Tag Archives: Koscielny

West Ham vs. Arsenal: Top 4 hopes dealt a blow in 1-0 loss

   The ghosts of last season are coming back. A year ago, the Gunners dropped out of the Top 4 race because they were performing poorly on the road. This pattern could be repeating itself. The Gunners lost 1-0 at West Ham on Saturday, earning just 1 point from their last 4 away games to trail fourth-placed Chelsea by 6 points in the Premier League.

West Ham vs. Arsenal.jpgPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

   Arsenal had only 2 shots on target to 3 for the Hammers despite enjoying 58.5% of ball possession. In another example of sterile possession, the players who made the most passes were Koscielny (89) and Sokratis (67). The lack of urgency in the first half was quite disappointing since Arsenal got 6 days of rest after the victory over Blackpool in the FA Cup. West Ham showed more desire, winning 53.5% of the duels and making 17 interceptions to just 10 for the Gunners, according to the club’s website.

   Emery made 7 changes to the side that routed the Seasiders with only Sokratis, Kolasinac, Iwobi and Maitland-Niles retaining their starting spots. The lack of quality in the Arsenal midfield showed in the high number of stray passes. It’s no coincidence if Denis Suarez has been linked with a move to the Emirates. Suarez plays as a central midfielder for Barcelona but I suspect that Emery would use him as an attacking midfielder. In the 2015-16 season, Suarez made 12 assists for Villareal in all competitions.

   The lack of creativity in midfield also helps explain why the Gunners struggled to play the ball out from the back. You would expect to find a Ramsey or an Ozil for that kind of tactics. Remember Ramsey’s goal against Fulham or Aubameyang’s goal against Leicester. But Emery left Ozil out of the squad while Ramsey only came off the bench in the second half.

Politics vs. sport

   Knowing that Ramsey will leave the club this year and that Ozil has been frozen out of the team, it’s impossible not to think about the chemistry in the dressing room. What a contrast between the lack of fluency at the London Stadium and the spectacular passing in the first half of the season. Does the mediocre form on the pitch reflect the current mood in the dressing room? Or is the team simply hitting a rough patch?

   Some players signed at Arsenal to play with Ozil. They must feel short-changed to take passes from Iwobi or whoever fills Ozil’s shoes. Likewise, they must certainly question Arsenal’s ambition when the club decides to let Ramsey leave. Is it a coincidence if Emery has harshly treated those 2 players because they’re not part of the club’s long-term plans?

   I think Emery needs more diplomatic tact. Obviously, the board’s emphasis on trimming payroll has led to this situation with Ozil and Ramsey. That’s politics. But the team still needs them because the other attacking midfielders lack consistency. That’s football. In that regard, Sarri has been smarter than Emery. The Chelsea manager froze out Fabregas only after securing a replacement by signing Jorginho and Kovacic last summer.

   Aubameyang and Lacazette scored with half-chances in the first half of the season. They didn’t against West Ham. That’s where chemistry plays a key role. Players felt upbeat in the first few months with a new manager, new methods and new signings. Now the reality is kicking in. The Gunners realize that they are far from the contending teams. They also see problems in the squad. Maybe that’s why the extra confidence needed to convert those half-chances is now gone.

Finding the best offensive setup

   Lacazette had a couple of half-chances in the first quarter. He chested down a long ball from Xhaka before firing a long-range strike wide in the ninth minute. Four minutes later, Lacazette took a pass from Iwobi and drove into the box only to be denied by Fabianski. He faded in the second half with no shot at all.

   Aubameyang started the season as the lone striker before moving to the left wing. Then Emery had a change of heart in the Bournemouth game and used Aubameyang in the centerforward position again. Since January, Emery has deployed Aubameyang on the right wing, letting Lacazette lead the line.

   That’s really mind-boggling that the Spanish manager still doesn’t know what Aubameyang’s best position is, especially if you compare with the situation at Manchester United. Solskjaer was appointed last month and has improved the Red Devils’ fortunes by quickly finding the best offensive setup with Matic, Herrera and Pogba in midfield and Rashford, Martial and Lingard in a front three.

   Deprived of service in the first half, Aubameyang tried to create chances. He made a cross for Lacazette, who headed over the bar in the 15th. The introduction of Ramsey in the second half finally gave Aubameyang some decent ammunition. Aubameyang headed Ramsey’s cross wide in the 63rd. The Gabon striker then met a low cross from Kolasinac in the 64th only to blaze over the bar under Cresswell’s pressure.  

   Lacazette and Aubameyang combined to have only 1 of 7 shots on target. I believe that playing Aubameyang up front and Lacazette as a second striker or in a wide position would be a more natural option. From the right wing, Aubameyang can cross the ball and make those diagonal runs a la Walcott, but he simply doesn’t have the all-around game to make a significant impact in the passing game. Aubameyang only won 14.3% of his duels according to the club’s website, that tells you he’s not optimally used.  

Positive substitutions

   You play with 2 strikers if you have good service. In a 3-4-3 formation, Emery relied on Iwobi, Guendouzi, Kolasinac and Maitland-Niles to deliver the final ball. That was a big ask. Maitland-Niles is still a raw player, Guendouzi is not a playmaker and Iwobi can be inconsistent.

   Despite all the talk about his improvement under Emery, Iwobi looked again like the player of last season with a limited end product. At 22, Iwobi still has room for development, but right now he doesn’t have the impact of a Ramsey or an Ozil in the final third. Iwobi had 5 successful dribbles, tied with Anderson for the most by any player, but he also led all players with 4 turnovers, according to whoscored.com.

   Chasing an equalizer, Emery switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation in the 59th by sending on Ramsey for Mustafi. In his short cameo, Ramsey made as many key passes (2) as Iwobi in the full 90 minutes. The Wales midfielder set up Iwobi, whose low drive sailed wide in the 67th.

   Although Emery’s substitutions didn’t change the outcome of the game, they were more positive than his previous substitutions. Concerned by Arsenal’s defensive issues, Emery has been reluctant to play with more than 3 attacking players. Replacing Lacazette with Ramsey in the Brighton game was obviously the nadir of that conservative approach.

   Emery seems to highly rate Guendouzi. Yet, it’s hard to understand why. Guendouzi is not a box-to-box player with the end product of a Ramsey or the pace and dribbling skills of an Oxlade-Chamberlain. He’s not a defensive midfielder either. The French teenager showed his lack of defensive awareness a couple of times against West Ham. He failed to stay with Noble, who played a one-two with Nasri before producing a tame effort in the sixth minute. Again, neither Guendouzi nor Xhaka tracked Anderson, who took a pass from Nasri but missed the target in the 32nd.

Xhaka’s poor defensive instincts

   When Guendouzi is given plenty of time, he can hit accurate balls over the top. But he’s not a playmaker. At the same age, Fabregas had better passing and shooting skills. Guendouzi overhit his final ball in the 66th and 78th and finished the game with 0 key pass. He also took his chance from the edge of the box, missing the target in the 35th and 54th and lacking power in the 68th. Potentially, Guendouzi could become a deep-lying playmaker. But right now he’s not moving the ball quickly enough. It means that Guendouzi is mostly a utility midfielder at this stage of his career. Guendouzi is definitely an upgrade over Elneny because of his work-rate and his ability to win duels. He won 1 of 1 tackle and 62.5% of his duels and made 1 interception and 5 recoveries, according to the club’s website.    

   Guendouzi played alongside Xhaka in central midfield. That’s a flawed partnership because none of them is a natural ballwinner. Xhaka was dribbled past 3 times, the most for any player according to whoscored.com. Nasri often managed to find pockets of space in midfield and made 3 key passes in his 70-minute performance.

   Emery’s choice to rely on Xhaka as the holding midfielder is questionable. Xhaka’s passing skills can be helpful to play out from the back but he simply lacks the defensive instincts to play in that position. His poor clearance led to Rice’s goal in the 48th. The safe option on that play would have been to head the ball toward Lacazette on the left flank. Some fans wondered why Torreira didn’t start. The Uruguay midfielder’s stats have gone down since the end of December, so Emery wisely decided to limit his playing time, sending him on for Xhaka in the 59th.

The most important game of the season

   Kolasinac can prove a potent threat down the left flank, but the Hammers managed to limit his offensive impact to just 1 key pass. The fact that Kolasinac was caught offside twice tells you that the Hammers studied his game. I’m not surprised that Arsenal extended Monreal’s contract by a year because Kolasinac is a wingback, not a defender. The Bosnia-Herzegovina international failed to track back a couple of times, forcing Koscielny to cover him in the leftback position. Kolasinac also had his share of responsibility in the goal. If you look at the screen capture below, you can see that Kolasinac allowed Nasri to run in front of him before setting up Rice. The screen capture also shows Arsenal’s poor defensive organization with Rice completely unmarked near the penalty spot.

west ham vs. arsenal m48edRice left unmarked by the Arsenal defense. (Photo credit: Sky)

   Maitland-Niles was caught napping on that play, too. He failed to react despite seeing Rice in a dangerous position. Maybe the most worrying part is the lack of desire Maitland-Niles showed on Saturday, forcing Aubameyang (yes, the top scorer in the Premier League) to cover him down the right flank a couple of times. Maitland-Niles definitely needs to improve his defensive awareness. Cresswell easily skipped past him to make a teasing cross in the 16th and Nasri ran past him to take a pass and muster a shot in the 26th. Offensively, Maitland-Niles was a liability for the Gunners with 0 key pass and a passing accuracy of 65%, the lowest percentage for any outfield player. In the 69th, Emery replaced Maitland-Niles with Bellerin, who was making his return from injury.  

   In the heart of the defense, Sokratis was the most active of the 3 centerbacks, making 3 tackles, 1 block, 1 interception and 6 recoveries, according to the club’s website. Koscielny had a decent game although one stat raises some questions: Koscielny was dribbled past 2 times, compared to 0 for Sokratis and Mustafi. However, it was Mustafi who was deemed the weak link when the Gunners shifted to a back four in the 59th. The German defender received a yellow card in the 46th for a mistimed challenge on Anderson.

   The Gunners will play their most important game of the season when they host Chelsea next Saturday. A defeat would end Arsenal’s Top 4 hopes whereas they could pull within 3 points of the Blues with a victory. Emery no longer has time to find his best team.

 

 

Advertisements

Arsenal vs. Fulham: Gunners stay in Top 4 race with 4-1 win

The Gunners started the new year on a positive note by sinking Fulham 4-1 on Tuesday to stay in the Top 4 race. They were even greeted with a round of applause at halftime for heading back to the dressing room with the lead for just the second time in the Premier League this season.

arsenal vs. fulhamPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Emery made 3 changes to the side that was demolished at Anfield with Koscielny, Guendouzi and Lacazette replacing Lichtsteiner, Torreira and Ramsey in the starting lineup. The Spanish manager also switched to a 3-4-3 formation that aimed to optimize the use of Kolasinac and Maitland-Niles as wingbacks.

Ozil was again left out of the squad. Officially, the German playmaker is recovering from knee pain. But if you read between the lines, there’s no doubt that the club wants to offload Ozil. Cutting costs is a priority for the Arsenal board and Ozil clearly looks like the elephant in the room with his weekly wage of £350,000 a week.

Unsurprisingly, his agent said on Wednesday that Ozil wants to stay at the club until the end of his contract in 2021. Ozil is not the first player to reject a move despite his lack of playing time. Jenkinson is in the same kind of situation. The only thing the club can do is to make the player redundant by signing players in the same position. For instance, Sarri has been able to sideline Fabregas because Chelsea signed Jorginho and Kovacic.

A divisive figure

Xhaka opened the scoring against Fulham and produced a good all-around performance, but his limitations were again exposed. He has been a divisive figure among fans since joining the club. To a certain extent, Xhaka embodies the problem with the current Arsenal squad. Most Gunners perform well against the weak and average sides, but they are simply not good enough against the big teams. Xhaka scored a goal, won 2 of 3 tackles and made 3 key passes, 3 interceptions and 8 recoveries. But he also gave the ball away 3 times in the first half and was dribbled past 4 times, the most for any player according to whoscored.com.

Emery definitely likes Xhaka, otherwise he wouldn’t be his first-choice holding midfielder. Traditionally, the No. 6 shields the back four and is therefore a defensive midfielder. Think of Casemiro at Real Madrid or Dier at Tottenham. But there’s a trend among modern managers to use a deep-lying playmaker as the holding midfielder. Sarri and Emery both like to play out from the back so they use deep-lying playmakers like Jorginho and Xhaka in front of the defense.

Of course, the problem with that approach is that Jorginho and Xhaka can be defensively suspect because they are not natural ballwinners. Guardiola and Klopp have found a compromise by playing defensive midfielders with good passing skills (Fernandinho and Fabinho). Another issue with Xhaka is that playing out from the back requires a lot of movement from the holding midfielder. Xhaka is easy to man-mark because of his relative lack of mobility. Leno was forced to punt the ball a couple of times in the first half because of the lack of passing options.

Guendouzi’s learning process

Last season, Xhaka played alongside Ramsey in a 3-4-3 formation with Ramsey as the box-to-box player and Xhaka as the holding midfielder. On Tuesday, Emery was more conservative than Wenger as he used Guendouzi alongside Xhaka in central midfield. Let’s give some credit to Xhaka for analyzing the situation and understanding that the front three needed more support. In the 25th minute, Xhaka made a late run into the box a la Ramsey and controlled a cross from Iwobi before flicking the ball past Rico to put Arsenal ahead.

Xhaka nearly scored a second goal in the 34th. Kolasinac cut the ball back for Xhaka, who was denied by Rico. With the security provided by the back three in the first half and the introduction of Torreira in the second half, Xhaka did not hesitate to roam forward. He also created two chances, heading the ball into the path of Lacazette in the 42nd and playing the French striker clean through on goal with a ball over the top in the 58th.

Emery used Tuesday’s game as an opportunity for Guendouzi to learn while limiting the risks for the team. Guendouzi showed good work-rate by winning 3 of 3 tackles and making 1 key pass, 2 interceptions and 5 recoveries. He created a scoring chance for Aubameyang with a through ball in 82nd. At 19, Guendouzi is still a work in progress. He definitely needs to be more tidy in possession. Guendouzi had 4 turnovers and a passing accuracy of 80% compared to 3 turnovers and a passing accuracy of 86.1% for Xhaka, according to whoscored.com. The French teenager also has a lot of room to improve his defensive awareness. Guendouzi sat too deep in the 69th and failed to close down Seri, who made a dangerous cross to Mitrovic.

Iwobi as a two-footed player  

Torreira showed signs of fatigue against Liverpool. So Emery rested Torreira by leaving him on the bench in the first half. Torreira replaced the injured Mustafi at halftime although Elneny was also available on the bench. Maybe Emery should have given Torreira the day off because the Uruguay midfielder performed poorly with 3 turnovers, 1 tackle and just 2 recoveries in 45 minutes.

Disappointed by Ozil’s poor work-rate, Emery has given the keys of the game to Iwobi. The move could be paying off as Iwobi has notched 1 goal and 2 assists in his last 4 Premier League games. He made 3 key passes on Tuesday, including the assist for the opening goal.

What made Iwobi’s performance interesting was the accuracy of his left foot. Iwobi is a right-footed player. Yet, he set up Maitland-Niles with a left-footed cross against Liverpool. Iwobi repeated the trick against Fulham, creating chances for Aubameyang with left-footed crosses in the 2nd and the 40th. It’s too soon to conclude that Iwobi is a two-footed player like Cazorla but it’s an interesting technical development.

Iwobi has improved his game by keeping things simple lately instead of running into traffic. Despite his 4 seasons in the Premier League, he’s not the finished product yet. The weight on his passes can be dodgy. Iwobi overhit a through ball for Lacazette in the 15th and missed a simple pass for the overlapping Kolasinac in the 76th.

The Walcott role

The Nigeria international also needs to improve his decision-making. His telegraphed pass for Aubameyang was intercepted in the 27th. And he opted for a tame low drive in the 58th instead of setting up Aubameyang for a first-time effort. If you look at the screen capture below, you can see that Aubameyang was in a better position for a shot.

arsenal vs. fulham m58edIwobi shoots instead of feeding Aubameyang. (Photo credit: NBC) 

Up front, Lacazette led the line while Aubameyang played the Walcott role on the right wing. I would have swapped their positions for two reasons: Aubameyang has more pace and is stronger in the air than Lacazette. Aubameyang won 4 of 4 aerial duels while Lacazette won 0 of 4 aerial duels, according to whoscored.com. Lacazette was also caught offside 3 times compared to just once for Aubameyang. The Gabon striker has more room to time his run because of his electric pace whereas Lacazette must perfectly time his run to beat a defensive line.

Aubameyang was quite wasteful against Fulham. He scored a goal but could have finished the match with a hat trick. His first chance came in the second minute when he met a cross from Iwobi but missed the target from a tight angle. Aubameyang then ghosted past Ream in the 40th only to head the ball wide from 8 yards. His most embarrassing moment occurred in the 79th when he met a low cross from Kolasinac and hit the post from 5 yards. Guendouzi also put Aubameyang in a very good situation with a through ball in the 82nd. Aubameyang held off Bryan but his chip attempt bounced off Rico. A minute later, Aubameyang finally found the net with the most improbable attempt -a powerful strike that took a big deflection off Ream to loop over Rico.

A tactical substitution

Lacazette could have also notched a hat trick if he had been more clinical. He skipped past Le Marchand in the 42nd to fire an angled strike that Rico saved with his leg. However, the France international got his goal in the 55th, taking a pass from Kolasinac to shoot past Rico from 10 yards for a 2-0 lead. Three minutes later, Lacazette failed to convert a big chance. He controlled a ball over the top from Xhaka to bear down on goal but Rico parried his low strike.

I definitely think the referee should have awarded Lacazette a penalty in the 65th after Seri elbowed him in the face. Lacazette could have done better with his link-up play on a counterattack. He wasted a good situation in the 48th by playing the ball between Iwobi and Aubameyang. There were boos from the crowd when Emery decided to replace Lacazette with Ramsey in the 75th. The fans have really liked Lacazette since his first season at the club. Lacazette made clear that it was not about him as he applauded his teammates while leaving the pitch.

After the game, Emery explained that the substitution was aimed at limiting the influence of Seri, who had replaced Cisse in the 61st. Seri quickly made an impact with a cross for Mitrovic in the 69th. In the build-up to Fulham’s goal, Seri was the one who dispossessed Torreira. As an attacking midfielder, Ramsey was in a better position than Lacazette to track Seri.

Ramsey vs. Ozil

Despite the collapse of the contract talks with Arsenal, Ramsey has kept performing well for the club, notching 2 goals and 6 assists in 18 league games this season compared to just 3 goals and 1 assist in 13 league games for Ozil. Ramsey made it 3-1 by pouncing on a rebound to slam the ball into the top corner in the 79th.

I think it was a mistake from the club to compare Ramsey’s contract negotiations with Ozil’s situation last season. Ramsey’s salary demands were in line with the market rate in England while Ozil’s wages were way over what any club would have given him. Another problem with the club’s rigid approach is what will they do when they have a special talent who deserves £250,000 or even £300,000 a week? Should Arsenal sell the next Mbappé because they want to trim their payroll instead of building a strong squad around a top player?

Ramsey could have become the face of the club. His work-rate and attitude are much better than Ozil’s. The Wales midfielder is also a big-game player who scored the winning goal in two FA Cup finals while Ozil tends to disappear when the going gets tough. In the end, the Gunners will get stuck with Ozil while Ramsey will reportedly join Juventus. Most Arsenal fans are grateful that Ramsey won’t be playing for a rival club in the Premier League.

Kolasinac’s defensive lapses

The performance of the Arsenal defense against the Cottagers wasn’t convincing. Fulham could have led 2-0 in the first half if Sessegnon had been more clinical. The Gunners especially looked vulnerable on crosses.

Kolasinac proved again a potent threat down the left flank, leading all players with 4 key passes. But his defensive lapses nearly cost his team. In the 23rd, Schurrle made a cross for Sessegnon, who miskicked the ball. Kolasinac was caught napping on that play as he failed to mark Sessegnon. The Bosnia-Herzegovina international was again guilty for Fulham’s goal in the 69th. Kolasinac let Kamara run in front of him to tap home Sessegnon’s cross. Mitrovic is not the most mobile striker, yet he managed to peel away from Kolasinac to head a corner straight at Leno in the 47th.

On the opposite flank, Maitland-Niles deputized for the injured Bellerin. He led all players with 3 successful dribbles out of 4 but lacked end product with 0 shot and 0 key pass. Maitland-Niles made a good run in behind in the 34th but his cross for Aubameyang was really poor. Defensively, he made no glaring error but failed to stop 2 dangerous crosses in the 23rd and the 69th. Despite his inexperience, Maitland-Niles should leapfrog Lichtsteiner in the pecking order for the fullback position.

The Gunners started with a back three before shifting to a back four at halftime. Mustafi had another poor game with a passing accuracy dipping to 69.2%, compared to 84.1% for Sokratis and 89.1% for Koscielny. The activity of the German centerback was also weak with 0 tackle, 1 interception and 2 recoveries in 45 minutes compared to 3 tackles, 1 interception and 8 recoveries for Sokratis and 1 tackle, 1 block, 3 interceptions and 6 recoveries for Koscielny, according to the club’s website. Emery took a risk since Mustafi didn’t seem completely fit and was replaced at halftime because of a hamstring problem.

Hangover after the festive period

Koscielny is slowly rebuilding confidence after losing key aerial duels in the 3-2 loss at Southampton. The French veteran won 6 of 6 aerial duels against Fulham, while Sokratis only won 1 of 5 aerial duels. As Koscielny is getting older, he will need to rely more on his positional play to compensate for his loss of pace. Kamara got the better of Koscielny in the 72nd with a run in behind. Koscielny also put Torreira in trouble on Fulham’s goal with a pass that was difficult to control.

Sokratis has a lot of room to improve his positional play. He was pulled out of position in the 15th and left Koscielny and Mustafi in a 2v2 situation with Sessegnon and Mitrovic. The Greek defender made the same mistake for Fulham’s goal in the 69th, leaving Koscielny in a 1v2 situation with Mitrovic and Kamara. The physical Mitrovic proved a handful for Sokratis, who struggled in the air and was at times too tight to the Fulham striker. Sokratis had a surprise for the crowd in the 36th. He showcased his dribbling skills by beating 2 Cottagers to have a shot blocked for a corner.

The Gunners have been the big losers of the festive period. They were level on points with fourth-placed Chelsea on Dec. 22. Now they trail the Blues by 3 points. The comparison with Spurs is even more telling. The Gunners were in fourth place, level on points with Tottenham after the North London derby on Dec. 2. Now Spurs are 7 points clear of Arsenal in the standings.

The Gunners next play Blackpool in the FA Cup on Saturday before visiting West Ham in the Premier League the following weekend. Emery can’t take any risk with a decimated squad. He should rest his key players against Blackpool. The defense has been exposed lately in part because 3 first-choice defenders are currently injured (Bellerin, Holding, and Monreal). Meanwhile, injuries to Welbeck, Mkhitaryan and Ozil have limited Emery’s attacking options. It’s no coincidence if the Spanish manager is relying on a front three now whereas he started the season with a front four.

Southampton vs. Arsenal: Defense a concern in 3-2 loss

   The Gunners were vulnerable on crosses under Wenger. They still haven’t found a fix under Emery. Southampton headed in three crosses to win 3-2 on Sunday and snap Arsenal’s 22-game unbeaten run in all competitions.

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

   A quick look at the standings tells you that the Gunners are doing fine offensively. With 37 goals from 17 games, they have scored as many goals as Liverpool to boast the second best offense in the Premier League behind Manchester City. On the other hand, they have already conceded 23 goals, that is, 16 more than Liverpool, 13 more than City and 9 more than Chelsea. In fact, the Gunners even have a more porous defense than Wolverhampton, Everton, Leicester and Newcastle.

   On Sunday, Arsenal missed Holding through injury and Mustafi and Sokratis through suspension. Emery opted for a 3-4-3 formation with Koscielny playing alongside Xhaka and Lichtsteiner in a back three. What was Emery thinking?

   Understanding and complementarity are crucial for any defense. The starting lineup didn’t really put Koscielny in optimal conditions for his first Premier League game this season. The French defender had never played with Lichtsteiner and Xhaka at centerback. Partnering Koscielny with Monreal in a back four would have been a more rational choice.

   What also made the back three dysfunctional was Emery’s decision to use Koscielny as the sweeper and Lichtsteiner and Xhaka as the wide centerbacks. Xhaka and Lichtsteiner are simply too sluggish to efficiently play as wide centerbacks. The idea behind a back three is that the sweeper covers the wide centerbacks, who must be more pro-active than the sweeper.

Adjusting to the pace of the game

   Koscielny didn’t cover himself in glory on the opening goal. Bellerin failed to stop a cross from Targett and Ings took advantage of Koscielny’s error to give Southampton the lead in the 20th minute. Koscielny showed poor decision-making by trying to intercept the ball with a high boot instead of heading the ball out of play. He misjudged the flight of the ball and missed his interception, basically offering Ings a free header.

Saints M20edKoscielny in a perfect position to head the ball out of play. (Photo credit: Sky)

   The irony is that Koscielny was sharp physically. He made more tackles (3), blocks (2), interceptions (1) and recoveries (8) than Xhaka and Lichtsteiner combined (1 tackle, 0 block, 1 interception, 7 recoveries), according to the club’s website. However, one key stat showed that Koscielny struggled to adjust to the pace of the game: he won 0 tackle. Koscielny will certainly need a couple more games to get back to his best level.

   Playing Xhaka at centerback was the weirdest decision Emery has made this season. Xhaka never really felt comfortable in that position, especially since his matchup with Redmond was an unfavorable one. The Switzerland international missed his challenge on Redmond in the 18th, was dispossessed by Redmond in the 23rd, gave the ball away in the 39th and fouled Long in the 73rd.

Injury crisis at the back

   Xhaka’s lack of pace was exposed in the 85th when the Saints scored the winner. Leading a counterattack, Hojbjerg played Long in and the Southampton substitute made a cross for Austin, who beat Leno to the ball to head home. As you can see on the screen capture below, Xhaka failed to close down Long, giving him plenty of time and space for a pinpoint cross.

Saints M85ed.jpgKoscielny in a 1v1 situation with Austin as Xhaka is not tight to Long. (Photo credit: Sky)

   Leno was credited with an error for that goal, but the reason why he missed his catch by a few inches is because he initially thought Long would shoot. By coming off his line to narrow Long’s angle, Leno missed the couple of steps that would have allowed him to catch Long’s cross. Leno is now tied with Begovic for the most errors (3) leading to a goal in the Premier League. There’s no doubt that Leno’s distribution is better than Cech’s. His passing accuracy reached 92.9% against Southampton. Yet, passing skills are meaningless for a goalkeeper if he can’t do the basics: preventing goals. Leno has been poor at reading crosses this season. He completely missed his punch while coming for Valery’s cross in the 60th. You can bet that other Premier League sides will test Leno again with teasing crosses.

   The Gunners have been hit by an injury crisis at the back. Holding will miss the rest of the season to recover from a torn ligament in his knee while Kolasinac was not in the squad because of a thigh strain. The disabled list got longer at St Mary’s stadium as Bellerin was replaced at halftime by Lacazette because of a calf problem that will sideline him for a couple of weeks. The Spaniard underperformed lately and it was clear that something wasn’t right physically.

Guendouzi’s inexperience

   Lichtsteiner, who moved to the rightback position when Arsenal switched to a back four in the second half, also picked up an injury after a scissor tackle from Armstrong in the 71st. Maitland-Niles came off the bench to replace Lichtsteiner and should likely start at rightback in the next few games. Unless Emery is crazy enough to play Xhaka in that position.

   Xhaka and Lichtsteiner were so worried by the pace of Redmond and Armstrong that they preferred to sit back and left a huge gap between the defense and the midfield. That made the task of Torreira and Guendouzi very difficult in the first half.

   Torreira produced another good performance, leading all players by winning 4 of 5 tackles and making 9 recoveries. The Uruguay midfielder also made 1 key pass, 1 block and 2 interceptions. In the 30th, Guendouzi picked out Torreira, who squared the ball back for Aubameyang. It took a desperate sliding tackle from Bednarek to prevent Aubameyang from tapping in from 5 yards. Torreira will have regrets about the lost duel in the 85th. Ozil turned the ball over to Hojbjerg, who wriggled away from Torreira to slip a through ball to Long for the winner. For a split second, Torreira thought about holding Hojbjerg before letting him go.

   In the partnership formed with Guendouzi in central midfield, Torreira clearly had more defensive responsibilities. Guendouzi still made his defensive contribution by winning 2 of 2 tackles and having 5 recoveries. However, his inexperience cost his team at times. He lacked patience and took speculative shots, with 0 of 3 shots on target, instead of maintaining pressure on the Southampton defense.

Sterile possession

   Guendouzi also held onto the ball too long when he could have moved it faster. And he failed to smell the danger in the 44th when Redmond made a cross for Ings, whose looping header beat Leno for a 2-1 lead. As you can see on the screen capture below, Redmond got plenty of time and space for his cross. It was definitely not Xhaka’s job to chase Redmond that far and Monreal was busy with Valery down the left flank.

Saints M44ed.jpgGuendouzi fails to close down Redmond. (Photo credit: Sky)

   I guess that’s the price you have to pay for starting a teenager in Premier League games. On the bright side, Guendouzi only had 1 turnover, compared to 2 for Torreira, according to whoscored.com. And he created Arsenal’s first scoring chance in the sixth minute with a ball over the top for Aubameyang, whose close-range effort was saved by McCarthy.

   Emery made 10 changes to the side that edged Qarabag in the Europa League, so there was no excuse for Arsenal’s slow passing game and sterile possession. The Gunners only had 4 shots on target to 7 for Southampton despite enjoying 66% of ball possession. Emery tried to shake things up but with no real success. The Spanish manager switched to a 4-4-2 system at halftime when Lacazette replaced an injured Bellerin. Then he gave the keys of the team to Ozil by yanking Iwobi off in the 70th and shifting to a 4-2-3-1 formation. Ozil had very little impact in his 25-minute cameo. He had 2 key passes but those stats are misleading: one came from a corner kick and the other was a short pass to set up a long-range effort.

Turnover machine

   It has been quite obvious in the past few games that the Gunners lack creativity. Yes, they score a lot of goals, but it’s because Aubameyang and Lacazette have been clinical. Arsenal lost Cazorla, Sanchez, Rosicky, Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain in the past couple of years. Those are players who could create chances. The Gunners still have Ozil, Ramsey, Mkhitaryan and Iwobi as creative players. But only Ramsey has been relatively consistent this season while Ozil’s poor work-rate has been an issue, Mkhitaryan has a too peripheral role in the team’s passing game and Iwobi lacks end product.  

   Emery has a problem on the left wing because Welbeck’s long-term injury means that there’s no competition for Iwobi. Mkhitaryan and Ozil prefer to play on the right wing while Ramsey and Aubameyang are more effective in a central position. How do you motivate a lazy player if there’s no one to take his spot?

   Iwobi is the most dispossessed player at Arsenal and 15th in the Premier League despite playing fewer minutes than most players on that list. Hazard is 6th, having been dispossessed 38 times in 1,225 minutes and Sterling is 7th with 37 in 1,140 minutes. Iwobi has already been dispossessed 29 times in 789 minutes. The big difference here is that Hazard and Sterling notch a lot of goals and assists while Iwobi only has 1 goal and 2 assists.

   Despite spending only 70 minutes on the pitch, Iwobi led all players with 7 turnovers. His work-rate was average at best with 1 block and 5 recoveries, compared to 4 interceptions and 7 recoveries for Mkhitaryan, according to the club’s website. And his end product was mediocre with 0 shot on target, 0 key pass and 0 accurate cross. Iwobi especially lacked composure in the 54th, missing the target with a 15-yard curling shot.

Aubameyang losing his finishing touch

   Managers can see the potential in Iwobi, but he still lacks the mental toughness and the attitude to reach the next level. To his credit, Iwobi released Monreal down the left flank for the first equalizer in the 28th. He then found Mkhitaryan, who set up Aubameyang for a scoring chance in the 46th. It’s usually the deep-lying playmaker who makes the penultimate pass. There’s no way Iwobi could play in that position because it requires more work than playing as an attacking midfielder.

   Mkhitaryan had a good game with 2 goals and 1 key pass. The Armenia international headed Monreal’s cross into the bottom corner in the 28th and made it 2-2 in the 53rd with a long-range strike that took a big deflection off Vestergaard to beat a wrongfooted McCarthy. His stats look a bit more decent with 4 goals and 1 assist in the Premier League this season, but we’re still far from the consistency of a Sanchez or a Cazorla in their prime.

   Up front, Aubameyang lost his finishing touch. I won’t blame Aubameyang for not scoring in the sixth minute because he was closed down by Yoshida while shooting with his weaker left foot. However, I thought Aubameyang could have done better than a tame toe poke in the 46th and should have hit the target with his sliding volley off a Guendouzi cross in the 81st.

No room for error in the Top 4 race

   Emery decided to play with two strikers after halftime because Aubameyang often looked isolated in the first half. The Gunners had a bit more presence in the final third but it didn’t solve the lack of creativity. Arsenal’s second equalizer in the 53rd came from some defensive work by Lacazette, who dispossessed Romeu to feed Mkhitaryan. Lacazette created another chance by charging down McCarthy’s clearance in the 68th but Aubameyang couldn’t pick a spot to shoot. As an example of the poor service, Lacazette had 0 shot. I’m sure Aubameyang and Lacazette would have shone in Ferguson’s Manchester United. Unfortunately, Emery doesn’t have any Giggs or Beckham to provide them a decent service.  

   The Gunners next play Spurs in the League Cup on Wednesday before hosting Burnley in the Premier League on Saturday. I believe Emery should rotate against Spurs because Arsenal’s situation in the Premier League gives them no room for error. The Gunners are 3 points outside the Top 4 and 5 points behind Tottenham. They could drop out of the Top 4 race by the end of December if they get poor results against Burnley, Brighton and Liverpool.

Arsenal vs. Qarabag: A few thoughts on the 1-0 win

In Thursday’s dead rubber, the Gunners edged Qarabag 1-0 in the Europa League to extend their unbeaten run to 22 games in all competitions. Despite what the scoreline might suggest, it was a one-sided encounter with Arsenal enjoying 67% of ball possession and having 11 goal attempts to just 1 for the Azerbaijani side.

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

The Gunners had already secured a first-place finish in Group E before this game. Therefore Emery took no risk by leaving 9 first-team players out of the squad (Cech, Leno, Bellerin, Lichtsteiner, Kolasinac, Torreira, Xhaka, Iwobi and Aubameyang). The Spanish manager still fielded an experienced side with only 3 academy players in the starting lineup (Willock, Nketiah and Saka). In case of trouble, Emery had Monreal, Mkhitaryan and Guendouzi on the bench. Monreal came off the bench in the second half while Mkhitaryan and Guendouzi were not even used.

  1. The captain is back

Koscielny finally made his first appearance this season after tearing his Achilles tendon in May. There were some concerns over his fitness because he had only played a couple of games with the U23 team, but the French centerback looked sharp with a passing accuracy of 100%. The small crowd at the Emirates stadium warmly applauded Koscielny when Monreal replaced him in the 72nd minute. Koscielny produced a low-key performance, winning 1 tackle and 1 of 2 aerial duels and making 0 interception, according to whoscored.com. Sokratis had slightly better stats, winning 1 tackle and 2 of 3 aerial duels and making 2 interceptions.

  1. Saka showed personality

For his first Arsenal start, Saka wasn’t impressed by the big stage. The 17-year-old winger had 3 of 4 shots on target, 1 key pass, and led all players with 8 successful dribbles out of 10, according to whoscored.com. Saka tested Vagner with a curling shot in the ninth minute for Arsenal’s first scoring chance. He should have found the net in the 89th but fired straight at the goalkeeper from 8 yards. While youngsters like Nketiah and Smith-Rowe sometimes struggle with the physicality of the game, Saka is surprisingly quite strong in challenges for a teenager. Saka might prove a fantastic asset in the next few years as Mkhitaryan and Iwobi lack efficiency in the wide positions while Welbeck’s future at the club is uncertain.

  1. Nketiah is still a work in progress

Since his heroics in the League Cup against Norwich last year, Nketiah has struggled to have an impact with the first team. Nketiah keeps shining with the U23 side but the gap with the top leagues is massive. At 19, Nketiah still has time on his side though. He showed good work-rate against Qarabag by winning 5 tackles, tied with Willock for the most by any player. His defensive work in the 16th forced the turnover that led to the winning goal. However, his end product was a bit disappointing with 0 of 1 shot on target and 1 key pass. Nketiah headed a corner over the bar in the 37th and created the golden chance for Saka in the 89th. He headed home a cross from Saka in the 76th but the goal was disallowed for offside. Nketiah also needs to be more tidy in possession. He had 6 turnovers compared to 4 for Saka.

  1. Ozil made his return from a back injury

The quality of his passing was badly missed against Huddersfield last weekend. Ozil led all players with 4 key passes before Emery yanked him off in the 83rd to send on Gilmour. The German playmaker created the winner in the 16th by finding Lacazette inside the area. Lacazette rounded Huseynov to shoot past Vagner from a tight angle. The key question this season is whether Ozil will follow Emery’s tactical instructions. Pressing is a team effort. The whole chain can be broken if one player fails to close down an opponent. If Ozil improves his work-rate, he will be a regular starter. Otherwise, he will only be an impact player coming off the bench.

  1. Elneny should be sold next summer

The Egypt international is not decisive enough. Defensively, Torreira, Xhaka and Guendouzi win more tackles than Elneny. Offensively, Torreira and Guendouzi are more creative than Elneny while Xhaka is more useful for set pieces. On Thursday, Elneny won 1 tackle and made 2 interceptions and 1 key pass, compared to 5 tackles won, 1 interception and 1 key pass for Willock. Elneny’s main asset is that he’s more experienced and more tidy in possession than Willock. He had 2 turnovers and a passing accuracy of 95.9% compared to 4 turnovers and a passing accuracy of 88.5% for Willock.

 

Atletico Madrid vs. Arsenal: A few toughts on the 1-0 loss

Wenger’s last season at Arsenal will definitely leave a bitter taste. The Gunners got knocked out of the Europa League after losing 1-0 to Atletico Madrid in the second leg of their semifinal tie on Thursday. The Colchoneros gave Arsenal a lesson in defending by limiting the visitors to just one shot on target. Now the Gunners have nothing to play for: they have been eliminated from every cup competition and can no longer finish in the Top 4 of the Premier League.

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

The French manager fielded the same team that started in the first leg. There was no surprise for Simeone, who has turned the Wanda Metropolitano stadium into a fortress: the Colchoneros haven’t conceded any goal at home since January. Arsenal never really looked threatening. They lacked penetration to crack a disciplined and compact Atletico defense. Oblak only had one save to make as he turned Xhaka’s long-range strike around the post in the 63rd minute. Defensively, the Gunners struggled to cope with Costa’s physicality and Griezmann’s movement.

  1. Dealing with long balls

Simeone was obviously aware that defending long balls was an Arsenal weakness. That’s how Griezmann scored the equalizer in the first leg. On Thursday, the Colchoneros repeated the trick in the opening minutes. Koscielny relied on his reading of the game to intercept a long ball for Costa in the fourth minute. But two minutes later, Costa ridiculed the Arsenal defense by controlling Oblak’s clearance and bullying Koscielny and Monreal to be clean through on goal. Fortunately, Ospina spread himself to force an off-target effort from Costa.

On the stroke of halftime, the Arsenal defense was all over the place when Oblak hit another long ball. Chambers outjumped Griezmann only to head the ball into the path of Partey, who found Griezmann with a first-time pass. Costa made a run in behind Bellerin to collect Griezmann’s pass and fire past Ospina for the winning goal. Chambers’ header was poor but he also made the mistake of not staying tight to Griezmann afterwards. Bellerin’s positional play was also questionable. Costa had a 5-yard lead over Bellerin when Partey made the pass. By playing in a too advanced position, Bellerin left Mustafi with a too large area to patrol.

  1. The stain on Wenger’s resume

Wenger is the most successful manager in the history of the club but you wouldn’t put him in the same class as Guardiola, Mourinho, Ancelotti, Ferguson, Benitez, Heynckes or even Simeone because he has never won any European trophy. The French manager had his best chances against Galatasaray in the 2000 UEFA Cup final and against Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final. There’s no shame in losing to a Spanish side that won the Europa League twice and reached the Champions League final twice in the past few years. But the comparison between Atletico’s budget and Arsenal’s resources tells you that Simeone has overachieved while Wenger has underachieved.

  1. The missing ingredient

Why did Arsenal struggle so badly to create chances? One reason was the poor quality of the final ball. Lacazette and Welbeck were deprived of service as they finished the game with 0 shot taken. The Gunners only made 2 accurate crosses out of 20, according to whoscored.com. And they didn’t produce any through ball whereas the Colchoneros had 2 accurate through balls out of 3. Starting on the right wing in a 4-3-3 system, Ozil had a poor game with only 1 key pass.

Here are a few plays that could have made the difference with a better final ball: Monreal made a poor cross for an unmarked Lacazette in the 15th; Bellerin overhit his cross for Welbeck in the 19th; and Ozil missed his cross for Welbeck in the 61st.

In a three-man midfield, Ramsey worked hard, leading all players with 7 tackles won according to whoscored.com. Ramsey even created the two best half-chances, picking out Lacazette and Monreal inside the Atletico area in the 27th and 32nd, respectively. Unfortunately, Lacazette and Monreal were both let down by a poor first touch.

  1. Arsenal shouldn’t count on Koscielny next season

Koscielny collapsed to the ground in the seventh minute because of a torn Achilles tendon and was replaced by Chambers in the 12th. It would be foolish from the staff to bet on a fit Koscielny for next season. The France centerback still has two years left on his contract but it could look like the last seasons at the club of Arteta, Rosicky and Cazorla. Mertesacker’s retirement, Koscielny’s nagging injuries and Chambers’ limitations mean that the club should sign 2 centerbacks this summer.

  1. Chambers is not good enough for Arsenal

At 23, Chambers may still have room for improvement, but two flaws in his game can’t be fixed: his lack of recovery pace and his inability to quickly turn. Costa dribbled past Chambers in the 67th to feed Griezmann, whose shot was deflected high in the air. Then Griezmann skipped past a diving Chambers in the 76th only to be dispossessed inside the area by Xhaka. Chambers was guilty on Costa’s goal and he gave away another chance in the 88th with a risky pass for Welbeck that Saul Niguez blocked. The loose ball fell to Torres, whose shot was parried by Ospina.

Arsenal vs. Atletico Madrid: A few thoughts on the 1-1 draw

The Gunners threw away the lead with a defensive blunder in the closing minutes to draw 1-1 with Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their semifinal tie in the Europa League. Arsenal will have a lot of regrets after Thursday’s game: the Colchoneros aren’t that often outplayed.

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

The Spanish side was vulnerable on crosses and spent the second half under siege. Simeone was apparently happy to trail by just one goal as he made defensive substitutions after Lacazette’s opening goal, replacing Gameiro with Gabi in the 65th and Correa with Savic in the 75th. The lack of attacking options on the Arsenal bench was a relief for the Atletico defense. Mkhitaryan is still recovering from a knee injury while Aubameyang is not eligible. Wenger made no substitution, thinking that Nketiah and Iwobi could not bring anything to the team.

What can we expect for the second leg in Madrid? Obviously, there’s no way the Gunners can be as dominant as they were at the Emirates stadium where they enjoyed 76% of ball possession and had 28 shots to just 6 for Atletico. Scoring a goal would be quite a feat: the Colchoneros have kept a lot of clean sheets at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium this season. On the bright side, the Gunners have a good record in the knockout phase with a 2-2 draw in Moscow, a 2-0 win in Milan and a 3-0 win in Ostersund.

  1. Vrsaljko’s ejection was justified

The Atletico rightback earned a booking in the second minute after killing a counterattack with a cynical foul on Wilshere. Then Vrsaljko received a second yellow card for a nasty stamp on Lacazette’s ankle in the 10th. That was just his second foul of the game, but each foul definitely deserved a yellow card.

Simeone was infuriated when Bellerin got no booking in the 13th for sticking a foot between a player’s legs to flick the ball. That was an awkward challenge from Bellerin but nothing as cynical or violent as Vrsaljko’s fouls. In a show of petulance, Simeone punched the air with his fists. The referee interpreted that behavior as dissent and sent Simeone off. In that kind of situation, maybe a verbal warning to the Argentine manager would have been enough.

  1. The Gunners proved incredibly wasteful

Arsenal should have scored more goals on Thursday. Oblak is a world-class goalkeeper but he only made 2 outstanding saves. He palmed away a close-range header from Lacazette in the seventh minute and tipped around the post another header from Ramsey in the 87th. The rest was just routine saves. Arsenal’s shooting accuracy was poor: of their 28 shots, 13 were off target, 7 got blocked and only 8 were on target, according to whoscored.com. The main culprits were Lacazette (2 of 8 shots on target), Ramsey (3 of 8), Xhaka (0 of 4) and Ozil (0 of 2).

Lacazette should have opened the scoring in the sixth minute when he met a cross from Welbeck for a bouncing volley that clipped the post. He also headed a cross over the bar in the 16th and glanced a corner wide in the 69th. Other chances included a low strike from Welbeck that Oblak saved with his foot in the 18th, a miskicked effort from Koscielny in the 21st, a volley from Monreal that sailed wide in the 31st and a header from Ramsey straight at Oblak in stoppage time.

  1. Lacazette is a different beast in European games

Knowing that the Europa League final will be played in Lyon, his hometown, Lacazette was highly motivated against Atletico. Lacazette opened the scoring in the 61st by outjumping Godin and Hernandez to head a cross from Wilshere into the far corner. He led all players with 5 aerial duels won and showed some great work-rate by winning 3 tackles and making 5 key passes. Thursday’s game confirmed that Lacazette is better tailored for European football because it is less physical than the Premier League and there isn’t such a strong emphasis on aerial duels. You would never see Lacazette win so many aerial duels in the Premier League.

  1. A defensive cock-up every week

The Colchoneros’ equalizer reminded the fans why Arsenal won’t finish in the Top 4 of the Premier League: the Gunners can’t defend. There’s a cock-up every week. Last week it was Mustafi, the week before it was Cech, and last night it was Koscielny. In the 82nd, Griezmann chased a long ball from the Atletico defense, got the better of Koscielny, was denied by Ospina but fired the rebound into the roof of the net.

At the start of the play, Welbeck made the mistake of isolating himself. The nearest teammate, Ramsey, was 30 yards behind Welbeck. Instead of taking on 2 defenders, Welbeck should have waited for more support and played a simple pass to Ramsey. When Welbeck lost possession, it was a comfortable 3v1 situation for the Arsenal defense. Because Monreal and Mustafi played Griezmann onside, that quickly turned into a 1v1 situation. Koscielny had an opportunity to kick the ball out of play but he gambled and tried to chip the ball over Griezmann. That was poor decision-making. The ball bounced off Griezmann’s head and into the path of the Atletico striker, sudddenly clean through on goal.

Down to 10 men for 80 minutes, the Colchoneros gave Arsenal a lesson in defending. The Gunners struggled to find space in a compact Atletico defense. In fact, they couldn’t even produce any through ball. The Spanish side’s only glaring weakness seemed to be in the air.

  1. Questions for the Arsenal midfield

The Arsenal midfield will need to work harder in the second leg. The Colchoneros exposed our midfielders a couple of times. Griezmann was able to test Ospina with a half-volley in the 33rd because no one patrolled the edge of the box. Then Partey easily dribbled past Ramsey, Xhaka and Wilshere in the 37th to feed Griezmann, whose snapshot was parried by Ospina.

Ramsey will have to cut his turnover rate for the second leg. He led all players with 7 turnovers, compared to 1 for Xhaka and 0 for Wilshere, according to whoscored.com. Another concern is the midfield’s poor interception skills. Ramsey, Wilshere and Xhaka combined to make 0 interception compared to 14 for Partey, Koke and Saul Niguez. The Gunners have been obviously missing Elneny’s mobility. They will have to find a solution for the second leg.

 

Arsenal vs. CSKA Moscow: A few thoughts on the 4-1 win

The Gunners put themselves in a very good position to qualify for the last 4 of the Europa League by smashing CSKA Moscow 4-1 in the first leg of their quarterfinal tie. Ramsey and Lacazette scored 2 goals each on Thursday while Ozil was involved in every Arsenal goal.

Arsenal vs. CSKA

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

Because the Europa League has become more important than the Premier League, Wenger fielded his strongest team for that leg. There was no room on the bench for Nelson, Maitland-Niles and Willock. Arsenal found plenty of space against a Russian side that took the risk of playing a high defensive line. The scoreline was a bit flattering for the Gunners, who struggled to cope with Musa’s pace. CSKA Moscow could have scored 3 goals in the first half with some decent finishing.

  1. Ramsey’s golden touch

Almost everything Ramsey touched in the first half turned into gold. His deep runs are always a headache for any defense. Ramsey tucked home a low cross from Ozil in the seventh minute but his goal was disallowed for an offside position from Ozil. CSKA Moscow had been warned about the quality of Ramsey’s movement, yet they completely forgot to mark him two minutes later. Bellerin picked out Ramsey, who opened the scoring by guiding the ball past Akinfeev from 10 yards. Ramsey then beat the offside trap to make it 3-1 in the 28th. The Wales midfielder connected with a cross from Ozil to volley the ball over Akinfeev with an acrobatic backheel flick.

Paradoxically, Ramsey had easier chances afterwards but couldn’t convert them to notch a hat trick. He met a cross from Monreal in the 33rd for a header that lacked power to beat Akinfeev. In the 56th, Ramsey pounced on a rebound only to fire over the bar from close range. In the 77th, he took a pass from Iwobi to curl a shot that hit the post. And in the 85th, Iwobi fed again Ramsey, who missed the target with a low strike. Ramsey took 7 shots, 3 more than any other player. The only negative in his performance was his 6 turnovers, the most for any player according to whoscored.com. If the Gunners want to win the Europa League, Ramsey will have to stay fit and avoid any suspension because he has become the heartbeat of this team.

  1. Ozil’s passing masterclass

The Germany playmaker can do a lot of damage if you give him space and time because he can see every passing option and execute properly. Ozil led all players with 5 key passes. He created the opening goal by releasing Bellerin down the right flank in the ninth minute. Then Ozil won the penalty for the second goal with a run inside the box in the 22nd. He played a one-two with Ramsey before Schennikov brought him down. Ozil also spotted Ramsey’s run for the third goal in the 28th and set up Lacazette for the last goal in the 35th.

The quality of Ozil’s delivery is not his only asset. He can create problems for a defense with his runs in the final third, too. In the season Sanchez played as a false nine at the club, Ozil often morphed into a second striker. Ozil met a cross from Xhaka in the 44th for a half-volley that sailed wide. And he took a pass from Iwobi in the 73rd for a low curling shot that Akinfeev saved.

  1. Lacazette is better tailored for European football

The Europa League is a familiar competition for Lacazette, who led French club Lyon to the semifinals last season. Lacazette gave Arsenal a 2-1 lead by converting a penalty in the 23rd. The France international then controlled Ozil’s cross in the 35th to bury the ball into the bottom corner with his weaker left foot. Wenger sent on Welbeck for Lacazette in the 74th and Welbeck nearly found the net in the 84th by diverting Ramsey’s cross with his shin, forcing a reflex save from Akinfeev. I believe Lacazette will perform better as a centerforward in the Europa League than in the Premier League because the Europa League is less physical and there isn’t such a strong emphasis on aerial duels.

  1. It wasn’t Mkhitaryan’s day

Mkhitaryan missed the target from good positions in the 4th and 47th minutes. His best effort was a low drive that Akinfeev parried in the 56th. Then Mkhitaryan picked up a knee injury after a poor challenge from Schennikov in the 58th and was replaced by Iwobi in the 61st. It might just be a knock but if it’s a serious injury, that would definitely be a blow for Arsenal’s chances in the Europa League because they have very few creative players left in the squad: Sanchez is gone while Cazorla has been ruled out for the rest of the season.

  1. Silly fouls can prove costly

In the previous round, the Gunners got away with a lot of cheap free kicks on the edge of box against AC Milan. They had no such luck against CSKA Moscow. In the 15th, Koscielny barged into Golovin, who was trying to control a high ball. The Russian midfielder curled the ensuing free kick into the top corner to level the game. In the end, that equalizer didn’t matter, but it would have been a different story against a team like Atletico Madrid.

  1. Wilshere must change his game

He proved the weak link in midfield with a lack of end product (0 shot, 0 key pass) and a passing accuracy of 73%, the lowest percentage for any Arsenal outfield player according to whoscored.com. Wilshere must realize that he doesn’t have the pace or skills to dribble past several opponents. He wasted a counterattack in the 37th by carrying too much the ball instead of releasing an unmarked Ozil down the right flank. Wilshere was again dispossessed in the 40th and 53rd while making dribbling runs. If he sticks to that stubborn approach, Wilshere won’t survive in the Premier League.

Wenger sent on Elneny for Wilshere in the 74th to protect the lead. Wilshere’s average performances mean that Iwobi could get back in contention for a starting spot. Iwobi and Wilshere don’t play in the same position but the manager could still tweak his formation. In his 30-minute cameo, Iwobi managed to make 2 key passes. The Nigeria international had a golden chance to score in the 67th but he seemed to hesitate between a shot and a pass. The ball fell to Lacazette at the far post, who fired across goal.