Tag Archives: Ramsey

Manchester United vs. Arsenal: Holding, Ramsey injured in 2-2 draw

In a physical contest, Arsenal drew 2-2 with Manchester United on Wednesday to slip to 5th place in the Premier League, two points behind Spurs. I have mixed feelings over the result. On the one hand, the Gunners extended their unbeaten run to 20 games in all competitions. They’ve also improved against the Big 6, defeating Tottenham and drawing with Liverpool and Manchester United after losing to Chelsea and Manchester City in August. On the other hand, Arsenal missed an opportunity to get three points against a team short on confidence and creating very little from open play. The Red Devils had one more day of rest than Arsenal but that should not be an excuse because Spurs managed to beat the Saints, who drew with United last Saturday.

Manchester United vs. Arsenal

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

Emery made two changes to the side that smashed Spurs last weekend with Ramsey and Guendouzi replacing Mkhitaryan and a suspended Xhaka in the starting lineup. Ramsey sprained his ankle in the 44th minute and was replaced at halftime by Mkhitaryan. That injury puts more pressure on Iwobi and Mkhitaryan to deliver the final ball. It also means that Emery might need Ozil this weekend if Iwobi and Mkhitaryan are still inefficient in the final third.

Iwobi has been trying to fill Ozil’s shoes in the past couple of games. On Wednesday night, those shoes were simply too big for him. Iwobi lacked end product with 0 shot and 0 key pass. He made a poor pass to Kolasinac in the opening minute, overhit his through ball for Bellerin in the 17th, and wasted a counterattack in the 47th by missing a short pass. Obviously, Iwobi doesn’t have Ozil’s technical quality. The Nigeria international led all players with 6 turnovers, according to whoscored.com, despite playing only 64 minutes.

Iwobi’s lack of effort

The main reason why Emery keeps playing Iwobi on the left wing is because the other attacking midfielders feel more comfortable on the right wing. It’s a choice by default. The Spanish manager will have more options on the left wing next season with Nelson’s return from his loan spell at Hoffenheim.

Fans have been talking about Iwobi’s improvement this season, but he keeps showing poor work-rate. Iwobi won 0 of 1 tackle and made 6 recoveries, barely matching Mkhitaryan, who won 1 of 1 tackle and made 1 block and 5 recoveries in 45 minutes, according to the club’s website. His lack of effort was blatant on United’s first equalizer. As you can see on the screen capture below, Iwobi was standing next to Herrera when Rojo took his free kick in the 30th.

MU M30a edited.jpgIwobi stands next Herrera behind the Arsenal wall. (Photo credit: BT)  

Leno made a good save by palming Rojo’s effort aside. The trouble is that Herrera reacted quickly to keep the ball in play and cut it back for Martial, who fired home from close range. On the screen capture below, you can see that Herrera built a 6-yard lead over Iwobi in a 15-yard foot race. In the end, Iwobi was just a yard late to intercept Herrera’s pass.

MU M30b edited.jpgIwobi fails to track Herrera. (Photo credit: BT)

On the right wing, Mkhitaryan had more impact than Iwobi in the final third. Mkhitaryan closed down Rojo, who gave the ball away to Lacazette in the 68th. Lacazette swapped passes with Mkhitaryan and was about to pull the trigger when Rojo made a sliding tackle only to knock the ball into his own net. Mkhitaryan could have scored the winner in the 72nd but flicked Kolasinac’s cross over the bar from 3 yards. That’s the kind of chance that Giroud would have converted. In stoppage time, Mkhitaryan set up Torreira, whose powerful strike was parried by De Gea. Mkhitaryan pounced on the rebound and somehow found the net from the most acute angle, but his goal was disallowed for offside.

Torreira’s consistency

In midfield, Guendouzi had a decent game, winning 1 of 2 tackles, making 1 interception and 7 recoveries, and leading all players with 74 passes. He had a rough start though. Guendouzi panicked and turned the ball over in the sixth minute. Then Herrera outmuscled Guendouzi to win the ball in the 11th. His inexperience cost his team in the 29th as Guendouzi mistimed his challenge on Martial to give away the free kick that led to United’s first equalizer.

However, Guendouzi managed to keep his cool when the Red Devils targeted him. Rojo was booked in the 38th for a nasty scissor tackle on Guendouzi before Fellaini pulled the French teenager’s hair in the 87th. For that disgraceful foul, Fellaini did not even receive a yellow card. At 19, Guendouzi is far from the finished product. He needs to release the ball more quickly, not just to cut his turnover rate but also to up the tempo. His partnership with Torreira in central midfield was quite complementary because Guendouzi is a deep-lying playmaker like Xhaka.

Torreira did not reach the heights of his performance against Spurs, but he had another good game and is becoming a key player for Arsenal because of that consistency. The Uruguay midfielder won 1 of 1 tackle, made 2 key passes, 1 interception and 9 recoveries, and had just 1 turnover, compared to 5 for Guendouzi. There was the fear of an injury when Torreira landed awkwardly after colliding with Martial in the 54th. Emery will have to carefully monitor Torreira’s playing time during the Christmas period because he’s not used to a season without a winter break. The club will also have to give Torreira a raise because he’s reportedly only earning £50,000 a week.

Kolasinac’s defensive lapses

Up front, Aubameyang lacked a bit of sharpness after working his socks off against Spurs. He was quite anonymous in the first half before coming to life in the second half. His pace definitely frightened the Manchester defense as Matic killed a counterattack in the 42nd by holding Aubameyang. The Gabon striker should have scored the winner in the 71st when he met a cross from Kolasinac, but De Gea saved Aubameyang’s 6-yard effort with his leg. Four minutes later, Aubameyang tested De Gea with a curling shot from the edge of the box.

On the left flank, Kolasinac was again Arsenal’s main ammunition provider. The Bosnia-Herzegovina international led all players with 3 key passes, including big chances for Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang. However, his offensive contribution can’t erase his defensive lapses. Kolasinac failed to stop a dangerous cross from Dalot in the 14th, did not track Dalot on a Manchester fast break in the 57th and gifted a goal to Lingard with a poor first touch in the 69th. To prevent that equalizer, Kolasinac should have either cleared the danger or made a first-time pass to Leno. Running with the ball inside the area was clearly the wrong option.

On the opposite flank, Bellerin produced a lackluster performance. He won only 28.6% of his duels and made 0 key pass, 0 tackle, 0 interception, 0 block and only 2 recoveries, according to the club’s website. I suspect Bellerin suffered from a bit of fatigue. The Spaniard was booked in the 41st as he was late on a 50-50 ball and tripped Darmian.

The Gunners have shown great resilience to come back in the second half this season, but one concern for Emery is that they struggle to protect the lead. It’s a reason why they still haven’t reached halftime in a winning position this season in the Premier League. On Wednesday, Arsenal blew their first lead after 4 minutes and threw away their second lead after 1 minute. That tells you there’s a lack of leadership at the back. This Arsenal team desperately needs a commanding defender who can help the players keep cool heads and focus on the basics.

Mustafi caught ball-watching

Don’t count on Sokratis or Mustafi for that role. Sokratis missed his clearance in the fourth minute, gave the ball away in the 34th and showed poor positional play for the last goal. At the restart in the 69th, Rojo hit a long ball toward Lukaku, who held off Sokratis. As you can see on the screen capture below, Sokratis had no chance to win a header by standing behind Lukaku. The correct defensive play would have been to sandwich Lukaku between Sokratis and Mustafi, with Sokratis trying to win the ball in front of Lukaku, and Mustafi covering his teammate.

MU M69a edited.jpgSokratis should have been in front of Lukaku to win the header. (Photo credit: BT)

Both Lukaku and Sokratis missed the ball, which bounced into the path of Kolasinac. Mustafi was caught ball-watching on that play. While Kolasinac and Sokratis were busy with Lukaku and the ball, Mustafi should have blocked Lingard’s run into the box. See the screen capture below. But Mustafi failed to spot Lingard’s threat and remained passive as the equalizer unfolded in front of him.

MU M69b edited.jpgMustafi fails to block Lingard’s run into the box. (Photo credit: BT)

Mustafi met a corner from Torreira in the 26th to open the scoring with a bouncing header that De Gea fumbled into his own net. Herrera cleared the ball off the line but technology told the referee that the ball had entirely crossed the line. Like for Kolasinac, Mustafi’s offensive contribution can’t make up for his defensive lapses. The German defender received a yellow card for a reckless challenge on Rashford in the 37th. And his passing accuracy of 72.7% was relatively weak for a centerback. By contrast, Sokratis’ passing accuracy reached 91.2%.

Koscielny returning this weekend?

The bad news of the evening was Holding’s knee injury. He held onto the ball too long in the 32nd and seemed to twist his knee after Rashford bumped into him. That injury is coming at the wrong time for Holding, who has been performing better than Mustafi and Sokratis in the last few games.

Things didn’t start well for Holding, who lost possession in the second minute while trying to dribble his way out of trouble. Then he missed his interception for United’s first equalizer. Lichtsteiner replaced Holding in the 36th and produced a lackluster performance with just 1 recovery, while Holding made 1 interception and 2 recoveries. If Emery wants to stick with a back three, he might have to rush Koscielny’s return. The French centerback played two games with the U23 team and was initially tipped to play in the Europa League match against Qarabag next week.

December is always a challenging month for Premier League teams because injuries start piling up and suddenly test the depth and quality of the bench. Sure, Emery has attacking midfielders who can replace Ramsey in the starting lineup, but none has been as efficient as Ramsey in the final third. The Gunners will have a good chance to move back into the Top 4 on Saturday as they host Huddersfield while the Citizens visit Chelsea.

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Arsenal vs. Tottenham: Aubameyang, Torreira shine in North London derby

Trailing 2-1 at halftime, Emery stamped his authority on the North London derby by replacing Iwobi and Mkhitaryan with Ramsey and Lacazette for the start of the second half. Those substitutions helped turn the match around as the Gunners won 4-2 on Sunday to leapfrog Spurs into fourth place in the Premier League on goal difference.

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

That result could prove crucial in the Top 4 race because Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs have dropped very few points against the weak and average sides. As a consequence of that hectic pace, there’s already an eight-point gap between Arsenal and the sixth-placed team, Everton. That basically means that the Champions League spots might be decided by the direct confrontations between the top clubs.

Emery made no change to the side that edged Bournemouth 2-1 a week ago. The only difference was on the bench where Lacazette made his return from a groin injury while Ozil was not even in the squad. Officially, Ozil was suffering from back spasms but it sounded very much like a diplomatic injury.

The Gunners should have reached halftime with the lead but they wasted good situations with inaccurate final balls and some poor finishing. Although Tottenham capitalized on 2 defensive errors to lead 2-1 against the run of play, Arsenal showed resilience in the second half to overturn the deficit and stretch their unbeaten run to 19 games in all competitions. According to the club’s website, the Gunners have earned 11 points from losing positions this season.

Iwobi’s poor game

Playing as inside forwards in a 3-4-3 formation, Mkhitaryan and Iwobi didn’t have the impact that Emery expected. Iwobi had a poor game, showing poor work-rate and lacking end product. In 45 minutes, Mkhitaryan and Ramsey made 2 key passes each compared to 0 for Iwobi. The Nigeria international overhit his pass for Mkhitaryan in the 39th minute and sent his crossfield pass for Bellerin straight into touch in the 41st. Iwobi also made poor choices in the final third by running into traffic in the 12th and 27th to lose possession and give Spurs counterattacking opportunities. His only offensive contribution was a low effort that Lloris saved with his leg in the 19th.

Any player can have an off day, but the poor work-rate in a North London derby is unacceptable. Iwobi made 0 tackle, 1 interception and 2 recoveries, compared to 2 tackles and 4 recoveries for Mkhitaryan and 2 tackles and 3 recoveries for Ramsey, according to the club’s website. At least, work-rate is not an issue with Mkhitaryan, who is struggling this season with just 2 goals and 1 assist in 11 Premier League games. Mkhitaryan created 2 chances with crosses from the right flank. Aubameyang met his cross in the second minute only to head over the bar. Mkhitaryan found again Aubameyang on the stroke of halftime, but the Gabon striker poorly controlled the ball, allowing Vertonghen to clear the danger.

Sending on Ramsey and Lacazette was a no-brainer for Emery. The Tottenham defense only had to worry about Aubameyang in the first half because Iwobi and Mkhitaryan were limited goal threats. Spurs faced a tougher test in the second half with Ramsey and Lacazette, who have a better goalscoring record than Iwobi and Mkhitaryan. Emery shifted to a 3-5-2 system with Ramsey playing behind Lacazette and Aubameyang. Aubameyang suddenly looked less isolated while Ramsey delivered the final ball that Iwobi and Mkhitaryan were unable to provide.

Arsenal’s triple threat

It was quite interesting to see Emery build his team around Ramsey in the second half after having benched the Wales midfielder in the previous league games. Even when Arsenal switched to a 4-4-2 formation in the 71st because Mustafi picked up a hamstring injury and was replaced by Guendouzi, Emery kept playing Ramsey behind Lacazette and Aubameyang. Would a front two be the best approach to optimize Ramsey’s potential? There have been games in which Ramsey played with Aubameyang and Lacazette, but each time Lacazette led the line while Aubameyang was on the left flank. Defensively, playing Ramsey in the hole would allow Arsenal to man-mark a deep-lying playmaker.

Off the pitch, Ramsey had his contract offer taken off the table. On the pitch, Ramsey is still more consistent than Ozil, Iwobi and Mkhitaryan. Ramsey currently leads the Premier League with 6 assists, 4 more than Iwobi and 5 more than Mkhitaryan and Ozil. That’s such an awkward situation for the club to reject its best attacking midfielder. Can there be a climbdown?

Ramsey spotted Aubameyang’s run in the 52nd but overhit his through ball. Four minutes later, Ramsey made a run between Foyth and Vertonghen to chase Bellerin’s through ball and feed Aubameyang with a first-time pass. In a 1v1 situation with Aurier, Aubameyang curled a 20-yard shot into the bottom corner to level the game. Ramsey then dispossessed Foyth in the 75th to play Lacazette in. The pass lacked pace, forcing Lacazette to cut inside Vertonghen and shoot with his weaker left foot. Lacazette’s long-range effort took a deflection off Dier to beat Lloris for a 3-2 lead.

Pochettino replaced Alli with Winks in the 79th to contain Ramsey’s influence but it was already too late to repair the damage. The Tottenham defense simply couldn’t cope with that triple threat. Aubameyang dropped off in the 77th to slip a through ball to Torreira. From a tight angle, Torreira drilled the ball into the far corner to seal the win. A frustrated Vertonghen shoved Lacazette from behind to give away a free kick in the 80th. Five minutes later, Vertonghen received a second yellow card for a stamp on Lacazette’s ankle.

Aubameyang’s work-rate

Torreira was named Man of the Match, but I thought Aubameyang was more deserving. Aubameyang finished the game with 2 goals and 1 assist, raising his tally to 10 goals and 2 assists in the Premier League this season. Actually, the Gabon striker is the top scorer in the league with 2 more goals than Aguero and Kane.

The Gunners are a greater threat on the fast break when Aubameyang leads the line than when Lacazette plays as a false nine. Aubameyang gave Arsenal the lead in the 10th minute by converting a penalty after Vertonghen handled the ball to deny Mustafi a clear scoring opportunity. Of course, Aubameyang’s performance was not perfect. He was flagged offside 5 times and led all players with 6 turnovers, according to whoscored.com. But his work-rate was phenomenal. Aubameyang won 4 of 5 tackles, more than any other player, according to the club’s website.

In midfield, Torreira and Xhaka formed again a complementary partnership. Torreira won 2 of 3 tackles, made 1 interception and led all players with 12 recoveries, according to the club’s website. The only blemish in his performance was his 5 turnovers. But most fans will only remember Torreira’s wild celebration after the last goal, when he took off his shirt to slide on his knees toward the corner flag. Xhaka was less active than Torreira, winning 1 of 3 tackles and making 1 block, 1 interception and 6 recoveries, but he had 0 turnover and led all midfielders by winning 75% of his duels, according to the club’s website. The Switzerland international will miss the Manchester United clash after picking up his fifth booking of the season in the 49th when he tripped Alli.

Leno’s error

I’m not sure whether Pochettino watched Arsenal’s victory at Bournemouth because Kolasinac enjoyed a lot of freedom down the left flank. Kolasinac led all players with 5 key passes and had decent defensive stats with 1 tackle won and 6 recoveries, compared to 1 tackle won and 8 recoveries for Bellerin on the right flank. Things didn’t start well for Kolasinac, who delivered a poor final ball for Aubameyang in the third minute and lost possession by running into traffic in the seventh. But Kolasinac grew into the game and made another teasing cross in the 13th for Aubameyang, who couldn’t control the ball. Then Kolasinac set up Iwobi in the 19th and Bellerin a few seconds later. In the back three, Holding is the one shifting to the left when Kolasinac roams forward. The move to a 4-4-2 formation in the 71st led to a change of plans with Guendouzi covering Kolasinac.

Maybe opponents are taking their eyes off Kolasinac because of Bellerin’s runs down the opposite flank. Bellerin created Arsenal’s equalizer in the 56th by picking out Ramsey. The Spaniard also had a volley blocked by Davies in the 19th. However, his lapse of concentration nearly cost his team in the 68th. Leno parried a drive from Son after Bellerin gave the ball away.

Leno made 4 saves but he also committed his second error leading to a goal this season. He threw Spurs a lifeline by palming Dier’s header into his own net in the 31st. A couple more mistakes could change the pecking order for goalkeepers. Leno is usually reliable with his distribution but his passing accuracy dipped to 53% because of Tottenham’s high press.

Holding’s inexperience

At the back, Holding’s inexperience cost Arsenal a penalty. Holding seemed to clip Son’s foot in the 33rd with a sliding block attempt. Watching TV replays, it looked like a dive because there was really minimal contact. In hindsight, Holding should have refrained from diving in because Son had nowhere to go and was unlikely to score from such a tight angle. Despite that defensive error, Holding had better defensive stats than Sokratis and Mustafi. The English centerback won 67% of his duels, made 2 interceptions and 8 recoveries compared to 33% of duels won, 1 block, 1 interception and 3 recoveries for Sokratis, and 53% of duels won, 3 interception and 4 recoveries for Mustafi, according to the club’s website.

Using a back three is a tactical ploy to safely cover the wingbacks, but it’s also an implicit acknowledgement that your centerbacks are not good enough. Sokratis got no booking despite leading all players with 4 fouls. The Greek defender struggled to cope with Son’s pace and Kane’s physicality. His foul on Son in the 29th led to the free kick for Spurs’ equalizer. Sokratis also misjudged the flight of a long ball in the 22nd and gave the ball away to Alli in the 41st.

Mustafi was shaky too. Son easily dribbled past Mustafi to test Leno in the 23rd. The German defender was then booked for a studs-up challenge on Son in the 37th and turned the ball over to Davies in the 65th. In a typical case of the Vermaelen syndrome, Mustafi nearly found the net to make up for his poor defending. On the stroke of halftime, Mustafi met a cross from Xhaka for a looping header that Lloris palmed away. Mustafi also had a volley cleared off the line by Alli in the 60th. Emery might have to rush Koscielny’s return as Mustafi seemed to pull his hamstring with an awkward clearance in the 68th.

The Gunners next visit Old Trafford on Wednesday. It’s a fantastic opportunity to knock Manchester United out of the Top 4 race: the Red Devils are short on confidence and would trail Arsenal by 11 points with a loss.

Vorskla vs. Arsenal: A few thoughts on the 3-0 win

The Gunners secured the top spot in Group E of the Europa League by routing Vorskla 3-0 on Thursday. Even if Sporting Lisbon go level on points after Matchday 6, Arsenal will still finish ahead of the Portuguese club because of a better head-to-head record.

Vorskla vs. Arsenal

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

There was a bit of uncertainty over the game. It was relocated from Poltava to Kiev because of military tensions in the Crimea region between Russia and Ukraine. In a freezing and half-empty stadium, the Gunners turned the match into one-way traffic with 9 shots on target to just 2 for Vorskla. The Ukrainian side only threatened in the opening minutes from two set pieces and at the end of the game when Emery made some substitutions. Their only big chance was Perduta’s point-blank shot that Cech saved in the 70th minute.

  1. The North London derby is on Emery’s mind

Emery left most of the regular starters at home. Leno, Sokratis, Mustafi, Bellerin, Kolasinac, Torreira, Xhaka, Ozil, Iwobi and Aubameyang were not in the Arsenal squad traveling to Ukraine. Among the players who might feature against Spurs, only Maitland-Niles played the full 90 minutes. Holding, Guendouzi and Ramsey were replaced in the second half while Mkhitaryan stayed on the bench.

Prioritizing the North London derby led Emery to build his weakest squad of the season with 5 academy players on the bench (Gilmour, Medley, Osei-Tutu, John Jules and Saka) and 3 academy players in the starting lineup (Nketiah, Smith-Rowe and Willock).

The absence of many first-team players explains why Willock and Jenkinson had to play out of position. Jenkinson is a fullback by trade but played at centerback on Thursday. In the past, Wenger also made similar moves with Sagna, Debuchy and Monreal. A stranger experiment was to play Willock on the right wing. Usually, managers tend to move players into a deeper position. For instance, central midfielders like Coquelin, Flamini and Maitland-Niles helped out by playing in the fullback position.

  1. Willock stole the show

Emery’s decision to play Willock in the winger position was a stroke of genius. Willock produced an outstanding all-around performance with 1 goal, 3 of 3 shots on target, 1 key pass, 4 successful dribbles, 3 tackles won, and 1 interception, according to whoscored.com. The only blemish in Willock’s performance was his 6 turnovers, the most for any player.

Willock is a central midfielder by trade and looked pretty much like a mini-Coquelin under Wenger last season. His offensive output was quite a surprise because Willock doesn’t have the scoring abilities and dribbling skills of Nketiah or Smith-Rowe. Willock made it 3-0 in the 41st with a curling shot Thierry Henry would have been proud of. He also tested Shust with an angled strike in the 32nd and a close-range effort in the 90th.

  1. Ramsey showed he’s a leader

A second choice for Emery now, Ramsey has not let his decline in the pecking order affect his performance. Ramsey created the opening goal by swapping passes with Nketiah in the 10th before earning a penalty with some clever footwork for the second goal in the 26th. Emery used Ramsey in the role of a free-roaming midfielder again. This is not Ramsey’s best position but the Wales international can only make the best of each appearance to deserve a new lucrative contract elsewhere.

  1. Smith-Rowe keeps growing

At the age of 18, Smith-Rowe has already scored 3 goals in all competitions this season. Smith-Rowe definitely has a talent for finding good positions in the final third. The English teenager scored a poacher’s goal in the 10th by pouncing on a loose ball to fire home from 11 yards. He found the net again by converting a cross from Lichtsteiner in the 65th, but the goal was disallowed because of Nketiah’s offside position on that play. Smith-Rowe had another scoring chance in the 71st but Shust parried his powerful strike. As the icing on the cake, Smith-Rowe’s work-rate was also impressive with 2 tackles won, 3 interceptions and 2 key passes, including a lobbed pass for Nketiah in the 33rd.

  1. Nketiah is feeling the pressure

It’s hard not to make comparisons between Nketiah and Smith-Rowe since Nketiah is only a year older than Smith-Rowe. Despite scoring many goals in the Premier League 2, Nketiah still hasn’t found the net with the senior team this season.

In the centerforward position, Nketiah drew 4 fouls and led all players with 5 successful dribbles, according to whoscored.com. Nketiah was involved in the opening goal by charging down Dallku’s clearance. He seemed to try too hard a couple of times. Nketiah was right to fire a low strike that Shust turned around the post in the 53rd. But he rushed his shot after struggling to control a high ball in the 33rd and attempted a blind effort in stoppage time.

I don’t think centerforward is Nketiah’s best position at this stage of his career. He still lacks a bit of physicality for that role. Nketiah won only 1 of 3 aerial duels and had 4 turnovers. Maybe he would perform better as a second striker or as a winger, especially since he has the all-around game for those positions. For instance, Nketiah made very good crosses in the 52nd and 85th.

  1. Guendouzi is an upgrade over Elneny

Guendouzi’s rise is the main reason for Elneny’s slip down the pecking order. Defensively, Guendouzi outperformed Elneny, winning 1 tackle and making 3 interceptions compared to 0 tackle won and 1 interception for the Egypt international. Elneny lost a duel that led to a scoring chance for Kulach on the stroke of halftime. Offensively, Guendouzi offers a bit more variety. Elneny had 3 key passes compared to 2 key passes for Guendouzi, but a closer look at the stats tells you why Emery prefers Guendouzi. The French teenager hit 2 accurate crosses out of 8 and 5 accurate long balls out of 5, compared to 0 accurate cross out of 1 and 2 accurate long balls out of 3 for Elneny, according to whoscored.com. However, Guendouzi could learn from Elneny in his passing game. Elneny releases the ball more quickly whereas Guendouzi tends to slow down the tempo by holding onto the ball too long.

 

Bournemouth vs. Arsenal: Lucky Gunners get back to winning ways

The Gunners made up ground in the Top 4 race with an ugly 2-1 win at Bournemouth on Sunday. They snapped a 3-game winless streak in the Premier League to move within a point of Chelsea in the standings. Emery had a tactical surprise for the Cherries as he switched from his favorite 4-2-3-1 formation to a 3-4-3 system. The Spanish manager had already used a back three against Qarabag in the Europa League, mostly to give some playing time to Kolasinac and Lichtsteiner. But it was the first time that Emery relied on such a system in the Premier League.

Bournemouth vs. Arsenal Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

The tactical shift made sense because it provided cover to Bellerin and Kolasinac down the flanks, where Fraser and Brooks could cause a lot of damage and feed Wilson and King. The downside of that shift is that Emery basically replaced an attacking player, Ozil, with a centerback, Sokratis, in his starting lineup. Unsurprisingly, the Gunners struggled to create clear-cut chances: they never really found any rhythm in their passing game and made no through ball attempt. By contrast, Manchester City and Liverpool made 5 and 3 through ball attempts on Saturday, respectively.

The 3-4-3 formation played to Kolasinac’s strengths because he’s more a wingback than a proper fullback. In fact, Kolasinac turned out to be Arsenal’s main attacking threat at the Vitality stadium. He created the opening goal in the 30th minute with a cross that Lerma catapulted into his own net. Kolasinac then set up the winning goal by squaring the ball back to Aubameyang in the 67th. While the Cherries managed to keep Bellerin quiet, they seemed to underestimate Kolasinac, who also had 2 scoring chances. Kolasinac tested Begovic with a cross-shot in the 22nd. A minute later, Kolasinac met a cross from Aubameyang, only to head the ball wide.

Benching Ozil

Kolasinac played a key role for both goals but his passing accuracy of 63.2%, which is low compared to Bellerin’s 93.8%, betrayed his technical limitations. Likewise, Kolasinac’s stats showed some decent work-rate with 3 tackles won, 2 interceptions and 3 ball recoveries, according to the club’s website, but he was pulled out of position for Bournemouth’s equalizer on the stroke of halftime. I expect Monreal to remain the first choice at leftback when he recovers from his hamstring injury.

Despite netting the winning goal, Aubameyang struggled in the final third with just 1 of 4 shots on target. Aubameyang fired over the bar from 10 yards after Bournemouth failed to clear a corner in the 23rd. To his credit, Aubameyang made numerous runs to stretch the Bournemouth defense. He was also involved in his team’s passing game with 2 shot assists, tied with Kolasinac and Mkhitaryan for the most by an Arsenal player.

Will that performance change Emery’s opinion about what is Aubameyang’s best position? Lacazette was not in the squad because of a groin injury. Emery seems to like using Lacazette as a false nine even though he doesn’t have Aubameyang’s electric pace. On the other hand, Ozil was fit but Emery decided to leave him on the bench, preferring to start Iwobi and Mkhitaryan as inside forwards. It’s easy to understand Emery’s rationale here. The Cherries work their socks off and Ozil tends to struggle in away games. So Mkhitaryan got the nod over Ozil.

Mkhitaryan short on confidence

Mkhitaryan had a poor game with only 1 of 7 shots on target. He also led all players with 9 turnovers, according to whoscored.com. And his 2 key passes somehow hid his lack of creativity as he simply set up Torreira and Aubameyang for long-range efforts in the 10th and 64th. Mkhitaryan definitely has Emery’s backing, otherwise he wouldn’t be in the starting lineup. Yet, he performed like a player short on confidence. One play in the 69th summed up his struggles. Aubameyang led a counterattack by running 50 yards with the ball before slipping the ball to Mkhitaryan. The Armenia international was in a perfect position for a first-time effort but he opted to control the ball. His first touch was so poor that the ball got away from Mkhitaryan, who ended up kicking the ball out of play.

Iwobi has improved under Emery but there are still parts of his game that remain quite frustrating. Let’s start with the positives. Pulling the strings in midfield, Iwobi made the penultimate pass for both goals and had 2 of 3 shots on target. His low drive in the 21st didn’t trouble Begovic while his curling shot in the 34th forced the Bournemouth goalkeeper to palm the ball away.

Let’s talk now about the negatives. We know about Iwobi’s great potential since Wenger played him in the No. 10 role. However, his work-rate and his end product have often been questionable. Iwobi didn’t work hard enough against Bournemouth, making no tackle, no block, no interception and just 3 recoveries. That’s why Emery replaced him with Ramsey in the 82nd to protect Arsenal’s lead. Iwobi only won 16.7% of his duels, the lowest percentage for any player according to the club’s website. That reputation of softie won’t go away until if he puts in a shift like Welbeck does.

Throwing away the lead with 16 seconds left

Another flaw that Iwobi needs to fix is decision-making in the final third. Last season, Iwobi had that tendency to run into traffic even though he doesn’t have the dribbling skills of a Neymar or Hazard. It’s true that Iwobi can occasionally nutmeg a defender along the touchline but he needs a lot of room to beat an opponent.

In stoppage time of the first half, the Gunners had an opportunity to double the lead. But Iwobi showed poor decision-making and his turnover led to Bournemouth’s equalizer. If you look at the screen capture below, you can see that Iwobi had two very good passing options: he could have teed up Bellerin for a mid-range shot or played Torreira in with a reverse pass.

Bournemouth M45a edited Iwobi has 2 good passing options with Torreira and Bellerin. (Photo credit: Sky)

With his back to goal and surrounded by 3 Cherries, Iwobi attempted a dribbling trick. As you can see on the screen capture below, Daniels dispossessed Iwobi and the ball fell to Fraser who initiated a fast break.

Bournemouth M45b edited.jpgSurrounded by 3 defenders, Iwobi loses possession to Daniels. (Photo credit: Sky)

In hindsight, Arsenal would have been better off if Iwobi had fired into the stands. There were only 16 seconds left to play before the end of the first half. Without Iwobi’s error of judgment, the Gunners would have reached halftime with the lead for the first time in the league this season.

Torreira as a box-to-box player

Fraser released Wilson down our right flank, and the Bournemouth striker bought a bit of time before picking out Brooks on the edge of the Arsenal box. Brooks slipped the ball to King, who curled into the far corner to level the game. If you look at the screen capture below, it wasn’t a disastrous situation yet when Fraser fed Wilson.

Bournemouth M45c edited.jpgArsenal in a ‘favorable’ 4v3 situation. (Photo credit: Sky)

However, the Gunners wasted their numerical superiority with some poor positional play. Fraser sped past Xhaka in midfield after releasing the ball. Xhaka decided to track Fraser instead of passing him on to Sokratis. When Xhaka realized Fraser made a dummy run, it was already too late. As you can see on the screen capture below, there was a huge gap between Holding on the left side of the pitch and Sokratis, Xhaka and Mustafi on the right side.

Bournemouth M45d edited.jpgFraser’s dummy run creates a huge gap between Holding and Xhaka. (Photo credit: Sky)

The Cherries exploited that disequilibrium by overloading the left side of the Arsenal defense with late runs from Brooks and King. On the screen capture below, you can see that Holding was in an unfavorable 1v2 situation because Kolasinac didn’t track back while Sokratis and Xhaka were too far to help Holding. Xhaka made the key mistake on that play by failing to plug the gap between Sokratis and Holding.

Bournemouth M45e edited.jpgHolding in a 1v2 situation with Brooks and King. (Photo credit: Sky)

You might wonder why Xhaka was the holding midfielder in that game. The Gunners are an attacking player short in a 3-4-3 formation compared to the 4-2-3-1 system. Emery therefore used Torreira as a box-to-box player to provide support to Iwobi, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang. A more natural team selection would have been to play Torreira as the holding midfielder and Ramsey as the box-to-box player.

Still feeling like a Wenger team

Torreira played in a more advanced position than Xhaka mainly because he’s more mobile than the Switzerland international. Emery’s tactical gamble nearly paid off in the ninth minute when Torreira won the ball in midfield and hit the post with a 22-yard drive. Torreira led all midfielders by winning 75% of his duels, according to the club’s website. He was also reliable technically with a passing accuracy of 90.8% compared to 85.1% for Xhaka. Emery yanked Torreira off in the 79th because the Uruguay international felt a bout of fatigue.

As a holding midfielder, Xhaka had decent stats with 2 tackles, 1 block, 2 interceptions and 11 recoveries. But there are always moments in a game when his lack of defensive awareness will let him down. His positional play on the equalizer was poor. Xhaka also put his team in trouble with a poor clearance in the 85th. The ball fell to Lerma, who rattled the post with a 30-yard strike.

Last season, Wenger also relied on a 3-4-3 formation in an effort to stop conceding goals before switching back to a more traditional 4-3-3 system in December. Out of intellectual curiosity, it would have been interesting to know who Wenger would have played in central midfield. Torreira and Ramsey? Or Ramsey and Xhaka just like last season? Or Torreira and Xhaka like Emery did on Sunday?

Emery is the new Arsenal manager but it still feels very much like a Wenger team. Bournemouth exposed the Gunners’ vulnerability on counterattacks, a typical trait of Arsenal under Wenger. In other games, the Gunners also struggled to defend crosses. There have been defensive improvements under Emery, but they have been incremental.

Mustafi’s curse

The Spanish manager definitely has a positive influence on Holding and Bellerin. While Holding had lapses of concentration and showed poor decision-making under Wenger, he now looks close to fulfilling his potential. Holding won 62.5% of his duels on Sunday, more than Sokratis (60%) and Mustafi (47.1%) according to the club’s website. Likewise, Bellerin has refound the balance in his game between attack and defense.

Of course, Emery can’t perform miracles. Kolasinac and Mustafi still look as dodgy defensively as they were under Wenger. Mustafi was very active with 3 tackles, 1 block, 3 interceptions and 6 recoveries. The German centerback covered Bellerin in the third minute to kill a counterattack with a timely challenge on Fraser. He also recovered the ball in the 48th after Lerma intercepted Holding’s pass.

But you know that Mustafi will always have an error in him. He completely missed his tackle on King in the eighth minute. The Bournemouth forward fed Brooks, who beat Leno from close range. However, the goal was disallowed for a marginal offside. Looking at TV replays several times, I couldn’t even tell with certainty whether Brooks was offside. Mustafi also showed poor judgment in the 54th by diving in near the Bournemouth area as the Cherries launched a counterattack. The threat came to an end when Brooks overhit his cross. In the last minute of injury time, Mustafi gave away a silly free kick with a reckless challenge on Wilson. Fortunately, Stanislas missed the target with the subsequent free kick.

I’m not sure what was the idea behind signing Sokratis. His decision-making is sound but he lacks the pace to play a high defensive line. Sokratis clearly struggled to cope with King’s movement. King toyed with Sokratis in the 65th before cutting the ball back for Brooks, who shot straight at Leno. To contain King’s speed, Sokratis often tried to put his body between the ball and King -some kind of legal obstruction. But in the 25th King got the better of Sokratis, who received a yellow card for holding the Bournemouth forward.

Emery’s 1st North London derby

Sokratis’ ball-playing abilities are also limited. He’s an old-fashioned centerback and doesn’t help build up play from the back like Stones or Alderweireld. The Greek defender missed his clearance in the 18th and was lucky to see the ball bounce off Wilson and roll out of play. Sokratis nearly scored an own goal with another poor clearance in the 89th but Leno reacted quickly enough to palm the ball away. Is Sokratis the replacement for an aging Koscielny? In his prime, Koscielny was a much better defender than Sokratis. There’s no way Koscielny could have missed his interception like Sokratis did in the 80th when Daniels made a cross for Stanislas, whose toe poke was saved by Leno.

Leno has consolidated his starting spot with another decent performance. The German goalkeeper made 5 routine saves but his passing accuracy dipped to 42.9%, in part because the Cherries pressed high up the pitch to prevent Arsenal from playing out from the back.

The Gunners next visit Vorskla in the Europa League on Thursday before hosting Tottenham in the Premier League on Sunday. The North London derby is obviously the most important game of the two because it could decide the Top 4 race whereas Arsenal would still lead Group E with a defeat in Ukraine. Spurs have a slight edge after their impressive performance against Chelsea last Saturday.

Arsenal vs. Wolverhampton: Leno’s heroics salvage a point

The international break is coming at the right time for the Gunners who are running out of steam. Arsenal salvaged a 1-1 draw with Wolverhampton on Sunday for their third straight draw in all competitions to stay fifth in the Premier League.

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

It looks like the Gunners are hitting the wall after their 11-game winning streak was snapped at Crystal Palace. Arsenal enjoyed 72% of ball possession against the Wolves but simply lacked the passing speed and the movement to destabilize a compact defense. In fact, the Gunners struggled so badly to create clear-cut chances that they had 0 shot on target in the first half.

On paper, Arsenal should have earned 3 points because the Wolves had lost their 3 previous games in the league. On the pitch, the Gunners were lucky to split the points because Wolverhampton proved the better team, winning 53% of the duels and having 5 shots on target to just 3 for Arsenal, according to the club’s website.

Emery did his best to inject some freshness by making 9 changes to the side that drew with Sporting Lisbon on Thursday with only Holding and Iwobi retaining their starting spots. Unfortunately, Sunday’s game showed that the Gunners are almost back to square one. Emery still doesn’t know what his best team is after 4 months of competition.

I thought the Spanish manager got his starting lineup wrong by not including Ramsey, whose runs can make a difference against teams parking the bus. At the start of the season, Emery built his team around Ramsey. Of course, the trouble is that Emery played Ramsey in the hole, which is not his best position. Then Emery changed his mind and decided to build the team around Ozil, who’s a better fit for the No. 10 position. Ozil shone in the 3-1 win over Leicester, but it turned out to be a false dawn because Ozil simply lacks the consistency to become the cornerstone of a team. Wenger also tried and failed. The French manager played Ozil behind the striker before moving him to the right flank.

Starved of service

Some fans say that Ozil should get the nod over Ramsey because Ozil is tied to the club until 2021 whereas Ramsey’s contract will end next summer. Contract talks between Ramsey and the club collapsed at the end of September. Is it a coincidence if Ramsey hasn’t started a Premier League game since the 2-0 win over Watford?

Making a team selection based on politics doesn’t make sense because it would be against the interests of the club. How do you finish in the Top 4 if you’re not starting your best player? Last season, Arsenal had no certainty over the future of Ozil and Sanchez at the club. Yet, Wenger kept starting them because he thought the Gunners had a better chance of winning games with Ozil and Sanchez on the pitch.

Despite Ozil’s presence in the starting lineup, Lacazette and Aubameyang were starved of service on Sunday. They only mustered one shot each. Lacazette had Arsenal’s only chance of the first half. Ozil made a pass across the area to Lacazette, whose close-range effort was blocked by Coady in the 22nd minute. Aubameyang was in a better situation in the 73rd when Bellerin made a low cross. But the Gabon striker hit the post from 7 yards. It was a big miss that hurt the Gunners’ chances of winning the match.

Arsenal’s tactical options were limited because Aubameyang and Lacazette don’t have the physicality and aerial threat of a Giroud to blow up a congested area. Unsurprisingly, the Wolves won 65% of the aerial duels, according to whoscored.com. You might say that the Citizens don’t have strikers who can dominate in the air. However, the big difference between Arsenal and Manchester City is that Guardiola can rely on dribblers like Sterling, Mahrez and Sane to penetrate in the final third. Some Arsenal fans will mention Iwobi, but the Nigeria international doesn’t have the ability to dribble in tight spaces like an Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The need for more creativity

The Gunners couldn’t challenge in the air or dribble past defenders. So the only option left was the passing game. Arsenal’s main problem this season has been the inconsistency of the creative players. Starting on the right wing, Iwobi had a poor game with 0 key pass and was replaced at halftime by Guendouzi. In the No. 10 position, Ozil managed to make just 2 key passes.

Emery shifted from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-3-1-2 system at halftime in the hope of giving Ozil better passing options. The idea was to use Ozil like a quarterback with Lacazette and Aubameyang as receivers. It didn’t really work. Ozil overhit his cross for Aubameyang in the 66th. Out of frustration, Ozil slammed the ball against the ground three minutes later and got booked by the referee.

When your attacking midfielders have an off day, the alternative is to create chances from a deeper position. Unfortunately, Xhaka and Guendouzi don’t have the passing and dribbling skills of a Cazorla. It’s no coincidence if the club’s struggles to finish in the Top 4 started with Cazorla’s long-term injuries. In the past two seasons, the Gunners have lost a lot of creativity in midfield with the departures of Rosicky, Cazorla, Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Signing an upgrade over Xhaka should be a priority next summer.

The lack of movement in the final third also contributed to Arsenal’s poor passing game. In fact, the poor work-rate of some players was shocking. Iwobi made 0 tackle, 0 block, 0 interception and just 1 recovery in the first half. By contrast, Wolverhampton forward Costa made 1 interception, 7 recoveries and 4 fouls.

Looking like a Wenger team

Realizing that Ozil had no impact on the game, Emery replaced Ozil and Kolasinac with Ramsey and Mkhitaryan in the 75th. Xhaka was moved to the leftback position while the team played in some kind of 4-2-4 formation. Ramsey nearly made the difference with one of his runs in the 86th, trapping a ball over the top from Guendouzi and spinning away from a defender only to be denied by Patricio. The equalizer came from the subsequent corner, quickly taken by Xhaka. The ball fell to Ramsey, who set up Mkhitaryan for a cross. Aubameyang couldn’t climb high enough to head the ball, which sailed past Patricio and into the far corner.

Besides the equalizer, the Gunners were also lucky to concede just one goal. They looked so much like a Wenger team on Sunday, vulnerable on at least 5 counterattacks from the Wolves. The visitors took advantage of some poor decision-making from Xhaka to open the scoring in the 13th. Kolasinac made a routine pass to Xhaka, who thought there was a teammate behind him and let the ball roll past him. Cavaleiro pounced on the loose ball and found Jimenez, who played the ball back to Cavaleiro. Poorly tracked by Xhaka inside the area, Cavaleiro beat Leno with a first-time effort.

To put it bluntly, a midfield trio of Torreira, Xhaka and Ozil is not good enough to protect the defense. Torreira and Xhaka had an outstanding game against Liverpool but it’s unlikely that they will be able to repeat that kind of performance on a regular basis. Xhaka still lacks defensive awareness and is simply too error-prone.

Torreira had a decent game, winning 2 of 2 tackles and making 2 interceptions and 11 recoveries, according to the club’s website. The Uruguay midfielder contributed offensively with a dipping drive that Patricio turned aside in the 60th. Defensively, Torreira should have been more cautious in his positional play in the 84th. Leading a counterattack, Traore rolled away from Torreira to pick out Jimenez, who made a cross for Jota. Leno prevented Wolverhampton from doubling the lead by saving Jota’s close-range effort. In stoppage time, Leno was rescued by luck as Gibbs-White struck the post from 25 yards.

Kolasinac’s limitations

At the back, Kolasinac showed his technical limitations again. Kolasinac had a passing accuracy of 76.9%, much weaker than Bellerin’s 88.2% on the opposite flank. The Bosnia-Herzegovina international whipped his cross beyond Lacazette in the 17th and made a sloppy pass in the 72nd. Whoscored.com even credited Kolasinac with 2 errors. Kolasinac missed his clearance in the 36th and the ball fell to Doherty, who set up Jimenez for a low drive. Then, his first touch was so poor in the 62nd that the ball bounced 5 yards away from him and led to a turnover.

The Wolves knew Kolasinac was a limited threat and focused instead on Bellerin, who leads Arsenal with 4 assists so far this season. The visitors clearly did their homework as they intercepted Iwobi’s passes to Bellerin in the 27th and 31st. Despite Wolverhampton’s close scrutiny, Bellerin still managed to make 1 key pass and have 1 scoring chance. Xhaka cut the ball back for Bellerin, who missed the target with his weaker left foot in the 70th. Three minutes later, Bellerin created a golden chance for Aubameyang who hit the post. The Spaniard showed his more cynical side in the 78th by holding back Traore to kill a counterattack.

Holding has been one of the young players improving under Emery. His performance on Sunday was a mixed bag. Holding made 11 recoveries, tied with Torreira for the most by a Gunner. He intercepted Neves’ through ball for Jimenez in the 11th and outmuscled Jimenez inside the box in the 50th. However, the Wolves capitalized on Holding’s average pace twice. Costa beat Holding to a 50-50 ball on a fast break in the 23rd. The Wolverhampton forward was denied by Leno, who reacted quickly enough to beat Jimenez to the rebound. In stoppage time, Traore won a foot race with Holding on a counterattack. The pacy substitute struggled to control the ball, allowing Holding to make up ground. Holding slid for a desperate block attempt, forcing Traore to cut inside. Leno quickly came off his line to save Traore’s close-range effort.

Leno’s Man of the Match performance

Mustafi looked more shaky than Holding. The German defender read the game well enough to clear dangerous crosses in the 28th and 63rd. But his technique let him down a couple of times. Mustafi’s passes for Bellerin rolled out of play in the 67th and 76th. Then his poor first touch led to a dangerous turnover in the 83rd. Arsenal also had to deal with an unfavorable 2v3 situation in the 84th because Mustafi was stranded up the pitch, forcing Bellerin to cover him.

In goal, Leno produced a Man of the Match performance. He pulled off a couple of outstanding saves to prevent Wolverhampton from winning the game. Cech’s hamstring injury was a blessing in disguise for Emery. Cech is one of the leaders in the dressing room, so it could have been tricky to justify the change of goalkeeper in the starting lineup. Leno proved himself during Cech’s absence and gave Emery no reason to drop him after Cech’s return from injury. From the moment Leno can match Cech’s shot-stopping skills, he will have the edge over Cech because of his better distribution and his ability to play out from the back.

The Gunners have no maneuvering room in the Top 4 race after dropping points against Crystal Palace and Wolverhampton. They will play Bournemouth, Tottenham and Manchester United after the international break. That run of games could decide Arsenal’s Top 4 hopes as they trail Spurs by 3 points and are 4 points clear of the Cherries and the Red Devils. A string of poor results could mean the end of the honeymoon period for Emery.

 

Arsenal vs. Sporting Lisbon: A few thoughts on the 0-0 draw

The Gunners qualified for the knockout phase of the Europa League by splitting the points with Sporting Lisbon in a dull goalless draw on Thursday. Arsenal can have regrets because they could have secured the top spot in Group E with a victory over the Portuguese club.

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

Emery made 9 changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Liverpool last weekend with only Holding and Mkhitaryan retaining their starting spots. The Spanish manager gave the evening off to Bellerin, Xhaka, Ozil and Lacazette and left Mustafi and Torreira on the bench while Aubameyang and Kolasinac made appearances as substitutes.

Maybe a stronger starting lineup would have beaten Sporting. At least, Emery will have fresher players for Sunday’s game against Wolverhampton in the Premier League. But the possibility that Sporting could still win Group E means that Emery won’t be able to blood as many youngsters as he’d like against Vorskla on Nov. 29 or Qarabag on Dec. 13.

In a familiar pattern, Arsenal dominated ball possession without creating much. The passing speed was too slow to crack the Sporting defense. The Gunners also lacked penetration in the final third with just 5 successful dribbles, according to whoscored.com.

  1. The importance of the final ball

Creating chances often depends on the quality of the final ball. The Gunners usually rely on Ozil, Torreira, Bellerin and Monreal to make key passes. Unfortunately, Emery decided not to use those 4 players on Thursday, which put the onus on Mkhitaryan, Iwobi, Guendouzi, Lichtsteiner and Jenkinson to step up. A few interesting situations were wasted because of poor technique. Jenkinson in the 31st minute, Mkhitaryan in the 45th and Iwobi in the 84th floated crosses out of play.

  1. Sporting’s Mourinhesque performance

The Portuguese side was never really pulled out of position. They won some key duels inside the area, cutting out crosses from Welbeck in the 8th and Mkhitaryan in the 12th. And when Sporting felt that the Gunners were starting a dangerous counterattack, they had no scruple to make cynical fouls: Acuna blocked Smith-Rowe’s run in the 20th, Gaspar held Iwobi in the 41st, Acuna tripped Smith-Rowe in the 70th and Mathieu was sent off in the 87th for fouling Aubameyang as the last defender.

  1. Welbeck’s ankle injury

The Gunners might have lost Welbeck for several months. He’s not a regular starter in the Premier League but his versatility is an asset for Arsenal. Welbeck was making an impact in the first half, heading a free kick from Mkhitaryan wide in the 20th and heading a cross from Lichtsteiner straight at Ribeiro in the 25th. Unfortunately, Welbeck landed awkwardly on that last play. The pain was so strong that Welbeck had to breathe in some oxygen before being stretchered off the pitch. It would be a miracle if there’s no ligament damage.

  1. Iwobi is not the finished product yet

The Nigeria international has been making progress under Emery but he’s far from the finished product. Iwobi needs to improve his decision-making, especially when to take on a defender. He lost possession in the 1st, 25th and 66th while running into traffic. His passing game was a mixed bag. From a short corner, Iwobi made a pass for nobody in the 36th. Iwobi still finished the game with 3 key passes, the most for any player, including a low cross for Mkhitaryan, whose first-time effort was saved by Ribeiro in the 81st.

  1. Guendouzi needs to tidy up

There’s no doubt about Guendouzi’s potential: the French teenager has an eye for a pass. He slightly overhit his ball over the top for Smith-Rowe in the 6th and made a low cross for Welbeck in the 17th that nearly led to an own goal from Mathieu. Guendouzi also put in a shift defensively, winning 1 tackle and making 2 interceptions. But as a holding midfielder, Guendouzi must cut his turnover rate. He had 4 turnovers according to whoscored.com, compared to just 1 for Ramsey. Guendouzi was dispossessed on the edge of the Arsenal box in the 3rd, putting his team in trouble.

  1. Lichtsteiner’s hamstring injury

The Switzerland international picked up his customary yellow card with a challenge from behind on Nani in the 21st. He also made a teasing cross for Smith-Rowe, who couldn’t climb high enough to head the ball in the 38th. While charging forward in the 71st, Lichtsteiner seemed to pull his hamstring and was replaced by Maitland-Niles three minutes later. I actually think Maitland-Niles would be a better back-up for Bellerin, especially in the Premier League where the 34-year-old Lichtsteiner struggles to cope with the pace of the game.

  1. Where does Ramsey fit in Emery’s plans?

Emery played Ramsey in the hole at the start of the season. That advanced position nullified Ramsey’s main strength, which is the late runs he makes into the box. On Thursday, Ramsey played in a deeper position alongside Guendouzi. The Wales midfielder led all players with 115 passes but had little impact on his team’s passing game because he’s not a deep-lying playmaker. At least, Ramsey tried to show Emery that he could play in front of the defense. He was tied with Mkhitaryan for the most interceptions (3) made by any player and covered Jenkinson in the 56th and the centerbacks in stoppage time.

 

Crystal Palace vs. Arsenal: 2-2 draw ends Gunners’ winning streak

The Gunners ran out of luck on Sunday as they gave away two penalties to draw 2-2 with Crystal Palace. They trail Chelsea by 2 points in the Premier League but still hold onto fourth place after Manchester City edged Spurs tonight. The target for this season is 76 points (that is, 2.00 points per game), knowing that Liverpool finished fourth in the past two seasons with a minimum of 75 points. The Gunners are on course to at least match that total with 22 points from 10 games so far.

Crystal Palace vs. ArsenalPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

For 27 minutes, it looked like Arsenal would win ugly again. But the Gunners couldn’t protect their 2-1 lead and conceded the equalizer in the 83rd minute. The draw was a fair result as the Eagles proved the more threatening team with 16 goal attempts compared to just 7 for Arsenal.

Emery made 6 changes to the side that won in Lisbon last Thursday with Aubameyang, Guendouzi, Xhaka, Holding and Leno retaining their starting spots. Despite those changes, the Gunners looked a bit jaded, playing their third game in a 7-day span. They enjoyed 58% of Wengeresque sterile possession because the lack of movement led to a passing speed too slow to destabilize the Palace defense. It was no surprise if the Arsenal centerbacks and central midfielders finished the game as the players who made the most passes: 74 for Mustafi, 74 for Guendouzi, 73 for Holding and 72 for Torreira, according to the club’s website.

Tactically, the Eagles targeted the Arsenal fullbacks as Zaha and Townsend led all players with 3 key passes each. Bellerin coped well with Zaha on the right flank. The Spaniard was obviously more cautious with his forward runs but he still managed to be in a scoring position in the 24th minute. Ozil squared the ball back to Bellerin, who took 2 touches before firing a shot that was blocked. Bellerin lacked spontaneity on that play. A first-time effort with his left foot was the more natural option, but Bellerin preferred to shift the ball to his stronger right foot.

Playing Xhaka out of position

Bellerin suffered a muscle strain and was replaced at halftime by Lichtsteiner, who had a hard time with Zaha. Lichtsteiner fouled Zaha from behind in the 63rd and got booked in the 79th for a mistimed challenge on the Palace winger. In his 45-minute cameo, Lichtsteiner did very little with just 1 tackle won, 0 interception and 1 ball recovery, compared to 1 tackle won, 1 interception and 5 recoveries for Bellerin, according to the club’s website. It’s not the first time this season that the game has looked too quick for the Switzerland international.

On the left flank, Emery’s gamble backfired. Xhaka survived in the previous games against Ghezzal and an aging Nani, but he faced a sterner test against Townsend and Zaha. In the 15th, Townsend toyed with Xhaka before making a cross for an unmarked Zaha, who hit the base of the post. Bellerin was marking McArthur on that play, while Iwobi was late to cover Bellerin at the far post. A minute later, Van Aanholt played a one-two with Zaha before feeding Townsend, who missed the target from close range. Van Aanholt ran past Bellerin on that play while Townsend got ahead of a static Xhaka. A counterattack in the 82nd fatally exposed Xhaka’s lack of mobility. Zaha fooled Xhaka with a couple of stepovers, and instead of backing down, Xhaka stuck out his left leg to trip Zaha. The referee awarded a penalty that Milivojevic converted to salvage a point for the Eagles.

Xhaka deserves some credit for getting the Gunners back in the game by netting a curling free kick inside the far post in the 52nd. But you could tell that Xhaka didn’t feel comfortable in the leftback position with a passing accuracy of 72%, compared to 82% for Bellerin and 81% for Lichtsteiner. Xhaka tried hard, winning 2 of 4 tackles and 57% of his duels and making 1 interception and 5 recoveries. But the unfavorable matchup ultimately proved his undoing. I believe Emery should have started Lichtsteiner or Holding in the leftback position. Holding played as a fullback at Bolton before joining Arsenal and might have reacted more cautiously in a 1v1 situation with Zaha.

Using the weaker foot, or not

The opening goal also came from a defensive error. Leno weakly punched away a corner on the stroke of halftime. The ball fell to Tomkins, who chested it down to have an awkward effort blocked by Bellerin. The loose ball rolled toward Kouyate, who was brought down by Mustafi. The German defender was in a good position to make a block and had no reason to panic and dive in. Milivojevic converted the subsequent spot kick to give Palace the lead. In his third season at Arsenal, Mustafi still can’t refrain from making those reckless tackles. That’s a problem for a club in need of a leader at the back. Koscielny is 33 and past his prime while Sokratis is 30 and lacks the recovery pace to play a high defensive line.

Up front, Lacazette worked his socks off with 5 tackles made, 1 interception and 5 ball recoveries. But he was quite inefficient in the final third. Lacazette failed to catch the frame with an 18-yard strike in the 22nd and crossed the ball out of play in the 38th. His decision-making was incredibly poor in the 82nd. Leading a counterattack, Iwobi found Lacazette inside the Palace area. If you look at the screen capture below, you can see that Lacazette had 3 good passing options with Welbeck and Ramsey at the near post and Guendouzi at the far post.

Crystal Palace M82edLacazette takes a pass from Iwobi and has 3 passing options. (Photo credit: NBC)

The best option would have been to cut the ball back for Ramsey. But Lacazette refused to cross the ball with his left foot and ran toward the corner flag to check back onto his right foot and make a sloppy cross toward Torreira in midfield. Meyer intercepted the ball and the Eagles hit Arsenal on the fast break with Zaha taking on Xhaka to earn a decisive penalty. Lacazette was also involved in the controversial play that led to Aubameyang’s goal in the 56th. With his hand, the French striker diverted Xhaka’s corner toward the far post where Aubameyang stabbed the ball home. The goal-line technology confirmed that the ball had crossed the line by less than an inch. But there was no VAR technology to cancel the goal for Lacazette’s blatant handball.

Ramsey’s olive branch

Aubameyang is a typical poacher. It doesn’t make sense for him to play on the left wing. Aubameyang should lead the line since he’s stronger in the air and faster than Lacazette. Emery yanked Aubameyang off in the 78th to send on Ramsey. The Wales international played in a three-man midfield as the Gunners switched to a 4-3-3 formation with Welbeck, Lacazette and Iwobi in the front three. Ramsey had an opportunity to score the winner in the 89th but he couldn’t connect with Xhaka’s cross and Hennessey caught the ball.

After the Lisbon game, Ramsey pretty much dangled an olive branch in front of the board by asking why the club withdrew their contract offer. Ramsey also said he had agreed the deal, although he didn’t sign it. The situation is more complex than it seems. Ramsey and the club were negotiating in the summer before the talks broke down at the end of September. The board definitely wanted a quick resolution. They didn’t want a repeat of the Sanchez-Ozil situation with negotiations lasting forever and driving salaries up while creating uncertainty around the squad. On the other hand, it was in Ramsey’s interest to have long negotiations and use offers from other clubs to obtain a significant raise. If Emery and the board want to keep Ramsey, they could test his good faith by asking him to sign the deal that was on the table. Now the big question mark is how much bad blood there was between both parties during the negotiations.

I believe the club should make one last effort to keep Ramsey. The Gunners don’t have any natural replacement for the Wales midfielder in their squad. In fact, that kind of box-to-box player is a rare commodity in the Premier League. Ramsey notched 0.71 goal and assist per Premier League game last season. That’s a much better return than Pogba (0.59), Gundogan (0.17), Milner (0.09) and Wijnaldum (0.09). Of course, you can find midfielders with similar stats (De Bruyne, Silva, Eriksen), but keep in mind that they are playmakers and not box-to-box players like Ramsey.

An anonymous Ozil

The only other British player with a similar potential is Loftus-Cheek. But the big difference here is that Loftus-Cheek is still an unknown quantity at 22 while Ramsey is a proven big-game player -Ramsey scored the winning goal in two FA Cup finals.

Another reason to extend Ramsey’s contract is the issue of leadership. Ramsey is one of the 5 captains named by Emery. The other captains are Cech, Koscielny, Xhaka and Ozil. Both Cech and Koscielny are past their prime, Xhaka is a flawed player and Ozil has never been a leader. That leaves Ramsey as the only decent choice for the armband. As the current longest serving player at the club, Ramsey also has the legitimacy to be Arsenal’s standard-bearer.

If the staff and the owner were British, Ramsey’s contract would have been a no-brainer. Most fans can easily see Ramsey become what Gerrard was for Liverpool or what Scholes was for Manchester United. Unfortunately, Kroenke is American, Sanllehi and Emery are Spanish, Mislintat is German and Gazidis is South African. They may not have the same understanding of the club’s identity as the fans.

A few months ago, the board gave Ozil a new contract (£350,000 a week). Why they were so generous with Ozil and more strict with Ramsey is a big mystery. After his passing masterclass against Leicester, Ozil had a poor game at Selhurst Park with 0 goal attempt and only 1 key pass. Ozil didn’t even play against Sporting Lisbon and was therefore well rested, so he had no excuse for his anonymous performance. Emery replaced Ozil with Welbeck in the 68th. Out of frustration, Ozil threw his gloves on the ground as he left the pitch.

The problem with this Arsenal team is that they have no consistent performer in the creative positions. Iwobi was the alternative to Ozil for creating chances. But the Nigeria international had 0 key pass, and 8 turnovers, the most for any player according to whoscored.com. He also won only 22% of his duels, the lowest percentage for any Gunner according to the club’s website. I didn’t really understand why Emery left Mkhitaryan on the bench.

Getting the priorities right

In central midfield, Torreira had a decent game, winning 1 of 3 tackles and 71% of his duels and making 3 interceptions and 9 ball recoveries. Torreira didn’t reach the heights of his performance against Leicester (13 recoveries) or Fulham (6 interceptions), but he showed on Sunday that he has adapted to the pace and physicality of the Premier League within a couple of months. Now the Uruguay midfielder wins the 50-50 duels and better uses his body to shield the ball and draw a foul. It’s no coincidence if Torreira was the most fouled player (4) on the Arsenal team.

Alongside Torreira, Guendouzi produced a high-energy performance, winning 3 of 6 tackles and 50% of his duels and making 1 interception and 11 recoveries. The French teenager also cut his turnover rate (3) but he still needs to release the ball more quickly. In stoppage time, Guendouzi reacted like a seasoned pro by killing a counterattack with a cynical foul on Meyer.

The Gunners next play Blackpool in the League Cup on Wednesday and Liverpool in the Premier League on Saturday. The Blackpool game is the perfect opportunity for Emery to blood some youngsters and rest some first-team players who need a break. The Spanish manager must get his priorities right because the Liverpool game could make or break our season. The Gunners have never led at halftime in the Premier League this season. They will need a much better start to have a chance against the Reds.