Tag Archives: Ospina

West Brom vs. Arsenal: Free fall continues with 3-1 loss

Let’s not kid ourselves, Arsenal won’t finish in the Top 4 this season and there will be no St Totteringham’s Day. The Gunners have lost 4 of their last 5 Premier League games after Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at West Brom. They still sit in fifth place in the standings but 5 points behind Liverpool and 6 behind Manchester City and Tottenham.

West Brom vs. Arsenal

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

The Baggies’ game plan was pretty simple: park the bus and capitalize on counterattacks and set pieces to score. Yet, Arsenal couldn’t cope with West Brom’s direct approach. Let’s start with the set pieces. Dawson made a run from the penalty spot in the 12th minute to nod in Chadli’s corner from about 3 yards. We know that the Gunners use zonal marking on corners. One problem with zonal marking is that it’s very static. Dawson was able to outjump Koscielny because he had more momentum. Ramsey made the first mistake on that play by not blocking Dawson, who had a free run inside the box. The second mistake came from the defenders. Cech should be able to claim the ball but Fletcher hampered the goalkeeper’s freedom of movement by standing in front of him. It’s up to the defenders to clean up the 6-yard box for their goalkeeper.

Arsenal tried to adjust to those tactics in the second half but Dawson made it 3-1 by heading home McClean’s corner in the 75th. The plan was to neutralize Dawson and Fletcher. Oxlade-Chamberlain marked Dawson but failed to get in the way of the West Brom fullback when he made his run from the penalty spot. Likewise, Xhaka tried to shield Ospina from Fletcher, but the Colombia goalkeeper, who replaced an injured Cech in the 38th, lost his footing and couldn’t intervene. That goal looked worse than the opening goal because Mustafi and Koscielny both followed McAuley and left a huge gap for Dawson to run into.

Lack of defensive awareness

The Ox and Ramsey are seasoned players. Yet, they showed their lack of defensive awareness on those corners. If Ramsey wants to play in central midfield, he seriously needs to improve his positional play. The Wales midfielder failed to track Fletcher, who took a pass from Livermore to test Cech in the 34th. The Ox had a good work-rate, winning 2 of 3 tackles and making 1 key pass, 1 interception, 2 blocks and 4 successful dribbles out of 5, but it’s the defensive details that are ruining his overall performance.

Ramsey also had a hand in the Baggies’ second goal. Chadli sent a ball over the top to McClean in the 56th but Ospina came off his line to knock the ball into the path of Robson-Kanu, who stabbed the rebound home. The first mistake came from Ramsey, who sat too deep on that play. He was next to Mustafi inside the area while he should have closed down Chadli on the edge of the box. The second mistake came from Mustafi, who played McClean onside. And the third mistake came from some poor coordination between Bellerin and Ospina. The goalkeeper should have dived headfirst to gather the ball instead of going feet first.

At the back, Monreal proved our best defender, winning 80% of his duels and having a passing accuracy of 94.6% according to the club’s website. The main disappointment came from the centerbacks. Rondon outjumped Koscielny in the 51st only to head Brunt’s cross wide. Then Robson-Kanu got ahead of Mustafi to take Brunt’s pass in the 67th but was denied by Ospina.

Our defenders were a bit more exposed than usual because our midfield was again too soft. I thought the Baggies too easily reached the final third the few times they led counterattacks. Nyom ran past Xhaka, Bellerin and Mustafi in the fifth minute to square the ball back for Rondon, who couldn’t make contact with the offering for a tap-in. Then Brunt fed McClean, whose angled strike was parried by Cech in the 12th. Chadli also led a fast break in the 31st to pick out Rondon, who dragged his shot wide.

Targeting Sanchez

While we have struggled to keep clean sheets this season, another concern is the team’s lack of ideas. The Gunners enjoyed 77% of ball possession but only produced 2 shots on target compared to 8 for West Brom. A more shocking stat is that the Baggies had 3 accurate through balls compared to just one for Arsenal, according to whoscored.com. Ozil was not in the squad because he picked up a knock in training. The quality of his final ball would have maybe made a difference in that kind of game.

Walcott was invisible at the Hawthorns. He had no shot and no key pass, made no dribble and no interception, and won no tackle and no aerial duel. His limited passing and dribbling skills became all the more obvious that the West Brom defense sat deep to give him no space to run into. The manager yanked Walcott off in the 65th to send on Giroud. Welbeck got the nod over Giroud to lead the line but lacked decent service. His only scoring chance came in the 65th when he met a corner from Xhaka for a header that crashed against the bar. Welbeck showed more end product than Walcott by finishing the game with 2 key passes.

Besides Monreal, the only Gunner who performed at a good level was Sanchez. The Chile striker chested down a cross from Xhaka in the 15th to fire into the roof of the net for his 18th league goal this season. Sanchez also slipped a through ball to Ramsey, who forced Foster into a diving save in the 33rd. He was replaced by Iwobi in the 78th because of an ankle injury suffered in the first half.

The Baggies felt Sanchez was the main threat and targeted him. McAuley made a cynical foul on Sanchez in the 19th. Then Livermore pulled Sanchez back and clipped his leg in the 23rd but no foul was given. Rondon killed a counterattack in the 27th by fouling Sanchez and landing on his back with his knee. It could have been a yellow card but the referee only awarded a free kick.

The board’s passivity

If Oliver had been the referee, he would have warned West Brom about repetitive fouling like he did with Manchester United against Chelsea in the FA Cup. Unfortunately, the Gunners had to deal with a referee, Swarbrick, who didn’t seem to care much about the players’ physical integrity. So I wasn’t really surprised when McClean damaged Sanchez’s ankle with a late tackle in the 42nd. The Irish winger received a yellow card but it could have been a sending-off, especially when you compare with Xhaka’s red cards. See the screen capture below.

West Brom vs. Arsenal Sky editedMcClean makes a late studs-up tackle that could have broken Sanchez’s leg. (Photo credit: Sky)

Arsenal’s collective expression was really poor. You have to wonder to what extent the players are affected by those negative banners displayed by the fans in the stands. Putting pressure on the board is fine, but the way it’s done by the ‘Wenger Out’ brigade is completely wrong. Those banners just create a toxic atmosphere for the team, too. There are still 11 league games to play. A free fall won’t help the club sign new players this summer, especially since Arsenal can’t compete financially with Chelsea and the two Manchesters.

Renewing Wenger’s contract would make the atmosphere even more toxic next season. The board must act to protect the club. Wenger is like a punch-drunk boxer who is convinced he can still win the next round. I believe the manager already had his chances and simply failed to take them. Wenger only signed Cech in the summer of 2015 while a couple more signings would have turned Arsenal into a legitimate contender. Last summer, he tried to improve the squad by signing Xhaka, Mustafi and Perez, but the quality of those players has been questionable. It’s unfair for the most successful manager in the club’s history to get so much stick, but the board’s passivity has made the situation worse.

 

Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich: A few thoughts on the 5-1 defeat

Things are getting ugly both for the manager and the club after Arsenal suffered another 5-1 loss to Bayern Munich on Tuesday. The 10-2 aggregate defeat is the worst result by an English club in the history of the Champions League. The Bavarians are definitely a good side, but they still lost to Atletico Madrid and Rostov in the group stage. So there was room for the Gunners to salvage some pride and maybe get a draw in the second leg just like when Bayern knocked them out three years ago.

Arsenal FC v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg

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

The Gunners have been eliminated in the last 16 of the Champions League for the seventh straight season. In that seven-year span, smaller clubs like Shaktar Donetsk, APOEL, Galatasaray, Malaga and Wolfsburg managed to reach the quarterfinals. There’s this feeling among the fans that Wenger has carried Arsenal as far as he could and that someone else needs to take over. Many supporters left the Emirates stadium before the final whistle and some displayed banners in the second half calling for an end to the French manager’s tenure.

To be honest, the Gunners produced a decent performance until Koscielny’s controversial ejection in the 53rd minute. Bayern created 12 chances compared to 8 for Arsenal. Just like in the first leg, the Bavarians did a better job at defending as a unit, making 52 ball recoveries compared to 40 for Arsenal according to the UEFA statistics, and making 24 interceptions compared to 13 for the hosts according to Squawka.

  1. Should Arsenal use an inverted pyramid?

The Gunners have leaked a lot of goals lately. One explanation is that Coquelin is winning fewer tackles than when he was paired with Cazorla. Another reason is that the Gunners are often outplayed in midfield because of Ozil’s poor work-rate. Wenger tried to provide more protection to the back four against Bayern by switching to a 4-3-3 system instead of his favored 4-2-3-1 formation. In a 4-2-3-1 system, the midfield looks like a pyramid with a playmaker on top of it. In a 4-3-3 formation, there is no playmaker and the midfield looks like an inverted pyramid.

The manager used that inverted pyramid at Stamford Bridge with Coquelin, Iwobi and Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield but it didn’t work out as Arsenal lost 3-1. Against Bayern, Wenger played Ramsey and the Ox as all-rounders in front of Xhaka, the holding midfielder. A more defensive alternative would be to play Maitland-Niles as the sweeper in front of the back four. Maitland-Niles doesn’t have Xhaka’s passing skills but he has more pace and wins more tackles.

Obviously, Ramsey and the Ox don’t play like Ozil. Therefore, the team has to adapt and play differently. Ramsey and the Ox still led the team with 2 key passes each. In his return from injury, Ramsey was a bit rusty with a passing accuracy as low as 68.2% but he managed to win 2 of 3 tackles before Coquelin replaced him in the 72nd. The Ox shone in midfield and proved his importance in the transition game by having 10 successful dribbles out of 10.

  1. Walcott was on fire

The England international showed a lot of desire and proved a bigger threat in the final third than Sanchez. Walcott put in a shift, winning 1 of 1 tackle and making 4 interceptions and 2 blocks, but he also had 9 turnovers according to whoscored.com. His first chance came from a Sanchez crossfield pass in the 11th. Walcott was clean through on goal but his poor first touch allowed Neuer to kick the ball into touch. He then met a cross from the Ox in the 17th for a header that bounced off Martinez for a corner. Three minutes later, Walcott benefited from a lucky bounce to open the scoring with an angled strike into the roof of the net. In a similar situation in the 34th, Walcott fired into the side-netting instead of cutting the ball back for Giroud. Walcott faded in the second half after Koscielny’s ejection.

  1. The additional assistant referee screwed up

Also known as the goal-line official, he denied Walcott a penalty in the 33rd. Walcott shifted the ball from his left foot to his right when a clumsy challenge from Alonso brought him down. It’s pretty clear with TV replays that Alonso was a split second late and tripped Walcott. If the referee makes the right call, it could have been 2-0 for Arsenal.

The turning point of the game was Koscielny’s red card in the 53rd. Initially, the referee awarded a penalty and gave Koscielny a yellow card for a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge on Lewandowski, who went down easily. But the goal-line official claimed it was a deliberate foul and therefore a red card. In the end, the referee followed his assistant’s advice and sent Koscielny off. To me, Koscielny’s foul was even less obvious than Alonso’s foul. Lewandowski converted the penalty to level. Down to 10 men, winning the match became mission impossible for Arsenal.

  1. Giroud can be incredibly wasteful

The France striker could have almost notched a hat trick with some clinical finishing. He beat Hummels to a loose ball in the 13th for a header that bounced off the base of the post. Then Giroud couldn’t make solid contact with Monreal’s headed pass in the 37th and sliced his effort wide. But the one chance he should have converted was his free header in the 48th. An unmarked Giroud mistimed his jump and sent Ramsey’s cross over the bar from 6 yards.

  1. Has the bust-up controversy affected Sanchez?

Sanchez did very little if we except his long ball for Walcott in the 11th. That’s so unusual from the Chile striker that fans may wonder whether the controversy over the row on the training ground has worn him down mentally. In the 68th, Sanchez was robbed on the edge of the Arsenal box by Robben, who shot past Ospina to make it 2-1. Playing on the left flank, Sanchez made no key pass and was replaced by Ozil in the 72nd.

  1. The Gunners lack defensive awareness

Twice Bayern quickly played a free kick, and twice Arsenal switched off. Lewandowski beat the offside trap to control a ball over the top in the 25th but was denied by Ospina. Then Hummels flicked home a free kick from Alonso in the 49th but the goal was disallowed for offside.

  1. Mustafi looks bad without Koscielny

It was like in the first leg when Mustafi suddenly became clueless after an injury forced Koscielny off the pitch. There were signs in the first half that Mustafi’s decision-making was dodgy. Twice he dived in, and twice he missed the ball and left the defense exposed. Mustafi only won 1 of 7 tackles according to Squawka.

Koscielny’s red card forced Mustafi to team up with Xhaka at the back. Mustafi was pulled out of position on the play that led to Lewandowski’s penalty. The last 15 minutes were a nightmare for the Germany international. Costa dribbled past Mustafi in the 76th to make a cross for Lewandowski, who struck the post with a first-time effort. Two minutes later, Costa cut inside Mustafi to curl a low shot inside the far post for a 3-1 lead. Mustafi then gave the ball away to Alonso, who fed Vidal and the Chile midfielder chipped Ospina for a 4-1 lead in the 80th. Bayern capitalized on an ill-advised offside trap set by Mustafi to seal the win in the 85th. Costa teed up Vidal, who fired past the helpless Ospina. There was no pressure on Sanches, the ballholder, and Mustafi had very little understanding with Coquelin, who had taken Xhaka’s spot at centerback.

  1. Why did Xhaka play as a defender?

I was surprised by Wenger’s decision to play Xhaka as a centerback after Koscielny’s ejection. It was a risky gamble that backfired. I expected the manager to limit the damage by sending on Paulista for Giroud.

Xhaka’s lack of pace is a greater liability at the back than in midfield. For some reason, he ventured high up the pitch in the 78th and lost possession to Rafinha. Pulled out of position, Xhaka fouled Rafinha with a mistimed tackle, but the referee played advantage and Costa got hold of the loose ball to score Bayern’s third goal.

  1. Ospina needs to work on his distribution

The Colombia goalkeeper made two good saves, keeping out Vidal’s header with a reflex save in the 24th and parrying Lewandowski’s powerful strike in the 64th. But his poor distribution led to Bayern’s second goal.

FA Cup: A few thoughts on the 2-0 win over Sutton

Arsenal defeated Sutton United 2-0 on Monday to next face Lincoln City in the quarterfinals of the FA Cup. It doesn’t make up for the humiliating 5-1 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League but it shows that the players still care about the club and their manager.

  1. The Gunners overcame nerves

The club was under heavy scrutiny after the defeat in Germany last week. The FA Cup tie at Gander Green Lane looked like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it was a great opportunity to bounce back and restore a bit of confidence. On the other, a poor result would have made the atmosphere around the club even more toxic. Neutral fans and pundits were obviously rooting for the Yellows, who play in the fifth division of English football.

Sutton vs. Arsenal.jpg

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

It could have been a tricky match on Sutton’s artificial pitch, where the ball doesn’t bounce like it does on the grass. The game almost had a goofy feel with balloons rolling on the pitch and a streaker interrupting play after 11 minutes. The Yellows showed a lot of commitment, winning 60.5% of the duels according to Arsenal’s website. Two misplaced passes from Monreal to Iwobi in the opening minutes betrayed the visitors’ nervosity. With 10 men behind the ball, Sutton kept a compact shape until the 27th minute when the Gunners converted their first chance of the game.

  1. Perez deserves more playing time

The Spanish striker capitalized on a counterattack to break the deadlock with a low curling shot. He displayed a tremendous work-rate by making 3 tackles and winning 63.6% of his duels. In my eyes, Perez should be ahead of Walcott in the pecking order not just because he contributes more defensively but also because he has better passing skills.

  1. Walcott reached the 100-goal mark

The England international scored his 100th goal for Arsenal by stabbing home a low cross from Monreal in the 55th. That’s a lot if you compare with Aaron Lennon’s tally. And it’s not much when you know that he has been at the club since 2006. Pundits sometimes say that as a winger Walcott doesn’t get as many chances as a centerforward. But then Sanchez notched 25 goals from the left wing in his first season at Arsenal.

To a certain extent, Walcott embodies the limits of this club. He can produce a moment of magic with his trademark diagonal run. But he can also go missing from an entire game. Walcott has shown consistency at the top level only once in his career: that was in the 2012-13 season when he scored 21 goals for the club. He has a good shot at beating that total with 15 goals so far this season.

  1. Oxlade-Chamberlain must learn from his mistakes

The Ox gifted a goal to Bayern Munich by dribbling on the edge of his own area. He obviously failed to learn his lesson on Monday when he came off the bench to replace Elneny at halftime. Gomis initiated a fast break by dispossessing the Ox in the 77th. It took a clearance from Holding to end the threat.

At 23 and in his 6th season at Arsenal, the Ox is no longer a rookie. He definitely has the skills to play in central midfield but first he needs to cut his turnover rate and improve his passing accuracy. The Ox showed a glimpse of his talent by dribbling past two players in the 69th to make a teasing cross for Walcott who couldn’t make contact with the ball. Then the Ox forced a diving save from Worner with a curling shot in the 81st.

  1. Our goalkeepers are flawed

Cech struggled to stop long-range strikes last season and has already cost two penalties this season. That should be the perfect opportunity for Ospina to claim the starting spot in goal. Unfortunately, Ospina still can’t command his area. The Colombia goalkeeper was outmuscled by Bailey in the 6-yard box and beaten to the ball by Collins, who headed a corner over the bar in the 60th. And just like Cech gifted Chelsea a goal with a sloppy pass, Ospina had a poor pass intercepted by May, who fired wide on the stroke of halftime. For those who think that Szczesny is the answer, just remember his blunders and his attitude issues on and off the pitch.

  1. Reine-Adelaide shouldn’t be in the first team

The French teenager has a lot of potential but is really too soft. He was dispossessed 7 times, more than any other player according to whoscored.com, and won only 11% of his duels. Reine-Adelaide clearly doesn’t have the level to play in the Premier League. And after watching his performance against Sutton, you kind of wonder whether he would be strong enough to play in the fifth division of English football.

Arsenal should definitely loan him out to a lower-league club so that he can toughen up and add some physicality to his game. Otherwise we’ll keep having those “men vs. boys” comments that pundits made after the losses to Chelsea and Bayern Munich. Reine-Adelaide was replaced by Maitland-Niles in the 74th.

I have high hopes for Maitland-Niles and was disappointed not to see him in the starting lineup. He’s pretty much a holding midfielder a la Makelele and has more potential than Coquelin, who doesn’t have the tactical discipline for that role. In fact, I tend to see Coquelin more like a utility midfielder, a cheap version of Matuidi, who has limited skills like Coquelin but provides more end product.

  1. More sobriety needed for Holding

The English centerback must get rid of that habit of taking unnecessary risks. He thought he was Beckenbauer in the 85th and ran past Sutton’s attacking line to give away the ball with a poor pass. Holding was out of position when the Yellows hit Arsenal on the fast break. The ball fell to Hudson-Odoi, whose shot was deflected out by Mustafi. Holding was also late for a block attempt when Deacon smashed the bar with a 25-yard drive in the 65th.

  1. The Premier League is still the priority

The manager left Cech, Bellerin, Coquelin, Ozil, Giroud and Welbeck out of the squad while the injured Koscielny, Ramsey and Cazorla were not available. It won’t hurt to have 11 days of rest before the trip to Anfield Road. The Gunners need at least a draw against Liverpool, a direct rival for a Champions League berth, for the simple reason that the Reds have an easier run-in. A Top 4 finish is crucial to keep our best players and sign top talents this summer.

Bayern Munich vs. Arsenal: A few thoughts on the 5-1 disaster

The Champions League tie is dead after the Gunners suffered a humiliating 5-1 defeat in the first leg of their last-16 encounter with Bayern Munich on Wednesday. Arsenal managed to reach halftime with the score tied at 1-1 although the Bavarians were the better team. But the floodgates opened after Koscielny picked up a hamstring injury in the 48th minute.

Bayern vs. Arsenal.jpg

Photo credit: Getty Images

The Gunners conceded 3 goals in a 10-minute span to trail 4-1 by the 63rd. The scoreline and the stats don’t lie: Bayern completely outplayed Arsenal, making 516 more passes, creating 14 more chances and hitting 17 more shots, according to the UEFA stats.

  1. Talent means nothing without hard work

Anybody who watched PSG’s 4-0 thrashing of Barcelona on Tuesday could see two similarities with Bayern’s 5-1 demolition of Arsenal. The Spanish side lost because of some poor work-rate and a soft midfield. A quick look at the last 3 goals shows those flaws. The Parisians capitalized on a turnover to take a 2-0 lead as Rabiot dispossessed Messi while Iniesta failed to close down Verratti. By contrast, PSG played the ball out from the back to score the third and fourth goals. Messi and Gomes failed to track Kurzawa for the third goal and Iniesta failed to challenge Di Maria. Then Cavani was able to make it 4-0 because Meunier easily skipped past Neymar before outpacing Iniesta.

  1. Arsenal’s work-rate is not good enough

The Gunners were not as lazy as Barcelona. According to the UEFA stats, the Bavarians ran 109.5 km compared to 108.1 km for Arsenal, which is better than the 105.1 km covered by Barcelona compared to 113.3 km for PSG. The Gunners raised their intensity, winning 18 tackles of 34 compared to 12 of 33 for Bayern, according to Squawka. But it wasn’t enough because Arsenal didn’t defend as a unit. Bayern did a better job at hunting in packs, making 55 ball recoveries compared to 46 for the English side.

The Bavarians love dominating ball possession. A smart way to unsettle them would have been to press high up the pitch like PSG did against Barcelona. Unfortunately, the Gunners were not able to coordinate their pressing efforts. Sanchez often showed signs of frustration because his teammates didn’t help him harry the Bayern defense.

The poor defensive contribution from the attacking players cost Arsenal two goals. Lahm made a cross for Lewandowski, who headed home for a 2-1 lead in the 53rd. Gibbs had to deal with both Robben and Lahm on that play because Iwobi failed to track Lahm. Iwobi was also late for a block attempt in the 15th but Ospina stopped Robben’s low drive. Then Alcantara easily skipped past Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 56th and slipped the ball to Alonso, who was not closed down by Sanchez. With plenty of time on the ball, Alonso picked out Lewandowski, who played Alcantara in for Bayern’s third goal.

  1. Arsenal’s midfield is too soft

Coquelin, Xhaka and Ozil combined to win just 6 of 14 tackles compared to 9 of 18 for Alcantara, Vidal and Alonso. Surprisingly, Ozil put in a good shift, winning 4 of 6 tackles, more than any other Arsenal player. But Ozil couldn’t prevent Alonso and Vidal from dictating play because Coquelin sat too deep while Sanchez focused his pressing efforts on Martinez and Hummels.

Coquelin was the symbol of Arsenal’s softness. Vidal outmuscled the French midfielder in the eighth minute to fire a long-range strike that Ospina saved. Three minutes later, Robben cut inside Coquelin to open the scoring with a drive into the far corner. Coquelin was too slow to react and make a block on that play. He won none of the 3 tackles he made.

Oxlade-Chamberlain moved into central midfield when Giroud replaced Coquelin in the 77th. The England international showed his naivety by dribbling on the edge of his own box and losing possession to Kimmich in the 88th. The ball fell to Muller, who shot past Ospina to seal the win. The Ox led all players with 6 turnovers, according to whoscored.com, and had a passing accuracy of 61%, the lowest percentage among all the midfielders.

If we except Sanchez’s penalty, the Bavarians kept the Arsenal forwards quiet. Ozil and Xhaka ended up having the best chances from open play. In the 40th, the Ox cut the ball back for Xhaka, who volleyed straight at Neuer from 17 yards. On the stroke of halftime, Sanchez fed Ozil, whose angled strike was saved by Neuer. Ozil finished the game with only 1 key pass because the Gunners were starved of possession. Somehow, Arsenal could have reached halftime with the lead against the run of play.

  1. A change of tactics implies a change of manager

The best way to beat Bayern is to implement a pressing game like PSG did against Barcelona on Tuesday or like Atletico Madrid did against the German side last season. Pochettino at Tottenham and Klopp at Liverpool have been able to impose that style of play in the Premier League. Unfortunately, the Gunners don’t have that defensive culture and it’s hard to see how the club could tactically change under Wenger.

The only time Arsenal recently relied on a pressing game to beat a big team was in the 3-0 win over Manchester United last season. It lasted just one half and was not as impressive as the pressing game used by Liverpool, Atletico Madrid or even PSG. Under Wenger, the Gunners prefer to absorb the pressure and hit the big teams on the fast break like in the 2-0 win over Bayern last season or the victories over Pellegrini’s Manchester City.

Another tactical issue is marking duties on set pieces. Alcantara capitalized on a goalmouth scramble from a corner to give Bayern a 4-1 lead with a low drive in the 63rd. He had plenty of time to control the ball and pull the trigger because no Gunner patrolled the edge of the box.

  1. The Gunners must anticipate life without Koscielny

The Arsenal defense completely disintegrated after Koscielny picked up a hamstring injury in the 48th and was replaced by Paulista. Koscielny had Lewandowski in his pocket and even earned a penalty by drawing a foul from the Poland striker in the 29th. His only mistake came in the 43rd when he was not tight to Lewandowski, who met a cross from Alaba to head over the bar. Koscielny won 3 of 3 tackles before leaving the pitch.

The France centerback will turn 32 this year. The staff will have to carefully monitor his fitness. Vidic led Manchester United to the Premier League title in 2013 but suddenly lost a step the following season at the age of 32. Mertesacker’s lack of pace and Paulista’s dodgy decision-making definitely prevent them from becoming the cornerstone of the Arsenal defense.

On paper, Mustafi could lead the back four, but his performance in Munich was a disappointment. He was booked in the 15th for a rash tackle on Alcantara. Then, Lewandowski outjumped Mustafi for Bayern’s second goal and Mustafi failed to spot Alcantara’s run for the third.

  1. Arsenal will need to look for a leftback this summer

Whether it’s Gibbs or Monreal, the Gunners have been highly vulnerable to crosses from the left flank this season. Ancelotti obviously spotted that weakness as Costa sometimes joined Lahm and Robben on that flank to provide numerical superiority.

Gibbs got the nod over Monreal on Wednesday and struggled to stop crosses from Lahm, who led all players with 4 key passes. The English fullback was very lucky not to get sent off in the 61st when Robben pounced on a rebound to hit an effort that Gibbs deflected out with his hand. It looked worse than Hull midfielder Clucas’ deliberate handball. Basically, it should have been a red card and a penalty.

  1. Ospina has been brilliant this season

The Colombia goalkeeper saved Arsenal from defeat against PSG in the group stage and made 6 saves against Bayern to prevent a more embarrassing loss. Some were routine saves but three were really good saves. He kept out Martinez’s header with a reflex save in the 63rd, tipped Robben’s strike over the bar in the 81st and turned Costa’s curling shot around the post in the 82nd.

  1. Groundhog Day is no surprise

We should have expected that outcome since the Bavarians have better players than Arsenal in almost every position. The German side has also reached at least the semifinals in the past 5 seasons while the Gunners have been knocked out in the last 16 in the past 6 seasons. The tie is dead after the first leg just like in 2013 when Bayern won 3-1 in London and three years ago when the Bavarians won 2-0 at the Emirates stadium.

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

Perez notched a hat trick in a 4-1 rout of Basel on Tuesday to help Arsenal finish first in Group A of the Champions League after Paris Saint-Germain surrendered the top spot by drawing at home against Ludogorets. This is the first time since 2011 that the Gunners won their group. There’s no guarantee that they will get an easy draw for the last 16 but at least they will host the second leg of their tie.

  1. First start for the Xhaka-Ramsey duo

The manager was not scared of experimenting in a Champions League match as he partnered Xhaka with Ramsey for the first time in central midfield. They got off to a shaky start, especially with Basel pressing high up the pitch to force turnovers. Xhaka in the 11th minute and Ramsey in the 14th cheaply gave the ball away on the edge of the Arsenal box. Ramsey played in a too high position in the opening minutes, leaving Xhaka a bit isolated in midfield.

basel-vs-arsenal

Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images

Ramsey made the necessary tactical adjustment by playing in a deeper position. The key for Ramsey is really to figure out when to defend and when to roam forward. He killed a counterattack in the 63rd by blocking Lang’s cross. One game is obviously a small sample but the Xhaka-Ramsey duo looks quite complementary, definitely more than the Coquelin-Elneny tandem. On the other hand, the Xhaka-Coquelin partnership seems to provide more protection to the back four than the Xhaka-Ramsey duo.

Xhaka acted like a deep-lying playmaker, making 111 passes compared to 63 for Ozil and 60 for Ramsey, and reaching a passing accuracy of 93.7%, the highest percentage among the starting midfielders, according to whoscored.com. However, Xhaka’s defensive performance was questionable as he won none of the 8 tackles he made, while Ramsey won 3 of 4 tackles. Maybe it had something to do with his brother’s presence in the Basel team.

  1. Perez can be clinical

Starting on the right wing, Perez had 3 shots and scored 3 goals. You can’t be more clinical than that. Perez capitalized on a missed clearance from Balanta to control Gibbs’ underhit cross and score from close range in the eighth minute. He then smashed home a rebound in the 16th after Vaclik had saved Gibbs’ low strike. The Spaniard made it 3-0 in the 47th when Sanchez inadvertently diverted Gibbs’ high pass with a poor touch. The ball fell to Perez, who fired into the bottom corner from a tight angle.

Perez tried to contribute defensively but won none of the 5 tackles he made, according to Squawka. In the 18th, he failed to track Traore, whose low drive sailed wide of the far post. Perez showed smart movement inside the box with his first two goals as well as electric pace with his third. His understanding with Gibbs in the Basel game and with Ozil in the 6-0 win over Ludogorets is the sign of a good integration in the team. That means Perez can step up if Walcott suffers from a dip in form.

  1. Holding is learning the ropes with Koscielny

In their third start together, Holding and Koscielny produced a mixed performance. They did fine in the first half but made a couple of mistakes after the break. Koscielny won only 1 of 4 tackles compared to 1 of 3 tackles for Holding. The good news for Holding is that he won 70% of his duels, the highest percentage among Arsenal defenders according to the club’s website, and reached a passing accuracy of 92.8%, much better than when he started playing for the club.

The bad news for Holding is that he needs to improve his focus. Holding was guilty of ball-watching when Delgado headed Lang’s cross over the bar in the 43rd. Then his risky pass in the 78th was intercepted by Calla and led to Basel’s goal. Doumbia played a one-two with Janko before flicking the ball over Ospina. Holding, Koscielny and Gibbs were all guilty on that play. Holding showed poor judgment, Koscielny was ridiculed by Doumbia’s roulette, and Gibbs played Janko onside.

Wenger could have rested Koscielny to start Mustafi at the back. However, the manager preferred to partner Holding with a more seasoned centerback. Koscielny made a crucial block in the 10th and won the ball back after Ramsey had lost possession to Die in the 14th, but he also failed to challenge Janko in the air in the 51st when the Basel striker headed wide Delgado’s cross.

  1. Could the Sanchez-Ozil duo cost more than half a million pounds per week?

Wenger is aware of their importance to the team as he yanked them off in the second half. Ozil and Sanchez combined in the build-up to the first two goals. Then Sanchez sent a ball over the top for Ozil, who set up Iwobi for the fourth goal in the 54th. Sanchez didn’t score but he made 2 key passes and produced 4 through balls, the most for any player according to whoscored.com. The Chile striker also rattled the bar with a swerving free kick in the 67th. Ozil made 3 key passes, tied with two Basel players for the most. In the 73rd, he made a perfectly weighted pass for Giroud, who missed the target with a flick at the near post.

As both are negotiating a contract extension, there are rumors that they could seek to earn as much as Pogba’s 290,000 pounds per week. Sanchez and Ozil are respectively getting 130,000 and 140,000 pounds per week from the club. Offering 200,000 pounds per week would be a significant effort from Arsenal since Manchester United’s revenues dwarf any club in England. I wouldn’t be upset if the club refuses to offer more than 200,000 pounds. Any payroll increase has an impact on the transfer policy.

Also keep in mind that both Sanchez and Ozil will turn 29 next year. How many years at the top do they still have and is it worth taking such a financial risk knowing that any injury could make the contract extension backfire? Arsenal sold Van Persie when he was 29. The Dutch striker had only one great season at Manchester United before declining.

  1. Arsenal can thank Ospina for the first-place finish

In hindsight, we now know that the two points earned against PSG were crucial to top the group. Ospina made some great saves in those two games. The Colombia goalkeeper pulled off 4 saves against Basel, including one that helped Arsenal protect a 2-0 lead. Steffen cut inside Gibbs in the 40th to unleash a low strike that Ospina stopped. Ospina reacted quickly enough to collect the rebound before Janko could tap it home.

 

Arsenal vs. Ludogorets: A few thoughts on the 6-0 win

Ozil notched a hat trick in the second half to lead Arsenal to a 6-0 rout of Ludogorets on Wednesday as the Gunners leapfrogged Paris Saint-Germain on goal difference at the top of Group A in the Champions League. Confidence is high at the club after that seventh straight victory in all competitions.

  1. Redefining Ozil’s role

Ozil definitely stole the show with his performance. Wenger recently said “Ozil can score when he wants” based on what he saw on the training ground. The manager tried to turn Ozil into a nine and a half last season. It didn’t work right away as Ozil finished the 2015-16 season with 19 assists and 6 goals in the Premier League, typical stats for a No. 10. However, things look different this season with 3 goals and 0 assist in 7 Premier League games so far. Those stats are quite unusual for a traditional playmaker.

arsenal-vs-ludogorets

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

Basically, Ozil is becoming a nine and a half like Baggio or Bergkamp. That role means Ozil can still make assists but is more often in a position to score than a No. 10. It also means that Ozil can focus on the final third instead of engineering the build-up play. That change of role makes sense since Ozil has decent pace as well as some flair for finding space. Ozil set up Walcott for the second goal in the 42nd minute before collecting a long ball from Cazorla to make it 4-0 in the 56th.

  1. Total football with the Sanzil magic

Sanchez started his Arsenal career on the left wing. Wenger decided this season to turn Sanchez into a false nine like Messi under Guardiola or Totti under Spalletti. Whereas Giroud plays like a traditional target man, Sanchez often drops back to make pinpoint crosses or create space for his teammates. That means Sanchez and Ozil are pretty much interchangeable. On some plays, Sanchez will be the passer and Ozil the finisher. On some other plays, Ozil will deliver the final ball so that Sanchez can score. Sanchez took a pass from Oxlade-Chamberlain to open the scoring with a lob in the 12th.

  1. Injecting competition in the squad

You need rotation throughout the season to protect your regular starters from injuries as well as to keep them on their toes. Monreal, Xhaka and Iwobi performed poorly in the 3-2 win over Swansea last weekend and were therefore replaced by Gibbs, Coquelin and Oxlade-Chamberlain in the starting lineup. Coquelin had the best defensive stats with 9 tackles and 6 interceptions, more than any other player according to whoscored.com. Gibbs performed well too with 6 tackles and 3 interceptions.

The first half was a mixed bag for the Ox, who wasted counterattacking opportunities in the 28th and 40th with a poor final ball. But he managed to grow into the game, finishing the match with 4 key passes, more than any other player, and giving Arsenal a 3-0 lead in the 47th following a poor clearance from the Ludogorets defense. The Ox also forced Stoyanov into a fine save with a volley in the 68th. He will definitely get more chances to start with that kind of end product.

  1. The Gunners are too playful

The Bulgarian side was no threat until Sanchez opened the scoring. Usually, you play more cautiously after taking the lead. The opposite happened with Arsenal. They felt they could quickly add a second goal and gave plenty of space to Ludogorets. A lack of pressure on the ballholder combined with mistakes from the centerbacks gifted the visitors two clear-cut chances. Misidjan was clean through on goal in the 28th after Mustafi missed his header but Ospina knocked the ball away. Four minutes later, Misidjan was again bearing down on goal as Koscielny failed to clear a long ball. Ospina tipped the ball away on the 18-yard line. Misidjan chased the loose ball to set up Wanderson for a low drive that clipped the post.

Ospina’s quick legs prevented Arsenal from conceding an equalizer in the first half. The Colombia goalkeeper also parried an angled strike from Wanderson in the 19th and denied Cafu in the 23rd. The Bulgarian side did not have any scoring chance in the second half. Surprisingly, Ludogorets kept playing with a high defensive line despite the devastating runs in behind from the Gunners.

  1. Perez the supersub

The Spanish forward came off the bench in the 62nd to replace Walcott and made a significant contribution. He crossed the ball for Ozil, who netted from close range for a 5-0 lead in the 82nd. Perez then set up the Germany playmaker for a volley to seal the win in the 87th. His versatility means Perez can play up front or on the wings.

  1. Walcott should accept his limitations

The England international is a player who does a lot of damage with his runs off the ball. He’s more awkward on the ball because of his limited dribbling and passing skills.He lost possession twice in the opening minutes while running into traffic. His shooting boots look better than last season but I still believe he’s a give-and-go player.

 

Arsenal vs. Basel: A few thoughts on the 2-0 win

Walcott fired Arsenal to a 2-0 win over Basel on Wednesday as the Gunners stayed level on points with Paris Saint-Germain at the top of Group A in the Champions League. In their fourth straight victory in all competitions, the Gunners could have won 5-0 with better finishing.

  1. Sanchez is on fire

The Chile striker has scored 4 goals and made 4 assists in all competitions this season. It took a bit of time for Arsenal to adjust to a centerforward different from Giroud. Obviously, Sanchez is no aerial threat and is not powerful enough to hold the ball up like Giroud. On the other hand, Sanchez has more pace and better dribbling skills than the Frenchman.

arsenal-vs-basel

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

In the role of a false nine, Sanchez was the catalyst for most of his team’s chances. He finished the match with 4 key passes, more than Cazorla (3), Ozil (2) and Walcott (2). He also had 3 of 4 shots on target. However, the most unbelievable stat was his passing accuracy: 91.5% according to whoscored.com. That’s the kind of percentage you usually get for defenders, not forwards. Barcelona striker Suarez had a passing accuracy of 66.7% against Monchengladbach, and it was as low as 62.5% for Atletico Madrid forward Torres and 38.9% for Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski on Wednesday.

It’s nice to see Sanchez carry the team. But at some stage, the manager will have to rest Sanchez otherwise he could pick up injuries like last season.

  1. Walcott and Sanchez have struck a good understanding

It’s not as legendary as the complicity between Ozil and Sanchez but it still yielded two goals against Basel. Walcott was in the right place at the right time to head in a cross from Sanchez in the seventh minute. The England international did most of the hard work for the second goal in the 26th. He played a one-two with Sanchez before burying an angled strike inside the far post.

Walcott seems less wasteful on the right wing than when he played as a lone striker. He has already racked up 5 goals and 1 assist in all competitions since August. Last season, Walcott and Sanchez combined for 4 goals in all competitions. Their partnership was more fruitful in the Champions League (3 goals) than in the Premier League (1 goal). This pattern is repeating itself this season as they have only combined for 1 goal in the Premier League against Watford while Sanchez set up Walcott twice against Basel.

  1. Life gets much easier when you get off to a good start

The Gunners won their last four games by reaching halftime with the lead. On paper, beating Basel looked like an easy task. But then you remember how Arsenal badly screwed up against Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos a year ago.

Arsenal showed no sign of complacency in the opening minutes against Basel. They were focused and displayed the quick one-touch passing that helped carve open the Chelsea defense last weekend. It also helped that the manager refrained from rotating like he did in Zagreb.

  1. Will goal difference play a role?

The Gunners drew 1-1 in Paris two weeks ago. If they draw again with the French club at the Emirates stadium in November, the top spot in Group A could be determined by goal difference. Hopefully, the missed chances won’t come back to haunt Arsenal.

Basel goalkeeper Vaclik made some good saves, denying Bellerin in the 36th and Sanchez in the 33rd, 38th and 90th. But some of the missed chances were also the result of poor efforts. Sanchez in the 68th and Ozil in the 36th and 41st missed the target from good positions.

  1. Ospina must improve his command of the area

The Colombia goalkeeper made two decent saves, tipping over the bar a curling shot from Bjarnason in the 63rd and denying Sporar, played onside by Mustafi in the 88th. But he gifted Basel a scoring chance in the 64th by missing his punch from a corner. The ball was redirected toward the far post, where Bjarnason slid his effort over the bar. Coming off his line was the right decision since the ball was just four yards out. But Ospina clearly lacked authority in the air. He will definitely need more practice on the training ground.