad is not good enough to cope with a heavy schedule.

Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace.JPGPhoto credit: Premier League

   Emery got a lot of stick for making 7 changes to the side that edged Napoli 1-0 last Thursday with only Kolasinac, Koscielny, Aubameyang and Lacazette retaining their starting spots. Obviously, the midfield looked very soft with Elneny and Guendouzi. Ramsey and Xhaka were left out of the squad because of injuries while Emery was careful with Torreira, who picked up a knock against Napoli. The options at the back were also limited: Sokratis was completing his two-game ban while Emery wanted to rest Monreal and Maitland-Niles. Quite a few fans must have felt nervous at kickoff with a backline including Mavropanos, Jenkinson, Mustafi and Kolasinac.

   I thought Emery’s team selection for a home game was too conservative with only 3 attacking players (Ozil, Aubameyang and Lacazette) in the starting lineup. The Gunners enjoyed a lot of sterile possession in the first half with very few chances. The team looked a bit more balanced after Emery shifted from a 3-4-3 formation to a 4-2-3-1 system by replacing Jenkinson and Mavropanos with Maitland-Niles and Iwobi at halftime. Nevertheless, the final stats showed Emery’s tactical approach was still a failure with only 12 shots to 16 for the Eagles despite 73% of ball possession.

The importance of decision-making

   The goals scored by Palace all came from set pieces. You would think that it’s a legacy of the Wenger era. But a closer inspection reveals that it was a matter of individual errors and not poor defensive organization. Arsenal perfectly executed the offside trap against Napoli. So the Gunners tried that ploy again when the Eagles had a free kick in the 17th. Unfortunately, Benteke connected with Milivojevic’s set piece to beat Leno with a free header from 8 yards.

Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace M17ed.jpgJenkinson fails to play Benteke offside. (Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com)

   As you can see on the screen capture above, the Arsenal defense played the offside trap. But Jenkinson didn’t get the memo and played Benteke onside. Jenkinson was 100 percent guilty on that play because Benteke and the other Gunners stood right in front of him, so there’s no way he couldn’t see what was going on. Jenkinson furiously gesticulated after Benteke scored, probably thinking that Mustafi poorly marked Benteke. But Jenkinson was the one who undermined the offside trap by standing one yard behind Mustafi and Mavropanos.

   That was definitely poor decision-making from Jenkinson. I mean, Emery can show his players tons and tons of videos to improve their performance, but at the end of the day, it’s the players on the pitch who make the decisions.

   Mustafi is famous for his brain farts. On Sunday, the German defender lived up to his reputation as an error-prone player by costing 2 goals. The Eagles won a free kick in their own half in the 61st. They punted the ball toward Benteke, who flicked it on. The second ball fell to Mustafi, who shielded the ball, expecting Leno to come off his line. Zaha stole the ball to beat Leno with a low strike for a 2-1 lead.

Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace M61ed.jpgMustafi expects Leno to beat Zaha to the ball. (Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com)

   Let’s make things clear: the goal was 100 percent Mustafi’s fault. When the ball bounced in front of Mustafi 25 yards from goal, Leno was standing just outside his 6-yard box. Because the ball had very little pace and Mustafi seemed in control of the situation, Leno decided to stay inside his area. As you can see on the screen capture above, Leno had no chance to beat Zaha to the ball when Mustafi started to shield it with his body. Leno made the right decision while Mustafi made the wrong one. In that kind of situation, Mustafi should have simply cleared the danger.

Owning a mistake (or not)

   The worst part is that Mustafi tried to blame Leno for that goal just like he tried to blame Cech a year ago for a goal scored by Southampton in a 3-2 win. Making a blunder is already bad, but not owning your mistakes can be a morale killer in any team. Mustafi showed again poor decision-making for Palace’s third goal in the 69th. McArthur redirected a corner toward Dann, who nodded in from close range.

Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace M69aed.jpgMustafi initially marking Dann on the corner. (Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com)

   As you can see on the screen capture above, Mustafi was in charge of marking Dann at the far post. But for some strange reason, Mustafi started running away from Dann when McArthur was about to flick the ball on. At first, I thought maybe Mustafi was trying to play Dann offside. But it’s unlikely for a team to play the offside trap on a corner before the ball is even headed. As you can see on the screen capture below, Guendouzi, Aubameyang and Kolasinac played Dann onside, which means that there was no plan to execute the offside trap on that corner.

Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace M69bed.jpgMustafi running away from Dann. (Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com)

   It’s only after watching several TV replays that I finally came to the conclusion that Mustafi was trying to meet the corner. From his initial position, Mustafi had no chance to win the first header. It’s not just poor decision-making, it’s also poor tactical discipline. Mustafi could have prevented that goal by staying with Dann and winning the second ball. Both Mustafi and Jenkinson are 27. They won’t improve their reading of the game or their decision-making at that age. The club should offload them this summer to improve the defense.

Koscielny’s aerial struggles

   The visitors’ goals were just the tip of the iceberg. Mustafi could have cost more goals on Sunday. He failed to mark Benteke on the stroke of halftime. The Palace striker took a pass from Zaha only to miss the target from 12 yards. Then Mustafi missed his header in the 56th while attempting to intercept McArthur’s ball over the top for Zaha. Fortunately, Maitland-Niles covered Mustafi and prevented Zaha from pulling the trigger. Besides his blunders, Mustafi showed poor discipline, leading all players with 4 fouls. He even embarrassed himself by earning a booking for diving in the 85th. And his work-rate was poor with just 1 tackle, 2 interceptions and 1 recovery, compared to 2 tackles, 1 block, 2 interceptions and 7 recoveries for Koscielny, according to the club’s website.    

   Koscielny made no glaring mistake like Mustafi, but he lost the key duels with Benteke and McArthur for Palace’s second and third goals. The French defender performed poorly in the air, winning only 1 of 5 aerial duels, while Mustafi won 5 of 8 headers according to whoscored.com. At 33, playing a fourth game in an 11-day span was always going to be a tough ask. His 5 turnovers, a high number for a centerback, clearly reflected his fatigue.

   Playing in a back three alongside Koscielny and Mustafi, Mavropanos looked a bit less hesitant than against Watford. He showed again his naivety in the 16th when he dived in and received a yellow card for holding Benteke. That foul led to the free kick for the opening goal. Emery yanked Mavropanos off at halftime to switch to a back four. At 21, Mavropanos needs playing time in order to learn and develop. A loan in the Championship next season would be a good opportunity.

Jenkinson’s poor work-rate

   On the right flank, Jenkinson’s limited technique was exposed. He contributed very little offensively, sending a cross out of play in the third minute and guiding the ball into touch after miscontrolling a crossfield pass in the 35th. There’s something wrong when a player still looks raw at 27. I’m puzzled that Wenger extended Jenkinson’s contract. What did Wenger see in him? Jenkinson is known as a boyhood Arsenal fan, but his work-rate was incredibly poor with 0 tackle, 1 block, 0 interception and 2 recoveries in the first half.

   At halftime, Emery replaced Jenkinson with Maitland-Niles, who put in a shift with 2 tackles, 1 block, 2 interceptions and 5 recoveries in the second half, according to the club’s website. Maitland-Niles saved the Arsenal defense twice, making a crucial clearance in the 56th and a last-ditch block in the 65th. Frankly, I don’t understand the transfer rumors linking Wan-Bissaka to Arsenal because Maitland-Niles can deputize for Bellerin and the money should be spent on the centerback and central midfield positions.

   On the opposite flank, Kolasinac’s performance was a mixed bag. He should have been awarded a penalty in the 38th for a cross that Wan-Bissaka blocked with his arm. The Bosnia-Herzegovina international also tested Guaita with a half-volley in the 59th. Unfortunately, Kolasinac’s defensive lapses outweighed his offensive contributions. He gave away cheap free kicks with 3 fouls. And his lack of defensive awareness was exposed a couple of times. Kolasinac failed to track Kouyate in the 43rd as the Palace midfielder forced Leno into a spectacular double save. Then Kolasinac left Dann unmarked in the 63rd. The Palace centerback met a free kick from Milivojevic only to volley straight at Leno.

How standards have declined in midfield

   In midfield, Guendouzi and Elneny were responsible for the lack of urgency in the first half. The Gunners used to have deep-lying playmakers like Fabregas and Cazorla who could dictate the tempo and create chances. But neither Guendouzi nor Elneny is a pacesetter. The sterile possession forced Ozil to drop back in the first half to build up plays.

   Guendouzi led all players with 86 passes but he still has that tendency to take too many touches instead of quickly releasing the ball. The French midfielder is simply not decisive enough at both ends of the pitch. His work-rate against the Eagles was good with 2 tackles and 9 recoveries, the most for an Arsenal player. But Guendouzi can’t shield the back four like a Fernandinho, Kante or Torreira. He was dribbled past twice, according to whoscored.com. The more Guendouzi plays, and the more he looks like a utility midfielder. He’s an upgrade over Elneny but he’s still below Xhaka in the pecking order.

   Elneny played in a slightly more advanced position than Guendouzi. Emery wanted to use Elneny as a box-to-box player, which is kind of funny because Wenger tried to play him in the centerback position. The Egypt international was too conservative in his passing. And the few times Elneny tried to play the ball forward, his passing lacked accuracy. His only offensive contribution was a volley over the bar in the 11th. If Emery really wanted a box-to-box player, he should have given a chance to Willock.

   Defensively, Elneny made a blunder by failing to play to the whistle in the 65th. Kouyate led a Palace counterattack and collided with Guendouzi along the touchline. Elneny could have kicked the loose ball out of play. But expecting the referee to make a call in Arsenal’s favor, Elneny stopped playing and let Zaha run past him to continue the fast break. Emery had seen enough and replaced Elneny with Torreira in the 68th. Elneny and Mustafi are examples of the poor job done by the scouting department under Wenger.    

3 wins out of 4 games?

   The only positive of Sunday’s match was the attacking players, who scored 2 goals. In a normal game, that should be enough to get 3 points. Ozil was a bit isolated in the first half. Iwobi’s appearance after halftime helped Ozil have more impact in the final third. Ozil could have put the Gunners ahead in the opening minute but his curling shot from the edge of the box lacked power to trouble Guaita. The German playmaker equalized in the 47th with his trademark chip. Lacazette fed Ozil with a reverse pass. From a tight angle, Ozil knocked the ball into the ground to produce an awkward bounce that fooled Guaita. Ozil nearly leveled again in the 87th with a cross that evaded everybody, except Guaita who tipped the ball away. Two minutes later, Iwobi could have also salvaged a point, but his tame effort from 14 yards was not good enough to beat Guaita. The only blemish in Ozil’s performance was his 10 turnovers, which is unusual for a player with good ball retention skills.  

   Lacazette and Aubameyang are having a good run of form. The French striker scored the winner against Napoli and made the assist for Ozil’s goal on Sunday, while Aubameyang scored the winner against Watford and found the net against Palace. Starting a dribbling run from the right flank in the 77th, Aubameyang slalomed past 3 Eagles before attempting to play Lacazette in. A defender blocked the pass but Aubameyang pounced on the loose ball to fire into the bottom corner. Aubameyang and Lacazette didn’t get much service. Lacazette’s only chance was an off-balance shot from 20 yards that sailed over the bar in the 42nd.

   One month before the end of the season, the board and the staff can already draw their own conclusions about last summer’s transfers. Leno and Torreira have proved successful signings while Lichtsteiner has been a failure, too slow for the Premier League. Sokratis and Guendouzi has been upgrades over Mustafi and Elneny, respectively, but are not at the level of Koscielny and Cazorla in their prime.

   To finish in the Top 4, Arsenal will probably need 3 wins from their last 4 games. The Gunners visit Wolverhampton on Wednesday and Leicester on Sunday. The game at Molineux stadium is more tricky because the Gunners only have 2 days of rest compared to 3 for the Leicester game. Ramsey’s absence is a huge blow because he’s the kind of player whose work-rate makes a difference in away games. I expect Ozil to be on the bench and Mkhitaryan to start for both games.

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Arsenal vs. Bournemouth: Ozil & Mkhitaryan show talent in 5-1 win

   Ozil and Mkhitaryan were the driving force behind Arsenal’s 5-1 demolition of Bournemouth on Wednesday. The Gunners consolidated fourth place in the Premier League but also closed the gap with Spurs to 4 points before Saturday’s North London derby.

Arsenal vs. BournemouthPhoto credit: Premier League

   Emery’s rotation policy paid off. The Spanish manager made 6 changes to the side that sank Southampton 2-0 last weekend with only Mkhitaryan, Torreira, Kolasinac, Sokratis and Leno retaining their starting spots. Xhaka, Ramsey, Mustafi and Lichtsteiner were rested while Iwobi, Lacazette and Suarez came off the bench in the second half.

   The Gunners played at an average tempo in a conservative 3-4-3 formation with Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang in the front three while Kolasinac and Jenkinson provided width as wingbacks. It initially looked like a strange tactical choice for a home game but it somehow worked. Emery then switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation when Iwobi replaced Kolasinac in the 57th minute.

   Arsenal proved quite clinical, scoring 5 goals from 6 shots on target while Bournemouth could only find the net once from 5 shots on target. In the fourth minute, Kolasinac headed a long ball into the path of Mkhitaryan, who miscontrolled it. But Kolasinac pounced on the loose ball to make a first-time pass for Ozil. Taking advantage of a dysfunctional Bournemouth defense, Ozil bore down on goal and chipped Boruc to open the scoring. Mkhitaryan combined with Ozil to double the lead in the 27th. The Armenia international found Ozil inside the area. Ozil faked a curling shot by opening up his body and teed up Mkhitaryan, who volleyed home from 10 yards.

   The two players were again involved in Arsenal’s third goal. Mkhitaryan played a one-two with Ozil in the 47th before making a low cross for Koscielny, who scored with a close-range strike that took a deflection off a defender and ricocheted off the post. The Gunners’ fourth goal in the 59th was a one-pass counterattack. Daniels gave the ball away to Mkhitaryan, who ran 30 yards before slipping a through ball to Aubameyang. The Gabon striker rounded Boruc to score into an empty net. The last goal was the only one that didn’t involve Ozil or Mkhitaryan. Lacazette replaced Mkhitaryan in the 64th and curled a free kick into the bottom corner to put the result beyond doubt in the 78th.

Mkhitaryan’s hot run of form

   Ozil and Mkhitaryan were both brilliant against Bournemouth and many fans must wonder why they haven’t been able to show more consistency this season. They led all players with 4 key passes each. Ozil’s high technical quality is no secret. He led Arsenal starters with a passing accuracy of 96.9%. His understanding with Aubameyang is still a work in progress. Aubameyang was flagged offside when he collected a through ball from Ozil in the 20th. Their partnership improved in the second half. Aubameyang charged down the right flank in the 54th to cut the ball back for Ozil, who shot straight at Boruc. They swapped roles a minute later. Ozil made a run in behind the defense to set up Aubameyang, whose effort was blocked. In the 83rd, Ozil showcased again his vision with a clipped pass for Lacazette, whose volley missed the target.

   Is Ozil finally buying into Emery’s method? The stats seem to suggest it. Ozil managed to match Mkhitaryan’s work-rate. The German playmaker won 1 of 1 tackle and made 1 interception and 6 recoveries, according to the club’s website, while Mkhitaryan won 1 of 1 tackle and made 6 recoveries. Ozil will probably get the plaudits because of the way the club has treated him in the winter. But I felt Mkhitaryan was the unsung hero of Wednesday’s game. Mkhitaryan could have added another goal in the ninth minute when he chested down a pass from Kolasinac but his volley was cleared off the line by Ake.

   Mkhitaryan is on a hot run of form. He has notched 2 goals and 3 assists in the last two games to become Arsenal’s most productive attacking midfielder this season with 6 goals and 4 assists in 17 Premier League games. That’s an average of 0.59 goal or assist per game. Ozil has an average of 0.38 goal or assist per game with 4 goals and 2 assists in 16 games, slightly ahead of Ramsey (2 goals and 6 assists in 23 games for a 0.32 average) and Iwobi (3 goals and 4 assists in 25 games for a 0.28 average).

Paying a price for youth

   If Ozil and Ramsey could get near their best, the Gunners would definitely have a better shot at finishing in the Top 4. For the record, here are their averages of goal or assist per Premier League game in the past five seasons: Ozil had an average of 0.38 in 2017-18, 0.52 in 2016-17, 0.71 in 2015-16, 0.41 in 2014-15, and 0.54 in 2013-14, while Ramsey had an average of 0.63 in 2017-18, 0.22 in 2016-17, 0.29 in 2015-16, 0.41 in 2014-15 and 0.78 in 2013-14.

   The Cherries’ consolation goal came from an error by Guendouzi in the 30th. The Gunners were trying to play out from the back as Guendouzi dropped off to take a pass from Leno. The key is to move the ball quickly in order to beat pressing opponents. But Guendouzi dallied on the ball and was dispossessed by Gosling on the edge of the Arsenal box. The Bournemouth midfielder fed Mousset, who scored into an empty net.

   As you can see on the screen capture below, Guendouzi had two passing options with Monreal on the left flank and Leno inside the area. Leno was the more conservative option and would have aimed at attracting more Bournemouth players, whereas Monreal was the more daring option and would have aimed at launching an attack down the left flank with Monreal possibly finding Kolasinac along the touchline.

Arsenal vs. Bournemouth M30 editedGuendouzi fails to pass the ball to Monreal or Leno. (Photo credit: Sportsnet)

   That’s the price you pay for playing an inexperienced teenager in the Premier League. What really matters is that Guendouzi learns from his mistakes. He must get rid of this bad habit of taking too many touches and not releasing the ball quickly enough, especially since deep-lying playmaker is most likely his best position. Guendouzi dallied on the ball again in the 50th and the subsequent turnover led to a scoring chance for Fraser, whose low drive was saved by Leno.

The Suarez enigma

   However, there’s a reason why the fans love Guendouzi: he doesn’t hide, even after a high-profile blunder. Guendouzi led all players with 96 passes. He also had a cross-shot palmed away by Boruc in the 43rd and hit a ball over the top for Lacazette in the 65th. Lacazette held off Ake to fire a shot that Boruc turned around the post. Guendouzi finished the game with better stats than Torreira: 1 key pass vs. 0, 2 turnovers vs. 4, and 8 recoveries vs. 4. But Guendouzi cost his team a goal while Torreira didn’t.

   As the Gunners had the game under control, Emery gave Suarez some playing time by yanking Aubameyang off in the 71st. The Barcelona loanee hasn’t shown much in his 5 short appearances for Arsenal. Suarez still lacks a bit of match sharpness. And time is not on his side: the Spaniard only has 3 months left to make an impact. If Suarez doesn’t score or make assists, signing him could turn into a big gamble.

   On the right flank, Jenkinson was given a rare start. His limited technique showed at times. The academy graduate had 4 turnovers and a passing accuracy of 78.7%, compared to 90.7% for Kolasinac. Jenkinson’s contract runs until 2020. I hope Arsenal will be able to sell him this summer because he’s not good enough for a Top 4 club and Maitland-Niles has more potential than Jenkinson. On the opposite flank, Kolasinac had a quiet game with 2 key passes and 2 recoveries. In his post-match conference, Emery disclosed that Kolasinac was playing with a muscle problem.

   In the back three, Koscielny was our most solid defender, winning 1 of 1 tackle and making 1 block, 4 interceptions and 4 recoveries, according to the club’s website. Fraser managed to expose Koscielny’s age with a sprint in the 19th. Clean through on goal, the Scotland winger was denied by Leno’s diving save. The rebound fell to Gosling, whose shot was blocked by Koscielny. The French veteran prevented a goal in the 85th with a sliding clearance to prevent Surridge from connecting with King’s pass for a tap-in. Playing alongside Koscielny, Sokratis had an off day with 0 tackle, 0 block, 0 interception and 0 recovery. Those are very unusual stats for a centerback.

Time for the Premier League to adopt VAR

   King doesn’t have a reputation for being a dirty player. Yet, his performance on Wednesday gave that kind of impression. King knocked the ball past Koscielny in the 32nd before falling to the ground in the hope of winning a penalty. The referee wasn’t conned and booked King for diving. King crossed Koscielny’s path again in the 87th. Koscielny killed a counterattack by knocking the ball off King’s feet with a sliding tackle. In that kind of situation, the forward usually jumps over the defender’s leg. But King made no effort to avoid the collision and planted his studs into Koscielny’s knee. TV replays showed it was a deliberate stamp. Maybe the referee and the linesman didn’t see the foul. King was very lucky that the VAR system is not used in the Premier League because it should have been a sending-off.

   Leno definitely made a crucial save by denying Fraser in the 16th. At 1-1, it could have been a different story. The German goalkeeper also tipped a 20-yard strike from King over the bar in the 67th. The crossbar came to Leno’s rescue in the 57th when Gosling took his chance with a swerving effort from 30 yards.  

   Arsenal’s Top 4 hopes might depend on their next two league games. They visit Tottenham on Saturday before hosting Manchester United a week later. Both Spurs and the Red Devils are direct rivals for Champions League spots. Three points out of 6 would be a decent return while a single point would force the Gunners to have a perfect run-in.

   I suspect Emery will start Xhaka and Ramsey at Wembley since Pochettino’s Spurs are known for pressing and running a lot. The Spanish manager will also have to make a big call on the right flank where Son usually makes his runs. Lichtsteiner doesn’t have the legs to cope and Maitland-Niles is still a raw player. Mustafi could be a tactical surprise in that position.

FA Cup: A few thoughts on the 3-0 win over Blackpool

The Gunners advanced to the fourth round of the FA Cup by routing the Seasiders 3-0 on Saturday. They played in a half-empty stadium because the Blackpool fans boycotted the game to protest against their controversial owner.

fa cup 3rd roundPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Although Arsenal defeated Blackpool in the League Cup a couple of months ago, Emery fielded a relatively strong team with just 2 academy players in the starting lineup (Willock and Nketiah). Emery gave the evening off to Leno, Xhaka and Aubameyang but had Guendouzi, Torreira and Lacazette on the bench in case things went south.

Koscielny was supposed to start the game but Emery had to pull him out of the team because of some back pain during the warm-up. The Spanish manager shifted Lichtsteiner to the centerback position while Jenkinson made a rare start at rightback.

  1. Is Willock having a breakthrough season?

What a difference an eye can make. Willock played as a defensive midfielder under Wenger last season because he had a poor scoring record with just 1 goal in 12 games with the U23 team. Emery saw something else in Willock and turned him into an attacking midfielder. The tactical move paid off as Willock scored twice against the Seasiders.

After Ramsey’s free kick hit the far post, Willock pounced on the rebound to head into an empty net for the opening goal in the 10th minute. Willock showed again his flair for goals in the 37th. A Blackpool defender diverted Jenkinson’s cross toward the far post where an opportunistic Willock side-footed home for a 2-0 lead.

Willock had 2 chances to complete a hat trick. Lacazette fed him in the 66th but the English teenager tried to dribble inside the area instead of shooting with his left foot. Then Kolasinac cut the ball back for Willock, who tapped home in the 80th, but the goal was disallowed because of Kolasinac’s offside position.

At 19, Willock is making big strides and could be knocking on the door of the first team next season. His all-around performance at Blackpool was impressive: Willock had 2 of 2 shots on target, made 2 key passes and 1 interception, and won 4 of 5 tackles, tied with Maitland-Niles for the most by any player according to whoscored.com. The only blemish in Willock’s performance was his 7 turnovers, the most for an Arsenal player.

  1. Nketiah should play in a wide position

His hold-up play is average at this stage of his career. Nketiah got bullied off the ball too easily in the 7th, 22nd and 61st. Emery played him in the lone striker role because of his pace but Nketiah still lacks physicality for that position. Nketiah would have a better chance of expressing his potential on the wings.

The academy player had 3 good chances in the first half but failed to convert them. In the third minute, Maitland-Niles picked out Nketiah who fired wide. Then Nketiah met a cross from Maitland-Niles in the seventh minute, but missed the target from 6 yards with a sliding effort. On the stroke of halftime, Nketiah got the better of O’Connor on a punt from Cech only to be denied by Howard.

  1. When Ramsey is all over the pitch

At times, Ramsey played like a holding midfielder, dropping off to take passes from Sokratis and Cech. And at times, he played like an attacking midfielder, making runs into the box to be in scoring positions. Emery loves to have the control of the game, which is in complete contradiction with Ramsey’s tactical indiscipline. Yet, it is Ramsey’s movement and ability to find space which make him such a threat in the final third.

Ramsey was involved in the 3 goals. It was the rebound from his free kick that led to the opening goal in the 10th. Then Ramsey beat 5 Seasiders with his vertical pass to Maitland-Niles while playing the ball out from the back for the second goal in the 37th. And Ramsey made the run to collect Lacazette’s pass in the 81st. Howard palmed Ramsey’s effort into the path of Iwobi, who tapped in to seal the win. Ramsey tried hard to score with another run in the 90th but Howard quickly came off his line to block Ramsey’s shot.

  1. Iwobi must improve his defensive awareness

The Nigeria international is enjoying a good run of form. He scored 1 goal and made 2 key passes against Blackpool. With better finishing, Iwobi could have notched another goal. He chased a ball over the top from Willock in the 85th to be clean through on goal, but slowed down to shift the ball to his right foot. That hesitation gave Daniels enough time to catch up and narrow the angle. Forced to shoot with his left foot, Iwobi was denied by Howard.

The next step for Iwobi is to improve his defensive contribution. Nowadays, attacking midfielders in the top clubs have to work their socks off. Bernardo Silva’s defensive performance in the recent match between Liverpool and Manchester City is one obvious example. Iwobi was caught napping in the 58th, allowing Nottingham to run in front of him and connect with a low cross for a 12-yard shot that sailed over the bar. According to whoscored.com, Iwobi was dribbled past 3 times, the most for any player.

  1. The Gunners kept a clean sheet

Sokratis was a rock at the back, taking the sting off Taylor’s shot in the 18th, intercepting a dangerous cross in the 21st, clearing the danger after Delfouneso dribbled past Kolasinac and Elneny in the 63rd and making a timely challenge on Delfouneso in stoppage time.

By contrast, Lichtsteiner produced another shaky performance, backing down to let Gnanduillet shoot in the fifth minute and casually giving the ball way in the 6th, 19th and 35th. On the right flank, Jenkinson showed his technical limitations with a passing accuracy of 68.4%, the lowest percentage among Arsenal starters according to whoscored.com. Jenkinson failed to stop a dangerous cross from Feeney in the 24th and failed to block the Blackpool midfielder’s curling shot in the 33rd.

League Cup: A few thoughts on the 2-1 win over Blackpool

The Gunners edged Blackpool 2-1 on Wednesday to next play Tottenham in the League Cup quarterfinals. They made life difficult for themselves with a silly red card in the second half. The third-division Seasiders proved toothless in the first half, giving Arsenal plenty of time on the ball. After Guendouzi’s ejection in the 56th minute, Blackpool started pressing high up the pitch and could have equalized to force a penalty shootout.

Arsenal vs. BlackpoolPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Emery made 9 changes to the side that drew 2-2 with Crystal Palace on Sunday with only Mustafi and Guendouzi retaining their starting spots. In a 4-3-3 formation, Guendouzi played behind Ramsey and Maitland-Niles in midfield while Smith-Rowe teamed up with Mkhitaryan and Welbeck in the front three. The numerous changes led to a lack of fluency in Arsenal’s passing game. The Gunners also lacked penetration in the final third as they had no natural dribbler in their starting lineup.

  1. Smith-Rowe is making an impact

The English teenager scored the winning goal with an awkward effort in the 50th, volleying a rebound into the ground, but the ball looped over a defender and into the net. I’ve already said that Smith-Rowe reminds me of a young Raul because of his flair for finding good positions in the final third. Some fans have suggested that he could be a replacement for Ramsey in midfield but I think second striker will be Smith-Rowe’s best position.

  1. Guendouzi showed his immaturity

Traditionally, you play a ballwinner as your holding midfielder because you want protection for your defense. But in the modern game, more and more managers like to have a deep-lying playmaker in the No. 6 role to build play from the back. That can become a problem when the deep-lying playmaker has poor defensive instincts.

Knowing that Guendouzi had a history of making silly fouls at Lorient, Emery gambled again by playing him as a holding midfielder. The French teenager was booked in the 21st for a late challenge on Thompson. He then received a second yellow card for pulling back the Blackpool midfielder in the 56th.

Some fans complained that the referee was too harsh. But at least the referee showed consistency by sending O’Connor off in the 84th for a late tackle on Aubameyang. To Guendouzi’s credit, he created the opening goal in the 34th with a cross that Lichtsteiner diverted home.

  1. Cech made another blunder

In his return from injury, Cech had a poor game. He was in no man’s land when O’Connor headed a corner against the bar in the 53rd. Then Cech lost possession while trying to dribble past Spearing inside the area in the 70th. The ball fell to Delfouneso, who scored into an empty net, but the goal was disallowed for an offside position.

The crowd had jitters each time the ball was played back to Cech. It wouldn’t make sense for Emery to start Cech in the Premier League after Leno’s recent string of good performances. Cech was the player who made the most errors leading to a goal in the Premier League last season. Emery could limit the damage by using Cech in the Europa League and the cup competitions.

  1. Jenkinson could be the last of the Mohicans

A few years ago, Jenkinson was part of the British core with Ramsey, Wilshere, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gibbs. Four of them have departed the club and Jenkinson will be the only one left next summer if the Gunners don’t renew Ramsey’s contract. It was a mistake from the staff to extend Jenkinson’s contract because he was arguably the most limited player in that British core. Arsenal must sell him next year otherwise Jenkinson will leave for free in 2020.

In his return from injury, Jenkinson created the second goal with a cross-shot that Howard palmed into the path of Smith-Rowe. Emery will certainly be upset that Jenkinson gave away 3 free kicks with unnecessary fouls from behind in midfield. If the Spanish manager needs an alternative at leftback, he should give a chance to Pleguezuelo, who had a good game at centerback. Pleguezuelo showed good composure and was comfortable on the ball. But at 5’11, he’s unlikely to shine as a centerback, especially in the Premier League.

  1. Maitland-Niles gives Arsenal more options in midfield

After breaking his leg in August, Maitland-Niles made his return from injury last week by playing with the U23 team. On Wednesday, Maitland-Niles played 60 minutes before Emery yanked him off to send on Torreira in an effort to protect the defense. Maitland-Niles made a decent cross for Ramsey in the 44th but the Wales midfielder missed the target from a tight angle. He’s definitely an interesting option on the bench because he doesn’t have the same profile as Xhaka, Guendouzi, Torreira, Ramsey or Elneny.

  1. Mustafi keeps disappointing

He was supposed to become the next leader of the Arsenal defense when the club signed him in 2016. But Mustafi has mixed decent performances with poor ones since then, struggling in his positional play and making reckless challenges. Mustafi lost the key duel that led to Blackpool’s goal in the 66th as O’Connor beat him to the ball to head in a corner.

 

FA Cup: A few thoughts on the 5-0 win over Southampton

Walcott notched a hat trick on Saturday and Welbeck opened his account this season with two goals as the Gunners thrashed Southampton 5-0 in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Last November, Arsenal lost 2-0 to the Saints in the League Cup after fielding a weakened team. The Gunners learned their lesson and picked a stronger starting lineup while Southampton preferred to rest some key players.

  1. Perez is such an underrated player

Arsenal signed Perez last summer because of his goalscoring abilities. But the Spaniard has tremendous passing skills too. He hit 3 accurate through balls out of 4, the most for any player according to whoscored.com. He also displayed a fantastic work-rate by winning 4 tackles.

fa-cup-southampton

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

In the role of a false nine, Perez helped create two goals with some nifty link-up play. He fed Welbeck for the opening goal in the 15th minute. Initially, the play didn’t look dangerous when Maitland-Niles found Perez back to goal. But Perez created some space behind the Saints’ backline by dropping back and he gave them no time to regroup by making a first-time pass. You can see Perez’s intelligence on the pitch as he spots Welbeck’s run before receiving the ball from Maitland-Niles. Welbeck then played a one-two with Perez before setting up Walcott for the third goal in the 35th.

Perez struck a good understanding with Welbeck at St Mary’s stadium just like he was on the same wavelength with Ozil against Ludogorets and with Giroud against Preston and Bournemouth. He made a teasing cross for Welbeck in the fifth minute but the England international couldn’t make contact with the ball for a tap-in. Perez also teed up Bellerin, who shot straight at the goalkeeper in the 53rd.

  1. Maitland-Niles is the revelation of the season

Much like Bellerin enjoyed a breakthrough season two years ago and Iwobi broke into the first team last season, Maitland-Niles is the youngster who is knocking on the door of the manager with a string of good performances.

At 19, Maitland-Niles is already showing some smart positional play. He helped set a good tempo on Saturday by taking very few touches. His sober and clean performance as a holding midfielder allowed Oxlade-Chamberlain to focus on his playmaking duties. Maitland-Niles won 6 tackles and made 3 interceptions, the most for any player in both categories according to whoscored.com. He also made 79 passes, the most for any player, an obvious sign that his teammates trust him on the pitch.

If Maitland-Niles keeps performing at this level, he could leapfrog Elneny in the pecking order just like Bellerin got ahead of Debuchy and Jenkinson. Maitland-Niles stood on his feet to win a tackle inside the Arsenal area in the 44th. Knowing that Xhaka got sent off for some reckless challenges, it must be good news for the manager to see that Maitland-Niles does not dive in.

His reading of the game also saved the Gunners a couple of times. Long in the 51st and Sims in the 74th got the better of Mustafi, but each time Maitland-Niles covered the Germany international to either clear the danger or make a crucial block. He also came to Bellerin’s rescue when the Spaniard lost possession in the 56th.

Maitland-Niles seems more ready than Holding or Reine-Adelaide to join the first team. Holding still needs to iron out basic mistakes like taking unnecessary risks in his own half while Reine-Adelaide is a bit too soft for the Premier League despite showing his class with some stunning dribbling moves. The French teenager was dispossessed 4 times, the most for any Arsenal player.

  1. The Ox is a solid option in central midfield

Oxlade-Chamberlain really looked comfortable in the deep-lying playmaker role. He made 3 key passes, more than any other player, and slipped 2 accurate through balls out of 3. His passing range also helped the Ox hit 7 accurate long balls out of 8.

The former Southampton player created the second goal in the 22nd with a ball over the top for Welbeck, who ghosted past Stephens to beat Lewis. The Ox also played Perez clean through on goal with a long ball in the 89th, but the Spaniard was denied by Lewis. His delivery on set pieces was a mixed bag. The Ox wasted a free kick and a corner by overhitting the ball. On a more positive note, Mustafi met an Ox free kick in the 29th to head wide from six yards.

Some fans may wonder why the Ox is not playing more often in midfield. Competition with Cazorla, Ramsey, Wilshere and Xhaka is one obvious explanation. But another reason is the time it took for the Ox to mature as a player. In the past seasons, inconsistency combined with a high turnover rate and an average decision-making have prevented the Ox from claiming a starting spot in midfield.

The Southampton game was pretty much an audition for central midfielders since Coquelin and Ramsey are the only two players available now. Xhaka is serving a four-game suspension, Elneny is on national duty with Egypt and Cazorla may not return before April.

The Ox and Maitland-Niles formed a complementary duo. However, we shouldn’t get our hopes high too quickly. The Southampton midfield was poor. Also, there’s no guarantee that Maitland-Niles or the Ox will perform as well with a different partner in central midfield. For the next FA Cup game, Wenger could test again the tandem formed by the Ox and Maitland-Niles or experiment with a Ramsey-Maitland duo or an Ox-Coquelin duo.

  1. Sanchez is always hungry

Somehow, the manager couldn’t keep Sanchez on the bench for the entire match. The Chile striker replaced Welbeck in the 64th and showed his hunger by making two assists. He capitalized on a mazy run from the Ox in the 69th to cut the ball back for Walcott, who made it 4-0 with a low strike into the far corner. Sanchez then collected a long ball from Perez in the 84th and kept two defenders busy before picking out Walcott, who sealed the game with a first-time finish.

  1. Gibbs is not taking his chance

Monreal has had his ups and downs this season. Yet, Gibbs has not been able to snatch the starting spot at leftback. Monreal has made 20 starts in the Premier League compared to just 2 for Gibbs. Saturday’s game showed why. Gibbs gave away a cheap free kick on the edge of the box by tripping Long in the 32nd. The Saints then capitalized on silly turnovers from Gibbs in the 45th and 76th to start counterattacks.

  1. The Premier League is still the top priority

Wenger clearly had Tuesday’s game against Watford on his mind as he left regular starters like Cech, Koscielny, Coquelin, Ramsey, Ozil and Giroud out of the squad while giving some playing time to youngsters like Reine-Adelaide and Maitland-Niles and to second-choice players like Ospina, Holding, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Perez and Welbeck. The Gunners need a victory over Watford to stay in the title race.

  1. Wenger started serving his four-game ban

The manager watched the match from the stands and it made no real difference since Wenger is not a control freak like Conte or Guardiola. Bould proved just as quiet on the bench as the French manager usually is. On paper, Wenger mostly makes an impact on the game with the starting lineup, tactical adjustments at halftime and substitutions in the second half. The touchline ban did not affect Wenger’s influence on the team, especially since the Gunners were leading 3-0 at the end of the first half.

I thought the 10-game ban suggested by some pundits was simply ridiculous. Pardew was hit with a two-game suspension for pushing a linesman in 2012. A four-game ban looked like standard punishment for the small shove on Taylor in the 2-1 win over Burnley combined with the red card for dissent. It wouldn’t have made sense to punish Wenger with a 10-game ban knowing that Pardew was suspended for 7 games in 2014 for headbutting a player. In fact, it would have made the FA look bad to hit Wenger with the same 10-game ban Suarez got for biting Ivanovic in 2013. Comparing a shove with a bite, really?

  1. Mertesacker is back in the squad

Mertesacker sat on the bench at St Mary’s stadium after recovering from a knee injury he picked up last summer. The German centerback is a leader in the dressing room but I’m not sure he should be on the bench for a Premier League game. Mertesacker’s lack of pace makes the Gunners vulnerable on the fast break and prevents them from playing a high defensive line efficiently. Paulista’s decision-making can be dodgy, but I still think he would be a more valuable centerback as long as he plays alongside Koscielny. Putting Mertesacker on the bench would also mean slowing down Holding’s development.

  1. Improving the chemistry in the dressing room

There are a couple of days left before the end of the winter transfer window. It’s unlikely that the club will sign a new player this month. However, the Gunners should take advantage of that window to make some adjustments in the squad and get rid of grumpy players who want more playing time.

Debuchy is the big thorn in Arsenal’s side. A loan seems the most realistic option given his age and wages. Jenkinson is of no use either for the team as he has slipped behind Bellerin, Paulista and Maitland-Niles in the pecking order at rightback. Crystal Palace and Arsenal have agreed a deal but the move has stalled because of Jenkinson’s salary demands. The club might also consider loaning out Akpom and Reine-Adelaide to speed up their development.

 

League Cup: A few thoughts on the 2-0 loss to Southampton

In their first defeat since August, the Gunners lost 2-0 to Southampton in the fifth round of the League Cup on Wednesday. I couldn’t care less about the League Cup. Spain, Germany and Italy only have one cup competition while England is stupid enough to exhaust its clubs with two cup competitions. Therefore, I completely agree with Wenger’s decision to rest his key players in the League Cup. However, Wednesday’s game showed some significant weaknesses that could hurt Arsenal in the Premier League.

  1. Our bench is not good enough

Wenger made 10 changes to the side that defeated Bournemouth 3-1 on Sunday. The Saints also heavily rotated as Puel dropped eight players who started in the 1-0 victory over Everton last weekend. Basically, the Southampton bench proved stronger than the Arsenal bench. Experienced players like Jenkinson and Elneny showed their limitations while Ramsey and Gibbs under-performed.

league-cup-southampton

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

The 18-year-old Reine-Adelaide got the nod on the right wing but is nowhere near the level of Manchester United forward Rashford, who made his breakthrough at the same age last season. I believe Reine-Adelaide still needs more time with the U23 team to hone his skills and learn from his mistakes.

Iwobi was arguably our best player. He burst from midfield in the 49th minute to release Jenkinson down the right flank. The Arsenal rightback made a cross for Ramsey, who shot straight at Forster with a sliding effort. Iwobi then cut inside in the 83rd to test Forster from the edge of the box.

In his return from an ankle injury, Perez struggled in the lone striker role. The Spaniard made quite a few misplaced passes and had very little support from his teammates. Perez finished the game with just one shot on target, a tame strike from a tight angle in the 47th. He obviously lacks match fitness but could be an interesting option on the left wing.

  1. The rightback position is a concern

Bellerin won’t be back before mid-December while Debuchy picked up a hamstring injury against Bournemouth. That means Jenkinson is the only rightback left in the squad. Jenkinson performed poorly against Southampton as both goals came from his flank. He failed to close down Bertrand in the 13th. Boufal connected with Bertrand’s cross but had his shot blocked by Holding. The rebound fell into the path of Clasie, who fired home from 16 yards. Then Jenkinson lost possession to Bertrand in the 38th and walked back toward the Arsenal box instead of tracking Boufal, who teed up Bertrand for a low strike into the bottom corner.

The Saints nearly scored a third goal in the 51st when Jenkinson gave away the ball with a poor pass but Martinez palmed away Long’s drive. When Maitland-Niles replaced Jenkinson in the 64th, the pessimist in me thought Wenger wanted to rest Jenkinson before Saturday’s match against West Ham while the optimist in me hoped the manager tried to find an alternative at rightback.

Jenkinson had a passing accuracy of 69%, the lowest percentage among all the defenders according to the club’s website. I’d be pretty scared if Jenkinson starts in our next Premier League games because Payet, Arnautovic, Bolasie and Sterling could create a lot of problems down our right flank. If it was up to me, I’d give a chance to Maitland-Niles or Holding. In the 80th, Maitland-Niles made a cross for Gibbs, whose header was cleared off the line by Yoshida. In the closing minutes, Maitland-Niles made a crucial block to prevent McQueen from tapping home.

  1. The Gunners must improve their defensive awareness

They concede a lot of chances because of ball-watching. When the Saints opened the scoring, Elneny saw the play unfold but had no clue that Clasie was just a few yards behind him to smash the rebound home. It was a lack of defensive awareness similar to the goal netted by Mata at Old Trafford. The second goal showed the same flaw with Ramsey and Coquelin jogging toward the ball and leaving plenty of space for Bertrand to run into. Can Wenger find a trick in his training sessions to improve his team’s defensive awareness?

Very often young players focus on creating chances and forget their defensive duties. It happened at least twice with Iwobi on Wednesday. Iwobi gave Martina plenty of space in the 50th for a cross that Long headed over the bar. Then Iwobi failed to track Martina on a counterattack in the 55th, but Holding managed to clear Martina’s cross for Long.

McQueen was also left unmarked after Martinez punched away a corner in the 56th but the Southampton winger had his shot deflected wide. Then Davis took advantage of some poor marking from Oxlade-Chamberlain and Xhaka to volley McQueen’s cross over the bar in the 77th.

  1. The manager must ditch the Elneny-Coquelin duo

Arsenal badly lacked creativity with Coquelin and Elneny in midfield. They struggled to build play from the back, making a lot of lateral passes but providing no penetration in their passing game. Elneny made no tackle and won only 25% of his duels, the lowest percentage among the starting midfielders. He picked up a yellow card for pulling back Bertrand in the 29th and was replaced by Xhaka in the 43rd.

Xhaka tested Forster with a 35-yard free kick in the 54th and fed Oxlade-Chamberlain for Arsenal’s best chance in the 79th but the Ox missed the target from 13 yards. The Switzerland international made 4 shot assists while Elneny made none in the first half. That’s the big difference between Xhaka and Elneny: Xhaka makes more forward passes.

Knowing that Cazorla will be sidelined for 3 months because of a nagging ankle injury, I believe Wenger should build his midfield around Xhaka. Cazorla provided defensive stability to the team via his partnership with Coquelin as well as attacking fluidity via his understanding with Ozil.

Elneny would be a weak link in a partnership with Xhaka because he has worse defensive and offensive stats than Xhaka. By contrast, Coquelin is a better tackler than Xhaka while Ramsey is a bigger goal threat than the Switzerland international. It’s up to the manager to find out whether Coquelin or Ramsey is the best partner for Xhaka.

  1. The Gunners are too vulnerable on the flanks

Most of Southampton’s chances came from the flanks. Gibbs and Jenkinson won only 20% and 30% of their duels respectively, whereas Bertrand and Martina won more than 85% of their duels. The only time the Saints managed to carve open the heart of the Arsenal defense was in the 78th. Hojbjerg won a duel against Coquelin and the ball fell to Davis, who slipped a through ball to Long. The Southampton striker had just Martinez to beat but shot wide. Paulista was not tight enough to Davis on that play while Holding was on the wrong side of Long.

  1. Modern football is about penetration, not possession

The Gunners enjoyed 62.7% of ball possession but produced very few chances, with just 5 shots on target compared to 4 for the Saints. Of those 5 Arsenal shots, 3 were long-range strikes. The Gunners could have lost by a bigger margin if Martinez had not made two fine saves, tipping Sims’ shot around the far post in the 84th and diving to save Hojbjerg’s powerful strike in stoppage time. Martinez is a solid No. 3 goalkeeper and it’s great news that the club extended his contract last month.

Arsenal vs. PSG: A few thoughts on the 2-2 draw

The Gunners will likely finish second in Group A of the Champions League after drawing 2-2 with Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday. PSG will host Ludogorets next month and will just need to match Arsenal’s result against Basel in order to top the group. The Gunners performed a bit better than in Paris two months ago but they failed to protect a 2-1 lead in the second half.

arsenal-vs-psg

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Wenger added more physicality to the side that earned a point in France by making 4 changes with Gibbs, Jenkinson, Ramsey and Giroud replacing Monreal, Bellerin, Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain in the starting lineup. The manager didn’t have the choice with Bellerin and Cazorla, who are still injured, while Ramsey was not available in September.

Ramsey definitely had an impact on Wednesday as he made 3 successful dribbles out of 3 and won 6 of 11 tackles, according to Squawka. No other player won or made as many tackles. The only downside to Ramsey’s relentless activity was his 8 turnovers, the most for any player according to whoscored.com. The Wales midfielder proved a valuable goal threat in the 60th minute when his shot ricocheted off Marquinhos and Verratti to give Arsenal a 2-1 lead. Ramsey also chested down a cross from Sanchez in the 79th to fire wide from 25 yards.

It was a gutsy call from Wenger to start Giroud against such a strong team. Giroud’s lack of pace let him down as he was caught offside 3 times. However, he showed his fighting spirit up front by winning 5 of 6 headers and 3 of 7 tackles, more than Ozil, Sanchez and Iwobi combined. The Frenchman created the equalizer on the stroke of halftime by robbing Krychowiak and finding Ozil. The Germany playmaker made a reverse pass for Sanchez, who was tripped by Krychowiak inside the box. Giroud converted the subsequent penalty by sending Areola the wrong way.

  1. Emery outfoxed Wenger (again)

PSG enjoyed 54% of ball possession and outplayed Arsenal by creating 11 chances and producing 14 shots compared to just 2 chances and 5 shots for the hosts. The Gunners struggled so badly in the first half that Giroud’s penalty was their first goal attempt of the game.

PSG proved the better side in September for three main reasons: Monreal and Iwobi let Aurier enjoy too much freedom down the left flank; the Gunners were outnumbered in midfield; and Verratti and Di Maria were poorly marked when they dropped back to make key passes. Wenger failed to come up with a better game plan to fix those issues in the second encounter between the two teams.

  1. Arsenal’s attacking midfielders didn’t work hard enough (again)

In Paris, Ozil, Iwobi and Oxlade-Chamberlain let Cazorla and Coquelin drown in midfield. It was pretty much the same story in London with Ozil, Sanchez and Iwobi contributing very little defensively. Ozil made no tackle while Sanchez and Iwobi lost the only tackle they attempted. By contrast, Moura won 4 of 6 tackles, Verratti 2 of 7 and Matuidi 3 of 6.

PSG won the midfield battle by starting three defensive midfielders (Krychowiak, Motta and Matuidi) and a deep-lying playmaker (Verratti). Ramsey led Arsenal with 68 passes, which is ridiculous compared to Verratti’s 107 passes and Motta’s 92 passes. I would have added more steel by starting Coquelin, Xhaka and Ramsey in midfield, even if it implied moving Ozil to the right flank.

  1. Arsenal must better protect the pocket of space behind the striker

In September, PSG used the gap between the centerforward and the duo formed by Coquelin and Cazorla as a springboard for attacks with Di Maria and Verratti often dropping back in Ozil’s zone to send pinpoint balls over the top. Obviously, the Gunners did not learn their lesson as they failed to press Verratti and Motta in that pocket of space. Verratti finished the game with 4 key passes, the most for any player. Motta created the opening goal in the 18th minute by floating between Ramsey and Ozil to feed Matuidi. Mustafi was not tight enough to Matuidi, who set up Cavani for a tap-in.

  1. The Gunners have a problem down their left flank

Aurier was denied a right of entry to the United Kingdom because he was convicted for assaulting a police officer in France. That did not prevent Gibbs and Iwobi from struggling against Moura and Meunier just like Monreal and Iwobi struggled against Di Maria and Aurier two months ago.

Moura proved a thorn in Arsenal’s side with 3 key passes. Cavani made a run in behind Koscielny in the 63rd to collect a through ball from Moura but a heavy touch from the Uruguay striker allowed Ospina to gather the ball. PSG could have scored the winner in the 82nd when Gibbs failed to stop a cross from Moura. Cavani ghosted past Mustafi at the far post but headed wide Moura’s offering.

  1. Iwobi’s poor run of form continues

Iwobi has performed poorly since October. Yet, Wenger has kept his trust in the Nigeria international despite an apparent sophomore slump. Iwobi won only 14.3% of his duels according to the club’s website, the lowest percentage among all the midfielders. He was dispossessed four times in the first 15 minutes by running into traffic instead of releasing the ball more quickly. Iwobi’s confidence is low and you can feel that he’s trying too hard.

At 20, Iwobi is still a work in progress, so there’s no reason to panic. But he must improve his defensive awareness. Iwobi allowed Meunier to make a couple of dangerous crosses in the first half. When Iwobi switched to the right flank in the middle of the second half, he failed to close down Maxwell in the 76th, forcing Gibbs to head out the cross from the PSG fullback.

  1. You can’t switch off at the top level

The Gunners looked listless in the first half like in their game against Manchester United. They lacked the will or the energy to press PSG when the French club had the ball and slowed the pace of the game. Arsenal also made basic marking mistakes on corners. Cavani escaped marking to head a corner in the 15th. The ball bounced off Silva and was cleared off the line by Gibbs.

PSG capitalized on another corner to equalize in the 76th. Jenkinson was not tight enough to Moura, who headed a corner at the far post. Iwobi diverted the ball into his own net, wrongfooting Ospina who seemed in a good position to make the save. Jenkinson is five inches taller than Moura and would have won the header if he had properly marked the Brazilian winger.

  1. There’s a huge gap in quality between Jenkinson and Bellerin

No Arsenal fan can be surprised that Bellerin recently signed a contract extension. Debuchy is clearly past his prime while Jenkinson is a decent starter for an average side but not a big club. Jenkinson only won 20% of his duels according to the club’s website, the lowest percentage among all the defenders. He’s obviously guilty for PSG’s equalizer and will also need to work on his delivery. Jenkinson overhit a pass for Ramsey in the 30th and sent a cross out of play in the 42nd. Besides the cross that led to Arsenal’s second goal, his main positive contribution was a clearance that prevented Matuidi from connecting with a cross from Moura in the 72nd. Jenkinson made no tackle and none of his two dribbling attempts was successful, while Gibbs won 2 of 5 tackles and made 2 successful dribbles out of 4.

  1. Koscielny and Mustafi had a hard time with the pace of Cavani and Moura

Koscielny gave the ball away to Moura in the 52nd and picked up a yellow card by fouling the Brazilian winger, who almost punished Arsenal with the subsequent curling free kick that rattled the bar. Moura then outpaced both Koscielny and Mustafi in the 79th to feed Cavani, whose lob attempt was saved by Ospina. Cavani also made runs in behind Mustafi in the sixth minute and the 82nd but lacked the finishing touch.