The Gunners are on the verge of elimination in the Europa League after losing 1-0 to BATE Borisov on Thursday in the first leg of their last-32 encounter. Arsenal will miss Lacazette for the second leg as the French striker received a red card for violent conduct.
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There will be a lot of second guessing about Emery’s team selection. Why did the Spanish manager not start Aubameyang and Torreira, knowing that the Gunners don’t even play this weekend? Arsenal performed poorly with a lot of stray passes and heavy touches. It was embarrassing to see the number of corner kicks that failed to beat the first defender. The Gunners could have led 3-0 in the first half with better finishing. They became toothless in the second half with a lot of sterile possession against a Belarusian side parking the bus.
- Are the Gunners regressing?
Last season, Arsenal won 4-2 in Belarus and 6-0 at the Emirates stadium under Wenger. You’d think that the Gunners would be in safe hands with Emery, who won the Europa League three times with Sevilla. But that wasn’t the case on Thursday.
Here’s a look at Emery’s 3-4-3 formation against BATE Borisov: Cech -Monreal, Koscielny, Mustafi- Kolasinac, Xhaka, Guendouzi, Maitland-Niles- Iwobi, Lacazette, Mkhitaryan. If you compare with Wenger’s lineups, you can spot the difference right away. Wenger’s 3-5-2 formation in the 4-2 win: Ospina -Holding, Mertesacker, Mustafi -Maitland-Niles, Willock, Wilshere, Elneny, Nelson -Walcott, Giroud. Wenger’s 4-2-3-1 formation in the 6-0 win: Ospina -Maitland-Niles, Holding, Chambers, Debuchy -Elneny, Coquelin -Welbeck, Wilshere, Walcott -Giroud.
First, Mustafi and Maitland-Niles were the only players who started both Borisov games under Wenger and Emery. And second, Emery was more conservative in his approach than Wenger. The French manager started two goalscorers (Giroud and Walcott) in the away game and three (Giroud, Walcott and Welbeck) in the home game. By contrast, Emery only relied on one striker (Lacazette), probably expecting goals from Mkhitaryan and Iwobi who both have a poor scoring record.
Emery’s tactical changes in the second half proved useless. Aubameyang and Torreira replaced Maitland-Niles and Xhaka in the 68th minute before Emery sent on Suarez for Kolasinac in the 74th. The Gunners shifted to a 3-5-2 system with Mkhitaryan and Iwobi as wingbacks and Suarez in the hole behind Lacazette and Aubameyang.
- Lacazette’s nightmarish evening
The French striker could have notched a hat trick. His abject performance will again raise questions about his level. Lacazette should have at least caught the frame in the 22nd. Kolasinac made a pinpoint cross for an unmarked Lacazette who headed over the bar from 6 yards. Five minutes later, Guendouzi hit a ball over the top for Lacazette who tried to control the ball instead of attempting a volley from 16 yards. Lacazette missed his first touch, allowing Scherbitski to collect the ball. In that kind of situation, Van Persie would have opted for a volley.
Lacazette is a second striker, not a centerforward. His weakness in the air was exposed again in the 41st when he couldn’t climb high enough to meet a cross from Mustafi and test Scherbitski from 5 yards. Lacazette thought he had scored the equalizer in the 55th when he converted Kolasinac’s low cross, but he was marginally offside and the goal was disallowed. Out of frustration, Lacazette threw an elbow into Filipovic’s face in the 85th. That was obviously a silly foul because Filipovic was giving away a free kick by holding Lacazette’s shirt. The referee had no choice but to send Lacazette off.
- Iwobi’s lack of end product
The Nigeria international often made the penultimate pass for Arsenal’s few chances, especially by releasing Kolasinac down the left flank. The trouble is that Iwobi is not a deep-lying playmaker. He plays in a front three, which implies assists and goals. Iwobi finished the game with 0 key pass and 0 of 4 shots on target. His turnover rate is still an issue: Iwobi led all players with 11 turnovers, according to whoscored.com. He was a bit naive in the opening minutes, losing possession twice by waiting for the ball to reach his feet instead of taking a couple of steps toward the ball to shield it with his body.
- Mkhitaryan’s first 5 minutes
The Armenia international got off to a good start before quickly fading. Mkhitaryan met Kolasinac’s cross with a sliding effort but was denied by Scherbitski in the second minute. He then made a teasing cross for Monreal, who failed to make contact with the ball in the fifth minute. A flick from Monreal would have been goalbound. The ball also evaded Koscielny to sail wide of the far post. Mkhitaryan made 3 key passes and won 2 of 3 tackles, but Emery should see that his limited goalscoring ability simply puts too much pressure on Lacazette.
- Guendouzi didn’t hide
He led all players with 111 passes. Yet, there’s something wrong when a manager gives the keys of the midfield to a teenager still learning the ropes. Yes, Guendouzi has a lot of potential, but he’s nowhere near the level of a Fabregas at the same age. Guendouzi dallied on the ball in the ninth minute and was dispossessed by Skavysh, forcing Xhaka to make a cynical foul. The French midfielder also lost a key duel with Milic on a BATE counterattack in the 13th. For his first season at the top level, Guendouzi has every excuse. But he will need to improve his defensive awareness and release the ball more quickly.
- The Gunners have a defensive problem on the left flank
Kolasinac was Arsenal’s most potent threat with 7 key passes. However, the hosts often exploited the space behind Kolasinac. In theory, Monreal was supposed to cover Kolasinac on the left flank, but the Spaniard struggled defensively. Skavysh combined with Milic to beat Monreal and Kolasinac along the touchline in the 28th. The Belarusian forward played the ball back to Milic, who flicked it wide. Then Monreal tripped Skavysh in the 43rd, giving away the free kick that led to BATE’s goal. Dragun beat Kolasinac to the ball to head in Stasevich’s free kick on the stroke of halftime. The Belarusian side nearly doubled the lead in the 61st when Stasevich made a run in behind Monreal to fire a half-volley that Cech parried.
- Maitland-Niles couldn’t find the balance between defense and offense
The academy graduate had a good game against Huddersfield last weekend but he failed to have an offensive impact in Belarus. Maitland-Niles won 4 of 6 tackles but made 0 key pass. Arsenal’s attacks became too predictable in the second half because of Maitland-Niles’ inefficiency and the team’s over-reliance on Kolasinac on the opposite flank.