Tag Archives: Premier League

Arsenal vs. Brighton: Gunners fighting relegation after 2-1 loss?

   Arsenal could be fighting relegation the entire season after losing 2-1 to Brighton on Thursday. They haven’t won in the Premier League since Oct. 6. In their last 7 league games, they have racked up a ridiculous total of 4 points. Even teams in the relegation zone like Everton, Norwich and Watford have done better than that. The Gunners now sit in the middle of the table because of their decent start to the season, but they are only 5 points above the relegation zone.

Arsenal vs. Brighton 2019.jpgPhoto credit: Premier League

   The chemistry in the dressing room can’t be good when you see players like Aubameyang, Ozil and Luiz shouting at their teammates. What happened in the closing minutes of Thursday’s game could be the metaphor for this dreadful season. As the Gunners were desperately chasing an equalizer, Aubameyang sprinted off the pitch for an urgent bathroom break. The Arsenal captain came back on the pitch before the final whistle, but that made no difference to the result.

   The Gunners have made struggling teams look good this season. Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Norwich was bad publicity for the Arsenal defense because opponents now realize that the Gunners are scared of players running at them. The Seagulls had lost their 3 previous league games. Yet, they were the more threatening side on Thursday, enjoying 50.8% of ball possession and having 20 shots to only 12 for the Gunners.

   The Emirates stadium used to be a fortress, but now the visiting teams are no longer intimidated. Last season, Arsenal had 14 wins, 3 draws and 2 losses in 19 league games at home. This season, the Gunners have already dropped points in 5 home games before even reaching the halfway stage.

Weak in the air

   Ljungberg made 3 changes to the side that drew at Norwich with Torreira, Sokratis and Bellerin replacing Guendouzi, Mustafi and Chambers in the starting lineup. Nothing really clicked. Offensively, Arsenal’s passing game was too slow to crack the Brighton defense. The Seagulls had plenty of time to get back into position. In fact, the Gunners were so predictable that they were caught offside 7 times. Defensively, Brighton exposed the Gunners’ weakness in the air. The Seagulls won 66% of the aerial duels, according to whoscored.com.

   Brighton opened the scoring from a corner in the 36th minute. Burn outjumped Lacazette to head the corner across goal. Connolly chested the ball down only to have his fluffed shot blocked by Luiz. Webster got ahead of Willock to pounce on the rebound and fire past Leno. The Gunners have conceded quite a few goals this season by losing the second ball.

   Arsenal also equalized from a corner. Lacazette made a run to the near post in the 50th to meet Ozil’s corner and send a looping header into the far corner. Brighton capitalized on some poor defending from the Gunners to score the winning goal in the 80th. Burn redirected a long ball toward Trossard on our right flank. Trossard held off Sokratis before slipping the ball to Mooy, who cut inside Bellerin to make a cross for Maupay. The diminutive French striker took a step back to head the ball into the far corner.

A chain reaction of mistakes

   Sokratis made the first mistake on that play. Trossard pulled the Greek defender out of position. There was no danger yet in the Arsenal area as Torreira compensated for the team by covering Sokratis at centerback.

Arsenal vs. Brighton M80a editedTrossard pulls Sokratis out of position. (Photo credit: Sky)

   Xhaka made the second mistake by standing in no man’s land. The Switzerland international didn’t smell the danger and hesitated between keeping an eye on the ball and marking Stephens. With better decision-making, Xhaka would have anticipated Mooy’s run and got in his way.

Arsenal vs. Brighton M80b editedXhaka fails to block Mooy’s run. (Photo credit: Sky)

   The Gunners were in deep trouble from the moment Mooy checked back on his right foot to make a cross. As you can see on the screen capture below, the Seagulls had a favorable 4v3 situation in the final third. Both Sokratis and Xhaka became useless on that play. Sokratis was too far away from the area while Xhaka was not marking anybody. Surprisingly, Bellerin didn’t get the memo that Mooy was right-footed because he left him too much space inside.

Arsenal vs. Brighton M80c edited.jpgThe Seagulls have a favorable 4v3 situation. (Photo credit: Sky)

   Torreira made the last mistake on that play by anticipating a pass to Propper, leaving Luiz in a 1v2 situation. Of course, it’s a chain reaction. Torreira wouldn’t have made that gamble if Sokratis was not out of position and if Xhaka had challenged Mooy.

Arsenal vs. Brighton M80d edited.jpgTorreira leaves Luiz in a 1v2 situation. (Photo credit: Sky)

   Ljungberg played the same front three that started against Norwich with Lacazette leading the line while Ozil and Aubameyang had the freedom to drift from the wings. Again, the Gunners lacked penetration in the final third whether through dribbling or passing. Lacazette, Aubameyang and Ozil combined to have 0 successful dribble. And they were each caught offside twice.

The Ozil issue

   Ozil finished the game with 2 key passes but none came from open play. Some fans didn’t like Ljungberg’s decision to play Ozil in a wide position, even though Wenger also used Ozil on the right wing when he switched to a 3-4-3 formation. At halftime, Ljungberg moved Ozil into the No. 10 position. Despite the tactical change, the German playmaker was still inefficient in the final third. Ozil was dispossessed by Mooy in the Brighton area in the 49th, made a poor pass that led to a counterattack by the Seagulls in the 52nd, and missed the target from 15 yards in the 69th.

   At 31, Ozil is aging badly. He’s nowhere near the level of a Zidane at the same age. Some fans thought that Emery was responsible for Ozil’s poor performances, even claiming that Emery killed Ozil’s creativity and forced him to play cross-field passes to Kolasinac. The reality is that Ozil and Kolasinac are good buddies in real life. On the pitch, Kolasinac will always be an obvious option for Ozil when he checks back on his left foot. Gazidis and Wenger clearly made a mistake by extending Ozil’s contract. Ozil will be a massive headache for any Arsenal manager until his contract ends in 2021.

   Lacazette scored 1 goal and made 2 key passes but really struggled in the centerforward position, leading all players with 5 turnovers according to whoscored.com. On the stroke of halftime, Torreira teed up Lacazette. Instead of attempting a first-time shot, Lacazette made a poor first touch and lost possession. Somehow, Lacazette was saved by his all-around game, setting up Aubameyang for a shot that sailed wide in the 28th and making a cross for Ozil in the 69th. In the physical Premier League, I still believe that Lacazette would feel more comfortable in the role of a second striker or even on a wing.

What about a 4-4-2?

   Aubameyang is the best scorer in the squad. Yet, Wenger, Emery and Ljungberg have all felt the need to play him in a wide position. It’s like Pochettino or Mourinho telling Kane to play on the right wing, that doesn’t really make any sense. Aubameyang sacrificed himself for the team by trying to create chances. His cross for Lacazette in the 39th was cleared by the Brighton defense. The Gabon striker then rounded Burn in the 41st to make a cross for Willock, who headed the ball straight at Ryan. Aubameyang’s only scoring chance of the game came in the 67th. Pepe slipped a through ball to Aubameyang, whose shot was blocked for a corner. If Ljungberg absolutely wants to play both Lacazette and Aubameyang, then a 4-4-2 formation should be his first choice.

   Lacazette, Aubameyang and Ozil started in the front three at kickoff. Ljungberg finished the game with Aubameyang, Martinelli and Pepe in the front three, replacing Willock with Pepe at halftime and Lacazette with Martinelli in the 77th. Pepe had an impact in the final third, feeding Aubameyang in the 67th and testing Ryan in the 83rd. Hopes were high when Pepe took a free kick in the 90th but his effort was deflected wide by the wall. Pepe added more penetration with his pace and dribbling kills. But he’s still too predictable as defenders know that Pepe prefers to check back on his left foot. Pepe had only 2 successful dribbles out of 6, according to whoscored.com.

   Martinelli didn’t get much playing time but he made a significant contribution in the 87th, connecting with a cross from Tierney for a bouncing header that Ryan saved. You have to feel sorry for Martinelli. That mustn’t be easy for a teenager to hone his skills in a new country and a new club in crisis.

Willock learning the hard way

   In midfield, Ljungberg made choices that Emery could have made. Torreira and Xhaka protected the back four while Willock played in a more advanced position. I guess the idea was to use Willock’s mobility and stamina to press Brighton high up the pitch. Of course, the problem was how Willock would then use the ball. The game seemed to go a bit too fast for Willock, whose passing accuracy of 46.2% was the lowest among Arsenal starters. Willock made 0 key pass and had 3 turnovers in 45 minutes. The academy graduate nearly proved Ljungberg right with Arsenal’s best chance from open play in the 41st. Unfortunately, Willock couldn’t guide his header toward the corners of the goal.

   Willock learned the hard way by losing Webster for a split second on the opening goal in the 36th. He also got an idea of Aubameyang’s high expectations in the 45th when he made the wrong pass for the Gabon striker. Out of frustration, Aubameyang yelled at Willock. I think Willock needs to play in a deeper position at this stage of his career. Actually, there’s an audition for the position of ballwinner at Arsenal.

   Surprisingly, Xhaka played as the holding midfielder while Torreira had more freedom to roam forward. That is similar to what Emery did last season. Again, Xhaka is not a defensive midfielder. Brighton’s second goal showed that Xhaka’s defensive instinct is poor. Xhaka was dribbled past twice, the most for any Gunner, while no Seagull skipped past Torreira.

   The Switzerland international tried his best, intercepting Connolly’s pass for Maupay in the 43rd and blocking Maupay’s shot in the 79th. But there were a couple of times when Xhaka put his team in danger by dallying on the ball. Xhaka tried to win a foul in the 38th and grabbed the ball after falling on the ground. The referee penalized Xhaka for handling the ball. In stoppage time, Trossard dispossessed Xhaka and toyed with Sokratis and Luiz before firing over the bar.

Disappointing fullbacks

   Torreira was seen a lot in the final third. From a recycled corner in the 10th, Torreira picked out Luiz, whose diagonal shot was stopped by Ryan. On the stroke of halftime, Torreira teed up Lacazette, who wasted an opportunity by not taking a first-time shot. Torreira also had a scoring chance in the 48th but lost possession with a heavy touch.

   You can understand why Emery was reluctant to play Torreira as a holding midfielder. The Uruguay international missed his headed clearance in the 26th. The ball fell to Maupay, whose angled strike flirted with the far post. Liverpool and Manchester City have holding midfielders (Fabinho, Fernandinho) who could play as centerbacks. Likewise, former Arsenal midfielders Petit, Gilberto and Song could also play as centerbacks. By contrast, Xhaka, Guendouzi and Torreira would be unable to play as decent centerbacks.

   Kolasinac and Bellerin were both disappointing on the flanks. They combined to make 0 key pass. Bellerin probably needs a couple of games to get back to his best. He only won 21.4% of his duels against Brighton. The Spaniard nearly conceded a penalty by holding back Connolly in the 20th. Mooy even managed to dispossess Bellerin in the 30th and the 40th. Bellerin’s only moment of brilliance came in the 55th when he knocked the ball past 2 Seagulls and won the ball back with a sliding tackle in the Brighton area before making an inaccurate cross for Aubameyang.

   Bellerin still worked hard with 10 defensive actions in 96 minutes while Kolasinac’s work-rate was poor with only 4 defensive actions in 70 minutes, according to the club’s website. Kolasinac also had 4 turnovers. Following a high press from the Gunners in the 56th, Kolasinac made a teasing cross for Aubameyang, who couldn’t make contact with the ball. Ljungberg replaced Kolasinac with Tierney in the 72nd. The Scottish fullback created the scoring chance for Martinelli.

Rock-solid Leno

   In the heart of the defense, Luiz and Sokratis both had a poor game. Luiz lost key duels on both Brighton goals and his passing accuracy of 81.4% was poor compared to Sokratis’ passing accuracy of 94.7%. The Brazilian centerback especially struggled in the air, winning only 25% of his aerial duels compared to 67% for Sokratis, 60% for Webster and 67% for Dunk, according to whoscored.com.

   Things didn’t start well for Luiz, who nearly cost his team a goal in the opening minute because of a misunderstanding with Leno. Luiz received a yellow card in the 68th for a cynical foul on Connolly, who was leading a counterattack. Sokratis was also booked for a silly challenge on Connolly near the corner flag on the stroke of halftime. The Greek defender was late for a block in the 33rd and was caught ball-watching in the 61st. Only saves from Leno prevented Sokratis from looking as bad as Luiz.

   If a new manager were to rebuild the Arsenal squad, Leno would probably be the first name on his teamsheet. Leno saved Arsenal from a more humiliating defeat by making 7 saves. The German goalkeeper especially stopped Maupay’s low drive in the 33rd and denied the Brighton striker in the 61st. In the last few months, Leno was arguably the only Gunner who didn’t perform poorly, didn’t behave badly and didn’t spread transfer rumors.

   The season could quickly turn ugly for Arsenal. The club lost leaders during the summer: Cech, Koscielny, Ramsey and Monreal. You need leaders to ride any storm. Unfortunately, the so-called leaders now are Aubameyang, Xhaka, Ozil and Bellerin. Not really the best Sherpas to survive in the Everest region. The Gunners next visit West Ham in the Premier League on Monday before playing Standard de Liège in the Europa League on Thursday. Then it’s a tough schedule with games against the two Manchesters, Everton, Bournemouth and Chelsea. On current form, Arsenal may not even get 3 points from those 6 league games.  

 

Norwich vs. Arsenal: Gunners let down by poor defending in 2-2 draw

   In the first game of the post-Emery era, the Gunners drew 2-2 with Norwich on Sunday to stay 8th in the Premier League, 7 points out of fourth place. Spurs took advantage of Arsenal’s worst start to the season since 1975 to overtake their North London rivals in the standings.

Norwich vs. Arsenal 2019.jpgPhoto credit: Premier League

   The Arsenal board waited too long to make a change. They had the opportunity to sack Emery during the international break of November but decided to back the Spanish manager despite the Gunners’ poor run of form. As a result of that hesitation, Arsenal dropped more points and had no time to interview high-profile managers after firing Emery last Friday. Out of despair, the club promoted Ljungberg to the position of caretaker. Ljungberg obviously knows what are the problems on and off the pitch since he has been Emery’s assistant this season. But he has no experience at the top level as a manager.

   By contrast, Tottenham acted more decisively by dismissing Pochettino during the international break. That quick thinking allowed Spurs to hire a top manager and possibly get back in the Top 4 race. I’m not saying that the Gunners should have signed Mourinho, but they shouldn’t have put themselves in such an awkward position where their hopes of a Europa League spot rest on the shoulders of a novice.  

   Ljungberg lost some credit with his team selection at Carrow Road. In a 4-3-3 formation, the Swedish interim manager relied on the 3 players who have been responsible for Arsenal’s decline in the past couple of seasons: Mustafi, Xhaka and Ozil.

   There were 4 changes to the side that drew with Southampton a week ago with Mustafi, Kolasinac, Xhaka and Willock replacing Sokratis, Tierney, Torreira and Bellerin in the starting lineup. Bellerin and Ceballos were not in the squad because of injury. Ljungberg doesn’t seem to rate Torreira while preferring Kolasinac’s experience to Tierney’s youth. He also thinks that Ozil’s presence is important to create chances for Aubameyang and Lacazette.

Vulnerable on counterattacks

   The Gunners played with a bit more urgency than usual but they still looked like a mid-table team, defending poorly and even lacking creativity. Arsenal’s best chances came from set pieces. Mustafi met a corner in the 10th minute for a header that Hernandez cleared off the line. Then Chambers tested Krul by also heading a corner in the 19th.

   Arsenal won a penalty in the 24th when Zimmermann handled a free kick while challenging Luiz in the air. Krul stopped Aubameyang’s spot kick. But a VAR review ruled that the penalty had to be retaken because of encroachment. Aarons, who cleared the rebound, entered the area before Aubameyang kicked the ball. Aubameyang chose the same side for his second attempt, burying the penalty into the bottom corner to make it 1-1. The Gabon striker leveled again in the 57th. Mustafi connected with a corner from Ozil for a volley that Byram blocked. But Aubameyang pounced on the rebound to fire into the far corner.

   Ljungberg tried to win the game by shifting to a 4-2-3-1 system in the 78th when Saka replaced Guendouzi. In the closing minutes, Ljungberg certainly overestimated his luck with another roll of the dice. He sent on Martinelli for Ozil in the 89th as the Gunners switched to a more daring 4-4-2 formation.

   The fans probably expect Arsenal to play attacking football under Ljungberg. But the Swedish manager’s top priority in the short term will be to shore up the defense. Norwich capitalized on two counterattacks to take the lead twice. In the 21st, the Canaries just needed 2 passes to move the ball from their defensive third to the Arsenal area. Hernandez dispossessed Willock and found McLean in midfield. The Scottish midfielder fed Pukki, whose 18-yard shot took a deflection off Mustafi to beat Leno for the opening goal.

A porous midfield

   The Arsenal midfielders and centerbacks did a poor job on that goal. First, Xhaka and Guendouzi failed to close down McLean, giving him too much time and space to pick the perfect pass.

Norwich vs. Arsenal M21a edited.jpgXhaka and Guendouzi fail to close down McLean. (Photo credit: Sky)

Norwich vs. Arsenal M21b editedMcLean has plenty of time to pick the perfect pass for Pukki. (Photo credit: Sky)

Then Mustafi and Luiz were too passive in a 2v1 situation. One of them should have pressed Pukki but they both backed off, giving the Norwich striker plenty of time and space to pick his spot.

Norwich vs. Arsenal M21c edited.jpgMustafi misses an opportunity to challenge Pukki. (Photo credit: Sky)

Norwich vs. Arsenal M21d edited.jpgBoth Mustafi and Luiz back down. (Photo credit: Sky)

Xhaka rushed back and could have challenged Pukki, but the Switzerland midfielder inexplicably ran past him as if there was a threat on the right flank.

Norwich vs. Arsenal M21e edited.jpgXhaka also has an opportunity to challenge Pukki. (Photo credit: Sky)

Norwich vs. Arsenal M21f editedXhaka chasing a ghost. (Photo credit: Sky)

   Arsenal’s porous midfield was exposed on both Norwich goals. Cantwell’s goal on the stroke of halftime also showed the lack of defensive awareness from Xhaka and Chambers. Playing out from the back, McLean released Hernandez down our right flank. Hernandez squared the ball back to Cantwell, who beat Leno with a curling shot. Chambers failed to mark Hernandez on that play while Xhaka failed to track Cantwell.

Norwich vs. Arsenal M45a edited.jpgChambers is marking Hernandez while Xhaka and Guendouzi are on the same line. (Photo credit: Sky)

Norwich vs. Arsenal M45b edited.jpgHernandez escapes Chambers’ marking, Xhaka makes a half-hearted effort to cover Chambers. (Photo credit: Sky)

Norwich vs. Arsenal M45c edited.jpgXhaka is pulled out of position, Chambers can’t catch Hernandez. (Photo credit: Sky)

Norwich vs. Arsenal M45d editedGuendouzi tracks back to mark McLean, Xhaka fails to mark Cantwell. (Photo credit: Sky)

   Aubameyang and Leno were the best Gunners on Sunday. Leno salvaged a point for his team by making 6 saves. The German goalkeeper tipped McLean’s shot onto the post in the 59th, denied Pukki with a leg save in the 63rd, and parried Aarons’ effort after it took a deflection off Torreira in stoppage time. Of all the signings made under Emery, Leno is the only one who could be considered Top 4 material right now.

Chambers as the weak link

   Sokratis has performed so poorly in recent games that Ljungberg gave Mustafi his first start in the Premier League this season. There was no miracle at Carrow Road. Under any manager, Mustafi will still be a mediocre defender. He lost too many key duels against a team fighting relegation. His passivity on the opening goal was criminal. Mustafi was also pulled out of position when the Canaries played a long ball to McLean in the 14th. Hernandez in the 39th and McLean in the 59th skipped past Mustafi too easily. Pukki got the better of Mustafi before testing Leno in the 63rd. Mustafi was again beaten by Pukki in the 67th and in stoppage time.

   Luiz almost looked like a decent defender compared to Mustafi. No Canary managed to dribble past Luiz. The Brazilian centerback still felt a bit too confident in the 11th and lost possession while dribbling in midfield. The sad truth is that the Gunners have no Van Dijk in their squad. Luiz, Mustafi, Sokratis, Holding, Chambers and Mavropanos are miles away from Van Dijk’s level. Koscielny in his prime was the last world-class centerback at the club.

   In the rightback position, Chambers proved the weak link at the back. He led all players with 3 fouls and his poor technique was reflected in his low passing accuracy of 70.7%, much lower than Kolasinac’s 91.1%, Luiz’s 92.6% and Mustafi’s 87%. All the teams are aware of Chambers’ lack of pace, so it was no coincidence if the Canaries targeted the space behind the English defender. Chambers was pulled out of position for the opening goal and then failed to track Hernandez for Norwich’s second goal. He was also late to block McLean’s drive in the 17th, was beaten by Hernandez in the 55th and was dispossessed on the edge of the Arsenal box by Hernandez in the 84th.

What was Ljungberg thinking?

   The offensive contribution of the Arsenal fullbacks was poor. Chambers and Kolasinac combined to make 0 accurate cross out of 7, according to whoscored.com. Kolasinac still managed to make 1 key pass compared to 0 for Chambers. Defensively, Kolasinac had a decent game. When Norwich played a long ball to McLean in the 14th, Kolasinac ran across the field to cover Mustafi and Chambers and made an important ball recovery. Kolasinac is one of the few players who improved under Emery.

   In midfield, Ljungberg relied on Xhaka and Guendouzi to protect the back four. What was Ljungberg thinking? That idea was a failure under Emery and it was a failure at Carrow Road, too. Both Norwich goals showed the lack of defensive awareness from Xhaka and Guendouzi. They are also among the most sluggish midfielders in the Arsenal squad, so it shouldn’t surprise anybody if Xhaka and Guendouzi struggle so badly to stop counterattacks.  

   Xhaka showed good work-rate with 14 defensive actions (3 tackles, 2 interceptions, 9 recoveries) in the full 90 minutes, compared to just 5 defensive actions each for Guendouzi in 78 minutes and Willock in 70 minutes according to the club’s website. But Xhaka is not a defensive midfielder who can protect the back four. He was dribbled past 3 times, the most for any player according to whoscored.com. The Canaries hit Arsenal on the fast break in the 33rd when Xhaka lost a 50-50 ball to Hernandez. Norwich also had a scoring chance in the 59th when Xhaka dallied on the ball and was dispossessed by Amadou. Xhaka made his best defensive contribution in the 39th, covering Mustafi to clear the danger.

   Guendouzi and Xhaka are kind of similar. Both are utility midfielders who do a bit of everything without excelling at anything in particular. They barely create chances and are not good at defending. Guendouzi made 1 key pass compared to 0 for Xhaka. Cantwell skipped past Guendouzi too easily on a counterattack in the 63rd. And Guendouzi failed to stay with Cantwell in the 72nd when the Norwich midfielder played a one-two with Trybull.

Torreira’s grit

   Playing alongside Xhaka and Guendouzi in a three-man midfield, Willock looked at times lost. Xhaka is an experienced player but I don’t think that Willock will learn anything from the Switzerland midfielder. Willock will have regrets about losing possession to Hernandez on the opening goal. He definitely needs to improve his decision-making in the final third. The academy graduate could have fed Lacazette in the 56th but preferred to dribble and was dispossessed by Amadou.

   Torreira replaced Willock in the 70th and showed his grit by making 5 defensive actions in 24 minutes. The Uruguay international prevented Norwich from scoring in stoppage time by blocking Pukki’s pass for McLean. In the last minute of injury time, Torreira could have scored the winner but Amadou blocked his 17-yard shot.

   The Arsenal midfield is currently a mess for 3 reasons. First, the Gunners lost in the summer their only world-class midfielder. Ramsey brought balance to the team by linking defense and attack. Second, Emery made the mistake of building the midfield around Xhaka, a flawed player. The Gunners desperately need Torreira in front of the back four. Torreira has more pace and defensive awareness than Xhaka or Guendouzi. And third, the club failed to sign a defensive midfielder last summer, preferring to splash the cash on Pepe, who was sitting on the bench against Norwich.

   Some fans were surprised to see Ozil play in a front three alongside Aubameyang and Lacazette. But I thought it was a sensible decision because Ozil’s poor work-rate is a liability in midfield. When Wenger used a 3-4-3 formation, he also played Ozil in a front three. Ozil led all players with 4 key passes, but they all came from set pieces. The German playmaker had very little impact from open play. His best attacking contributions were a backheel flick cleared by a defender in the 80th and a tame effort straight at Krul in the 82nd.

The players can no longer hide

   The Canaries matched Arsenal in terms of end product with 8 shots on target to 7 for the visitors. Despite enjoying 60% of ball possession, the Gunners lacked penetration both through passing and dribbling. It was quite ironic that Chambers led all players with 3 successful dribbles, according to whoscored.com.

   In a fluid front three, Lacazette led the line while Ozil and Aubameyang often swapped positions. Lacazette had a poor game, winning only 21.4% of his duels according to the club’s website. The French striker wasted a scoring chance in the fifth minute, fluffing a close-range shot that Krul palmed wide.

   Aubameyang had less service than Lacazette but made the most of his chances by finding the net twice. The Gabon striker showed nerves of steel to convert his second penalty attempt after Krul saved the first attempt in the 26th. Aubameyang then lived up to his reputation as a fox in the box by pouncing on a second ball for the equalizer in the 57th. Despite a weaker all-around game than Lacazette, Aubameyang tried to help his team from the flanks, setting up Chambers in the ninth minute and Ozil in the 80th.

   Emery took the blame for Arsenal’s poor results. But now that the Spanish manager is gone, the players can no longer hide behind his tactics. The Gunners next host Brighton on Thursday in the Premier League before visiting West Ham on Monday. Emery couldn’t find his best team this season. The challenge for Ljungberg will be to find his best team within a couple of weeks in order to save Arsenal’s season.

 

 

Arsenal vs. Frankfurt: A few thoughts on the 2-1 loss

   The Gunners still lead Group F of the Europa League despite losing 2-1 to Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday. However, they are unlikely to beat Standard de Liege in two weeks with that kind of terrible form. For the first time since 1992, the Gunners haven’t won any of their last 7 games.

   In a half-empty Emirates stadium, Arsenal deserved at least a draw with 11 shots to just 9 for the visitors. The Gunners should have led by 3 or 4 goals at halftime with better finishing. Frankfurt had no clear-cut chance in the first half. But Hutter made 2 halftime substitutions and Arsenal lost the control of the game as the German side played more aggressively and higher up the pitch in the second half.

Arsenal vs. Frankfurt.jpgPhoto credit: Getty Images

   Emery definitely felt the pressure before the match. His starting lineup was a bit stronger than usual for that kind of competition. Luiz and Aubameyang both started although they were not in the squad for the 2 games against Vitoria.

   The game plan of the Spanish manager in the first half was decent. But Emery lost the plot in the second half. He sent a negative signal by replacing Martinelli with Ozil in the 60th minute just after Frankfurt had leveled. By taking off a striker, Emery put less pressure in the final third. He also seemed happy to split the points by sending on a player who could keep the ball.  

   Emery’s last substitution was even more baffling. The Gunners needed a goal after Frankfurt took the lead. Emery replaced Mustafi with Torreira in the 76th despite having Lacazette and Pepe on the bench. Instead of shifting to a 4-4-2 formation, Emery showed a lack of ambition by preferring to stuff the midfield.

   Frankfurt capitalized on the Gunners’ poor defensive setup on set-pieces to score the winner. The Arsenal defense cleared a corner in the 64th but the second ball fell to an unmarked Kamada, who had plenty of time to control the ball and fire into the bottom corner.

   As you can see on the screen capture below, there was no Gunner to patrol the 18-yard line. All the Arsenal players were within 12 yards from their own goal. The only Gunners who didn’t challenge for the first ball, Ozil and Saka, were too far from the 18-yard line to block Kamada’s effort.

Arsenal vs. Frankfurt M64ed.jpg3 Frankfurt players have plenty of space for the second ball. (Photo credit: BT)

   Besides the traditional boos at the final whistle, some Arsenal supporters showed their discontent with ‘Emery Out’ banners. Emery has his share of responsibility in the poor results of the team, but you also have to question the players. From the moment Frankfurt equalized, the Gunners showed familiar signs of mental weakness.

  1. Is Aubameyang wasting his time?

   The Gabon striker opened the scoring on the stroke of halftime by converting a low cross from Martinelli. His only other chance of the game came from a cross by Saka in the 11th. Unfortunately, Willock got in the way of Aubameyang, who headed wide. Aubameyang also made 2 key passes, setting up Saka in the 29th and making a cross for Xhaka in injury time of the first half.

   Deprived of service in the second half, Aubameyang even had to drop off and collect the ball in the leftback position. No wonder that Aubameyang has ended contract talks with Arsenal. The club won’t play Champions League football next season. And the Gunners won’t finish in the Top 4 next season either if they don’t change manager and don’t sign top players.    

  1. Xhaka made his return

   The Switzerland midfielder played for the first time since his infamous tantrum against Crystal Palace. The fans didn’t boo him when he touched the ball. He showed again his limits and what he brings to the team. Xhaka injured his knee in the 43rd when he collided with Sow. But Xhaka managed to shake off that knock and finished the game. Managers like Xhaka in part because he’s a durable player. Xhaka has always made at least 40 appearances per season for Arsenal.

   Of course, the issue with Xhaka is quality. His lack of mobility and his poor defensive awareness have often hurt him in the role of a holding midfielder. Xhaka won 3 of 4 tackles and made 0 interception in 98 minutes, while Luiz won 2 of 3 tackles and won 1 interception in just 30 minutes, according to whoscored.com. In the closing minutes, Xhaka lost his cool and received a yellow card for spiking the ball into the ground after fouling Paciencia.

  1. The Luiz experiment

   Emery doesn’t trust Torreira in the role of a holding midfielder while Xhaka and Guendouzi lack defensive awareness. The Spanish manager surprised the fans by playing Luiz in front of the back four like Mourinho did at Chelsea. Luiz got off to a good start, heading away a dangerous cross from Paciencia in the seventh minute and winning the ball in midfield in the 11th. But he picked up a knock in that 11th-minute duel and had to be replaced by Guendouzi in the 31st. Maybe that injury explains why Luiz’s passing accuracy dipped to 50%, the lowest percentage for any player according to whoscored.com.  

  1. Martinelli had no luck

   The Brazilian teenager could have scored twice. Martinelli pounced on a poor clearance from the Frankfurt defense in the 16th but Ronnow saved his angled volley. A few seconds later, Martinelli met a corner only to have his glancing header cleared off the line by Fernandes. Martinelli showed off his all-around game by creating 2 chances. First, he made the low cross for Aubameyang’s goal. Then, he played Willock clean through on goal in the 48th but a defender blocked Willock’s close-range effort. Martinelli’s work-rate was again outstanding. He won 4 of 5 tackles, according to whoscored.com. Only Guendouzi did better on the Arsenal team by winning 5 of 6 tackles.    

  1. Saka made an impact in the final third

   The academy youngster could have found the net twice. Saka sprinted past Hasebe in the 29th only to be denied by Ronnow. Then he benefited from Willock’s good work on the left flank in the 41st but Ronnow saved Saka’s angled strike. Saka also showed his passing skills by creating the chance that led to the mix-up between Aubameyang and Willock in the 11th. And he created the opening goal with a crossfield pass for Martinelli. The club should work hard to develop Saka because he has more potential than Iwobi at the same age. Saka provides a lot of penetration with his pace and dribbling skills. He had 4 successful dribbles out of 4, according to whoscored.com.

  1. Sokratis was the weak link at the back

   What was the club thinking when they signed Sokratis? The Greek defender loses too many key duels and shows poor positional play. Sokratis had a poor game on Thursday, winning 0 tackle and making 0 interception while Mustafi won 1 tackle and made 3 interceptions. Sokratis put his team in danger by losing possession after dribbling on the edge of the Arsenal area in the 53rd. He also gave the ball away by missing a short pass to Guendouzi in the 63rd. The turnover led to a scoring chance for Frankfurt, but Martinez turned Kostic’s low drive around the post. Sokratis was the main culprit for Frankfurt’s equalizer. As you can see on the screen capture below, Sokratis was 2 yards behind the Arsenal defenders just before Kamada took a pass. The huge gap between Kamada and Sokratis explains why Sokratis was late to block Kamada’s curling shot.

Arsenal vs. Frankfurt M55ed.jpgSokratis is 2 yards behind the other Arsenal defenders. (Photo credit: BT)

Arsenal vs. Southampton: 2-2 draw shows Gunners are a rudderless club

   Lacazette scored twice to salvage a point in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Southampton, but the Top 4 race is over for the Gunners, who trail Leicester and Chelsea by 11 and 8 points respectively in the Premier League.

Arsenal vs. Southampton 2019Photo credit: Premier League

   Stuck in the relegation zone, the Saints only earned 1 point from their 7 previous league games and should have been fodder for Arsenal. Yet, Southampton looked the more threatening team with 21 shots to just 12 for the Gunners. Hasenhuttl certainly had regrets after the match because the Saints had a couple of chances to take a 3-1 lead.

   Let’s not kid ourselves, the Gunners are showing relegation form with 3 draws and 2 losses in their last 5 league games. In the big clubs, most managers would get the sack with such poor results. The Arsenal board had the opportunity to dismiss Emery during the international break but failed to act. Kroenke has no clue on European football and naively believes that Emery can turn things around.

   The Arsenal owner probably follows the advice of Sanllehi, who has a business background. Some fans might mention Sanllehi’s success as director of football at Barcelona. But Guardiola and Begiristain made the key decisions at the Spanish club. And frankly, any director of football would have been successful with the golden generation of Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Pique and Puyol.

   If Sanllehi had been a former professional player, he would have felt that Emery is struggling with his squad. In the short term, the Gunners might lose some money by firing Emery and hiring a caretaker. But if they stick with Emery, they could miss out on a Europa League spot. The transfer budget for next season would then get smaller and the best players may want to leave a club in crisis.

A conservative team selection

   Emery hasn’t lost the dressing room yet. His players still make efforts on the pitch. Arsenal won 60.2% of the duels against Southampton, made 14 interceptions to 13 and 26 tackles to 19, according to the club’s website. The Gunners still follow Emery’s instructions, but the longer this poor run of form continues, and the less the players will listen to him.

   After a year and a half at the club, Emery still doesn’t know what his best team is. That’s a ridiculous situation when you see Rodgers and Lampard needing just a few months to get the best out of Leicester and Chelsea, respectively.

   Emery’s first season at the club was promising to a certain extent as the Gunners reached the Europa League final and finished 5th in the Premier League. But his second season has undermined his credibility. Emery doesn’t seem to understand the potential and limits of his squad. The Spanish manager has relied on limited players (Xhaka, Chambers) while giving less playing time to youngsters with great potential like Willock and Martinelli.

   There’s no doubt that Emery is feeling the pressure because he has tried many lineups in the hope that something would stick. Ironically, the constant tinkering hasn’t really helped the emergence of understandings on the pitch. Emery made 2 changes to the side that lost at Leicester two weeks ago with Tierney and Sokratis replacing Kolasinac and Holding in the starting lineup.

   I thought Emery’s team selection was too conservative for a home game. The Spanish manager opted for a 3-5-2 formation because he didn’t trust his centerbacks to cover Tierney and Bellerin. Wenger also used a back three at the Emirates but the team usually included 4 attacking players: Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez and Welbeck. On Saturday, Emery started with just 3 attacking players: Ozil, Aubameyang and Lacazette.

Poor structure of play

   At halftime, Emery shifted to a 4-2-3-1 system by replacing Chambers with Pepe. Chasing an equalizer in the closing minutes, the Spanish manager threw the kitchen sink at the Southampton defense by switching to some kind of 3-3-3-1 formation with Willock and Martinelli replacing Torreira and Bellerin.

   Lacazette’s late equalizer shouldn’t hide Arsenal’s poor structure of play. The Gunners struggled again to play the ball out from the back. Bellerin’s pass was blocked in the second minute, Sokratis in the 30th and Luiz in the 43rd gave the ball away, and Sokratis was even forced to clear the ball into touch in the 45th.

   In the final third, the Gunners wasted good situations with some poor passing. Aubameyang overhit his final ball for Lacazette in the fourth minute, Lacazette overhit his cross for Aubameyang in the sixth minute, Ozil missed a short pass to Torreira in the 40th, Bellerin missed his cross in the 57th and Guendouzi’s ball over the top in the 62nd lacked accuracy. The chemistry from last season is gone. The fans could see how disjointed the team was.  

   Arsenal earned a point only because of Lacazette’s individual brilliance. The French striker was clinical with 2 goals from 2 shots. Aubameyang controlled a cross from Tierney in the 18th only to have his shot blocked. But the rebound fell to Lacazette, who shielded the ball with his first touch before spinning to fire into the bottom corner. In the sixth minute of stoppage time, Lacazette controlled a cross from Martinelli to flick the ball past Bertrand for the equalizer.

   Besides the two goals, Lacazette produced an outstanding all-around performance. He led all players with 4 successful dribbles out of 7, according to whoscored.com. Lacazette also made 1 key pass, setting up Ozil for a shot that McCarthy tipped over the bar in the 84th. In fact, Lacazette should have finished the game with 2 key passes. He played Pepe clean through on goal in the 53rd, but the Ivory Coast international lacked confidence and preferred to make a pass instead of taking his chance. Bednarek blocked Pepe’s pass for Ozil and the chance was gone.

Lacazette’s aggression

   Lacazette’s work-rate is a great example for youngsters like Saka, Nelson and Martinelli. Playing as a striker is not just about goals. You’re also the first defender when your team presses high up the pitch. Lacazette won the ball in midfield with a sliding tackle in the 35th. He then initiated a counterattack with another ball recovery in the 78th.

   Because Lacazette is not a natural defender, he received a yellow card on the stroke of halftime for a mistimed challenge on Armstrong. Wenger often complained about Walcott’s lack of aggression. It’s actually the opposite with Lacazette, who doesn’t mind doing the dirty work. Lacazette led Arsenal players with 3 fouls.

   Aubameyang didn’t score but he was involved in both goals. His blocked shot led to Lacazette’s first goal. In stoppage time, Aubameyang flicked on Luiz’s long ball for Martinelli, who made the cross for the equalizer. The Gabon striker had a golden opportunity in the 51st. Lacazette played a one-two with Ozil but lost possession with a heavy touch. Aubameyang pounced on the loose ball only to have his effort deflected wide by McCarthy’s leg.

   The Gunners were able to put more pressure on the Southampton defense because they had Pepe and Martinelli on the bench. Pepe made an impact in the second half. He perfectly timed his run in the 53rd to be clean through on goal but failed to test McCarthy. Three minutes later, Pepe met a cross from Tierney for a bouncing bicycle kick that hit the bar. If Pepe had found the net on that play, it would have been a massive boost for his confidence because it would have been his first Arsenal goal from open play.

   Martinelli had 14 minutes to prove himself in a chaotic team. The Brazilian teenager didn’t disappoint. He made his first important contribution in the Premier League by setting up Lacazette for the equalizer. For some reason, Martinelli’s cross didn’t count as an assist. Maybe there was a slight deflection, who knows. In any case, Martinelli’s rise has been the only bright spot in Emery’s second season at the club.

Ozil’s poor work-rate

   Nowadays, communication is a big part of a manager’s job. Emery has been trying to win over the fans by starting Ozil in the No. 10 role. The Spanish manager put Ozil in the best conditions by playing him behind Lacazette and Aubameyang while Torreira and Guendouzi took care of the defensive tasks in midfield.

   Well, that wasn’t enough to get any decent offensive output from Ozil. The German playmaker finished the game with 4 key passes and 3 successful dribbles out of 3, but those stats are misleading. Ozil made no key pass from open play: 2 were corners and 2 were free kicks. Likewise, Ozil made lateral dribbles to check back on his left foot, not penetrative dribbles like Pepe. Even Ozil’s passing accuracy of 75.6% was mediocre by his own standards. He gave the ball away in the 66th and in stoppage time. By contrast, Guendouzi’s passing accuracy reached 91% while Torreira had a passing accuracy of 83.3%.

   Yes, the Gunners lack creativity, but they don’t necessarily need Ozil. The final ball can come from Tierney, Bellerin, Ceballos, Pepe, Martinelli or even Nelson. Defensively, I think the Gunners need 3 hard-working midfielders to limit the number of chances conceded. Ozil’s poor work-rate makes the midfield too porous. He failed to close down Bertrand in the 13th on a throw-in. Ozil only made 3 defensive actions (2 tackles, 1 recovery) compared to 5 for Lacazette (1 tackle, 1 interception, 3 recoveries), according to the club’s website. No wonder the Saints had plenty of time and space in the middle of the park.

   Torreira and Guendouzi did OK in midfield. They led all players with 14 defensive actions each. Emery doesn’t seem to trust Torreira in the role of a holding midfielder. The Uruguay international was yanked off in 83rd while Guendouzi stayed on the pitch. Guendouzi’s lack of defensive awareness is still an issue. In stoppage time, Guendouzi failed to track Djenepo, who missed a tap-in.

The Willock project

   Both Torreira and Guendouzi were involved in the counterattack that led to Southampton’s penalty in the 69th. Obafemi swapped passes with Bertrand before slipping a through ball to Ings, who was pulled back by Tierney. Torreira was in a slightly too advanced position and couldn’t make a challenge on Bertrand anyway because he got booked in the 23rd for a cynical foul on Redmond. On the other hand, Guendouzi failed to stay with Bertrand when he played a one-two with Obafemi. Guendouzi then had the opportunity to kill the fast break in midfield but he refrained from pulling back Bertrand.  

   The Gunners badly miss a defensive midfielder. In a situation of emergency, Arsenal should try to convert Willock into a ballwinner. Willock is a box-to-box player by trade but his work-rate is good enough to become a defensive midfielder. In his 14-minute cameo, Willock made 4 defensive actions (1 tackle, 1 block, 2 recoveries). He perfectly read the play that could have given the Saints a 3-1 lead in the 89th. Willock blocked on the line a goalbound effort from Djenepo. The academy graduate could have also scored in the 85th, but he headed a corner straight at McCarthy.    

   On the flanks, Bellerin and Tierney were in charge of providing the width. Bellerin had a poor game. According to whoscored.com, Bellerin was dribbled past 3 times, the most for any player. The Spaniard was also dispossessed 3 times, the most for any Gunner. And his passing accuracy of 74.4% was relatively low.

Bellerin’s naivety

   Bellerin had arguably a hard time with Bertrand and Redmond patrolling down the right flank. In hindsight, Bellerin must regret his naivety for the opening goal. As you can see on the screen capture below, Bellerin failed to stand in front of the ball to prevent Bertrand from taking a quick free kick.

Arsenal vs. Southampton M08ed.jpgBellerin switches off while the Arsenal centerbacks look in the wrong directions. (Photo credit: Sky)

   On the left flank, Tierney had a more attacking role than Bellerin. The Scottish defender made 2 key passes and 10 crosses compared to 0 key pass and 4 crosses for Bellerin. Tierney created Arsenal’s first goal with his cross for Aubameyang. He also created the chance for Pepe in the 56th.

   Defensively, the fans will only remember Tierney’s foul on Ings for the penalty. Again, that was quite naive from Tierney, knowing that the Premier League is using the VAR system. Tierney also showed his inexperience in the opening minute by losing possession while dallying on the ball.

   But if we leave aside that foul on Ings, Tierney had a good game with 13 defensive actions (1 tackle, 1 block, 1 interception, 10 recoveries) compared to 8 for Bellerin (3 tackles, 1 interception, 4 recoveries), according to the club’s website. In stoppage time, Tierney prevented Southampton from taking a 3-1 lead by blocking Boufal’s close-range shot. At 22, Tierney still has room for improvement and is not the finished product yet. At the same age, Robertson was still honing his skills at Hull City before Liverpool signed him.    

Behaving like a rookie

   In the back three, Chambers, Luiz and Sokratis all looked amateurish for not spotting the unmarked Ings on the opening goal. Chambers never had the level to play for a Top 4 team. Emery is aware of Chambers’ slow first steps. Yet, the Spanish manager somehow thought that Chambers could cope with the pace of Redmond and Obafemi.

   Chambers had a nightmarish first half. He made the foul on Redmond for the quick free kick that led to the opening goal. Then he was pulled out of position in the 11th when the Saints hit Arsenal on the fast break. Chambers also left Ings unmarked in the 14th but the Southampton striker fired over the bar. The icing on the cake was Chambers’ poor work-rate. The English defender only made 3 defensive actions (1 tackle, 2 recoveries) in 45 minutes compared to 14 for Luiz in 97 minutes (4 tackles, 1 block, 2 interceptions, 7 recoveries).

   Luiz was quite busy as the sweeper. Despite his decent performance on Saturday, Luiz is not the answer to Arsenal’s defensive problems. He’s less pro-active than Koscielny because he’s scared of pacy strikers. That makes playing a high defensive line impossible.

   Sokratis may be 31 but he behaved at times like a rookie against Southampton. The Greek defender gave away a cheap free kick in the 20th, received a yellow card for dissent in the 27th, made a foul throw in stoppage time, and even created a big chance for the Saints by dribbling inside his area in the 66th. Soares dispossessed Sokratis but missed his short pass for Obafemi. Sokratis then failed to close down Obafemi on the counterattack that led to the penalty. Boufal also took advantage of Sokratis’ passivity in stoppage time to set up Djenepo. Sokratis finished the game with only 8 defensive actions (2 tackles, 1 interception, 1 block, 4 recoveries).

Timing is everything

   There’s not much that Leno could have done for both Southampton goals. Ings’ strike off the post was quite clinical. And the Arsenal defense let Leno down after the German goalkeeper initially saved Ward-Prowse’s penalty. Leno kept Arsenal in the game by preventing an own goal from Torreira in the 47th and tipping a drive from Redmond over the bar in the 53rd.  

   The Gunners next play Frankfurt in the Europa League on Thursday before visiting Norwich in the Premier League on Sunday. Obviously, the Norwich game is the one that matters. Every point dropped in the Premier League makes Emery’s situation more untenable. According to British newspapers, Emery has until the West Ham game on Dec. 9 to save his job. The Arsenal board would need to act more quickly because the timing for a caretaker looks awful on paper. The Gunners play Manchester City, Everton, Bournemouth, Chelsea and Manchester United after the West Ham game. That’s not the easiest introduction for a new manager.

 

Leicester vs. Arsenal: Emery’s fate in the balance after 2-0 loss

   The Arsenal board members have an important decision to make after the 2-0 loss to Leicester on Saturday. Either they fire Emery in the next few days to salvage the tiny chance of finishing in the Top 4. Or they still believe in Emery and risk letting the rot set in. The international break of November is the only opportunity left to give a new manager at least a week to get familiar with the squad.

Leicester vs. Arsenal 2019Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

   A year ago, the rebuilding process looked promising. In the middle of a 22-game unbeaten run in all competitions, the Gunners had 24 points from 12 Premier League games, trailing Chelsea by 4 points and Spurs by 3 points. Now the hope is almost gone. Emery still doesn’t know what his best team is. The Gunners have won only 1 of their last 7 games in all competitions. Their run of form is so poor that they have just 17 points from 12 Premier League games, trailing Leicester and Chelsea by 9 points.

   Emery made 3 changes to the side that drew with Wolverhampton a week ago with Holding, Kolasinac and Bellerin replacing Sokratis, Tierney and the injured Ceballos in the starting lineup. The Spanish manager opted for a counterattacking approach with a 3-4-3 formation. In the back three, Luiz played as the sweeper alongside Chambers and Holding. In midfield, Emery had his hands tied by Xhaka, who made himself unavailable for selection.

   Emery hoped that the duo formed by Torreira and Guendouzi could protect the Arsenal defense. But Leicester completely outplayed the Gunners with 19 shots to just 8 for the visitors. The scoreline at halftime was misleading. The Foxes had several good situations in the first half but either lacked accuracy in the final ball or were let down by some poor finishing.

A soft center

   The Foxes especially exposed Arsenal’s soft midfield. On paper, the Gunners had quality in the middle of the park. Torreira’s passing accuracy reached 97.2%, compared to 94.9% for Ozil and 93.6% for Guendouzi, according to whoscored.com. The Leicester midfielders had weaker passing stats: Ndidi had a passing accuracy of 90.0% compared to 88.3% for Maddison and 77.4% for Tielemans. But the Foxes had more end product as Ndidi, Tielemans and Maddison combined to make 7 key passes, compared to just 2 key passes for Ozil, Guendouzi and Torreira.    

   Leicester bullied the Gunners in midfield because Ndidi, Tielemans and Maddison worked much harder than Torreira, Guendouzi and Ozil. The Leicester trio combined to make 37 defensive actions (12 tackles, 1 block, 5 interceptions, 19 recoveries) while Torreira, Willock, Guendouzi and Ozil combined to make just 23 defensive actions (7 tackles, 1 block, 2 interceptions, 13 recoveries), according to the club’s website. Basically, the Foxes played as if they had an extra man in midfield.

   Most of the Foxes’ chances came through the middle because they saw Arsenal’s soft center as a weakness. The Leicester wide players (Chilwell, Pereira, Barnes and Perez) combined to have just 3 key passes while Vardy, Maddison, Tielemans and Ndidi combined to have 9 key passes. It was no coincidence if the Foxes smashed the heart of the defense to score both goals.

   Wenger would have been intellectually pleased by the opening goal. Leicester relied on one-touch passing in the 68th minute to crack a static Arsenal defense. Pereira picked out Barnes, who flicked the ball into the path of Tielemans. The Belgium midfielder made a first-time pass to Vardy, who beat Leno with a low strike. Guendouzi failed to track Tielemans on that play while Chambers poorly marked Vardy.

   The Foxes doubled the lead in the 75th when Ndidi dribbled past Guendouzi to find Pereira. The Portuguese fullback had plenty of time to slip the ball to Vardy, who teed up Maddison for a 20-yard shot into the bottom corner. Holding failed to close down Pereira on that play while Chambers was not tight enough to Vardy.    

Unable to play out from the back

   The Gunners are regressing under Emery. Last season, they showed in some games that they could play the ball out from the back. Think of the spectacular goals against Fulham and Leicester. That tactical ploy is no longer working this season. Saturday’s game was no exception. Arsenal badly struggled to move the ball out from their defensive third.

   The Foxes forced numerous turnovers by pressing high up the pitch. Luiz in the 11th, Chambers in the 69th and 77th, Bellerin in the 9th and 26th and Kolasinac in the 34th all gave the ball away. Even Leno was under pressure and had to clear the ball into touch in the 21st and 58th.

   To evade Leicester’s high press, the Arsenal defense tried to bypass the midfield with long balls. Luiz, Holding and Chambers combined to kick 27 long balls, while Leicester centerbacks Evans and Soyuncu combined to kick only 6 long balls, according to whoscored.com. As you can guess, the Foxes won most of those long balls because the Gunners no longer have a target man like Giroud or Welbeck.

   I thought Emery didn’t put his team in the best conditions to play out from the back. Starting Kolasinac on the left flank made no sense since Tierney has better ball-playing abilities. On the right flank, Bellerin needed a bit of time to get used again to the pace of the Premier League. The Spanish fullback was making his first Premier League appearance this season and had not played since Oct. 30. Emery could have helped Bellerin by giving him some playing time against Vitoria on Wednesday.

   In the back three, playing Chambers was a weird choice. Chambers has limited ball-playing abilities like Sokratis. If Emery was serious about building play from the back, a back four with Tierney, Holding, Luiz and Bellerin would have been more logical.

Chambers’ slow first steps

   Obsessing with playing out from the back is a luxury when the staff can’t even get the defensive basics right. Vardy was always going to be a poor matchup for Chambers. The English defender has slow first steps and will therefore often lose key duels.

   For both goals, Chambers was never tight enough to Vardy because he was scared of his pace. As a defender, you leave a gap to give yourself enough time to react. The trouble is that Chambers was too far to block Vardy’s shot on the opening goal. And he was again too far to have a chance of intercepting Perreira’s pass to Vardy on the second goal. Chambers also lost another key duel in the 44th when Barnes outjumped him to head Chilwell’s cross wide.

   Playing on the left side of the back three, Holding had a poor game. Perez got the better of Holding in the 17th but his cross lacked accuracy. Then Holding failed to track Perez, who couldn’t find any Foxes with his teasing cross in the 29th. Gray, who replaced Perez in the 60th, made a run in behind Holding in the 65th to square the ball back for Maddison, who missed his first touch. Holding was guilty on the second goal as he failed to close down Pereira. The English defender also showed poor judgment in the 23rd by taking on 3 Foxes and losing possession. Fortunately, Vardy couldn’t find Barnes with his cross.      

   Luiz almost had a decent game compared to Chambers and Holding. He won the ball in midfield in the 51st and intercepted Vardy’s pass for Barnes in the 55th. In fact, his work-rate was surprisingly good with 11 defensive actions (1 tackle, 1 interception, 9 recoveries) compared to 10 for Holding (1 tackle, 3 interceptions, 6 recoveries) and 10 for Chambers (2 tackles, 1 block, 7 recoveries), according to the club’s website. But Arsenal’s poor defensive performance shows that Luiz is not the organizer that this team desperately needs.

Bellerin’s offensive contribution

   Both Bellerin and Kolasinac played as wingbacks but they had different roles. Bellerin had a more attacking role and helped create chances with his runs or crosses in the 7th, 14th and 35th. The Spaniard also took his chance in the 53rd with a powerful strike that sailed over the bar. He was booked in the 88th for a cynical foul on Vardy.

   Kolasinac was more focused on his defensive duties. He made 11 defensive actions (3 tackles, 1 interception, 7 recoveries) compared to just 4 for Bellerin (2 tackles, 1 block, 1 recovery). His hands were obviously full with Perez and Pereira threatening on our left flank. Kolasinac eased Pereira off the ball in the 19th and won a tackle against Perez in the 29th. But he also failed to block a dangerous cross from Perez in the 33rd.

   Somehow, Kolasinac had 2 opportunities to make an offensive contribution. He showed poor decision-making in the 27th by having a shot blocked instead of making a cross to Aubameyang or Lacazette. The Bosnia-Herzegovina then led a counterattack in the 55th and made a low cross for Aubameyang who flicked the ball home. However, the goal was disallowed because Aubameyang was a few inches ahead of the ball.

   Leno could not be blamed for the goals. He prevented a heavier defeat by making 5 saves. The German goalkeeper rushed outside his area in the seventh minute to beat Vardy to a long ball and make a headed clearance. Leno also stopped Gray’s low drive in the 66th and parried Vardy’s powerful strike in the 72nd. He still gave his team a scare with a poor first touch in the 21st.

Emery’s mistakes in midfield

   Arsenal’s defensive problems will continue this season because they have a soft center. Imagine the two centerbacks and the two central midfielders forming a square on the pitch. That square is like a bullseye for the opposition because it is incredibly soft. Chambers, Holding, Luiz and Sokratis are nowhere near the level of a Koscielny in his prime. In midfield, Xhaka, Guendouzi, Torreira, Willock, Ozil and Ceballos provide little protection to the defense.

   Emery already made a mistake this season by building his midfield around Xhaka. Now he seems to believe that Guendouzi could be the alternative to Xhaka’s absence. Good luck with that. Guendouzi was dribbled past 3 times and dispossessed 3 times, the most for any Gunner according to whoscored.com.

   The French midfielder nearly gave away a penalty by pulling back Soyuncu in the 10th. His positional play in the 49th was poor. Guendouzi opted to cover Torreira on the left flank instead of marking Ndidi, who pounced on Tielemans’ cutback to rattle the bar from 12 yards. For the first goal, Guendouzi showed poor defensive awareness by failing to track Tielemans. For the second goal, he failed to challenge Ndidi in midfield.

   As evidence of Arsenal’s impotence in midfield, Torreira only made 4 defensive actions in 79 minutes (1 tackle, 1 interception, 2 recoveries) compared to 8 defensive actions for Guendouzi (1 block, 1 interception, 6 recoveries). Torreira and Guendouzi were not lazy. Their defensive stats were weak because they chased shadows in midfield. The only bright light was Willock’s performance. Willock came off the bench to replace Torreira in the 80th. The academy graduate managed to make 6 defensive actions (3 tackles, 3 recoveries) in his 14-minute cameo.

A three-man midfield

   What could be done to improve that midfield? To find the answer, you just need to look at Liverpool and Leicester: they both rely on three hard-working midfielders in the engine room. The Reds have Fabinho, Henderson and Wijnaldum while the Foxes played with Ndidi, Tielemans and Maddison. If you don’t have any Gilberto Silva or Vieira, then you must compensate with work-rate. That means Torreira, Willock, Ceballos and Guendouzi would fight for those 3 spots.

   I would build the midfield around Torreira even though he’s far from his 2018 level. Torreira made 3 fouls, was dribbled past 2 times and dispossessed twice. He was too easily beaten by Tielemans in the 49th and failed to mark Maddison in the 65th. Yet, I don’t think Emery has a choice. Torreira is more experienced than Guendouzi, Ceballos and Willock. He also shone with Uruguay in the role of a holding midfielder at the last World Cup. The manager must simply stop tinkering and use Torreira in his best position.

   There’s no room for Ozil in a three-man midfield. If he plays, that must be in the front three. That’s how Wenger used Ozil when he switched to a 3-4-3 formation. Wenger also used attacking midfielders like Pires, Rosicky and Cazorla in wide positions.

   Defensively, Ozil was a liability at the King Power stadium. Ndidi and Maddison had too much freedom in the first half to pull the strings in midfield. Pereira in the 29th and Evans in the 44th too easily ran past Ozil. The German playmaker made more efforts in the second half but his work-rate was still below what Ceballos usually gives. Ozil failed to track Tielemans in the 65th and finished the game with just 4 defensive actions (2 tackles, 2 recoveries).

Creating understandings

   Emery’s gamble didn’t pay off. The Spanish manager probably hoped that Ozil could make the difference in the final third. But Ozil’s impact was limited with 0 shot and 1 key pass. By contrast, Maddison had 2 of 4 shots on target and made 3 key passes and 12 defensive actions (3 tackles, 9 recoveries).

   Ozil made a poor impression in the opening minutes. He missed the ball when Aubameyang made a cross in the 7th. Then Ozil gave the ball away with a sloppy pass to Torreira in the 9th. His only key pass came from a rebound in the 20th. Ozil made a short pass to Lacazette, who dragged his shot toward Schmeichel. His best contribution of the game came in the 55th when he spotted Kolasinac’s run down the left flank. Ozil made the penultimate pass for Aubameyang’s disallowed goal.

   Yes, the Gunners lack creativity. But Ozil may not be the answer. The Reds play without any playmaker. Yet, they create a lot of chances. It’s all about creating those understandings all around the pitch. Alexander-Arnold, Henderson and Salah combine well on the right flank for Liverpool just like Robertson, Wijnaldum and Mane have a good understanding on the left flank.

   Last season, Bellerin, Ramsey and Lacazette struck a good understanding on the right flank for Arsenal while Kolasinac and Iwobi combined well on the left flank. Ramsey and Iwobi are gone. Emery still hasn’t found similar combinations on the training ground. The Gunners definitely miss Ramsey’s movement, work-rate and vision. He was an important link player connecting defense and attack. Willock and Nelson could take on that role but they are young, which means inconsistent performances.  

Missing out on a European spot?

   Arsenal’s best chances mostly involved Bellerin, Lacazette and Aubameyang. The Gabon striker sacrificed himself for the team by creating 3 chances. Aubameyang made a teasing cross in the 7th. Ozil missed the ball, but Lacazette managed to make contact with the ball for a flick that Pereira deflected wide. Aubameyang picked out Lacazette with another cross in the 20th. Lacazette had his shot blocked again by Pereira.

   The complicity between Aubameyang and Lacazette was reflected in Arsenal’s best move of the game in the 35th. The French striker tried to set up Bellerin by cushioning Aubameyang’s cross but his touch was slightly too heavy to place the ball in Bellerin’s stride. Aubameyang thought he had a golden opportunity in the 62nd when he controlled a ball over the top, but Pereira cleared the danger before Aubameyang could pull the trigger. Lacazette certainly had regrets about not converting 1 of his 4 shots. I thought he could have done better when he curled a shot wide in the 14th or when he failed to test Schmeichel in the 20th.

   The Gunners won’t play until Nov. 23 when they host Southampton in the Premier League. The board would take a huge risk by sticking with Emery. Arsenal won’t finish in the Top 4 with the Spanish manager because he doesn’t seem to understand the limits and potential of his squad. The Gunners will even miss out on a Europa League spot with this poor form. That would mean a significant loss of money for the club and therefore a smaller transfer budget for next season. The club would also struggle to keep their best players. Changing of manager in the middle of the season is never fun, but the board’s passivity could seriously turn Arsenal into a mediocre club.  

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

   Arsenal missed an opportunity to secure qualification for the knockout phase of the Europa League by conceding a late goal in the 1-1 draw with Vitoria on Wednesday. In itself, the result is not disastrous. The Gunners still lead Group F and will probably finish first. What is more worrying is the bigger picture. It has become painful to watch this Arsenal team play. If we except the frantic League Cup game against Liverpool, the Gunners haven’t produced any decent performance since the beginning of October and the 4-0 win over Standard de Liège.

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

   Emery made 8 changes to the side that drew with Wolverhampton last weekend with only Ceballos, Tierney and Sokratis retaining their starting spots. In a 3-4-3 formation, Arsenal lacked creativity and enjoyed 65% of sterile possession. Mustafi, Sokratis and Holding led all players with 91, 80 and 79 passes, respectively. The Gunners only had 7 shots compared to 15 for the Portuguese side.

   The fans had to wait until the 23rd minute to see Arsenal’s first goal attempt, a header over the bar by Holding. Because of the lack of creativity, the Gunners’ few chances came from set pieces. Mustafi met a corner from Pepe in the 62nd but missed the target with his header. The German defender made amends in the 80th by heading Pepe’s free kick into the bottom corner.

   You’d think it was game over but Arsenal panicked again, allowing Vitoria 4 chances in the closing minutes. The Gunners came away with a point because Vitoria converted only 1 of those 4 chances. There’s no doubt that the Gunners have some serious mental issues. This is the fourth straight game in which they have blown the lead.

  1. The quality of the final ball was poor

   It’s very difficult to create chances if your final ball lacks accuracy. Tierney overhit his cross in the third minute, Saka wasted a counterattack with a poor cross two minutes later, Martinelli missed his pass for Saka in the 39th, Saka played the ball behind Pepe in the 52nd, and Martinelli failed to find Saka with a cross in the 57th. Poor technique might be the reason for some of those inaccurate final balls. But the inefficiency in the final third could also be explained by a lack of understanding between the players. Which begs the question: what are they doing on the training ground? Why is there such a lack of chemistry on the pitch?

  1. Winning the second ball is important

   In terms of talent, Vitoria may be no match for Arsenal but they compensated with more focus and more desire. That’s what the second ball is all about. In the 90th, Rochinha made a cross for Duarte, who got the better of Holding to cushion the ball for Bonatini. The Vitoria substitute beat Sokratis to the second ball but fired over the bar from 12 yards. A minute later, Holding failed to block a cross from Edwards. Rochinha lurked behind Maitland-Niles to head the ball back across goal. Duarte reacted more quickly than Sokratis, Holding and Tierney to pounce on the second ball and find the net with a bicycle quick. Vitoria could have scored the winner in the third minute of stoppage time when Lacazette headed a corner into the path of Rochinha, whose volley sailed wide of the far post.

  1. Holding is regressing

   The English defender seemed to improve under Emery last season. But since his return from a knee injury, Holding hasn’t really been convincing. He lost too many duels against Vitoria, leading all players with 3 fouls. Holding struggled to cope with Edwards’ pace. He was pulled out of position in the 49th, forcing Ceballos to chase Edwards down our left flank. Was that play the reason for Ceballos’ hamstring injury? Holding also gave the ball away in the 59th and 69th and ruined an Arsenal counterattack by pulling back Evangelista in the 66th.    

  1. Maitland-Niles loves his necklace

   The laws of football forbid any kind of jewellery. Yet, Maitland-Niles tried to negotiate with the linesman and the referee in the 17th before finally removing his necklace. I understand that the hip-hop culture is popular among some players but Maitland-Niles’ attitude was unprofessional and spoke volumes about his priorities. Maitland-Niles needs to work harder on the training ground because his technique is poor. He lost possession with a poor touch in the third minute, made a sloppy pass to Pepe in the ninth, and sent a pass into touch in the 28th. Vitoria managed to create chances at the end of the game in great part because Rochinha got the better of Maitland-Niles.      

  1. The offside trap didn’t work

   That was a strange call from Emery to implement the offside trap on Vitoria free kicks. Emery seemed to fear the aerial threat of Tapsoba, Venancio and Duarte. But his ploy nearly backfired because they were often played onside and left unmarked. Tapsoba had a free header that Martinez saved in the 19th. Then Venancio missed the target with another free header in the 31st.

Arsenal vs. Wolverhampton: Gunners drop more points in Top 4 race

   Home form was what kept Arsenal in the Top 4 race last season. But the Gunners have become vulnerable at the Emirates stadium lately, blowing leads to draw with Crystal Palace a week ago and with Wolverhampton on Saturday. They now trail Chelsea by 6 points in the Premier League and could drop out of the Top 4 race by the end of November with that kind of poor form.

Arsenal vs. Wolves 2019Photo credit: Premier League

   Emery made 2 changes to the side that drew with Palace, replacing Xhaka and Pepe with Ozil and Torreira in the starting lineup. The Spanish manager took no risk by leaving Xhaka out of the squad and giving the armband to Aubameyang. It looked like a Wengeresque 4-4-2 formation with 2 attacking midfielders (Ozil, Ceballos) and 2 strikers (Aubameyang, Lacazette).

   The Gunners struggled to create chances. They enjoyed 58% of ball possession but had only 10 shots compared to 25 for Wolves. The main tactical problem with a diamond midfield is the lack of width. In theory, the fullbacks compensate by roaming forward. But Chambers and Tierney were too busy with Jota and Traore.

   Emery previously relied on Pepe and Saka for penetration through dribbling. On Saturday, Emery opted for penetration through passing, hoping that Ozil and Ceballos could provide some decent service to Aubameyang and Lacazette. That tactical choice nearly paid off in the first half.

   From a set piece in the 21st minute, Luiz made a low cross for Lacazette, who controlled the ball to set up Aubameyang. The Gabon striker opened the scoring by shooting past Patricio with a first-time effort from 10 yards.

   Despite the mediocre performance, Arsenal had a couple of opportunities to lead 2-0. The Wolverhampton defense poorly cleared a cross from Chambers in the 25th. The loose ball fell to Torreira, whose low strike was parried by Patricio. Then Ceballos teed up Lacazette in the 32nd. With his weaker left foot, Lacazette hit a first-time shot from 16 yards that was well placed but lacked power to beat Patricio.

A caretaker manager?

   We’re in November and Emery still doesn’t know what his best team is. Emery has no real excuse because if we except Nelson, all the players are available. You look at Chelsea and Leicester and you can tell that Lampard and Rodgers definitely know what their best teams are. That’s a dangerous situation for Emery because players can smell when a manager doesn’t know what he’s doing or when he doesn’t bring the best out of his squad.

   Emery hasn’t lost the dressing room yet. You can see that the players are still making efforts on the field. They haven’t downed their tools like Leicester with Ranieri in 2016 or like Chelsea with Mourinho in 2015. However, Kroenke, Sanllehi and Edu will have some tough calls to make during the international break of November. If they desperately want to stay in the Top 4 race, they might sign a caretaker manager like Arteta. But if they still believe in Emery and can afford to miss out on a Top 4 spot again, then they will get rid of Emery at the end of the season.

   Nowadays, the Gunners are not fun to watch. They struggle badly in possession and feel more comfortable on the fast break. Under Emery, they have failed to impose their game at home this season. Wolves occupied Arsenal’s half in the opening minutes, mustering 5 shots in the first 10 minutes. The Gunners’ first goal attempt only came in the 16th with a blocked shot from Ceballos.

   Wolves showed more desire on Saturday, winning 55.4% of the duels and making 16 interceptions to only 6 for Arsenal, according to the club’s website. The Gunners lost the control of the game in the second half like they did against Bournemouth. Was it because of Emery’s substitutions? Or were the substitutions a consequence of the team’s difficulties?

Lack of leadership

   Emery shifted to a 4-3-3 formation in the 60th by replacing Lacazette with Martinelli. I guess the aim was to pin back Wolverhampton wingback Jonny with Martinelli playing on the right wing and Ozil moving to the left wing. When Jonny moved to our left flank after Vinagre replaced Doherty in the 71st, Emery shifted to a 4-2-3-1 formation by sending on Saka for Torreira in the 73rd. Taking out Torreira was a strange choice because Arsenal finished the game with a more attacking lineup.

   Arsenal let Wolves equalize in the 76th by switching off for a couple of seconds. Moutinho made a run in behind Ceballos to receive a throw-in and make a cross for Jimenez, who outjumped Sokratis and Chambers to beat Leno with a downward header.

   The Gunners have surrendered the lead in their last 3 games. Inevitably, people will question the mental toughness of the team. One possible explanation is the departure of key players in the summer. Koscielny and Ramsey were leaders on the pitch. Luiz and Sokratis are no leaders at the back just like Xhaka, Guendouzi, Torreira and Ozil are no leaders in midfield.  

   Aubameyang deserves to wear the armband because of his consistent level of performance. Xhaka might be a popular player in the dressing room, but a more important criterion for the captaincy is how good you are on the pitch. Aubameyang scored his 50th goal for Arsenal on Saturday, finishing the game with 2 of 3 shots on target. He chased a ball over the top from Luiz in the 18th but could only manage a tame effort from a tight angle that Patricio saved.

   Lacazette and Aubameyang are a proven tandem. They are complementary because they have different qualities. While Aubameyang is a pure centerforward blessed with pace, Lacazette is a second striker with a better all-around game.

Building the team around Ozil?

   The French striker made the assist for Aubameyang’s goal and led Arsenal players with 3 key passes, all from open play. Besides his tame shot in the 32nd, Lacazette could have scored in the 53rd. Aubameyang led a counterattack down the left wing and found Ozil with a backheel flick. The German playmaker picked out Lacazette, who scooped his shot over the bar from 18 yards.

   Lacazette also showed some good work-rate, making 1 tackle, 1 interception and 5 recoveries in 59 minutes, according to the club’s website. Why Emery replaced Lacazette with Martinelli in the 60th is a mystery. Did Lacazette pick up a knock? It couldn’t be a stamina issue because Lacazette didn’t even play against Liverpool in the League Cup. Lacazette and Aubameyang have struck a great understanding both under Wenger and Emery. If Emery needed a goal, he just had to stick with that partnership until the end of the game.    

   In midfield, Ozil played in the Premier League for the first time since the Watford game in mid-September. Surprisingly, Emery compromised in his approach and built the team around Ozil with a Wengeresque 4-4-2 formation. Ozil had two passing targets with Aubameyang and Lacazette and was surrounded by midfielders (Torreira, Ceballos, Guendouzi) who could do the hard work for him.

   Ozil’s performance was a mixed bag. Yes, he brought more fluency to Arsenal’s passing game, leading all players with 95 passes. But his impact in the final third was limited with 0 shot and 3 key passes (2 from corners, 1 from open play). I think Ozil can make a significant contribution in some games where the Gunners dominate ball possession. But I don’t think that Ozil will solve our midfield problems.

A selfless Ceballos

   Implementing a high press with Ozil is a challenge for any manager because of his poor work-rate. Arsenal tried to press high up the pitch in the 14th but Ozil was slow to close down and Wolves easily beat the press. Ozil made only 5 defensive actions (5 recoveries) compared to 11 defensive actions (4 tackles, 1 block, 1 inter, 5 recoveries) for Ceballos, according to the club’s website. If Emery wants to stay true to his ideas, then he should play Ceballos in the No. 10 role to lead the high press like Ramsey did last season.    

   Some fans will only remember Ceballos’ lapse of concentration for the equalizer. But that would be unfair because Ceballos worked hard for the team. As a selfless player, Ceballos covered his teammates in the 37th, playing in a deeper position than Torreira and Guendouzi. The Real Madrid loanee even won a tackle inside the Arsenal box in the 43rd. Offensively, Ceballos seemed to have developed an understanding with Lacazette, who set up the Spaniard for a blocked shot in the 16th. Ceballos returned the favor in the 32nd.    

   While Ceballos played on the left side of the diamond midfield, Torreira was positioned on the right side. Emery has mostly used Torreira as a box-to-box player this season. I don’t think it is Torreira’s best position. The Uruguay international had 1 of 2 shots on target and made 0 key pass. He took a pass from Lacazette in the 20th for an angled strike that was deflected out by Coady. Then Torreira should have scored in the 25th when the Wolverhampton defense made a poor clearance.

Guendouzi’s limits

   Torreira’s technical stats were good with a passing accuracy of 95.8%, compared to 92.1% for Ceballos, 89.5% for Ozil and 87.7% for Guendouzi. However, his defensive stats were weak with just 2 defensive actions (1 block, 1 recovery) in 72 minutes. We are very far from Ramsey’s impact when he played alongside Xhaka or Arteta in central midfield. If Emery needs a box-to-box player, Willock would be a better fit than Torreira.      

   In the role of the holding midfielder, Guendouzi showed his limits. His work-rate was outstanding with 15 defensive actions (3 tackles, 1 block, 2 interceptions, 9 recoveries). But his weaknesses in that position were quite glaring. Guendouzi led all players with 6 turnovers and was dribbled past twice, according to whoscored.com. By contrast, Torreira had 0 turnover and no Wanderer managed to skip past him.

   Emery is trying to turn Guendouzi into Fabregas or Cazorla. I’m sorry but that’s unrealistic. Guendouzi simply doesn’t have their vision and skills. The French midfielder was dispossessed in the eighth minute because he waited too long to slip the ball to Ozil. Likewise, he could have fed Ceballos with his second touch in the 10th but preferred to hold onto the ball before giving it away with his fourth touch. As a pacesetter, Guendouzi does not move the ball quickly enough. He often takes too many touches because he doesn’t read the game well enough.  

   At the back, the Gunners struggled in the air. Luiz won 0 of 2 aerial duels, Sokratis 1 of 3, Chambers 2 of 6 and Tierney 2 of 3, according to whoscored.com. So it was not a surprise that Wolves equalized with a header.

Tierney looking comfortable at leftback

   Chambers had a poor game with 5 turnovers. The English rightback made 9 defensive actions and won only 36.8% of his duels, according to the club’s website. He badly struggled against Jota. The Wolverhampton forward ran past Chambers in the 42nd to cut the ball back for Doherty, whose shot was parried by Leno. Tierney was late for the block on that play. Then Jota bullied Chambers to win a high ball on the stroke of halftime before shooting wide. Chambers was also lucky not to get booked for a cynical foul on Jota in the seventh minute.

   On the opposite flank, Tierney is looking more and more comfortable in the Arsenal team. He had 0 turnover, made 11 defensive actions and won 71.4% of his duels. The only blemish in Tierney’s performance was the poor quality of his delivery with 0 of 4 accurate crosses. Marking the quick Traore proved an exhausting task for Tierney, who had to be replaced by Kolasinac in the 87th.

   In the heart of the defense, Sokratis did OK until that key duel he lost on the equalizer. The Greek defender made 10 defensive actions (1 tackle, 6 blocks, 3 recoveries) and won 50% of his duels, while Luiz made 6 defensive actions (3 blocks, 3 recoveries) and won only 20% of his duels. Frankly, it’s disheartening to see the Arsenal defense rest on the shoulders of those players, much weaker than Koscielny in his prime. Luiz fouled Jimenez from behind in the 15th and gave the ball away in the 44th.

   The only bright light at the back was Leno. The German goalkeeper salvaged a point by making 7 saves. He palmed away Neves’ shot in the 49th and won his duel with Jota in the 90th as Sokratis was pulled out of position and Luiz was backing off. I thought Leno should have refrained from playing the ball out from the back in the 57th and 58th when the situation was too risky.    

   The Gunners next face Vitoria in the Europa League on Wednesday before visiting Leicester in the Premier League on Saturday. Let’s not kid ourselves: Arsenal will virtually drop out of the Top 4 race with a defeat against the Foxes. More and more fans are calling for Emery’s sacking, but there’s a bigger issue the club has to deal with now.  

The Xhaka snafu

   Xhaka still hasn’t been stripped of the captaincy for his disrespectful behavior against Palace. Emery left him out of the squad for the Wolverhampton game, but the question of the armband will be raised again the next time Xhaka is in the squad. The board and the staff shouldn’t underestimate the damage Xhaka has created with his antics.

   Many fans were not happy with Xhaka’s non-apology on his Instagram account. Xhaka has basically refused to take responsibility for his actions against Palace. Instead, he blamed online trolls for his behavior on the pitch.

   Of course, online abuse is despicable and unacceptable. But nowadays most players get that kind of abuse on social media platforms. Yet, most players don’t react like Xhaka did. I mean, you don’t see players throwing the armband and the shirt to the ground or taunting and insulting the fans in a stadium after reading a nasty comment on Twitter or Instagram. It definitely wouldn’t have happened with Adams, Vieira and Henry.    

   Another problem with Xhaka’s explanation is that it looks like blame-shifting. Fans at the Emirates stadium booed Xhaka but they didn’t insult or threaten his family. Players like Sterling and Rashford have suffered real abuse in a stadium. Yet, they showed more self-control and dignity than Xhaka. So what does that incident say about Xhaka’s mental weakness?  

   Xhaka could have put an end to that mess of his own making by showing humility and repentance. But he failed to acknowledge in his Instagram message the petulance and arrogance he displayed in the Palace game. Instead, Xhaka sounded like someone putting himself before the team.

   There’s a serious risk that the fans will boo Xhaka again the next time he’s on a pitch. The board and the staff should protect the values of the club by officially stripping Xhaka of the captaincy. Remember, Gallas lost the armband for less than that. Emery has been reluctant to do it because he’s scared of losing the dressing room. There’s also the possibility that Xhaka could take the team down in his fall. Maybe the best outcome is a transfer in the January window as suggested by West Ham captain Noble in the Evening Standard. Xhaka would get a fresh start elsewhere while Arsenal could reinvest the money in the signing of a better midfielder.