Tag Archives: Kolasinac

Arsenal vs. Everton: Ramsey notches hat trick in 5-1 win, Aubameyang scores in PL debut

Call it the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome. When they play at the Emirates stadium, the Gunners are a completely different team from the one struggling so badly on the road. Arsenal smashed Everton 5-1 on Saturday just a few days after losing 3-1 at Swansea. The Gunners have the joint second best home record in the Premier League whereas they are a mid-table side if we look only at their away record.

Arsenal vs. Everton

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

The quality of Mkhitaryan’s final ball combined with Ramsey’s movement and finishing turned Saturday’s game into a goalfest. Aubameyang released Mkhitaryan down the right wing in the sixth minute and the Armenia international made a low cross for Ramsey who opened the scoring by beating Pickford from close range. Ramsey made it 3-0 in the 19th with a 24-yard drive that took a deflection off Mangala. The Dortmund connection played a role in the first and fourth goals as Mkhitaryan played Aubameyang in before the Gabon international chipped Pickford for a 4-0 lead in the 37th. Ramsey completed his hat trick in the 74th by pouncing on a cross from Mkhitaryan to bury the ball into the bottom corner.

Wenger made 2 changes to the side that lost to Swansea with Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan replacing Lacazette and Elneny in the starting lineup. Arsenal played in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Aubameyang up front, Ozil in the hole and Iwobi and Mkhitaryan on the wings. The Gunners have no natural dribbler in the squad if we except the youngsters Nelson and Nketiah. The Toffees finished the game with 19 dribbling attempts compared to just 10 for Arsenal, according to Squawka. That basically means the Gunners rely on their passing game to crack a defense. And you need movement to find gaps and create passing options.

Ramsey’s clinical finishing

Ramsey’s deep runs provide the movement necessary for pass masters like Ozil and Mkhitaryan to express their creativity. The Wales midfielder proved clinical on Saturday by converting all his goal attempts. He could have added an assist in the 13th when Iwobi found him with a long ball. Ramsey squared the ball back for Aubameyang, whose strike was deflected out by Williams. With 6 goals and 6 assists from 18 Premier League games, Ramsey has been the most productive Gunner this season. It’s no coincidence if Arsenal’s poor run of form happened during Ramsey’s injury period.

Some fans complain about Ramsey’s lack of tactical discipline. But Ramsey is not a defensive midfielder. He plays as a free-roaming midfielder for Wales. His potential is optimized when there’s a holding midfielder who gives him the freedom to play between the lines. Ramsey is often compared to box-to-box players like Lampard and Gerrard. Lampard had Makelele and Essien to cover him at Chelsea while Gerrard could rely on Xabi Alonso and Mascherano to do the dirty work at Liverpool. The Gunners will need a better midfielder than Elneny or Xhaka next season to cover Ramsey and protect the defense.

The partnership between Xhaka and Ramsey only works when Xhaka understands that he must take care of the defensive duties and let Ramsey play in a more advanced position. Xhaka won 4 of 6 tackles and made 2 interceptions and 2 blocks, while Ramsey won 1 of 2 tackles and made 3 interceptions and 1 block, according to Squawka. There were a couple of times when the Arsenal midfield looked like gruyere cheese again. Xhaka had to make a cynical foul on Walcott to kill a counterattack in the 18th. Five minutes later, Walcott easily skipped past 2 Gunners to feed Niasse, who was then fouled by Koscielny. The Arsenal midfield also went missing in the 27th. It took a desperate block from Mustafi to prevent Walcott from scoring.

Mkhitaryan’s creativity and work-rate

Surprisingly, Mkhitaryan has already struck a good understanding with Ramsey in their second game together. Mkhitaryan is a smart player who is aware of the movement around him. He spotted Ramsey’s runs for the opener and the last goal. Since Cazorla’s injury, Ozil has been a bit isolated to create chances. Sanchez could occasionally step up and make assists but he’s not a natural passer like Mkhitaryan. Signing Mkhitaryan has definitely removed some of the creative burden off Ozil’s shoulders. The Gunners also play more free-flowing football with Mkhitaryan because Sanchez often gave the opponents time to regroup by taking too many touches.

The manager used Mkhitaryan in a wide position a bit like Pires and Rosicky before. Obviously, Mkhitaryan is an attacking midfielder, not a winger, but he’s smart enough to know when to drift inside and when to stretch a defense by staying wide. I don’t quite understand why Mourinho didn’t like him at Manchester United. Besides his 3 assists, Mkhitaryan also showed some great work-rate by making 3 interceptions and winning 3 of 9 tackles and 4 of 6 aerial duels, according to Squawka. In fact, Mkhitaryan made more interceptions and tackles than any Arsenal defender. The only blemish in his performance was his average shooting accuracy. Mkhitaryan’s long-range effort sailed wide in the 10th and his tame effort in the 56th didn’t trouble Pickford. Hopefully, it was just a consequence of his rustiness at Old Trafford.

Ramsey and Mkhitaryan stole the limelight, but Ozil still led all players with 4 key passes. Ozil created the second goal with a pinpoint delivery in the 14th. Mustafi made a run at the near post to redirect Ozil’s corner toward Koscielny, who headed in from close range. Playing on the left wing, Iwobi lacked end product compared to Ozil and Mkhitaryan. Iwobi finished the game with 0 shot and only 1 key pass (his assist for Ramsey’s long-range strike). He also had 4 turnovers, the most for any Arsenal player, according to whoscored.com. I thought his work-rate was average with only 1 tackle, 1 interception and 1 block. My guess is that Iwobi and Lacazette will compete for the spot on the left flank, assuming Aubameyang, Ozil and Mkhitaryan are safe starters. Lacazette is a bigger goal threat while Iwobi provides more control in the passing game.

Aubameyang’s electric pace

In his Arsenal debut, Aubameyang found the net in the 37th. TV replays showed Aubameyang was a yard offside but that’s the price to pay when the league doesn’t adopt VAR technology. Arsenal fans got a glimpse of his electric pace in the 32nd when he outpaced Williams and Schneiderlin to collect a through ball from Ozil. From a tight angle, Aubameyang was denied by Pickford.

I have mixed feelings on the signing of Aubameyang. He has more pace than Giroud and is 3 years younger than the France striker. But the reason why Arsenal hired Mislintat was to replicate Borussia Dortmund’s scouting and recruitment model, that is, sign players at a cheap price just before they enter their prime. That’s what Arsenal did with Fabregas and Van Persie in the previous decade. With Aubameyang, the Gunners paid a premium price for a player who will turn 29 this year and has therefore a low resale value.

The best years of a football player are usually between the age of 25 and 30. You can stretch that to 32 or 33 if the player has great fitness levels. Which means that Aubameyang has 3 or 4 years left at the top. That’s a relatively weak return for £56 million. Van Persie was only 20 and Henry 21 when the club signed them for much less. They both gave 8 years to Arsenal. Also, Aubameyang is a pure centerforward. He scores most of his goals inside the box and therefore needs good service to find the net. He won’t create goals out of nothing like Van Persie or Henry.

Kolasinac’s defensive frailties

At the back, the partnership between Koscielny and Mertesacker is looking more and more like the previous partnership between Mertesacker and Koscielny. The France centerback is the more cautious of the two, acting almost like a sweeper, whereas Mustafi is the more aggressive defender. Mustafi won 5 of 6 tackles and 8 of 11 aerial duels and made 1 interception and 2 blocks. Those are very good stats but they don’t tell the whole story.

   Mustafi still needs to improve his decision-making and positional play. In the opening minute, Mustafi was too casual and nearly lost possession as the last defender. He also gave away a dangerous free kick in the 49th with a mistimed tackle on Niasse. Mustafi was then pulled out of position in the 81st by challenging Calvin-Lewin in the air. Calvin-Lewin knocked the ball down for Davies, who evaded Bellerin’s challenge and played the ball back to Calvin-Lewin. As you can see on the screen capture below, Arsenal ended up in a 2v4 situation because Mustafi and Bellerin dived in. Somehow, Calvin-Lewin failed to catch the frame from 13 yards.

Arsenal vs. Everton M81 edited Everton wasting a 4v2 situation. (Photo credit: BT)

The Toffees could have done more damage if they had been more accurate with their final ball or finishing. They made 24 crosses compared to just 10 for Arsenal, according to Squawka. The leftback position is still a concern for the Gunners. Monreal met Xhaka’s corner in the 40th for a bouncing header that hit the post. The Spaniard played sick according to the manager and was replaced at halftime by Kolasinac, whose defensive frailties were again exposed. Kolasinac gave the ball away in the 51st and 83rd. He was also involved in the messy play that led to a turnover and a scoring chance for Everton in the 52nd. Walcott made a cross for Niasse, who hit the post while colliding with Cech.

Back four or back three?

Everton’s consolation goal in the 64th came from some poor defending by Kolasinac. Martina made a cross for Calvert-Lewin, who outjumped Kolasinac to head home. Kolasinac did not even jump on that play. Even if he wasn’t aware of Calvert-Lewin’s presence behind him, Kolasinac still had to head the ball away. Kolasinac had a passing accuracy of 57%, the lowest percentage for any outfield player, according to whoscored.com. He also won 0 of 4 aerial duels. Kolasinac is looking more and more like a recruitment mistake. That’s another embarrassment for the scouting department, which has recommended a lot of average players in the past few years (Xhaka, Elneny, Chambers, Paulista) but no real jewel.

The Gunners play the North London derby next Saturday. Cech is doubtful after picking up a calf injury in his collision with Niasse. Ospina replaced the Czech goalkeeper in the 70th and showed his poor command of the area on a corner kick three minutes later. A victory at Wembley would keep alive Arsenal’s slim hopes of a Top 4 finish as they trail Spurs by 4 points and Liverpool by 6. Wenger will have to choose between sticking with a back four or switching to a back three.

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West Brom vs. Arsenal: Ref blunder shows why VAR a necessity

The Gunners dropped two points on Sunday by conceding a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw at the Hawthorns. The penalty that gave West Brom a point was highly controversial because the referee made the wrong call. Gibbs chased a long ball from Barry in the 88th minute and hit Chambers’ arm with his cross. Both Gibbs and Chambers expected a corner. At least that’s what their body language said. But Dean stole the limelight from the players by awarding a spot kick to the hosts. Such an officiating mistake would have never been made with a video assistant referee. The German and Italian leagues already use VAR technology. And the Spanish and French leagues will introduce it next season. So why can’t the Premier League keep up with the other European leagues, which have less money?

West Brom vs. Arsenal

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

The Laws of the Game are pretty clear about what is a handball. Law 12 says that it “involves a DELIBERATE act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm”. Law 12 also says that “the movement of the hand TOWARD THE BALL (not the ball toward the hand) and the DISTANCE between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)” must be considered by the referee when deciding if the handball is intentional.

Chambers was only 1 yard away from Gibbs, so he had no time to get his arm out of the way. His arms were also in a natural position. Both Gibbs and Chambers were running after the ball and their arms had similar movements. Dean could have had an excuse if Chambers’ arms were outstretched but they were across his torso. The referee was standing some 20 yards from the ball and thought Chambers’ arm had moved toward the ball. Viewing the play from a better angle, a video assistant referee could have told Dean that Chambers only tried to raise his arm in an instinctive gesture to protect his face.

Even without VAR technology, Chambers only met 1 of 3 criteria for a handball. But instead of giving Chambers the benefit of the doubt, Dean overlooked the 2 other criteria and awarded a penalty that Rodriguez converted. What makes Dean’s decision so infuriating is that he ignored a more obvious penalty shout in the 62nd when Evans shoved Lacazette from behind. Lacazette was chasing a through ball from Sanchez and the push was enough to prevent him from controlling the ball.

Lack of creativity

A few days ago, Arsenal came away with the victory at Selhurst Park despite inviting pressure in the closing minutes. The Gunners played again with fire against West Brom and got punished this time. The penalty was controversial but how did Arsenal allow Gibbs to venture inside the box? It all started with Lacazette dropping back instead of closing down Barry. The veteran midfielder had plenty of time to spot Gibbs’ run and hit a pinpoint long ball. The second mistake came from Mertesacker, who had replaced an injured Koscielny in the 72nd. Gibbs made a run in behind Mertesacker and had his cross blocked by Chambers’ hand. The Gunners broke the deadlock in the 83rd but couldn’t even protect their lead for 10 minutes against one of the weakest sides in the league.

Wenger made only 1 change to the side that edged Crystal Palace 3-2 on Thursday with Iwobi replacing an injured Ozil in the starting lineup. Iwobi doesn’t have Ozil’s passing skills and doesn’t make smart runs like the Germany playmaker. There were other problems with that lineup. Wilshere is no goal-scoring threat like Ramsey while Chambers doesn’t play the ball out from the back like Monreal. Both Ramsey and Monreal were not available because of injury. It might just be tiny details but put together they make a difference in Arsenal’s ability to crack a defense.

Arsenal enjoyed 65% of ball possession but created very few chances with just 4 shots on target to 3 for the Baggies. Obviously, the scheduling didn’t help as West Brom had 2 more days of rest than Arsenal. England is the only major European nation with no winter break. Yet, Premier League executives couldn’t even avoid a congested schedule for the Christmas period. Because Iwobi couldn’t fill Ozil’s shoes, Sanchez often dropped back to make up for the lack of creativity. Sanchez led all players with 3 key passes. But it was too taxing for Sanchez to both create and finish. The Chile striker had 0 of 6 shots on target.

Lacazette’s poor hold-up play

Ozil is the kind of player that you need against teams playing with 10 men behind the ball because he has an eye for a pass. On Sunday, the Gunners too often lacked accuracy with the final ball. Sanchez played a one-two with Lacazette in the fourth minute but the France international’s return pass was deflected out for a corner. Then Bellerin overhit his through ball for Lacazette in the 40th while Iwobi played a short pass behind Sanchez in the 69th. In stoppage time, Lacazette sent a cross straight into Foster’s gloves instead of pulling the ball back for Bellerin. Ozil’s absence was also noticeable on set pieces with several corners poorly taken.

When you can’t beat with the pass, then the alternatives are running at defenders and playing more direct. The Gunners lost their best dribbling asset by selling Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool last summer. Walcott is not as skillful in tight spaces while Nelson is still unproven and inconsistent. Sanchez has decent dribbling stats, but he doesn’t make penetrative dribbles: it’s mostly lateral dribbles to cut inside and then pass or shoot with his right foot. The Citizens have Sane and Sterling, the Red Devils have Martial and Rashford, and Liverpool can rely on Mane and Salah. Dribbling is no longer an option at Arsenal. A direct approach (i.e. long balls, crosses) could have been possible with Welbeck up front, but the manager preferred to start Lacazette.

Lacazette struggled again in the centerforward role. His hold-up play was poor. He led all players with 6 turnovers, compared to just 2 for Sanchez, according to whoscored.com. Lacazette didn’t feel comfortable each time he received the ball with his back to goal, winning only 33.3% of his duels, compared to 90% for Sanchez and 66.7% for Iwobi, according to the club’s website. Despite a poor performance, Lacazette still managed to create the best chance in the 60th by swapping passes with Iwobi before testing Foster with an angled strike. In the manager’s shoes, I would have rested Lacazette and started Welbeck up front. I still believe second striker is the best position for Lacazette in the Premier League whereas leading the line is not an issue in European games.

Sanchez taking the blame for the club’s poor transfer policy

Sanchez got some stick from Arsenal fans lately. It’s true that he under-performed in the first three months of the season because of an injury and the disappointment over an aborted move to Manchester City. But let’s be honest, it’s the club that mismanaged the summer transfer window. You let a player run down his contract only if he has a low resale value or if he’s past his prime. By failing to sign a replacement for Sanchez in the summer, the club created that tension around his contractual situation.

Yet, Sanchez has performed at a decent level in November and December. He helped Arsenal rack up points in the last three games by starting the rally against Liverpool, scoring twice against Crystal Palace and taking the free kick that led to McClean’s own goal in the 83rd. Whatever the club does in January (sell or keep Sanchez), it can only be a no-win situation because there’s no replacement of that quality available on the market.

It was quite optimistic to think that Iwobi could deputize for Ozil. The Nigeria international simply doesn’t have Ozil’s selflessness. How he ended up with 2 key passes is still a mystery. Iwobi was more interested in personal glory than in creating chances for his teammates. To his credit, Iwobi tested Foster with a long-range strike in the 30th. Welbeck replaced Iwobi in the 74th and had no impact on the game.

West Brom’s main threat in the first half came from Phillips, who made Kolasinac and Maitland-Niles look really bad. Phillips nutmegged Kolasinac in the sixth minute to make a cross for Rodriguez, who outjumped Mustafi for a tame header that Cech caught. The West Brom winger beat again Kolasinac in the 20th but overhit his cross. Two minutes later, Kolasinac was too far from Phillips to prevent another cross that Mustafi headed out. Kolasinac seemed to pick up a knock and was replaced in the 37th by Maitland-Niles, who also failed to stop crosses from Phillips in the 40th and 41st. The situation at leftback is worrying. Maitland-Niles is still a work in progress but Kolasinac is supposed to be the finished product and an upgrade over Monreal.

Top 4 race could be over this week for Arsenal

Chambers was unlucky with the penalty call but he still proved the weak link in the back three. Robson-Kanu beat Chambers in the 46th to make a low cross for Rodriguez, whose goal attempt was blocked. Then Chambers was too slow to react in the 77th, allowing Rodriguez to shoot from the edge of the box. The Baggies were aware of Chambers’ technical limitations and let him have the ball. Chambers made 91 passes compared to 48 for Koscielny and 50 for Mustafi. While Koscielny and Mustafi had a passing accuracy above 91%, Chambers’ passing accuracy dipped to 81.3%, according to whoscored.com. A more telling stat is Chambers’ success rate for long balls: he hit only 7 of 13 accurate long balls compared to 5 of 6 for Mustafi and Koscielny.

Koscielny performed better than against Palace while Mustafi made a couple of silly challenges on Robson-Kanu in the 26th and 58th. I’m guessing it’s a recurrence of his Achilles problem that led to Koscielny’s substitution in the 72nd. Basically, we could miss Koscielny, Monreal, Ozil and Ramsey for Wednesday’s clash against Chelsea. The stakes are pretty high. If the Gunners lose that London derby, they could trail fourth-place Liverpool by 9 points at the end of this week. The Top 4 race would then be virtually over for Arsenal and the only way to qualify for the Champions League next season would be to win the Europa League.

 

Crystal Palace vs. Arsenal: Sanchez nets twice in 3-2 win

Sanchez might leave the club next month but he made a significant contribution on Thursday by scoring two goals in the 3-2 win over Crystal Palace as the Gunners stayed in the Top 4 race, 1 point behind fourth-place Liverpool in the Premier League.

Crystal Palace vs. Arsenal

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

Wenger made 3 changes to the side that drew 3-3 with Liverpool a week ago with Kolasinac, Mustafi and Chambers replacing Maitland-Niles, Monreal and Iwobi in the starting lineup. The manager also made a tactical change with a switch from the 4-3-3 formation to a 3-4-3 system. Palace played with 10 men behind the ball in the first half and the game looked similar to recent encounters with Newcastle, West Ham and Southampton. The Eagles then showed more aggression and ambition in the second half and came close to earning a draw.

Zaha was the main source of trouble for the Arsenal defense. He started as a second striker and caused more damage when Hodgson moved him to the left wing by sending on Sako for the ineffective Loftus-Cheek in the 70th minute. Wenger also put his team in trouble by replacing Lacazette with Coquelin in the 75th. The move basically invited pressure since the Gunners no longer had an outlet up front. Welbeck would have been a better option because he’s stronger in the air than Lacazette and works his socks off to press high up the pitch.

Sanchez gave Arsenal a 2-1 lead in the 63rd by pouncing on a pass from Lacazette to fire an angled strike into the bottom corner. Speroni was well positioned at the near post, but the shot simply had too much power for the Palace goalkeeper. Three minutes later, Sanchez beat the offside trap to control a ball over the top from Wilshere with his thigh before flicking the ball past Speroni for a 3-1 lead.

Lacazette’s goal drought

The Chile striker produced a good all-around performance. He led all players with 5 successful dribbles and created several plays despite making only 2 key passes. Sanchez slipped a through ball to Ozil, whose chip was saved by Speroni in the 30th. He fed Ozil again in the 39th but the Germany playmaker preferred to pick out Lacazette on the right wing instead of taking his chance. Bellerin then met a cross from Sanchez in the 47th, but a heavy first touch allowed Speroni to gather the ball. Sanchez’s hyperactivity also generated 12 turnovers, according to whoscored.com, but the return was worth the risk in the end.

Lacazette didn’t score but he was involved in 2 goals. The France international capitalized on a recycled free kick in the 25th to fire an angled strike that Speroni palmed into the path of Mustafi, who converted the rebound with a first-time effort to open the scoring. Then Lacazette took advantage of a recycled corner in the 63rd to tee up Sanchez for Arsenal’s second goal. Decent service is still an issue for Lacazette, especially against teams parking the bus. He managed to create space against 3 defenders in the 35th only to drag his shot wide. Ramsey is the Gunner who understands really well Lacazette’s game. The absence of the Wales midfielder is indirectly impacting the productivity of Lacazette, who hasn’t found the net since the Manchester United game.

Starting on the right wing, Ozil had 4 key passes, the most for an Arsenal player. In the 3-4-3 formation, Ozil doesn’t shine as much as in the 4-3-3 system for the simple reason that the team sometimes needs him to finish off plays as a second striker. Ozil was denied by Speroni in the 30th and shot over the bar in the 70th after an average final ball from Kolasinac. To his credit, Ozil showed decent work-rate by making 2 tackles and even closing down Zaha on the edge of the Arsenal area in the 45th.

Bambi on ice

In midfield, Wilshere showed his technical quality with a spectacular assist for Sanchez, who acknowledged the gift by pointing at the England international after scoring. Wilshere led all starters with a passing accuracy of 93.8%, according to whoscored.com. As he is maturing, Wilshere looks like the natural replacement for Cazorla in the deep-lying playmaker role. Ozil’s probable departure means that it is crucial for the club to extend Wilshere’s contract: Wilshere is one of the few creative midfielders in the squad with Ozil and Cazorla. As a bonus, he’s also a homegrown player.

The partnership formed by Xhaka and Wilshere is OK against average sides but it doesn’t provide much protection to the defense against the top teams. Neither Xhaka nor Wilshere is a natural ballwinner. Xhaka’s lack of mobility is obviously an issue. With a sharp turn, Milivojevic made Xhaka look like Bambi on ice in the 82nd. Xhaka was also late in the 15th to block Cabaye’s low drive, which sailed wide.

Arsenal and Palace had 16 shots each. What made the difference was the Gunners’ shooting accuracy with 9 shots on target to just 2 for the Eagles. In the wingback position, Bellerin’s performance was a mixed bag. Bellerin led all players by winning 5 tackles but his passing accuracy also dipped to 74.5%, the lowest percentage for any outfield players, according to whoscored.com. The Spaniard proved a threat in the final third but was let down by his final ball. He sent a cross straight to Speroni in the 18th and had a pass blocked inside the area in the 33rd. On a more positive note, Bellerin tested Speroni with a half-volley in the 81st.

Kolasinac & Chambers having a poor game

Zaha’s shift to the left wing in the second half exposed the poor coordination between Bellerin and Chambers. Zaha outmuscled Bellerin to head Sako’s cross wide in the 83rd. The Palace winger then ghosted past Bellerin in the 85th to pull the ball back for Benteke but Mustafi cleared the danger. A poor clearance from Bellerin in the 88th gave the Eagles another scoring chance. Schlupp squared the ball back to Sako, whose effort got blocked by Koscielny.

On the opposite wing, Kolasinac had a poor game. He won only 22.2% of his duels, the lowest percentage for any player according to the club’s website. The Bosnia-Herzegovina international gave away a dangerous free kick by holding Townsend in the 41st. And he failed to stop a dangerous cross from Sako in the 83rd.

The Gunners signed Kolasinac because Monreal and Gibbs dealt poorly with crosses. If Kolasinac can’t do better, then it makes complete sense to give Maitland-Niles a chance at leftback. Kolasinac’s poor defensive awareness is indeed becoming a growing concern. He failed to identify the danger when Palace equalized in the 49th. As you can see on the screen capture below, Koscielny and Kolasinac were left in a 2v2 situation with Benteke and Townsend because Mustafi was protecting the near post. While Koscielny was marking Benteke, Kolasinac gave Townsend too much space at the far post.

Crystal Palace M49aedKolasinac not marking Townsend before Zaha’s cross. (Photo credit: Sky)

When Townsend met Zaha’s cross, Kolasinac was too far to make a decent block. See the screen capture below. From 14 yards, Townsend guided the ball into the bottom corner to make it 1-1.

Crystal Palace M49bed Kolasinac too far to block Townsend’s goal attempt. (Photo credit: Sky)

Kolasinac’s performance really makes the scouting department look bad. Chambers is another player recommended by the scouting department. The English defender also had a poor game. He was guilty on Tomsend’s equalizer as he failed to stop Zaha’s cross. Zaha, who led all players with 5 key passes, exposed Chambers’ lack of pace. Chambers even received a yellow card in the 29th for pulling back Zaha. The Ivory Coast dribbled past Chambers in the 13th but Bellerin covered his teammate and flicked the ball to safety. Chambers can thank his teammates for having his back. Zaha rounded Chambers in the 39th to make a cross but Koscielny cut it out. Mustafi then made a timely tackle on Zaha after a sloppy pass from Chambers led to a Palace counterattack in the 51st. And Kolasinac cleared a cross from Zaha, who had evaded Chambers’ marking in the 85th.

Doing better in away games

   I’m definitely not a fan of Chambers and I still don’t understand what the scouting department saw in him. I guess Chambers got the nod over Holding because he’s more conservative in his game while Holding sometimes dives in. The presence of a sweeper in a back three gives the right-sided and left-sided centerbacks more room for initiative whereas the two centerbacks in a back four have no room for error. In the end, Chambers played like a centerback in a back four, making only 1 interception compared to 3 for the more pro-active Koscielny. In the manager’s shoes, I would have played Bellerin in the back three with Maitland-Niles in the wingback position.

Mustafi was the only Arsenal defender who didn’t perform below par on Thursday. He won 2 of 4 tackles, blocked 2 shots, and broke the deadlock in the 25th by converting a rebound from a tight angle. His only blemish was a sloppy pass that led to a Palace counterattack in the 80th. By contrast, Koscielny looked his age, winning only 30.8% of his duels and allowing Tomkins to outjump him for the Eagles’ second goal.

The Gunners improved their record on the road with a third victory from 10 away games, but they will have to do much better if they want to finish in the Top 4. Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Spurs have already won at least 5 away games this season. Even Burnley, Watford and Leicester have racked up more points on the road than Arsenal.

I expect the manager to rotate and inject a bit of freshness in the starting lineup for the trip to West Brom on Sunday. Last season, the Gunners lost 3-1 at the Hawthorns, conceding two goals from set pieces, so they know where the threat will come from. Welbeck and Holding are stronger in the air than Lacazette and Chambers while Maitland-Niles could do better than Kolasinac to stop crosses. A victory is a necessity if the Gunners want to make up ground and preserve their chances of reaching the 76-point target.

League Cup: A few thoughts on the 1-0 win over West Ham

The Gunners reached the semifinals of the League Cup with a 1-0 victory over West Ham on Tuesday. The game was duller than when both teams met a week ago in the Premier League. Arsenal enjoyed 67% of ball possession, but had just 8 goal attempts compared to 1 for the visitors. Welbeck scored the winner with the only shot on target of the match.

League Cup quarters

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

The Premier League is still the priority for both teams. Wenger made 11 changes to the side that defeated Newcastle last weekend to rest his key players before Friday’s game against Liverpool. Likewise, Moyes did not include Zabaleta, Noble, Arnautovic and Antonio in his starting lineup.

  1. The fullbacks were Arsenal’s main threat

The fullbacks made the most passes according to whoscored.com with 90 for Kolasinac and 87 for Debuchy, which is quite unusual. Kolasinac also led all players with 2 key passes. In the 39th minute, Kolasinac made a cross for an unmarked Walcott, who headed wide from 10 yards. Three minutes later, Coquelin picked out Debuchy, who headed the ball across goal. Welbeck outjumped Collins to connect with the ball, but missed his header. Somehow, Welbeck reacted quickly enough to bundle the loose ball into the net.

  1. December can be a lethal month

It proved a costly win as Giroud and Coquelin picked up injuries. Giroud pulled his hamstring and was replaced by Nelson in the 78th while Coquelin seemed to suffer a groin strain and was replaced by Dasilva in the 90th. Those injuries don’t make sense since the manager has heavily rotated in the League Cup and the Europa League. Plus Giroud and Coquelin didn’t even start against Newcastle. They’ll be joining Cazrola, Mustafi and Ramsey on the disabled list. Mustafi and Ramsey picked up injuries against Manchester United and Southampton earlier this month.

  1. The audition for the front three was uninspiring

Against a compact West Ham side playing in a 5-2-3 formation, Welbeck, Walcott and Giroud didn’t really shine. Welbeck scored a goal but he also led all players with 10 turnovers, according to whoscored.com. Walcott had 6 turnovers, made a poor cross in the 21st and should have volleyed Kolasinac’s cross with his left foot in the 39th instead of attempting a diving header. Giroud got no decent service and was flagged offside 3 times. His injury means that the Gunners only have Welbeck as a potential aerial threat up front.

  1. Coquelin had a great game

The technical quality of the game was poor in part because Arsenal played with 3 defensive midfielders (Coquelin, Willock and Elneny). Elneny had a poor game, sending a free kick straight to a Hammer in the 72nd while Holding, Giroud and Welbeck were waiting inside the area to head the ball. And his passing accuracy dipped to 84% while it’s usually above 90%. Willock didn’t look out of his depth with a passing accuracy of 92% and 4 successful dribbles. But the academy player also had 3 turnovers, which is too much for a central midfielder, and sometimes lacked lucidity in the final third.

Coquelin was the bright spark in midfield, winning 3 tackles and having 4 successful dribbles, the most for an Arsenal player. He also hit 8 accurate long balls out of 11. Stats can sometimes be misleading. Elneny and Willock had 1 key pass each compared to none for Coquelin, but it was Coquelin who created two of Arsenal’s best chances. Coquelin created the play that led to Welbeck’s goal. He also hit a long ball for Welbeck in the 71st. Hart came off his line but missed his tackle and fouled Welbeck on the edge of the box. The Gunners could miss Coquelin for a couple of games.

  1. The defense had a quiet evening

The manager played a back four like in the last two Premier League games. Holding and Chambers led all players by winning 6 and 5 headers respectively. West Ham made their job easier by sending long balls to Hernandez, who’s no threat in the air. On the flanks, Debuchy might be a decent option at wingback but I fear that his lack of pace would be a problem for the fullback position, especially to cover the right-sided centerback. Debuchy gifted a dangerous free kick by fouling Masuaku in the 63rd. Cresswell curled the subsequent set piece wide. In the leftback position, I felt that Kolasinac played with the handbrake on. Kolasinac had the opportunity to charge down his flank a few times but opted for sideways passes instead.

 

Arsenal vs. Newcastle: The volley heard ’round the world

The Gunners got back to winning ways on Saturday with a 1-0 victory over Newcastle to leapfrog Burnley and Spurs in the Premier League standings. The performance was average but it was unrealistic to expect much from Arsenal’s third game in a 7-day span. If we look at the bigger picture, the Gunners restored some order at the back by keeping a second straight clean sheet after the poor defensive display against Manchester United and Southampton.

Arsenal vs. Newcastle

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

Wenger made only one change to the side that drew with West Ham on Wednesday with Lacazette replacing Giroud in the starting lineup. Arsenal enjoyed 71% of ball possession but struggled again to create clear-cut chances with just 5 shots on target, which was slightly better than the 3 shots on target at the London stadium. Decision-making and the final ball were the main issues. Iwobi could have set up Sanchez in the 61st minute but preferred to attempt an improbable overhead kick which went nowhere. See the screen capture below.

Arsenal vs. Newcastle M61edIwobi could have teed up Sanchez instead of going for personal glory. (Photo credit: Movistar)

Iwobi was less selfish in the 34th. He had 3 decent passing options with Lacazette, Sanchez and Ozil. However, he killed the momentum of the counterattack by playing the ball behind Sanchez. Ozil also lacked accuracy in the 70th by overhitting his final ball for Lacazette. Football sometimes looks like a choreographed ballet: one wrong move is enough to make the whole play fail. In the role of the playmaker in the 68th, Lacazette could have slipped the ball to Ozil at the near post or Sanchez at the far post. He played the ball between his two teammates, allowing the Magpies to make an interception. See the screen capture below.

Arsenal vs. Newcastle M68edLacazette could have fed Sanchez or Ozil. (Photo credit: Movistar)

The few times the Gunners had decent chances, they simply lacked the finishing touch. Lacazette and Sanchez combined to have only 1 of 8 shots on target, which is a poor return for top strikers. In the 12th, Lacazette teed up Sanchez, who fired over the bar from 16 yards. At least, Bellerin had the excuse in the 27th of attempting a volley with his weaker left foot. The best chance of the game came in the 75th when Giroud headed a cross from Sanchez into the path of Wilshere, who shot straight at Elliot from 9 yards. From the ensuing corner, Koscielny missed the target with his header.

Capitalizing on second balls

Surprisingly, some of Arsenal’s chances came from second balls. Newcastle cleared a deflected shot from Lacazette into the path of Bellerin, whose goal attempt got blocked by 3 Magpies in the eighth minute. Sanchez also pounced on another poor clearance on the stroke of halftime to hit a snapshot wide. The Gunners score the winner by capitalizing on a second ball in the 23rd. The ball flew high in the air when Yedlin blocked Sanchez’s first-time effort. Lejeune outjumped Sanchez to head the ball into the path of Ozil, who volleyed high past Elliot from 16 yards. It wasn’t as spectacular as Ramsey’s long-range volley against Galatasaray, but you have to give Ozil some credit for anticipating the clearance. Ozil took a few steps back while Sanchez and Lejeune were challenging for the ball. That’s why he was perfectly positioned for the volley.

After an average performance against West Ham and a mediocre one against Southampton, Ozil finally lived up to his world-class billing. Ozil was arguably the best Gunner on Saturday, having 2 of 2 shots on target and making 8 key passes, the most for any player. He could have doubled the lead in the 38th when he played a one-two with Lacazette to chip Elliot from a tight angle, but Lejeune cleared the ball to safety.

Ozil is clearly benefiting from the switch to a back four against the weak teams, shining in the heart of a 4-3-3 formation. The Germany playmaker led all players with 106 passes, according to whoscored.com. In the more defensive-minded 3-4-3 formation, Xhaka and the centerbacks are usually the players making the most passes while Ozil’s weak defensive contribution is compensated by the addition of a third centerback. I don’t think the manager has completely dropped the back three. The Arsenal defense would be too exposed with a 4-3-3 formation against the top teams because we don’t have any top holding midfielder.

Lacazette’s confidence

Up front, Lacazette struggled against a team parking the bus just like Giroud did against West Ham. We know Giroud’s limitations: he lacks the pace to make runs in behind or dribble past defenders. Lacazette also has his own limitations: he’s not strong in the air and can’t hold defenders off. Basically, the Gunners are still missing the complete centerforward that Henry or Van Persie could be: a fast striker with lethal finishing and great dribbling skills, strong in the air, who can hold the ball up and link up play. The Citizens don’t have the complete centerforward either but they have found a way to become the most irresistible attack in the league with Aguero, Jesus, Sterling and Sane.

Lacazette hasn’t scored since the loss to Manchester United. That must feel like an eternity for any top striker. At times, Lacazette seemed short on confidence. He tested Elliot with a low drive from 25 yards in the third minute. But then his shooting boots let him down. Lacazette controlled a long ball in the 54th and created space against Lascelles only to fire over the bar. He had a better chance in the 59th. Monreal won a header in midfield and the ball fell to Iwobi who played Lacazette in. The France international could have fired past Elliot but opted for a lob attempt from 14 yards that sailed over the bar. Seeking a more comfortable cushion, Wenger sent on Giroud for Lacazette, who looked upset while leaving the pitch in the 72nd.

Sanchez had a worse day than Lacazette with 0 shot on target and 6 turnovers, the most for any player according to whoscored.com. The manager wants Sanchez to play higher up the pitch because the Gunners need goals. In fact, there is no need for Sanchez to drop back since the 4-3-3 formation makes room for 3 passers with Xhaka, Wilshere and Ozil. What the team definitely needs is receivers. Sanchez was replaced by Coquelin in the 89th as Arsenal aimed to shut up shop.

Iwobi’s directness

On the right wing, Iwobi had a decent game with 4 key passes including 1 through ball. In the manager’s plans, Iwobi’s role is clearly to inject more directness. He won 63.6% of his duels, according to the club’s website, and had 5 successful dribbles, tied with Wilshere for the most by any player. Dribbling is one alternative when you can’t break down a defense with passing. Iwobi slalomed through the Newcastle defense with some clever footwork in the 66th to muster a tame shot straight at Elliot.

I hope Iwobi will be more selective in his dribbling attempts. Sometimes it works, but too often it ends with a turnover that gives the opponents a breather. If you’re in a 1v1 situation, fair enough, take your chance. But a couple of times Iwobi ran into traffic and lost possession. Iwobi picked up an injury in the 71st and was replaced by Welbeck, who had no real impact.

The Gunners controlled the game with the midfield trio of Xhaka, Wilshere and Ozil. That’s not as impressive as Fernandinho, Silva and De Bruyne, but the technical level is good enough to dominate possession and create chances against the weak sides. Xhaka proved the weak link in midfield by winning only 26.1% of his duels (compared to 46.7% for Wilshere and 55.6% for Ozil) and having a passing accuracy of 81.4% (compared to 89.6% for Ozil and 91.4% for Wilshere). He also led all players with 3 fouls, including an obstruction on Perez which cost him a yellow card in the 87th. I was shocked to see Xhaka play in a more advanced position than Wilshere quite a few times. Xhaka has weaker dribbling skills and less pace than Wilshere, so it doesn’t make any sense.

Maitland-Niles taking Kolasinac’s spot

At the back, the defensive performance was acceptable if we except the lapse of concentration in the fifth minute. Nobody marked Lascelles, who met a free kick from Merino for a header that Cech turned around the post. See the screen capture below. In that kind of situation, it’s up to Cech and Koscielny to have a quick look around and make sure that every Magpie near the 18-yard line is marked.

Arsenal vs. Newcastle M5ed.jpgLascelles, circled, is left unmarked at the far post. (Photo credit: Movistar)

Arsenal’s energy levels dropped in the last 15 minutes, giving the Magpies some hope that they could score a late equalizer. Joselu’s low strike deflected off Xhaka for a corner in the 80th. Then Perez outjumped Bellerin to head wide a cross from Ritchie in the 83rd. Monreal got in trouble in the 86th by diving in and ended up holding Joselu to prevent a dangerous situation from developing.

For his second straight start, Maitland-Niles had a good game. The academy player intercepted the ball in the 13th to run past 2 Magpies and fire a low drive wide. Kolasinac was on the bench Saturday, so it was a deliberate choice from the manager to give the nod to Maitland-Niles. I guess the main reason is Kolasinac’s average defensive awareness. Kolasinac sometimes fails to cover the left-sided centerback. Maitland-Niles showed defensive awareness in the 34th by covering Monreal, who was out of position, and intercepting Murphy’s cross for Joselu.

The most important game of the season

If Maitland-Niles were to unseat Kolasinac as the regular starter at leftback, that would be another blow for the scouting department. There’s still a long way to go for Maitland-Niles though. At 20, he’s not the finished product yet. He must also show consistency week in, week out. Before joining Newcastle, Hayden was an Arsenal player too, but he never made it to the first team. His performance on Saturday showed why the Gunners let him go last year. Hayden was booked in the 40th for repetitive fouling. He is a decent fit for a Championship team or a weak side in the Premier League, but he’s not a top ballwinner.

It’s too bad that the Gunners don’t have a player who can compete with Bellerin for the starting spot at rightback. Debuchy is past his prime while Chambers lacks pace and has limited passing skills. Ritchie capitalized on a Bellerin turnover in the 55th to curl a shot over the bar. A minute later, Murphy cut inside Bellerin and Wilshere to test Cech with a low strike.

The Gunners next play West Ham in the League Cup quarterfinals on Tuesday before hosting Liverpool in a Premier League game on Friday. I expect the manager to rest his key players on Tuesday because the Liverpool game could decide the Top 4 race. Last season, Arsenal lost both league games to Liverpool to finish 1 point behind the Reds and miss out on Champions League football. A loss combined with a draw would have been enough to leapfrog Liverpool into 4th place. After 18 league games this season, the Gunners sit in 5th place, 1 point behind Liverpool. A victory on Friday would give Arsenal the edge over the Reds in the Top 4 race. While a defeat would create doubt in the squad after the losses to Manchester City and United.

 

Arsenal vs. Huddersfield: Ozil shows his class in 5-0 win

   In a five-minute span, Ozil made 2 assists and scored 1 goal to lead Arsenal to a 5-0 rout of Huddersfield on Wednesday. The Gunners needed that victory to stay fourth in the Premier League and keep pace with the top teams as Manchester City, the Red Devils, Chelsea and Liverpool also won their games.

Arsenal vs. Huddersfield

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

Wenger made just one change to the side that edged Burnley 1-0 on Sunday with Ozil replacing Iwobi in the starting lineup. That move made a huge difference on the pitch. At 21, Iwobi has great potential but he’s not the finished product yet. He only managed 1 key pass against a compact Burnley defense because his reading of the game is not good enough. By contrast, Ozil is at the top of his game at 29. Ozil may go missing against the big teams but the quality of his runs and final ball proves so valuable against the weak and average sides.

Ozil led all players with 5 key passes. The Germany playmaker was relatively quiet in the first half. But his performance after halftime was a different story. In the 3-4-3 formation, Ozil has a lot of freedom. He can drop back to create plays. He can also drift to the right flank to escape marking. And he can play as a second striker by making runs in behind.

Sanchez caught the attention of three Terriers in the 47th minute to set up Ozil, unmarked at the far post. Ozil controlled the ball and curled a 12-yard shot that Cranie blocked. Maybe a first-time effort was the better option. Then the Ozil show started. Ozil played a one-two with Sanchez in the 68th before squaring the ball back to Giroud, who made it 2-0 with a low strike. In that kind of situation, I have too often seen Iwobi run into traffic this season only to lose possession. Ozil has a perfect picture of the situation before he gets the ball, which means that he knows exactly what are his passing options when he makes his first touch.

The understanding between Lacazette and Ramsey

Another difference between Ozil and Iwobi is that Ozil is smarter in his runs off the ball because he can visualize how a play will unfold and what his role in that play will be. As soon as Mustafi won a header in midfield in the 70th, Ozil made a run along the touchline. The ball fell to Giroud, who played it back to Ramsey. With a first-time pass, Ramsey released Ozil down the right wing. By the time Lowe saw the danger, it was already too late. Ozil got a head start over the Huddersfield wingback and had therefore plenty of time to make a pinpoint cross with his weaker foot for Sanchez, who volleyed high past Lossl for a 3-0 lead.

Ozil swapped positions with Giroud in the 72nd and perfectly timed his run to beat the offside trap. Collecting a through ball from Ramsey, Ozil added a fourth goal by chipping Lossl. In the closing minutes, Ozil nearly got a third assist with a ball over the top for Welbeck, but the England international couldn’t trap the ball and Lossl was able to gather it. Ozil is simply one of the best playmakers in the world and Iwobi needs to work harder to get near his level.

While Ozil stole the show in the second half, the Gunners owed their first-half lead to Lacazette. In the third minute, Ramsey played Lacazette in with a backheel flick and the France striker slipped the ball past Lossl to open the scoring. While the understanding between Ozil and Sanchez proved instrumental in the second and third goals, it was the understanding between Lacazette and Ramsey that cracked the Huddersfield defense in the opening minutes. It’s kind of ironic because Ozil and Sanchez may no longer be at the club next season whereas the duo formed by Lacazette and Ramsey could define Arsenal’s future.

Giroud’s hunger

Lacazette came close to doubling the lead in the 31st. Xhaka initially overhit his pass for an offside Kolasinac, but Lacazette sprinted to keep the ball in play and attempted a cheeky lob from the by-line. Cranie somehow cleared the ball off the line with an overhead kick. Unfortunately, Lacazette picked up a groin injury and was replaced by Giroud at halftime. That injury is coming at the worst time for the Gunners because they have a busy schedule until mid-January.

Giroud showed his hunger by taking 6 shots and reaching a passing accuracy of 100%, according to Squawka. His first scoring chance came from a counterattack in the 51st. Bellerin made a low cross for Giroud, whose shot was blocked by Schindler. Then Ramsey slipped a through ball to Giroud, who rounded Lossl in the 59th only to hit the near post. Giroud made amends by converting Ozil’s pass in the 68th for his first goal in the Premier League since the opening game against Leicester in August. As a boost to his confidence, Giroud took the ball off Kolasinac to seal the win from close range in the 87th. Hopefully, Giroud’s rediscovered form will help compensate for Lacazette’s absence.

Sanchez didn’t have a great game, but he still managed to find the net with a clinical volley in the 70th. His previous goal attempts were unimpressive to say the least. Sanchez took a pass from Ozil in the 27th only to produce an air shot. Then Kolasinac found Sanchez inside the area in the 62nd and the Chile striker curled a shot wide of the far post. The manager clearly had the United game in mind as he yanked Sanchez off in the 73rd to send on Welbeck.

In midfield, Ramsey shared the creative burden with Ozil by making 3 key passes, including 2 accurate through balls, the most for any player according to whoscored.com. Sanchez is usually the one helping Ozil to create chances, but Sanchez had an off day with only 1 key pass so Ramsey had to step up in that area.

Complacency after the opener

At times, the team morphed into a bastardized 4-4-2 formation with Xhaka, Mustafi, Koscielny and Monreal at the back, Ramsey, Ozil, Bellerin and Kolasinac in midfield, and Sanchez and Lacazette up front. Xhaka helped Ramsey have an impact in the final third by focusing on his defensive duties. The Switzerland international won 3 of 6 tackles compared to 0 of 3 tackles for Ramsey, according to Squawka.

On the wings, Kolasinac and Bellerin contributed offensively with 3 and 2 key passes, respectively. Kolasinac was involved in the second and fifth goals but his passing accuracy of 68% was the lowest of any Arsenal player. Obviously, Kolasinac is taking risks in the final third, so you shouldn’t expect him to have Bellerin’s passing accuracy of 91%. But Kolasinac’s technique is decent enough to expect a passing accuracy around 80%. Hopefully, the Arsenal staff can sort out what is the issue.

Besides Lacazette’s injury, the only negative from Wednesday’s game is the complacency that hit the team after the opening goal. The Gunners basically took their foot off the pedal. They put themselves in trouble by playing at 90 or 95% of their potential between the third minute and the 68th. Mustafi in the 29th, Xhaka in the 35th and Koscielny in the 63rd cheaply gave the ball away. In the final third, Bellerin crossed the ball out of play in the 33rd, and Xhaka’s long-range strike veered toward the corner flag in the 42nd.

The Gunners lost their minds in the 37th by trying to dribble their way out of trouble from their own area. A poor clearance from Koscielny led to an Arsenal turnover and a penalty shout for Huddersfield as Mustafi lost an aerial duel and collided with Mounie. A minute later, a string of misplaced passes led to a dangerous Huddersfield counterattack. Quaner dribbled past Xhaka to find Mounie, who played the ball back to Quaner. A poor first touch from Quaner gave Koscielny enough time to rush back and block the shot from the German forward.

The best and worst of Cech

There was also a lack of focus that could have cost the Gunners dearly. Mustafi misread the flight of a long ball in the 21st and missed his header, forcing Cech to come off his line. The Czech goalkeeper beat Mounie to the ball to clear the danger. Then the Arsenal defense was completely disorganized in the 51st. As Monreal was pulled out of position, Kolasinac forgot to cover the Spaniard and gave Quaner a boulevard to the area. Mustafi hesitated for a split second and came too late to make the block. It took a leg save from Cech to prevent Quaner from equalizing. Two minutes later, Cech nearly scored an own goal by panicking in his own area. Monreal diverted Mounie’s shot high in the air. Cech could have caught the loose ball but he preferred to punch it to safety off the crossbar.

If we except those chances gifted by Arsenal’s complacency, the Terriers created very little. Lowe skipped past Bellerin in the 12th only to have his cross intercepted by Cech. Jorgensen then connected with a free kick from Lowe in the 22nd but Koscielny did enough to put off the Huddersfield centerback, who headed over the bar. After the break, Hadergjonaj made a dangerous cross from Kolasinac’s flank but Mounie missed his header in the 65th. Mustafi produced the most decent performance at the back by making 7 interceptions and winning 3 of 4 tackles and 4 of 12 headers while Koscielny and Monreal combined to win only 1 of 8 tackles, according to Squawka.

A perfect record on the line

The Gunners have turned the Emirates stadium into a fortress this season with 7 wins from 7 Premier League games. That perfect record could be in danger against Manchester United on Saturday. Lacazette’s injury means that either Giroud or Welbeck will lead the line. Giroud is a good choice when the team dominates ball possession while Welbeck is a better option when the team has to run after the ball. Welbeck also has more pace but the Frenchman has scored more goals recently.

Wenger was again asked about Ozil’s future in his news conference before the United game. It could prove a tricky match for Ozil, who has been linked with a move to the Red Devils. The more we look at it, and the more it’s obvious that the club completely mismanaged the summer transfer window. Scenario 1: the manager and the board win their gamble if both Sanchez and Ozil extend their contracts at Arsenal. Scenario 2: if both players leave next summer while the Gunners finish in the Top 4, the club will limit the damage on the pitch but lose £50-90 million of transfer fees. Scenario 3: if both players leave next summer while the Gunners miss out on a Champions League spot, the club will lose on the pitch and financially. Scenario 4: Ozil and/or Sanchez leave in January but there’s no replacement. The club will limit the damage financially but the squad will be significantly weakened. Scenario 5: Ozil and/or Sanchez leave in January and are replaced by top signings. The club will limit the damage financially but only a Top 4 finish will tell whether it is a smart move.

Burnley vs. Arsenal: Gunners leapfrog Spurs into 4th place after 1-0 win

   Sanchez converted a penalty in the last minute of stoppage time to lead Arsenal to a 1-0 victory over Burnley on Sunday. The scrappy win propelled the Gunners to fourth place in the Premier League, 1 point behind Chelsea and 1 point clear of Spurs.

Burnley vs. Arsenal.jpg

Photo credit: Getty

Wenger made only one change to the side that defeated Tottenham the previous weekend with Iwobi replacing a sick Ozil in the starting lineup. Dyche is like the new Pulis: his Burnley side played with a lot of commitment, relying on crosses and long balls to test the Arsenal defense and parking the bus in a 4-5-1 formation when the Gunners had the ball. I thought Arsenal didn’t work hard enough in the first half. They were miles away from the level displayed against Spurs. Somehow, the Gunners could have opened the scoring before halftime but were let down by some poor finishing. They played with more intensity in the second half and wasted good situations with some poor decision-making or a final ball lacking accuracy. On the bright side, the Clarets had no clear-cut chances after forcing Cech into a couple of fine saves in the first half.

Dyche complained about the penalty in his post-match news conference, saying the big clubs get those big decisions, but not small clubs like Burnley. It’s basically a manager trying to protect one of his players, Tarkowski, by deflecting the blame on the officiating. If Dyche is honest, he should acknowledge that the Clarets could have been down to 10 men in the first half and that Arsenal could have been awarded another penalty in the second half. Brady was not even booked for a reckless studs-up tackle on Monreal in the 17th, which means that the Burnley winger should have received a second yellow card instead of his first one for his poor challenge on Iwobi in the 25th. Then Brady brought down Bellerin inside the area in the 67th. The Burnley winger completely missed the ball while making a sliding tackle. I guess the only reason why the referee didn’t spot the foul is because Bellerin tried to chip the ball over Brady and the ball bounced off the winger’s chest, leading the referee to assume that Brady cleanly got the ball.

Ramsey’s movement

The last-minute penalty shouldn’t be controversial for the simple reason that Burnley earned free kicks for less obvious shoves from Lacazette and Mustafi. The referee was therefore consistent in his decisions when he saw Tarkowski deny Arsenal a scoring chance by shoving Ramsey from behind in stoppage time. Tarkowski was on the wrong side of Ramsey and simply panicked. To a certain extent, that foul reminded me of Rosicky’s shove in the infamous 4-4 draw between Newcastle and Arsenal a few years ago.

When you face a compact defense, you need a lot of movement and creativity to find and exploit a gap. The Gunners’ few chances came from Ramsey’s movement in the final third. Lacazette skipped past Tarkowski in the 19th to make a cross for Ramsey, whose half-volley sailed wide. Then Ramsey picked out Kolasinac, who missed the target with a free header from 12 yards in the 43rd. The Wales midfielder also took a pass from Sanchez in the 64th for an angled effort that went wide. Ramsey finished the game with 0 of 4 shots on target. But it was his late foray in the area that led to the penalty.

Ozil’s absence meant that the creative burden rested on the shoulders of Sanchez. The Chile striker led all players with 4 key passes. He was also more tidy in possession than usual with just 3 turnovers, according to whoscored.com. Sanchez may not be our best penalty taker, but he showed nerves of steel to fire his spot kick low past the goalkeeper.

Up front, Lacazette didn’t get much service. Out of frustration, Lacazette unleashed a low drive in the 51st that didn’t really trouble Pope. The France international also struggled in the air, winning only 1 of 4 headers. To put more pressure in the air, Wenger replaced Lacazette with Welbeck in the 79th.

Within a few months, Lacazette has built a decent understanding with Sanchez and Ramsey, but his interaction with Iwobi is still poor mostly because Iwobi doesn’t read the game well enough. Ozil’s shoes were too big for Iwobi to fill on Sunday. Iwobi doesn’t make smart runs off the ball like Ozil and his end product was limited to only 1 key pass at Turf Moor.

The balance between attacking and defending

The manager tried to inject more creativity in the final third by sending on Wilshere for Iwobi in the 66th. The positives and negatives Wilshere showed in Europa League games were summarized in two plays. Defour capitalized on a Wilshere turnover in the 70th to take his chance from the edge of the box. Wilshere must make an effort to cut his turnover rate otherwise he’ll hurt his team. Ten minutes later, Wilshere played a one-two with Sanchez before mustering a shot that deflected off Tarkowski for a corner. Wilshere can provide more penetration with his ability to play in tiny spaces.

On the wings, Kolasinac created the best chances despite a passing accuracy of 61.4%, the lowest percentage for an Arsenal player according to whoscored.com. His decision-making was questionable on a couple of plays. Kolasinac dribbled past Tarkowski in the 49th only to have his shot blocked by Mee. The Bosnia-Herzegovina wingback produced another mazy run in the 68th and completely miscued his shot across goal instead of feeding Lacazette or Ramsey, who both were in a better position. See the screen capture below.

Burnley M68ed Kolasinac could have passed the ball to Ramsey or Lacazette. (Photo credit: CNBC)

In stoppage time, Xhaka sent a long ball toward Kolasinac, who headed it across goal. Ramsey was fouled by Tarkowski before he could even flick it on. Amid all the controversy about the penalty, Wilshere was a better passing option than Ramsey, sandwiched between 2 defenders. See the screen capture below.

Burnley M91ed Kolasinac could have knocked the ball down for an unmarked Wilshere. (Photo credit: CNBC)

In the last few games, I felt Bellerin didn’t find the right balance between attacking and defending. The Spaniard made no interception and no block and won only 1 of 5 tackles and 1 of 4 aerial duels, according to Squawka. Burnley’s main chances came from his flank in the first half. Bellerin failed to stop a Brady cross for Barnes, who was flagged offside in the 10th. Five minutes later, Bellerin was dispossessed by Brady and the ball fell to Gudmunsson, who rounded Monreal to rattle the near post. Hendrick then met a cross from our right flank in the 22nd but Cech parried the close-range header from the Irish midfielder.

Team selection dilemma

It’s obviously easier to deal with crosses when you have 3 centerbacks. Mustafi was the most active of the trio as he made 2 interceptions and 2 blocks and won 3 of 5 tackles and 7 of 12 headers. He also led all players with 4 fouls, including a silly one that led to a dangerous free kick on the edge of the box in the 59th. In the closing minutes, Wenger could have shifted to a back four to send on Giroud but he preferred to stick with the back three.

I only expect a couple of changes for Wednesday’s game against Huddersfield Town. Then the Gunners will have just 2 days of rest before hosting Manchester United on Saturday. That game could prove tricky since Arsenal will have one day less to recover than the Red Devils. Can Ramsey start 3 Premier League games in a 7-day span or is that a too big risk?