Tag Archives: Koscielny

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.

The art of squad building and how Wenger lost the plot

Poor recruitment is the main reason why the Gunners are no longer in the Top 4 of the Premier League. Last season, they finished in fifth place, 11 points behind Spurs. Arsenal will again miss out on the Top 4 this season as they currently sit in sixth place, 13 points behind Spurs after 30 games.

Squad buildingPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

You may think that money is the issue. It’s true that the Red Devils generate more revenue than any other football club, while Manchester City and Chelsea are backed by billionaires. But you also have to remember that Liverpool and Tottenham have a smaller budget than the Gunners and spend less money in the transfer market.

On paper, building a squad looks pretty simple: you spot the weaknesses in the team, you clear the dead wood, and you sign the players who will make the team stronger. To understand how that process works, I will compare the job done by Pochettino, Klopp and Wenger. I have chosen Tottenham and Liverpool as case studies because Arsenal can match them financially.

The 2013-14 season proved an unstable period for Spurs, who replaced Villas-Boas with Sherwood in December. Despite the managerial change, Tottenham finished in sixth place, 10 points behind Arsenal. I have used startingeleven.co.uk to provide a picture below of Sherwood’s favorite lineup.

2014 Spurs

The 2014 Spurs lineup under Sherwood

Here’s the Tottenham squad under Sherwood:

Goalkeepers: Lloris as the starter (Friedel as the back-up option). Fullbacks: Walker, Rose (Naughton, Fryers). Centerbacks: Vertonghen, Dawson (Kaboul, Chiriches). Central midfielders: Dembele, Paulinho (Sandro, Capoue, Bentaleb). Playmakers: Eriksen (Sigurdsson). Wingers: Chadli, Lennon (Townsend, Lamela). Centerforwards: Adebayor (Soldado, Kane, Defoe).

When Pochettino took over in May 2014, he quickly spotted the weaknesses in the Spurs lineup. First, the team lacked a commanding centerback. Dawson was a decent fit for an average side but not good enough for a club aiming at a Top 4 finish. So Pochettino signed Fazio in August 2014 and Wimmer and Alderweireld in the summer of 2015. Fazio was a flop while Wimmer turned out to be a benchwarmer. However, Alderweireld proved a key signing as he helped stabilize the Tottenham defense.

Becoming a contender within 2 years

Pochettino inherited good players at fullback with Rose and Walker, but he wasn’t happy with the back-up options. So the club signed Davies in July 2014 and Trippier in June 2015. The development of Trippier and Davies helped Spurs cope with Walker’s departure last summer and Rose’s injuries. The Argentine manager also strengthened the bench for the goalkeeping position by replacing an aging Friedel with Vorm.

In midfield, Pochettino realized that Spurs lacked a good holding midfielder. Capoue, Sandro and Bentaleb were not good enough, Dembele played as a deep-lying playmaker and Paulinho was mostly a utility midfielder. So Pochettino recalled Mason to the squad and signed Dier and Stambouli in the summer of 2014. Stambouli struggled in the Premier League but Dier proved a good investment as he efficiently shielded the Tottenham defense.

On the wings, Pochettino noticed the lack of end product. So he signed Alli and Son in 2015 while putting more pressure on Lamela. Up front, he spotted Kane’s potential and gave him the nod over an aging and more limited Adebayor. Pochettino also shook up the bench by releasing Soldado in 2015 and signing N’Jie, who didn’t manage to make the cut.

Within two summer transfer windows, Pochettino turned Tottenham into a title contender. If you look at the picture below, you will notice 5 changes between Sherwood’s lineup and Pochettino’s team. Spurs ran out of steam at the end of the 2015-16 season, but they were the only real threat to Leicester’s title bid.

2016 Spurs

The 2016 Spurs lineup under Pochettino

Instead of resting on his laurels, Pochettino stayed busy in the transfer market to make Spurs more competitive, in part because some of his signings didn’t deliver, but also because other rivals were spending lavishly. So within two summer transfer windows, Pochettino made 4 changes to a team that was in contention until April 2016.

2018 Spurs

The 2018 Spurs lineup under Pochettino

At the back, Pochettino promoted Walker-Peters and signed Aurier to make up for Walker’s departure last summer. He also hired Sanchez and Foyth as cover for Vertonghen and Alderweireld. In his first season at the club, Sanchez impressively stepped up when Alderweireld picked up a hamstring injury last November.

Seeing the weaknesses and the potential

In midfield, Pochettino was a bit conservative but he still promoted Winks and added more power by signing Wanyama and Sissoko in 2016. On the wings, the Argentine manager clearly wanted more pace as he signed N’Koudou in 2016 and Moura this year. N’Koudou is still a raw player and has been loaned out to Burnley while Moura is close to the finished product with 5 seasons under his belt at French club PSG.

Up front, Pochettino signed Janssen in 2016 and Llorente in 2017 as cover for Kane. Janssen failed to impress and was loaned out to Turkish club Fenerbahce, while expectations were low for Llorente, an aging striker who was willing to deputize for Kane.

Over a four-year period, Pochettino has cleared the dead wood and strengthened both the lineup and the bench. He has also lost some gambles in the transfer market, but at least they didn’t cost the club a fortune. So there is no doubt that Spurs have a good squad builder with Pochettino.

Klopp’s appointment at Liverpool in October 2015 also provides a good example of squad building. Despite coming in the middle of the season, Klopp still managed to lead the Reds to the League Cup final and a runner-up finish in the Europa League.

Liverpool famously challenged for the Premier League title during the 2013-14 season, but it all went downhill for Rodgers after the departures of Suarez in 2014 and Sterling in 2015. Rodgers also struggled to replace leaders like Gerrard and Toure. In the summer of 2015, Rodgers signed Ings, Firmino and Benteke to add more firepower up front, but the team didn’t really gel. Stuck in 10th place after 8 Premier League games, the club lost patience and sacked Rodgers in October.

2015 Liverpool

The 2015 Liverpool lineup under Rodgers

Here’s the Liverpool squad under Rodgers:

Goalkeepers: Mignolet as the starter (Bogdan as the back-up option). Fullbacks: Clyne, Moreno (Flanagan, Gomez). Centerbacks: Skrtel, Lovren (Sakho, Toure). Midfielders: Henderson, Milner, Can (Allen, Leiva). Playmaker: Coutinho. Wingers: Lallana (Origi, Ibe). Centerforwards: Benteke (Sturridge, Firmino, Ings).

When Klopp took over, he could only make tactical adjustments because he had to wait eight months for the next summer transfer window. The Reds finished eighth in the Premier League at the end of the 2015-16 season. But Klopp got plenty of time to see the weaknesses as well as the potential of the squad he inherited.

Rebuilding an entire defense

Liverpool conceded a lot of goals under Rodgers, so Klopp decided to completely rebuild the defense. Klopp had doubts about Mignolet in goal and therefore signed Karius in 2016. Karius hasn’t been really convincing yet, even playing fewer games than Mignolet. That might explain why Roma goalkeeper Alisson has recently been linked with a move to Anfield. At centerback, Klopp shipped out Toure, Sakho and Skrtel while signing Matip and Klavan in 2016 and Van Dijk a couple of months ago. Klopp also signed Robertson in 2017 to take the leftback spot from Moreno. At rightback, Clyne’s long-term injury obliged Klopp to hand Gomez a starting spot.

By contrast, Klopp has been relatively conservative in midfield. The German manager sold Allen and Leiva, who were second-choice midfielders, and hired Grujic and Wijnaldum in 2016 and Oxlade-Chamberlain last year. Henderson and Can are still regular starters under Klopp while Milner gets plenty of playing time, too. In fact, the biggest change in midfield is Klopp’s rotation policy to keep fresh legs for his gegenpressing tactics.

The Reds struggled to score in Rodgers’ last season at the club. Klopp realized that Benteke and Ibe were not good enough for a Top 4 club and let them go. He also noticed a lack of penetration in the final third and therefore signed Mane in 2016 and Salah in 2017. Both Mane and Salah have a lot of pace and great dribbling skills.

However, Klopp’s really smart decision was to play Firmino as a false nine. Rodgers didn’t know how to use Firmino and made the mistake of believing that Benteke could deliver at the top level. Klopp also took a gamble on a youngster by signing Solanke last summer. This season, only Manchester City can claim a front three (Aguero, Sane, Sterling) as threatening as Liverpool’s.

2018 Liverpool

The 2018 Liverpool lineup under Klopp

The only blemish in Liverpool’s transfer policy was the sale of Coutinho to Barcelona in January. The Reds lost a versatile playmaker who could play either as a false winger or in a three-man midfield. Oxlade-Chamberlain is versatile too but he doesn’t have Coutinho’s creativity. Plus Coutinho was a free-kick specialist who could make the difference in any tight game.

Having a coherent plan

Within two years and a half, Klopp has turned Liverpool into a Top 4 team by making 9 changes to Rodgers’ lineup. You can see the similarities between Klopp and Pochettino: they both have a coherent plan to build their respective squads and they only need a couple of years to implement it.

We have analyzed what Pochettino has achieved at Tottenham since the summer of 2014 and how Klopp has transformed Liverpool since the end of 2015. Now let’s compare with what Wenger has done at Arsenal since 2015. I’ve chosen 2015 because the club had not much cash to spend in the transfer market before 2013 (remember, the Gunners signed Ozil in 2013 and Sanchez in 2014). It’s also similar to the amount of time that Pochettino and Klopp had to change their clubs’ fortunes. You can see below Wenger’s favorite lineup at the end of the 2014-15 season.

2015 Arsenal

The 2015 Arsenal lineup   

Here’s the Arsenal squad during that season:

Goalkeepers: Ospina as the starter (Szczesny as the back-up option). Fullbacks: Bellerin, Monreal (Debuchy, Gibbs). Centerbacks: Koscielny, Mertesacker (Paulista, Chambers). Midfielders: Cazorla, Coquelin, Ramsey (Arteta, Flamini, Wilshere). Playmakers: Ozil (Rosicky). Wingers: Sanchez, Walcott (Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski). Centerforwards: Giroud (Welbeck, Sanogo).

If you were a neutral manager, you could see that Ospina and Szczesny were not good enough in goal for a Top 4 team. Ospina struggled to command his area while Szczesny was error-prone and had discipline issues off the pitch. At the back, Mertesacker was an obvious target for strikers because of his lack of pace, while Wenger also had a problem at leftback where Gibbs and Monreal failed to stop dangerous crosses. In midfield, Coquelin was too limited in his all-around game and was not smart enough in his positional play to shield the defense. On the right wing, Ramsey was a starter by default simply because Oxlade-Chamberlain lacked end product while Walcott had limited passing skills. Up front, Giroud lacked the pace to stretch a defense while Welbeck lacked end product.

Failing to fix 6 positions

Did Wenger spot those weaknesses in the Arsenal squad? The answer must be yes since he made moves in the transfer market for those positions. The Gunners signed Cech in 2015, Holding and Mustafi in 2016, Kolasinac in 2017 and Mavropanos a couple of months ago. In midfield, the club added Elneny and Xhaka in 2016. On the wings, Sanchez’s contractual situation led to a swap deal with Manchester United as Mkhitaryan joined Arsenal in January. Up front, pace was clearly the priority as the Gunners signed Perez in 2016, Lacazette in 2017 and Aubameyang a couple of months ago. Wenger also relied on the academy to strengthen the first team by promoting Iwobi and Maitland-Niles.

Over the past three years, Wenger was less active than Pochettino in the transfer market and less successful than Klopp in getting the right targets for the club. Let’s be honest, the majority of the signings have been flops. And the manager hasn’t fixed the 6 positions that were weaknesses during the 2014-15 season (goalkeeper, centerback, leftback, holding midfielder, right winger, centerforward). You can see below Arsenal’s best lineup for this year.

2018 Arsenal

The 2018 Arsenal lineup

Lacazette’s injury means that Aubameyang is the natural choice up front. In midfield, you may argue that Iwobi or Welbeck could replace Wilshere if the team plays in a 4-2-3-1 formation. But that tactical difference doesn’t change my analysis. Cech used to be the best goalkeeper in the Premier League, but at 35 he’s already past his prime. In fact, Cech has the most errors leading to a goal (6) this season. At centerback, Mustafi is not the player who will marshal the defense. And Koscielny’s nagging Achilles injury also means that the club will need to sign an experienced centerback this summer. At leftback, Kolasinac’s defensive performances have been disappointing. In central midfield, Elneny doesn’t win duels while Xhaka lacks mobility and defensive awareness. On the wings, Iwobi lacks end product while Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Welbeck don’t have the dribbling skills to crack a defense. Up front, Aubameyang and Lacazette both struggle in the air. And Aubameyang has a limited all-around game while Lacazette’s hold-up play is weaker than Giroud’s.

Another issue with Wenger’s squad management is the time wasted to clear the dead wood. Walcott and Coquelin should have been shipped out way before January. And there’s no reason to hang onto Chambers and Elneny, especially since the Gunners also have Holding and Mavropanos at centerback as well as Wilshere and Maitland-Niles in midfield. Chambers lacks pace and struggles to turn, while Elneny may be more mobile than Xhaka but the Egypt international is not a decisive player defensively or offensively.

No challenge before 2021?

Because Wenger failed to improve the team in the past 3 years and took too much time to clear the dead wood, it doesn’t make sense to rely on the French manager for an overhaul of the squad this summer. The next manager will have a lot of work to bring Arsenal back into the Top 4.

2019 Arsenal

How a competitive Arsenal team could look like

It will take more than a season to rebuild the squad. And the way the Citizens are dominating the Premier League, Arsenal might not be able to challenge for the title before 2021. Look at Liverpool: Klopp has done a good job within 3 years, but the Reds are still miles behind City.

The board and the staff will obviously have to set the priorities in terms of transfers. If a centerback and a holding midfielder are the top priorities, it means that Arsenal might have to stick with Cech or Ospina next season. I’ve chosen a 4-3-3 formation because that’s the best system to implement a pressing game. I don’t think the Gunners could finish in the Top 4 without pressing high up the pitch. That implies signing a more dynamic midfielder than Wilshere or Xhaka to harry opponents. I believe only Ramsey would have the pace, stamina and skills to play in Liverpool’s three-man midfield. Ozil’s poor work-rate means that he can only play in the front three.

For next season, assuming that Arsenal can only sign one attacking player because of financial constraints, a winger with great dribbling skills should also be at the top of the list. Liverpool, City and Chelsea respectively have Salah, Sane and Hazard to make the difference against compact defenses.

If the club runs out of cash, the Gunners could either play Lacazette or Perez on the right wing, or fast-track Nelson a bit like Sterling at Liverpool. Mkhitaryan and Ozil would have to fight for the spot on the left wing. Of course, Arsenal could switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation and play both Ozil and Mkhitaryan against the weak sides, but that would still depend on the hiring of a defensive midfielder. Up front, the Gunners would have the choice between Lacazette, a false nine coming to the ball, and Aubameyang, a striker stretching a defense.

The board and the staff have no room for error this summer because they have poorly performed in the previous transfer windows. By the end of August, we will know whether the Gunners have a decent shot at a Top 4 finish for next season.


Arsenal vs. Milan: A few thoughts on the 3-1 win

Who would have thought that Europa League games could be more exciting to watch than the Premier League? The Emirates stadium was packed on Thursday night when Arsenal defeated AC Milan 3-1 in the second leg of their last 16 encounter to reach the quarterfinals of the second-tier European competition. There were fewer empty seats than in the domestic games against Manchester City and Watford.

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

Wenger and Ramsey have recently complained about the poor attendance for Premier League games, but it just reflects the cold reality of the club’s season. After 29 games, the Gunners were trailing fourth-place Spurs by 13 points. There had never been such a massive gap between Arsenal and the Top 4 under Wenger. The previous low after 29 games was a 4-point gap during the 2012-13 season. The fans have realized that there’s nothing to play for in the Premier League. By contrast, the Europa League is the club’s only chance left to lift some silverware and even qualify for the Champions League next season.

  1. Welbeck put an end to his goal drought

Southgate gave Welbeck some good news a few hours before the Milan game by including him in the England squad for the friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy later this month. That clearly boosted Welbeck’s confidence as he found the net for the first time since Jan. 7.

Welbeck was arguably Arsenal’s best player with 3 of 3 shots on target, 2 key passes and only 1 turnover, according to whoscored.com. He tested Donnarumma with an angled strike in the 25th minute before winning a penalty in the 38th. Rodriguez put his arm across Welbeck’s chest and the England international fell to the ground. It was a soft penalty since Welbeck could have stayed on his feet. But you can also argue that Rodriguez put him off his stride, preventing Welbeck from squaring the ball back. Welbeck coolly converted the spot kick to level the game. In the closing minutes, Welbeck headed in a rebound to make it 3-1.

  1. Koscielny picked up a back injury

The France defender collided with 2 Rossoneri while heading a corner over the bar in the fifth minute. Koscielny could no longer properly run and had to be replaced by Chambers in the 11th. Silva ghosted past Chambers in the 59th to make a cross for Cutrone, who volleyed wide. Then Chambers was not tight to Silva, whose header took a deflection off Mustafi and got tipped over the bar by Ospina in the 77th. In his post-match news conference, Wenger said it wasn’t a serious injury. But it’s still a reminder that the Gunners need to sign at least one centerback this summer to make up for Mertesacker’s retirement, Koscielny’s fitness issues and the weak level of Chambers and Holding.

  1. Xhaka is not a holding midfielder

A quick look at the stat sheet would give you the impression that Xhaka had a good game while in fact his performance was a mixed bag. Xhaka made it 2-1 in the 71st with a long-range strike that Donnarumma palmed into his own net. He also led all players with 82 passes and had a passing accuracy of 93.9%, according to whoscored.com. The real problem here is Xhaka’s defensive contribution: he won 0 tackle, was late to block Calhanoglu’s dipping drive in the 35th and allowed Kalinic to ghost past him and head Bonucci’s cross in the 68th. If Xhaka plays in a three-man midfield, he needs to have a defensive midfielder behind him otherwise the Arsenal defense will have no protection.

  1. Monreal had a rough night

In his return from injury, Monreal struggled in the first half. Borini made a run in behind Monreal to make a cross for Silva, who fired into the side-netting in the opening minute. Then Suso skipped past Monreal in the seventh minute but his cross sailed out of bounds. Monreal led all players with 5 fouls and got booked on the stroke of halftime for a poor challenge on Suso.

  1. Ozil shines against the weak and average teams

The Germany playmaker led all players with 6 key passes. He set up Ramsey in the 37th for a low strike that Donnarumma palmed away. Then Ozil found Mkhitaryan in the 50th for a first-time effort that the Milan keeper turned around the post. Wenger yanked Ozil off in the 79th to send on Kolasinac and switch to a back three. Ozil seemed upset by his substitution but the priority after Xhaka’s goal was to shut up shop. He will have more occasions to shine in the Europa League this season. I still think his work-rate is not good enough for a contending team, especially when you compare his stats with Eriksen, De Bruyne, and D. Silva. But the quality of his final ball definitely makes a difference against the weak and average teams.

Brighton vs. Arsenal: 2-1 loss shows Gunners prioritizing Europa League

The only positive from Sunday’s 2-1 loss at Brighton is that the Gunners have 45 points in the Premier League and are therefore safe from relegation. I mean, if they keep playing like a mid-table team, then it’s the kind of goal they should have for next season. There’s no doubt that confidence is low at the club with a fourth straight defeat in all competitions. The only way to climb out of this hole is to get the basics right.

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

The Arsenal defense has become a laughing stock this season. The Gunners have already conceded 41 goals from 29 Premier League games, twice as many as Manchester City or United (20). Optimists might say that the Citizens are having an exceptional season or that Mourinho’s teams are always defense-oriented. But a quick look at the bottom half of the table tells the whole story: the Gunners have conceded 3 more goals than Brighton and just 2 fewer than bottomside West Brom.

Wenger made 3 changes to the side that lost 3-0 to Manchester City on Thursday with Iwobi, Wilshere and Chambers replacing Welbeck, Ramsey and Bellerin in the starting lineup. The Europa League has clearly become the priority as Ramsey was not in the squad while Welbeck and Bellerin came off the bench in the second half.

Same old 3 foes: counterattacks, crosses, set pieces

The Brighton game summed up all the defensive frailties that Wenger or the next manager will have to fix: counterattacks, crosses and set pieces. The Seagulls capitalized on a poor pass from Mkhitaryan to hit Arsenal on the fast break in the 10th minute. Izquierdo set up Gross for a low strike that Cech turned around the post. Then Iwobi was foolish enough to dribble on the edge of the Arsenal box in the 20th and was dispossessed by Knockaert, who combined with Gross to bear down on goal only to be denied by Cech. A Xhaka turnover led to another counterattack in the 83rd but Murray’s goal was disallowed for an offside position from Izquierdo.

A sloppy pass from Koscielny led to Brighton’s second goal in the 26th. Swapping positions with Kolasinac, the France defender was unable to stop Gross’s cross for Murray, who outjumped Mustafi to head home. Three minutes later, Murray beat Xhaka to the ball while meeting Izquierdo’s cross, but his header down the middle didn’t trouble Cech.

Working on set pieces is probably the most boring part of training. It’s all about positioning. But those details definitely make a difference on match day. A few seconds before Gross took a corner in the seventh minute, Duffy stood unmarked near the penalty spot. The Brighton defender then slipped to the far post, still unmarked, to beat Cech to the ball and head it toward Dunk, who volleyed home from 6 yards. That was obviously poor goalkeeping from Cech, but the freedom that Duffy enjoyed on that set piece was scandalous. Duffy also got the better of the Arsenal defense on corners in the 18th and 23rd but headed over the bar.

The Gunners then lacked focus on a free kick in the 40th. Izquierdo was initially in the middle of the Arsenal wall before Gross took a free kick. But the Brighton winger sprinted to round the wall and take Gross’s pass only to be flagged offside. TV replays showed Izquierdo was played onside by the several Gunners. Ozil failed to track Izquierdo on that play, which was similar to the trick used by Higuain to open the scoring against Tottenham in the Champions League.

Leaders who can’t turn the tide

Despite a poor defensive performance, Arsenal nearly salvaged a draw from that game. Koscielny headed a cross from Mkhitaryan against the post on the stroke of halftime. And Aubameyang fired a half-volley straight at Ryan in stoppage time. Earning a point doesn’t mean anything in the standings now, but it would have helped rebuild confidence.

In times of crisis, you usually rely on the leaders in the dressing room to turn the tide. Unfortunately, our most senior players couldn’t lead by example. Cech failed to command the 6-yard box on the opening goal and should have done better on the second. The Czech goalkeeper has not kept any clean sheet since December and has the most errors (6) leading to a goal in the Premier League this season. To put things in context, Cech only made 1 error leading to a goal last season. Koscielny was also guilty on the second goal and gave the ball away again in the 37th. It took a foul from Ozil on Knockaert to end the threat. It’s really sad to see Koscielny lose a step. He used to be the cornerstone of the Arsenal defense for years. But age and injuries are catching up with him. Goalkeeper and centerback are definitely two positions that urgently require some attention from the recruitment staff.

Mustafi didn’t cover himself in glory against Manchester City, but he did a decent job against the Seagulls, making 4 interceptions, the most for any player according to whoscored.com. On the other hand, Chambers confirmed his limitations in the fullback position. Compared to a roasted chicken after Sema and Silva easily turned him to score, Chambers was embarrassing to watch against Izquierdo, who kept making runs in behind the English defender. Mustafi covered Chambers to block shots from Izquierdo in the 18th and 41st. Izquierdo outpaced Chambers again in the 71st and cut inside Mustafi only to fire wide. Chambers was replaced by Bellerin in the 83rd as the Gunners were chasing a late equalizer.

The most important game of the season

As usual, the Arsenal defense didn’t get much protection from the midfielders. Xhaka seemed to have tired legs after starting both games against City while Wilshere’s defensive output was too weak. Wilshere won 0 of 2 tackles and made 1 interception and 0 block, according to Squawka. Both central midfielders were booked for late challenges.

On the left wing, Iwobi was too casual and showed some poor tactical awareness. He made the work of the Brighton defense easier by drifting inside too often to play as a second striker. The Nigeria international also led all players with 6 turnovers, according to whoscored.com. Of those turnovers, 3 led to dangerous counterattacks. The corner for the opening goal resulted from an Iwobi turnover. His end product was also poor with 0 key pass and a tame effort straight at Ryan in the 57th. Wenger yanked Iwobi off to send on Welbeck in the 74th.

Iwobi’s ineffectiveness meant that the burden for creating chances rested on the shoulders of Ozil and Mkhitaryan. Although Arsenal enjoyed 68% of ball possession, Ozil had very little impact on the game. The Germany playmaker tested Ryan with a long-range strike in the 58th but made just 1 key pass, a low cross for Aubameyang whose shot was blocked in the 63rd. Mkhitaryan initially impressed in his first start for Arsenal, a 5-1 win over Everton. Since then, his performances have fluctuated between average and mediocre. Mkhitaryan had an average game on Sunday, leading Arsenal players with 3 key passes and testing Ryan with an angled strike in the 38th and a low drive in the 49th.

Up front, Aubameyang scored his second goal in the Premier League besides making 2 key passes. He converted a cross from Xhaka to pull one back in the 43rd. Aubameyang will need a bit more time to adjust to compact defenses in England. His teammates will also need to make more crosses instead of playing difficult balls down the middle. The Gabon striker won’t be eligible on Thursday for the most important game of the season against AC Milan. The Gunners will have to produce a decent performance to keep the Europa League tie alive.

Arsenal vs. Manchester City: 3-0 loss shows Wenger is yesterday’s manager

The big hurt. Arsenal performed better than in the League Cup final but the scoreline was the same in Thursday’s game against Manchester City. Now the Gunners trail Guardiola’s team by 30 points in the Premier League and are unlikely to finish in the Top 4 because of the 10-point gap with fourth-place Tottenham. Basically, they only have the Europa League to play for. Winning that European competition would be a miracle given the club’s poor run of form this year: the Gunners have 7 losses, 4 wins and 2 draws from 13 games in all competitions since Jan. 1.

Arsenal vs. Manchester CityPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Wenger played a back three in the League Cup final because the priority was not to concede any goal. The manager tried a more positive approach on Thursday by shifting to a back four and it backfired spectacularly. The first half at the Emirates stadium could have been defined as men vs. boys with City tearing apart the defense the way Arsenal used to. The Citizens took their foot off the pedal in the second half, probably thinking about their next league game against Chelsea.

I thought the scoreline was a bit harsh. Arsenal and City had 5 shots on target each as well as 6 key passes each. What made the difference was City’s superior penetration. The Citizens had 22 successful dribbles compared to just 9 for Arsenal, according to whoscored.com. Sane initiated the first two goals with his dribbling skills. The Gunners have no such dribbler in their first team, i.e. someone who can beat defenders in tight spaces. The only player who fits that kind of profile, Nelson, still plays for the academy. Another telling stat was the 47 tackles attempted by Arsenal compared to just 21 for the Citizens. The Gunners spent most of the game chasing shadows as they couldn’t cope with City’s movement and quick passing -the brand of football that Arsenal used to play.

A new Graham?

Ultimately, what led to Arsenal’s demise was their defensive frailties. Again. In Graham’s last couple of seasons at the club, the Gunners struggled to score goals but were defensively sound. After joining the club in 1996, Wenger turned Arsenal into a contending team by injecting some attacking flair. The opposite will be needed to improve Arsenal’s fortunes. Nowadays, the Gunners are a defensive mess while the quality of their passing game has also deteriorated. The next Arsenal manager will have to inject some defensive nous because the potential for scoring goals is still there.

There’s no fun in watching Wenger’s misery. It’s like a slow-motion car crash. As managers, Van Gaal and Del Bosque were more successful than Wenger. Yet, both Van Gaal and Del Bosque had no answers when their respective teams, Manchester United and Spain, faced the cold reality of poor results. The same thing is happening to Wenger: his best days are behind him. Only the board can put an end to Groundhog Day. The fans sent a message to the board on Thursday by leaving thousands of empty seats at the Emirates stadium.

Wenger made 4 changes to the side that lost in the League Cup final by replacing Ospina, Chambers, Monreal and Wilshere with Cech, Kolasinac, Mkhitaryan and Welbeck in the starting lineup. Those changes didn’t prevent some shambolic defending. Sane dribbled past Bellerin, Welbeck, Xhaka and Mustafi in the 15th minute to pick out Bernardo, who cut inside Kolasinac to curl into the far corner. The Citizens proved clinical by converting their first scoring chance. That’s what confidence does to a great team. Kolasinac’s defending reminded me of Coquelin’s poor tactical awareness against Robben in the Munich game. Bernardo toyed again with Kolasinac in the 35th to make a cross that Cech intercepted. Although Arsenal played a back four, Kolasinac behaved at times like a wingback, forgetting to track back when his teammates lost possession. Xhaka even had to cover Kolasinac in the 62nd after the Bosnia-Herzegovina international made a poor throw and took his time to get back in position.

Xhaka’s lack of defensive awareness

City calmly played the ball out from the back for the second goal in the 28th. Sane outpaced Mustafi down our right flank to square the ball back for Aguero, who found Silva inside the area. Silva skipped past Bellerin with an outrageous first touch and shot past Cech from close range. As you can see on the screen capture below, Mustafi was too aggressive in his coverage. He left his centerback position even though Sane had not beaten Bellerin yet.

Arsenal vs. City M28a edited Mustafi is too easily pulled out of position. (Photo credit: Sky)

As Sane outpaced Mustafi along the touchline, Bellerin covered Mustafi in the centerback position. There seemed to be no danger yet, if you look at the screen capture below. Xhaka was even slighly ahead of Silva and in a decent position to challenge the Spaniard.

Arsenal vs. City M28b edited Xhaka is ahead of Silva before Sane crosses the ball. (Photo credit: Sky)

Suddenly, the Arsenal defense was in danger because Xhaka switched off and forgot to track Silva, who made a deep run like Ramsey often does for the Gunners.

Arsenal vs. City M28c edited Xhaka is attracted to the ball and loses track of Silva. (Photo credit: Sky)

I kind of feel sorry for Xhaka. The Switzerland international worked hard on Thursday, making 1 interception and 2 blocks, and winning 5 of 10 tackles, more than any other player according to Squawka. But his lack of defensive awareness simply makes Xhaka unfit for the role of holding midfielder. Both Xhaka and Ramsey failed to close down Gundogan in the 78th. That gave Gundogan plenty of time to slip a perfect through ball to Aguero, whose low strike was palmed away by Cech.

Koscielny looking his age

Upset by the second goal, the Gunners tried to press high up the pitch when City played again the ball out from the back in the 33rd. That move backfired as the Citizens beat the first line of pressure to find a boulevard for the third goal. Silva found Aguero in midfield and the Argentina striker outpaced Koscielny to start some triangular play with De Bruyne and Walker. Somehow, Sane bundled Walker’s offering over the line.

There were several mistakes on that play. Ramsey was in a too advanced position and couldn’t prevent Silva from making the pass. As a good example of verticality, Silva’s pass to Aguero beat two Gunners, Kolasinac and Xhaka. See the screen capture below.

Arsenal vs. City M33a editedSilva’s pass to Aguero takes Kolasinac and Xhaka out of the play. (Photo credit: Sky)

Koscielny looked his age on that play. He dived in and couldn’t match Aguero’s pace. On the left flank, Kolasinac had no clue about the danger and left Walker run past him. And Xhaka was in a too advanced position when Silva made the pass and never had any chance to catch De Bruyne. See the screen capture below.

Arsenal vs. City M33b edited Kolasinac and Xhaka fail to track Walker and De Bruyne. (Photo credit: Sky)

When you put together all those mistakes, you end up with a 3v4 situation. See the screen capture below. A back three would have made up for Kolasinac’s late retreat, letting the Arsenal defense deal with a 4v4 situation instead.

Arsenal vs. City M33c edited City in a 3v4 situation to score the last goal. [Photo credit: Sky)

The Arsenal defense looked so clueless at times that City could have scored more goals with better finishing. De Bruyne made a run between Kolasinac and Koscielny in the 39th to take a pass from Bernardo and feed Aguero, who was denied by Cech. Koscielny was a bit slow to react on that play. Cech definitely made a couple of good saves, but the contrast with Ederson was glaring. Ederson is not just a great shot-stopper. The City goalkeeper also has great passing skills and his distribution is accurate. Cech showed his limits on Thursday, sending a goal kick straight into touch in the 27th and having a pass blocked by De Bruyne with some poor footwork in the 55th.

Ramsey’s contract

Ramsey was ineffective in his defensive work, winning 0 of 5 tackles and making 0 interception and 1 block. That’s why he plays as a free-roaming midfielder in the Wales team and not as a central midfielder. Yet, Ramsey was the catalyst for most of our chances. In the seventh minute, Ramsey slipped a through ball to Aubameyang, who was beaten to the ball by Ederson. A minute later, Mkhitaryan released Ramsey down the right wing and Kompany nearly scored an own goal by knocking Ramsey’s cross into Ederson. Ramsey then tested the City goalie with a snapshot from 16 yards in the 23rd and had a half-volley blocked by Danilo in the 38th. In the second half, Ramsey created a chance for Aubameyang, whose volley sailed wide.

I believe Ramsey is the only Arsenal midfielder who would be good enough for a Top 4 club. His contract expires next year. The staff needs to sort out his situation this summer. The club cannot afford to have another mess like the Sanchez saga.

Ozil and Mkhitaryan had very little impact on the game. We know Ozil goes missing in games where the Gunners have to fight for the ball. The Germany playmaker led Arsenal players with 5 turnovers, according to whoscored.com. He picked out Mkhitaryan in the 13th but the Armenia international fired his low strike straight at Ederson. Then Ozil wasted an opportunity in the 65th by dallying on the ball and losing possession despite 4 passing options. Of course, Ozil made no effort to win the ball back. His work-rate was poor: Ozil made 0 interception and 0 block and won 0 of 2 tackles, according to Squawka.

Preparing the future

Mkhitaryan worked harder than Ozil, winning 3 of 6 tackles and making 1 interception and 6 blocks. But his passing accuracy of 71.4% was still too low for a such a talented player. Every City starter had a higher passing accuracy than Mkhitaryan. His delivery on set pieces was especially poor. To his credit, Mkhitaryan won a penalty in the 52nd while trying to meet Bellerin’s cross. Unaware of Mkhitaryan’s presence, Otamendi kicked him in the leg.

Aubameyang took the penalty and had his low effort saved by Ederson. Thursday’s game confirmed Aubameyang’s weakness in the air as he won 0 of 3 aerial duels in midfield. Aubameyang will have to work on his hold-up play, which is not as good as Giroud’s. He also showed some limits in his all-around game with a poor cross for Welbeck in the 43rd. Henry and Van Persie were centerforwards who could make pinpoint crosses.

The weirdest part in the 3-0 loss was that Wenger made no substitution. Did the manager completely give up, thinking that none of the substitutes could make a difference? Did he think that there was no need to rest some players despite the game at Brighton on Sunday? Or did Wenger simply plan to play an under-strength team against Brighton and field his best team against AC Milan in the Europa League?

Those are really hard times for the club and the fans. Winning the Europa League is the only way to save the season. If the manager prioritizes the Europa League, I hope he’ll use the remaining Premier League games to prepare the future by giving some playing time to the best youngsters.