Tag Archives: Ozil

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.

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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.

Arsenal vs. Stoke: Aubameyang, Lacazette score in 3-0 win

A quick look at the bench on Sunday showed that the Europa League has become the top priority for Arsenal. Koscielny, Xhaka, Mkhitaryan and Lacazette were sitting on the bench when the Gunners started their Premier League game against Stoke. In a normal season, those four players would be in the starting lineup. But a poor run of form from January to March means that Arsenal can no longer expect to finish in the Top 4 as they trail Spurs by 13 points with just 7 games left.   

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

The low stakes maybe explain why the Gunners produced a listless performance in the first half with a lot of misplaced passes. Arsenal showed more urgency in the second half and capitalized on two cheap fouls from the Stoke defense to convert two penalties. Ozil is a great asset against the weak and average sides because the quality of his final ball can really make the difference. He played Aubameyang clean through on goal in the 71st minute but Butland saved the Gabon striker’s chip attempt.

Ozil led all players with 6 key passes and created the opening goal by dribbling inside the Stoke area in the 74th. Martins Indi was on the wrong side of Ozil but still managed to toe poke the ball. Unfortunately, the Dutch defender also tripped Ozil and the referee thought it was a foul while TV replays showed Martins Indi kicked the ball before making contact with Ozil’s leg. Because the Premier League still hasn’t adopted VAR technology, the referee had no chance to double-check his call.

From the penalty spot, Aubameyang sent Butland the wrong way to put Arsenal ahead. He doubled the lead in the 86th by pouncing on a poor clearance from the Stoke defense to volley home from 10 yards. With 3 of 4 shots on target, 1 key pass and 0 turnover, Aubameyang had a good game. But he had to show a lot of patience because he got no service in the first half and his first goal attempt only came in the 65th, just four minutes after Lacazette had replaced an inefficient Welbeck.

The understanding between Lacazette and Bellerin

Lacazette and Aubameyang had already played together in the 1-0 loss to Tottenham. The France international came off the bench to play as a centerforward while Aubameyang shifted to the left wing both against Spurs and Stoke. I thought Wenger’s tactical choice was weird. Aubameyang occasionally played as a winger for French club Saint-Etienne from 2011 to 2013 but Lacazette has a better all-around game than Aubameyang and is therefore a more natural candidate to play on the wings. And Aubameyang is also a more natural candidate to lead the line as he is 5 inches taller than Lacazette and has electric pace.

In the end, those tactical considerations didn’t matter as Lacazette managed to make an impact. He chased a long ball from Bellerin down the right wing to feed Mkhitaryan, whose low strike was parried by Butland in the 85th. Three minutes later, Bellerin picked out Lacazette, who was smart enough to shield the ball with his body. Ndiaye gave away a cheap penalty by shoving Lacazette from behind. The Stoke midfielder made the decision easy for the referee by showing no genuine intent to play the ball.

In his return from a knee injury, Lacazette found the net by converting the penalty himself to seal the win. I believe Lacazette is a natural second striker, a bit like Griezmann who shines more by playing off Costa at Atletico Madrid and off Giroud with the French national team. Would Wenger use a 4-4-2 formation to accommodate Lacazette and Aubameyang? Another option would be to use Lacazette as a false winger like Sanchez. On the right wing, Lacazette has struck a good understanding with Bellerin. On the left wing, he could check back on his stronger right foot. In the 90th, Lacazette displayed great footwork on the left flank to dribble past 2 Potters before Martins Indi fouled him.

The Arsenal defense wasn’t much tested although each defender had a poor moment. Mustafi gave the ball away 3 times from the 10th to the 14th; Monreal was not tight enough to Shaqiri, whose curling shot sailed wide in the fourth minute; Chambers was nutmegged by Shaqiri in the 50th; and Bellerin was lucky not to get booked for a reckless challenge on Sobhi in the fourth minute.

Lapses of concentration on set pieces

Chambers was arguably our most solid defender on Sunday. He led all players with 4 interceptions and 89 passes, according to the club’s website. The English centerback also stole the limelight from Mustafi on set pieces, heading a free kick over the bar in the 44th and flicking a corner straight at Butland in the 72nd. Obviously, Chambers won’t face strikers as poor as Diouf and Berahino every weekend.

While Monreal had a quiet game on the left flank, Bellerin proved our most attacking defender on the right flank. Bellerin tested Butland with an angled strike in the 83rd before making the pass that led to the penalty in the 88th. Hopefully, Arsenal will keep him because I believe Bellerin could become one of the best fullbacks in the world with better coaching.

The scoreline was quite flattering for the Gunners, who could have conceded the opening goal because of lapses of concentration on set pieces between the 68th and 70th minutes. Shaqiri capitalized on a recycled corner in the 68th to fire a curling shot straight at Ospina. A minute later, the Switzerland international hit the far post with a direct corner. The Gunners had nobody to guard the far post and they failed to clean up the 6-yard box for Ospina, who wasted his time wrestling with Shawcross and Sobhi. Then Berahino ghosted past Mustafi on a throw-in but was denied by Ospina in the 70th.

In midfield, Elneny played behind Ramsey and Wilshere in an inverted pyramid. Elneny can survive as a holding midfielder against weak teams like Stoke but he would definitely struggle against the top teams because he doesn’t win duels. The Egypt international missed his tackle on Shaqiri in the opening minute and received a yellow card in the 37th for a poor challenge on Allen. In Arsenal’s passing game, Elneny is a facilitator because of his mobility and high passing accuracy. But he’s not an organizer like Cazorla or Xhaka.

Empty seats

The Gunners definitely seemed to miss a deep-lying playmaker in the first half. Wilshere could have dropped back to play alongside Elneny and pull the strings in midfield, but he mostly played as a No. 10 with a limited impact. Ramsey took a pass from Wilshere in the 29th for a shot that Pieters deflected out. A few seconds later, Wilshere made a cross for Mustafi, whose tame header didn’t trouble Butland. Unable to play for England during the international break because of knee tendonitis, Wilshere was replaced in the 76th by Mkhitaryan.

Ramsey also missed games with Wales to undergo surgery during the international break. His performance was a mixed bag. He had a couple of chances and made 2 key passes, but he also led Arsenal players with 6 turnovers, according to whoscored.com. After a poor punch from Butland in the 23rd, the ball fell to Ramsey, whose lob attempt bounced off the bar. Ramsey then teed up Welbeck in the 57th but the England forward missed the target from 15 yards. In the 83rd, Ramsey made a run in behind the Stoke defense to collect Xhaka’s long pass only to be denied by Butland, who came off his line.

There were again a lot of empty seats at the Emirates stadium and you can’t really blame the fans for Arsenal’s disappointing run in the league. Those who attended the game booed the team at halftime. Again, it was a mediocre first half, not worthy of the ticket prices. If some regular starters can’t perform at a decent level, then why not play youngsters who are more hungry? Players like Welbeck, Lacazette and Wilshere need some playing time to show their fitness and improve their chances of participating in the World Cup. But I’m sure players like Xhaka and Ozil wouldn’t mind getting some rest to be fresh for that competition this summer.

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.

Arsenal vs. Watford: 3-0 win highlights youth dilemma

There were a lot of empty seats at the Emirates stadium on Sunday when the Gunners smashed Watford 3-0 in the Premier League. It wasn’t as bad as in the league game against Manchester City, but it showed some fans’ disillusion with Arsenal’s performances in the Premier League this year. You can’t really blame the fans: the Gunners had never been out of the Top 4 race so early in the season under Wenger. For some, it was also a means to protest against the Arsenal board and put pressure on them to hire a new manager this summer. In that regard, leaving empty seats is better than creating a toxic atmosphere with hostile chants and banners. And it’s definitely smarter than what the West Ham fans did against Burnley by invading the pitch.

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

The Europa League is the only option left to win a trophy this season. Wenger clearly prioritized that competition by making 6 changes to the side that won in Milan on Thursday with Cech, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Iwobi and Aubameyang replacing Ospina, Koscielny, Chambers, Ramsey, Wilshere and Welbeck in the starting lineup. Monreal, Bellerin and Lacazette were still sidelined by injuries and were therefore not available. The manager took no risk with Ramsey and Koscielny and kept them out of the squad, while Welbeck, Wilshere and Chambers came off the bench in the second half.

Fielding an under-strength team was a smart move from the manager since there is nothing at stake in the Premier League now. To a certain extent, the club must also give some playing time to the most promising youngsters, otherwise they will leave. Willock joined Benfica last summer while Barcelona signed McGuane two months ago. According to the Evening Standard, Nelson threw his bib to the ground on Sunday when he found out that he wouldn’t play the last minutes against Watford. That’s a tricky situation for the staff. Nelson’s contract expires next year and it’s easy to understand his frustration about the lack of opportunities when you see Iwobi’s mediocre performances.

Holding’s ups and downs

There’s a massive gap between the Premier League and the level of U23 games. At this stage of his career, Nelson won’t improve by playing with the academy team. He needs a loan to a Championship side or even a League One team to develop at a faster pace. It was fine to keep him at the club in the first half of the season because there were opportunities with the League Cup and the Europa League. But I think the staff made a mistake by not loaning out Nelson and Nketiah in the second half of the season. A successful loan spell would have made the Arsenal squad stronger for next season.

At 22, Holding is not a rookie anymore. He had his ups and downs since joining the club two years ago. Low confidence combined with some poor performances have seen Holding drop behind Chambers in the pecking order. Holding was given a second chance on Sunday as he started alongside Mustafi at centerback. To be honest, Holding’s performance was a mixed bag. He led all players with 4 interceptions but won no tackle. On the bright side, Holding blocked Femenia’s volley in the 48th minute and forced Richarlison wide in the sixth minute after Mustafi was pulled out of position.

But there are at least 3 key areas Holding needs to work on: 1. Winning duels inside the box. Doucoure dribbled past Holding in the ninth minute and only a heavy touch from the Watford midfielder enabled Mustafi to clear the danger; 2. His positional play. Holding was on the wrong side of Richarlison a few times. He was nowhere near Richarlison when the Hornets played a ball over the top in the 12th. Richarlison teed up Doucoure, whose shot was parried by Cech; 3. Smelling danger. Holding gave the ball away with sloppy passes in the 24th and 89th. He also lost possession with a dribbling attempt in the 70th. Those are the kind of mistakes that Holding could make in a Championship club but which are not acceptable at Arsenal. That’s why I said last summer that Holding should have been loaned out to iron out mistakes from his game.

Iwobi’s regression

Maitland-Niles is only two years older than Nelson. Yet he has already played 23 games with the first team this season, including 10 in the Premier League. Obviously, Maitland-Niles is still a work in progress at 20. He showed his naivety in the 61st when Pereyra cut inside the Arsenal rightback and crashed into his trailing leg to win a penalty. An experienced player would have gotten out of the way, guessing that Pereyra was looking for contact. Maitland-Niles needs to improve his focus and be more tidy in possession. He led all players with 6 turnovers, according to whoscored.com.

On a more positive note, Maitland-Niles has more pace than Chambers and did a good job to stop crosses. He also performed better than Kolasinac, having 2 successful dribbles out of 3, winning 2 of 5 tackles and 2 of 3 aerial duels, and making 1 interception and 3 blocks, compared to 0 successful dribble, 1 of 3 tackles won, 2 of 5 aerial duels won, and no interception or block made by the Bosnia-Herzegovina international. Maitland-Niles is right-footed and has played as a right midfielder, so rightback is a more natural position for him than leftback. Although Maitland-Niles prefers to play as a central midfielder, he still lacks the tactical maturity to play in such a key position at the top level.

While Maitland-Niles is learning the ropes, Iwobi seems to be regressing. Iwobi showed a poor work-rate and a lack of end product, creating 0 chance, winning 0 tackle, and making 0 interception and 0 block. His decision-making in the final third was questionable, too. He tried to score from a tight angle in the 19th instead of crossing the ball for the 3 Gunners inside the box. Then he ran into traffic in the 37th and lost possession, allowing Watford to launch a counterattack. Wenger replaced Iwobi with Welbeck in the 66th and the England international took a pass from Wilshere to test Karnezis with a powerful strike in the 86th.

The Dortmund connection

Before Sunday’s match, there was much talk about Deeney’s infamous comments in October. Deeney basically said that the Gunners didn’t like the physical side of the game. It was no coincidence if the Hornets tried to rough up Arsenal at the Emirates stadium. And each time, the referee failed to spot the foul. First, Prodl stamped on Ozil’s heel in the 31st. Then Mariappa stamped on Mkhitaryan’s ankle inside the area in the 64th and no penalty was given. And finally, Deeney got away with a stamp on Xhaka in the 79th. Despite the poor officiating, the Gunners didn’t lose their temper and proved the better side, having 7 shots on target to 4, and winning 54.2% of the duels and 61.9% of the tackles, according to the club’s website.

The understanding between two players can make a difference at the top level. For the passer, it’s about knowing what kind of run the striker will make and where he wants to have the ball. For the runner, it’s about knowing when the pass will be made and if the passer can execute the play. The Gunners can thank the Dortmund connection for the last two goals. Mkhitaryan slipped a through ball to Aubameyang, who rounded Karnezis to slot into an empty net for a 2-0 lead in the 59th. Then Aubameyang pounced on a rebound to tee up Mkhitaryan for the third goal in the 77th.

Things didn’t get off to a good start for the former Borussia Dortmund players though. Mkhitaryan made a cross beyond Aubameyang in the fifth minute. The Armenia international showed more accuracy with his through ball for Aubameyang in the 11th but Prodl brushed the Arsenal striker off the ball. The Watford defense also blocked a pass from Mkhitaryan in the 35th but the ball somehow fell into the path of Aubameyang, who was put off by Mariappa while taking his chance.

Mkhitaryan is a gambler

Aubameyang hasn’t ajusted to the physicality of the Premier League yet. He needs to be stronger in duels. The Gabon striker will also have to improve in the air. He won 0 of 3 aerial duels in midfield. That’s not good enough if the team wants to use him as a target man. By contrast, Mkhitaryan had a good all-around performance. He won 2 of 6 tackles and 1 of 3 aerial duels and made 1 interception and 4 blocks, according to Squawka. The only blemish was his passing accuracy of 71.7%, the lowest percentage among Arsenal outfield starters. Mkhitaryan is a gambler in the final third and often goes for the killer pass. The real issue is Mkhitaryan’s approach in his own half where he is not cautious enough. Wilshere came off the bench to replace Mkhitaryan in the 78th.

Playing in the hole, Ozil led all players with 3 key passes. Ozil set up the opening goal in the eighth minute with a pinpoint free kick that Mustafi headed into the bottom corner. Watford’s marking was poor on that play but you have to credit the complicity between Ozil and Mustafi, who both play for the Germany team. Ozil was also involved in the third goal as he made the cross that Karnezis palmed into the path of Aubameyang. With better finishing, Ozil could have claimed 2 assists and 1 goal. In the third minute, Ozil slipped a through ball to Aubameyang, who shot straight at Karnezis from 15 yards. In the 27th, Ozil took a pass from Elneny and skipped past Mariappa only to be denied by Karnezis.

Season on the line

In goal, Cech finally earned his 200th clean sheet in the Premier League. The fact that it was the first clean sheet in the league since a 1-0 win over Newcastle in mid-December tells you how poorly the Gunners have defended in the past couple of months. Cech protected Arsenal’s lead by turning around the post a header from Richarlison on the stroke of halftime. Iwobi made a poor clearance on that play while Mustafi was not tight enough to Richarlison. Cech forced Deeney to eat some humble pie in the 62nd by stopping a penalty from the Watford striker. It was a moment to cheer about but some fans won’t forget some poor goalkeeping in the 26th when Cech, instead of pushing the ball to safety, palmed a low free kick into the path of Pereyra, who missed the target from 7 yards. Cech also sent a goal kick straight into touch in the 74th.

Arsenal’s season will be on the line when they host AC Milan on Thursday for the second leg of their last 16 encounter in the Europa League. Lose, and there’s nothing to play for. Win, and there’s still the hope of lifting some silverware in May.

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

The Gunners made a big step toward qualifying for the quarterfinals of the Europa League by defeating AC Milan 2-0 in the first leg of their last 16 encounter. Obviously, we shouldn’t take qualification for granted after the 2-1 loss in the previous round against Ostersund. Thursday’s result also shows that Wenger hasn’t lost the dressing room yet as Arsenal produced a good performance to snap a four-game losing streak in all competitions.

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

It was weird to see the Gunners play AC Milan because there are a couple of parallels between those two clubs. AC Milan used to contend each season for the Serie A title but their fall from grace was so brutal that Champions League football is no longer a gimme. In fact, the Rossoneri haven’t qualified for the top European competition since the 2012-13 season. AC Milan also used to play some spectacular football under Sacchi, Capello and Ancelotti. Now the Rosseneri are a technically average team, struggling to convert spells of domination into goals. AC Milan had 16 shots to 8 for Arsenal, but the Gunners tested Donnarumma 4 times while the Rossoneri caught the frame only once.

  1. Ramsey has become the heartbeat of the team

Last season, Arsenal depended on Sanchez to score goals and create plays. Now Ramsey has become the key to unlock the team’s offensive potential since the Chile striker’s departure. Ramsey initiated the opening goal with an interception in the 15th minute. The Wales midfielder then made it 2-0 on the stroke of halftime with a perfectly timed run, rounding Donnarumma to slot the ball into an empty net. His movement, work-rate and composure definitely make a difference in the final third. The only blemish in Ramsey’s performance was the fouls he made on the edge of the Arsenal box. The Gunners could have paid a hefty price with a free-kick specialist like Calhanoglu. Ramsey was also harshly booked for a high foot in the 71st.

  1. Ozil and Mkhitaryan can play together

Smart players are always able to strike an understanding. Mkhitaryan set up Ozil for the third goal against Ostersund last month. Ozil returned the favor on Thursday by finding Mkhitaryan with a first-time pass in the 15th. Mkhitaryan cut inside and beat Donnarumma with a shot that took a deflection off Bonucci. The Armenia international could have added another goal in the 45th but his curling shot hit the bar. Ozil had 2 assists as he also played Ramsey clean through for the second goal. The manager shifted to a back three in the 80th by yanking off Ozil to send on Holding.

  1. Chambers is a liability

I still don’t understand why Wenger is so fond of Chambers. The English defender was turned like a roasted chicken against Ostersund and Manchester City. Izquierdo also had Chambers in his pocket at Brighton. Yet, the manager rewarded Chambers with another start. Calhanoglu has average pace but he still managed to make several runs in behind Chambers. With a passing accuracy of 65%, Chambers had the lowest percentage of all the Arsenal players. Chambers gave the ball away to Calhanoglu with a poor clearance in the 10th but Cutrone wasted the chance with an off-target effort. His slow first steps help explain why Chambers couldn’t block Bonaventura’s curling shot in the 37th and 12-yard strike in the 52nd. Chambers seemed to have a bout of cramping in the 84th and was replaced by Elneny.

  1. Arsenal might be facing a fullback crisis

Monreal and Bellerin were not available for the Milan game because of a sore back and a knee inflammation respectively. Kolasinac had to come off the field in the 62nd as Maitland-Niles took over at leftback. It might just be a knock, but it could also be a recurrence of Kolasinac’s hip injury.

  1. Wilshere’s turnover rate is an issue

In his dreams, Wilshere must be some kind of English Maradona. But on the field, his overconfidence in his dribbling skills leads to many turnovers. Wilshere was dispossessed 4 times, the most for any player according to whoscored.com. It’s time for him to realize that he has lost a bit of pace after recovering from injuries. Wilshere must tweak his game otherwise he’ll go nowhere if he keeps playing like the 18-year-old Wilshere. That also explains why the club is playing hardball in the negotiations over his contract, which is expiring this year.

  1. Ospina’s quick legs saved the day

The Arsenal defense will have to deal better with through balls in the second leg. The Rossoneri played Cutrone and Kalinic clean through in the 41st and 83rd, but each time Ospina beat the Milan forwards to the ball. There was also a 50-50 ball in the 12th when Calhanoglu made a run in behind Chambers. Ospina couldn’t win the ball but he was smart enough to keep his hands to himself and avoid a penalty. The only blemish in Ospina’s performance was his failure to command the 6-yard box in the 44th when Bonucci met a Calhanoglu corner but couldn’t guide his header goalward.

  1. Welbeck still can’t score

It’s not as bad as Cech’s elusive 200th clean sheet in the Premier League, but it’s still a concern. Welbeck hasn’t found the net since the Nottingham Forest game in early January. Welbeck didn’t miss any sitter. In fact, he didn’t get much service and had to create his own chances. Welbeck made an interception in the 42nd and swapped passes with Mkhitaryan before testing Donnarumma with an angled effort. Then Welbeck smelt blood in the 49th when Kessie made a risky backpass. Welbeck beat Donnarumma to the ball but had his effort blocked by the Milan goalkeeper with the ball bouncing wide of the goal.

However, you can never fault Welbeck for his work-rate. The English forward was selfless, setting up Chambers for a long-range strike in the 42nd and picking out Mkhitaryan with a crossfield pass in the 45th. He even covered Ozil in the 73rd when Calabria made a cross that sailed out of bounds.