Tag Archives: Welbeck

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

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

West Brom vs. Arsenal

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

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

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

Lack of defensive awareness

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

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

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

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

Targeting Sanchez

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

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

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

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

The board’s passivity

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

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

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

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

 

FA Cup: A few thoughts on the 5-0 win over Southampton

Walcott notched a hat trick on Saturday and Welbeck opened his account this season with two goals as the Gunners thrashed Southampton 5-0 in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Last November, Arsenal lost 2-0 to the Saints in the League Cup after fielding a weakened team. The Gunners learned their lesson and picked a stronger starting lineup while Southampton preferred to rest some key players.

  1. Perez is such an underrated player

Arsenal signed Perez last summer because of his goalscoring abilities. But the Spaniard has tremendous passing skills too. He hit 3 accurate through balls out of 4, the most for any player according to whoscored.com. He also displayed a fantastic work-rate by winning 4 tackles.

fa-cup-southampton

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

In the role of a false nine, Perez helped create two goals with some nifty link-up play. He fed Welbeck for the opening goal in the 15th minute. Initially, the play didn’t look dangerous when Maitland-Niles found Perez back to goal. But Perez created some space behind the Saints’ backline by dropping back and he gave them no time to regroup by making a first-time pass. You can see Perez’s intelligence on the pitch as he spots Welbeck’s run before receiving the ball from Maitland-Niles. Welbeck then played a one-two with Perez before setting up Walcott for the third goal in the 35th.

Perez struck a good understanding with Welbeck at St Mary’s stadium just like he was on the same wavelength with Ozil against Ludogorets and with Giroud against Preston and Bournemouth. He made a teasing cross for Welbeck in the fifth minute but the England international couldn’t make contact with the ball for a tap-in. Perez also teed up Bellerin, who shot straight at the goalkeeper in the 53rd.

  1. Maitland-Niles is the revelation of the season

Much like Bellerin enjoyed a breakthrough season two years ago and Iwobi broke into the first team last season, Maitland-Niles is the youngster who is knocking on the door of the manager with a string of good performances.

At 19, Maitland-Niles is already showing some smart positional play. He helped set a good tempo on Saturday by taking very few touches. His sober and clean performance as a holding midfielder allowed Oxlade-Chamberlain to focus on his playmaking duties. Maitland-Niles won 6 tackles and made 3 interceptions, the most for any player in both categories according to whoscored.com. He also made 79 passes, the most for any player, an obvious sign that his teammates trust him on the pitch.

If Maitland-Niles keeps performing at this level, he could leapfrog Elneny in the pecking order just like Bellerin got ahead of Debuchy and Jenkinson. Maitland-Niles stood on his feet to win a tackle inside the Arsenal area in the 44th. Knowing that Xhaka got sent off for some reckless challenges, it must be good news for the manager to see that Maitland-Niles does not dive in.

His reading of the game also saved the Gunners a couple of times. Long in the 51st and Sims in the 74th got the better of Mustafi, but each time Maitland-Niles covered the Germany international to either clear the danger or make a crucial block. He also came to Bellerin’s rescue when the Spaniard lost possession in the 56th.

Maitland-Niles seems more ready than Holding or Reine-Adelaide to join the first team. Holding still needs to iron out basic mistakes like taking unnecessary risks in his own half while Reine-Adelaide is a bit too soft for the Premier League despite showing his class with some stunning dribbling moves. The French teenager was dispossessed 4 times, the most for any Arsenal player.

  1. The Ox is a solid option in central midfield

Oxlade-Chamberlain really looked comfortable in the deep-lying playmaker role. He made 3 key passes, more than any other player, and slipped 2 accurate through balls out of 3. His passing range also helped the Ox hit 7 accurate long balls out of 8.

The former Southampton player created the second goal in the 22nd with a ball over the top for Welbeck, who ghosted past Stephens to beat Lewis. The Ox also played Perez clean through on goal with a long ball in the 89th, but the Spaniard was denied by Lewis. His delivery on set pieces was a mixed bag. The Ox wasted a free kick and a corner by overhitting the ball. On a more positive note, Mustafi met an Ox free kick in the 29th to head wide from six yards.

Some fans may wonder why the Ox is not playing more often in midfield. Competition with Cazorla, Ramsey, Wilshere and Xhaka is one obvious explanation. But another reason is the time it took for the Ox to mature as a player. In the past seasons, inconsistency combined with a high turnover rate and an average decision-making have prevented the Ox from claiming a starting spot in midfield.

The Southampton game was pretty much an audition for central midfielders since Coquelin and Ramsey are the only two players available now. Xhaka is serving a four-game suspension, Elneny is on national duty with Egypt and Cazorla may not return before April.

The Ox and Maitland-Niles formed a complementary duo. However, we shouldn’t get our hopes high too quickly. The Southampton midfield was poor. Also, there’s no guarantee that Maitland-Niles or the Ox will perform as well with a different partner in central midfield. For the next FA Cup game, Wenger could test again the tandem formed by the Ox and Maitland-Niles or experiment with a Ramsey-Maitland duo or an Ox-Coquelin duo.

  1. Sanchez is always hungry

Somehow, the manager couldn’t keep Sanchez on the bench for the entire match. The Chile striker replaced Welbeck in the 64th and showed his hunger by making two assists. He capitalized on a mazy run from the Ox in the 69th to cut the ball back for Walcott, who made it 4-0 with a low strike into the far corner. Sanchez then collected a long ball from Perez in the 84th and kept two defenders busy before picking out Walcott, who sealed the game with a first-time finish.

  1. Gibbs is not taking his chance

Monreal has had his ups and downs this season. Yet, Gibbs has not been able to snatch the starting spot at leftback. Monreal has made 20 starts in the Premier League compared to just 2 for Gibbs. Saturday’s game showed why. Gibbs gave away a cheap free kick on the edge of the box by tripping Long in the 32nd. The Saints then capitalized on silly turnovers from Gibbs in the 45th and 76th to start counterattacks.

  1. The Premier League is still the top priority

Wenger clearly had Tuesday’s game against Watford on his mind as he left regular starters like Cech, Koscielny, Coquelin, Ramsey, Ozil and Giroud out of the squad while giving some playing time to youngsters like Reine-Adelaide and Maitland-Niles and to second-choice players like Ospina, Holding, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Perez and Welbeck. The Gunners need a victory over Watford to stay in the title race.

  1. Wenger started serving his four-game ban

The manager watched the match from the stands and it made no real difference since Wenger is not a control freak like Conte or Guardiola. Bould proved just as quiet on the bench as the French manager usually is. On paper, Wenger mostly makes an impact on the game with the starting lineup, tactical adjustments at halftime and substitutions in the second half. The touchline ban did not affect Wenger’s influence on the team, especially since the Gunners were leading 3-0 at the end of the first half.

I thought the 10-game ban suggested by some pundits was simply ridiculous. Pardew was hit with a two-game suspension for pushing a linesman in 2012. A four-game ban looked like standard punishment for the small shove on Taylor in the 2-1 win over Burnley combined with the red card for dissent. It wouldn’t have made sense to punish Wenger with a 10-game ban knowing that Pardew was suspended for 7 games in 2014 for headbutting a player. In fact, it would have made the FA look bad to hit Wenger with the same 10-game ban Suarez got for biting Ivanovic in 2013. Comparing a shove with a bite, really?

  1. Mertesacker is back in the squad

Mertesacker sat on the bench at St Mary’s stadium after recovering from a knee injury he picked up last summer. The German centerback is a leader in the dressing room but I’m not sure he should be on the bench for a Premier League game. Mertesacker’s lack of pace makes the Gunners vulnerable on the fast break and prevents them from playing a high defensive line efficiently. Paulista’s decision-making can be dodgy, but I still think he would be a more valuable centerback as long as he plays alongside Koscielny. Putting Mertesacker on the bench would also mean slowing down Holding’s development.

  1. Improving the chemistry in the dressing room

There are a couple of days left before the end of the winter transfer window. It’s unlikely that the club will sign a new player this month. However, the Gunners should take advantage of that window to make some adjustments in the squad and get rid of grumpy players who want more playing time.

Debuchy is the big thorn in Arsenal’s side. A loan seems the most realistic option given his age and wages. Jenkinson is of no use either for the team as he has slipped behind Bellerin, Paulista and Maitland-Niles in the pecking order at rightback. Crystal Palace and Arsenal have agreed a deal but the move has stalled because of Jenkinson’s salary demands. The club might also consider loaning out Akpom and Reine-Adelaide to speed up their development.

 

Swansea vs. Arsenal: Gunners make up ground with 4-0 win

Arsenal thrashed Swansea 4-0 on Saturday to move into fourth place, one point behind Liverpool and Tottenham. The scoreline was quite flattering since two goals resulted from deflected shots and the other two came from poor clearances. However, what really matters is the clean sheet, only their seventh in the Premier League this season.

swansea-vs-arsenal

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

One big reason why the Gunners have struggled to mount a serious title challenge is their defensive record. They have conceded 22 goals so far, 7 more than Chelsea and 8 more than Tottenham. The draw with Bournemouth and the losses to Manchester City, Everton and Liverpool are obvious examples of points dropped because of some poor defending. By contrast, the Gunners have an outstanding offensive record with 48 goals scored. Only Liverpool can match that tally. The goalless draws with Middlesbrough and Leicester are the only two league games in which Arsenal failed to find the net.

At the Liberty stadium, the Gunners produced a lethargic display in the first half with a slow tempo and no penetration. Somehow, they took the lead in the 37th minute thanks to Giroud, the man who scores important goals. The France striker didn’t cover himself in glory on that play though. Ramsey squared the ball back to Giroud, who couldn’t make contact with the ball for a tap-in. Sanchez kept the ball in play and made a cross for Ozil, whose header was blocked by Mawson. The ball fell into the path of Giroud, who slammed it into the top corner.

Giroud usually loves celebrating his goals, but an ankle injury he picked up while missing the tap-in led him to ask for a substitution. He managed to stay on the pitch until the 60th when Oxlade-Chamberlain finally came off the bench. By winning 4 of 6 aerial duels, Giroud proved a valuable outlet for long balls when Arsenal tried to evade the Swans’ high press.

The bigger picture

Sanchez sealed the win by scoring from close range in the 73rd. The Ox initially made a poor cross that sailed behind Sanchez. Routledge beat Ramsey to the loose ball only to knock it back into the path of Sanchez, who volleyed home. Sanchez could have made it 5-0 in the 78th but he was dispossessed by Mawson after an awkward first touch.

The Chile striker had 2 key passes, 2 successful dribbles out of 2, and tested Fabianski with a low strike in the 28th. He showed a tremendous work-rate by winning 4 of 5 tackles, more than any other player according to Squawka. As a result of his hyperactivity, Sanchez was also dispossessed 4 times.

Much was said about Sanchez’s reaction when Welbeck replaced him in the 79th. Sanchez clearly looked upset. However, it shouldn’t be a big deal. It simply shows that Sanchez wants to give his all. Players like Aguero and Cristiano Ronaldo also look frustrated when they are yanked off the pitch. The bigger picture is that Wenger needed to give some playing time to Welbeck, who is the only forward with a skillset similar to Giroud’s.

On the right wing, Iwobi gave Arsenal a 3-0 lead with two deflected shots. He capitalized on a good spell of domination in the 54th to fire a shot that took a deflection off Cork to loop over Fabianski. Then, Iwobi’s cross was diverted by Naughton into his own net in the 67th. Those were lucky goals, but you have to give Iwobi some credit for his desire. The Nigeria international also improved his defensive contribution by winning 2 of 3 tackles and 2 of 2 aerial duels.

A work in progress

In his return from illness, Ozil didn’t show much although he managed to make 3 key passes, the most for any player. His work-rate is still questionable. Ramsey ended up pressing a Swan in the space occupied by Ozil because the Germany playmaker was reluctant to do it. It’s not the first time that Ozil has ignored his defensive duties. Giroud against West Brom and Sanchez against Manchester City also had to close down opponents in Ozil’s zone.

The tandem formed by Xhaka and Ramsey in midfield is still a work in progress. When Coquelin starts alongside Cazorla or Xhaka, it’s pretty clear that Coquelin will do most of the defensive work while Cazorla or Xhaka will focus on building plays. The distribution is more even when Xhaka teams up with Ramsey because Xhaka doesn’t have Coquelin’s mobility while Ramsey is not a natural defensive midfielder. Offensively, Xhaka is the one connecting the defense with the forwards while Ramsey is the one making the runs in the final third. Defensively, Xhaka is the one protecting the back four while Ramsey is the one pressing high up the pitch.

Xhaka had two passes intercepted in the first 10 minutes before growing into the game. The Switzerland international finished the match with a passing accuracy of 93.5%, the highest percentage for any starting player. He also hit 5 accurate long balls out of 6. Among the outfield players, only Ki had more accurate long balls according to whoscored.com. At 24, Xhaka still has room for improvement, especially in his reading of the game. He dropped back in a too deep position in the 11th instead of staying with Naughton, who took a pass from Dyer for a low drive that Cech turned around the post. In the closing minutes, Xhaka tested Fabianski twice with long-range efforts.

Ball-watching

Ramsey and Xhaka combined to win only 2 of 8 tackles. Xhaka made 4 interceptions compared to just 1 for Ramsey. That’s an area in which Ramsey could improve. Aware of his defensive duties, Ramsey was also more frugal with his runs in the final third. His only goal attempt was a low strike that Fabianski saved in the 53rd.

The Swans were not as shabby as the scoreline would suggest. They created 7 chances compared to 9 for Arsenal, according to Squawka. Their best chances came from turnovers and ball-watching by the Gunners. Wenger really needs to do something about ball-watching in training because that could become a serious problem for his team.

Managers often talk about fitness, technique, mental toughness and reading of the game as key factors in the success of a player, but focus is just as important. One short lapse of concentration is enough to prevent a player from spotting a dangerous situation or a goalscoring opportunity.

Swansea could have equalized in the 43rd when Llorente held off Koscielny to feed Ki. The South Korea international took a heavy first touch and the ball got away from him. Koscielny flicked out a leg but removed it to avoid a penalty. Ki went down while the loose ball fell to Routledge, who got ahead of Paulista to fire a low strike that Cech parried with his legs. The referee booked Ki for diving although there seemed to be contact between Ki and Koscielny. However, the main defensive mistake on that play was Xhaka’s failure to track Ki’s run inside the area. See the screen captures below.

swansea-aedXhaka caught ball-watching as Ki makes a dangerous run in front of him (Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com)

The Gunners were guilty of another ball-watching moment in the 65th when Kingsley’s half-volley hit Llorente, who teed up Fernandez for an off-target shot. The main defensive mistake on that play was the Ox’s failure to properly mark Fernandez. See the screen captures below.

swansea-bedOxlade-Chamberlain caught ball-watching as Fernandez gets a free shot in front of him (Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com)

The Swans also capitalized on turnovers to have a crack at goal. Dyer intercepted Paulista’s poor pass to Koscielny on the stroke of halftime but wasted a good situation with a long-range effort instead of choosing one of his three passing options. Paulista put his team in trouble again in the 62nd by chesting the ball down instead of heading it away. Kingsley dispossessed Paulista to feed Routledge, whose low strike was parried by Cech. Mustafi also cheaply gave the ball away in the 86th, but Sigurdsson could only drag his shot straight at Cech.

Looking beyond Cazorla

Koscielny was a dominant force in the air, winning 7 of 7 aerial duels. His only blemish was an underhit header that Sygurdsson nearly intercepted in the 16th. Paulista got the nod over Holding at rightback but proved the weak link in the back four with some dodgy decision-making. By contrast, Monreal had a solid performance, winning 3 of 6 tackles and making 5 interceptions and 2 blocks, according to Squawka.

January is a key month for Arsenal. First, because they have an easy schedule on paper and can therefore make up ground before visiting Chelsea in February. And second, because they have no mid-week game for three consecutive weeks, which means more time available on the training ground to work on tactical issues. Knowing that Cazorla underwent a second surgery and may not return before April, the Gunners should wisely use that time to make their team more compact in order to improve their defensive record.

Cazorla’s contract expires this summer. That’s a tricky issue for Arsenal because the Spaniard has become a key component in midfield. At 32, his best days are obviously behind him. A one-year extension would seem the most reasonable outcome for both parties as Cazorla’s past two years at the club have been marred by injuries and strangely echo the end of Arteta’s career.

From a long-term perspective, the manager will need to sign a specific type of midfielder this summer. We can divide our midfielders into three categories: those who mostly defend (Coquelin, Elneny, Xhaka), those who mostly attack (Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain), and those who can both defend and attack (Cazorla, Ramsey, Wilshere). The problem is that Cazorla, Wilshere and Ramsey are injury-prone players. We therefore need cover for that kind of profile, whether it’s a box-to-box player like Ramsey or a deep-lying playmaker like Cazorla.

FA Cup: A few thoughts on the 2-1 win over Preston

The Gunners overcame an embarrassing first-half performance on Saturday to edge Preston 2-1 in the third round of the FA Cup. The Lilywhites may ply their trade in the Championship, the second division of English football, they still managed to outplay Arsenal for 45 minutes. It was as bad as the 1-1 draw with Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.

  1. An FA Cup game is about work-rate and desire

Preston took a leaf out of Bournemouth’s playbook by giving everything in the first half. The Lilywhites played at a high tempo and showed more commitment than Arsenal, whose lack of intensity was blatant. The Gunners looked like they were playing some kind of pre-season friendly. The poor defensive contribution from the attacking players allowed Preston to easily reach the Arsenal box on counterattacks.

fa-cup-preston

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

It’s only after the halftime break that the Gunners fixed those issues. In the old days, Vieira, Petit or Gilberto Silva would have screamed at their teammates for their poor work-rate. I felt Xhaka and Ramsey should have said in the first half that they needed more defensive support. If there’s a lack of leadership on the pitch, then it becomes a liability because the best teams have players who can quickly spot problems and make adjustments without waiting for the manager to intervene. The Lilywhites parked the bus in the second half as they started tiring while Arsenal played with more purpose.

The Gunners’ first-half performance was so pathetic that Preston could have led 3-0. Hugill made a run in behind Monreal to collect a through ball from McGeady in the seventh minute. The Preston striker fed Robinson, who beat Ospina with a low strike. Arsenal lost three duels on that play as Monreal failed to intercept McGeady’s pass, Paulista missed his clearance and Mustafi was beaten to the ball by Robinson.

The Lilywhites nearly doubled the lead on a counterattack in the 22nd but Mustafi blocked Robinson’s header. Two minutes later, Paulista gifted Preston another chance with a poor offside trap. Robinson got away from Paulista to cross the ball for Hugill, who couldn’t make contact for a tap-in. Ospina kept the Gunners in the game by turning around the post a dipping drive from Pearson in the 25th. Mustafi then lost possession on the edge of the box with a poor first touch in the 36th but Gallagher’s lob attempt was cleared off the line by Monreal.

Fatigue played a role in Tuesday’s 3-3 draw with Bournemouth. That was not the case for Saturday’s game at Deepdale stadium since Arsenal had 3 full days of rest and Wenger made 5 changes to the side that played in Bournemouth with Ospina, Paulista, Maitland-Niles, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Perez replacing Cech, Koscielny, Bellerin, Coquelin and Sanchez in the starting lineup.

  1. Perez is a good value signing

The Gunners signed him for 20 million euros last summer. Perez has shown great work-rate as well as consistency in his performances after needing a couple of months to recover from an ankle injury and adapt to English football. He set up Giroud with a backheel flick for the winning goal in the 89th. What I like about Perez is that he’s technically more gifted than Walcott but also works harder. His attitude is spot on. He’s also more consistent than the Ox.

Perez has struck a good understanding with Giroud. He played a one-two with the France striker in the 16th before firing straight at Maxwell from the edge of the box. Giroud then volleyed home the Spaniard’s cross in the 77th but the goal was disallowed for offside. That kind of understanding is important for the team because Giroud heavily depends on good service to find the net.

  1. Giroud scores important goals

His late goal against Preston sent Arsenal into the next round of the FA Cup. Giroud has scored 9 goals in all competitions this season. Seven were game-changing goals. In the Premier League, he scored twice in the 4-1 win over Sunderland on Oct. 29. His first goal gave Arsenal a 2-1 lead and his second made it 3-1. Giroud also scored the equalizer in the 1-1 draw with Manchester United on Nov. 19. He then netted the winner in the 1-0 victory over West Brom on Dec. 26 and opened the scoring in the 2-0 win over Crystal Palace on Jan. 1 before salvaging a point in the 3-3 draw with Bournemouth. In the Champions League, Giroud made it 2-2 at Ludogorets before Ozil scored the winner. He also made it 1-1 in the 2-2 draw with Paris Saint-Germain. Basically, only his second goal against Sunderland and his equalizer against PSG did not directly yield points.

  1. Ramsey opened his account

In a season marred by injuries, Ramsey finally scored his first goal in the 46th. Iwobi held off three Lilywhites to buy time for Ramsey, who equalized from 18 yards. The shot was at a good height for Maxwell but simply had too much power.

Ramsey finished the game with 102 passes. Only Xhaka made more passes with 112. Ramsey is definitely a box-to-box player, not a playmaker. He made just 1 key pass, less than five other Gunners (Maitland, Mustafi, Perez, Iwobi and the Ox). His main strength is to make those deep runs and be in a good position to score. He played a one-two with Giroud in the 33rd but was reluctant to shoot with his weaker foot. See the screen capture below. Ramsey checked back before slipping the ball to Perez and the chance was gone.

preston-a-edited

Ramsey’s shooting options with his left foot from 16 yards (Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com)

The Wales midfielder also met a cross from Maitland in the 36th for a header that Maxwell saved. The Gunners need Ramsey to be close to his performance level of the 2013-14 season if they want to finish in the Top 4, especially since Cazorla won’t return before March. In modern football, midfielders who can both attack and defend are a hot commodity because they can make a big difference in transition plays.

  1. Welbeck is back

In his return from a knee injury, Welbeck came off the bench to replace the Ox in the 83rd. Welbeck nearly scored in stoppage time with a curling shot that Maxwell tipped over the bar. Although Welbeck played on the left wing, he’s a more interesting option up front because he’s the only forward in the Arsenal squad who can win headers and hold the ball up like Giroud.

  1. Maitland-Niles’ future is in midfield

The manager is looking for alternatives at rightback because Jenkinson and Debuchy are poor options if Bellerin gets injured. Maitland-Niles’ performance as a fullback was a mixed bag. He made 2 key passes and 8 tackles, more than any other Gunner, but he also failed to stop some dangerous crosses from McGeady. Maitland-Niles especially struggled to hit the brakes and turn quickly. It wasn’t as bad as Chambers but Maitland-Niles doesn’t look like a natural fullback. I believe ballwinner is his best position. Since Coquelin is sidelined by a hamstring injury, it would make sense to play Maitland-Niles as a defensive midfielder in the next FA Cup game.

  1. Some attacking players forget their defensive duties

Iwobi and the Ox made 2 key passes each but contributed little defensively. They made no tackle and were not tidy in possession with 7 turnovers each, according to whoscored.com. They must improve their work-rate if they want to become regular starters. Offensively, Iwobi had a decent game as he made the assist for Ramsey’s goal and fed Giroud in the 34th for a chip that sailed wide. The Nigeria international also tested Maxwell with a low strike in the 86th. By contrast, the Ox had a rough day as he tried to overcomplicate things instead of keeping it simple.

Manchester City vs. Arsenal: Giroud ends goal drought in 2-2 draw

Giroud scored and made an assist in the 2-2 draw with Manchester City on Sunday to prevent Spurs from securing second place in the Premier League. The Gunners can still finish second if they beat Aston Villa in the last game of the season next weekend and Spurs lose at Newcastle.

Manchester City vs. Arsenal

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

Wenger made two changes to the side that edged Norwich 1-0 the previous weekend by replacing the injured Mertesacker and Ozil with Paulista and Welbeck. Arsenal conceded the opening goal in the eighth minute, but Giroud leveled two minutes later with his first goal in the league since mid-January. Giroud lost Mangala to head in a corner after Clichy nearly scored an own goal by heading Giroud’s cross wide of the post. The Frenchman then held off Mangala to set up Sanchez for the equalizer in the 68th. Sanchez notched his 13th league goal this season by firing into the bottom corner.

Somehow, that equalizer reflects the Gunners’ offensive struggles. Sanchez and Giroud interacted for the first time this season to score a league goal. That’s a poor understanding for two players who are often in the final third. Sanchez has made 4 league assists this season, creating goals for Ozil, Campbell, Welbeck and Iwobi, while Giroud has raised his tally to 6 league assists after also helping Ozil, Koscielny, Walcott and Welbeck find the net. There’s no doubt that Arsenal would have scored more goals if the manager had improved the understanding between those two players.

Giroud and Sanchez have scored 13 league goals each. That’s not enough for a decent title bid. Even Ighalo and an aging Defoe have notched more league goals than Giroud or Sanchez. I thought Giroud was the best Gunner on Sunday. He led Arsenal with 2 key passes, which is a lot when Ozil is not around. Giroud fed Walcott in the 67th but the England international’s lob attempt sailed wide. Sanchez lived up to his reputation as a risk taker by making 5 successful dribbles out of 7 and by losing possession 3 times, the most for an Arsenal player. He also made 1 key pass and his only goal attempt gave the Gunners a point at the Etihad stadium.

Killing Ramsey’s qualities

The Citizens pressed high up the pitch to force turnovers and hit Arsenal on the fast break. That’s the way they’ve played in the Champions League this season to knock out Paris Saint-Germain and nearly match Real Madrid. The Gunners struggled to cope with Manchester City’s high intensity as the hosts enjoyed 57% of ball possession and mustered 14 shots compared to just 5 for Arsenal.

I felt our midfield was a bit too soft with Elneny, Ramsey and Iwobi. In the playmaking role, Iwobi had a poor game with 0 dribble, 0 tackle, 0 shot and 0 key pass. He was replaced by Walcott in the 59th. It’s the first time this season that the game has looked too fast for Iwobi. For a youngster, there’s no shame in not performing well against a top team. At 20, Iwobi still has a lot to learn. The manager might consider dropping him to the bench for the last game after a string of weak performances.

The Citizens outplayed Arsenal in midfield mostly because Wenger relied on Ramsey and Elneny to protect the back four. That duo can do a decent job against the weak and average sides, but it can’t contain the strong teams because neither Ramsey nor Elneny is a natural ballwinner. That partnership especially kills Ramsey’s qualities because he’s the one doing the dirty work while Elneny has more freedom to roam forward. That role distribution is just wrong.

Playing without a ballwinner

Ramsey led the team in passes and tackles (7 tackles according to whoscored.com and 12 tackles according to Squawka) and made 2 successful dribbles out of 3. But he made no key pass and his only goal attempt was off target. By contrast, Elneny lost all 4 tackles he made, according to Squawka, and had just 1 shot assist, the corner kick for Giroud’s goal. As you can see, Ramsey contributes a lot defensively but his offensive impact is annihilated while Elneny is inefficient in both categories.

Most of Manchester City’s chances came from the absence of a ballwinner in the Arsenal team. Navas made a cross in the eighth minute for Fernandinho, who knocked the ball down for Aguero and the Argentina striker fired a half-volley into the bottom corner for the opener. That goal showed the Gunners’ difficulties this season to deal with crosses and win second balls. Welbeck failed to stop Navas’ cross while Ramsey lost an aerial duel against Fernandinho and Elneny failed to win a 50-50 challenge against Aguero. If you replace Ramsey and Elneny with Vieira and Gilberto, you can bet the Citizens would have never scored on that play.

Fernando then beat Ramsey to the ball in the 16th to feed Aguero, whose effort was deflected out by Paulista. Arsenal midfielders were completely ridiculed in the 27th when Fernando won a tackle against Wilshere to initiate a counterattack. The Brazilian midfielder brushed off Ramsey and was able to slip the ball to Aguero because Elneny was out of position on the right wing. Although Koscielny was tightly marking Aguero, Cech charged outside the box to make an awkward clearance.

Cech’s issues at the near post

The Citizens took again advantage of our midfield woes in the second half. Iheanacho dropped back to pull Koscielny out of position in the 49th and Fernandinho ran into the big gap to collect a long ball from Navas and shoot wide from a tight angle. Elneny saw Fernandinho run in front of him and completely failed to read the play.

Two minutes later, De Bruyne benefited from a lucky bounce and cut inside Paulista to beat Cech at his near post with a low drive for a 2-1 lead. Bellerin lost his duel against De Bruyne on that play, while Elneny was too easily outpaced and Paulista failed to make the block. But the main culprit was Cech, who couldn’t stop a 24-yard effort. It was a goal similar to Crystal Palace’s equalizer by Bolasie last month. You would expect a very good goalkeeper like Cech to save those long-range strikes at the near post. Can Cech fix that problem or his legs are simply too old to go down quickly?

The turning point of the game occurred in the 54th. The Citizens capitalized on a Ramsey turnover to hit Arsenal on the fast break. Iheanacho bullied Monreal to create a 3 vs. 2 situation. The Manchester City striker had Aguero and Navas as passing options and both were not even marked by Koscielny and Paulista. A selfish Iheanacho wasted the chance by dragging his shot wide. Down 3-1, it would have been very hard for the Gunners to salvage a point. Again, fielding a ballwinner would have helped kill that kind of counterattack.

The impact of injuries for next season

De Bruyne gave Bellerin and Paulista a hard time. He scored a goal and led all players with 4 key passes. Paulista received a yellow card in the 71st for a clumsy challenge on De Bruyne. The Belgium international nearly scored from the subsequent free kick that Cech tipped over the bar.

The Arsenal back four did not get much protection from the midfielders, but I thought they made some really poor marking mistakes. Unmarked at the far post, Aguero met a corner in the 73rd to hit a volley wide. A minute later, Aguero played a one-two with De Bruyne only to miss the target with a diagonal shot. Several Gunners surrounded De Bruyne on that play but no one tracked Aguero. In the closing minutes, Paulista gave too much space to Bony, who connected with a cross from Sagna to unleash a volley that crashed against the bar.

The bad news from Sunday’s game was Welbeck’s knee injury. He was replaced in the 25th by Wilshere, who needed a bit of time to adjust to the pace of the game, much more intense than his brief cameo against Sunderland or the U21 games he has played to build his fitness. Welbeck’s injury means that we shouldn’t expect him to be available for more than 30 games next season. The same rationale should be considered for Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had a setback in his recovery from a knee injury. Hopefully, the manager will take those fitness issues into account during the summer transfer market, otherwise our bench could prove weak again next season.

Arsenal vs. Norwich: Gunners get away with 1-0 win despite lack of urgency

The Gunners ground out a 1-0 win over struggling Norwich on Saturday to move three points clear of Manchester City in the Premier League. It was a dull match with a lack of urgency from Arsenal. But one brilliant finish from Welbeck proved enough to make the difference.

Arsenal vs. Norwich

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

Cech made three saves in the first half while Ruddy was not even tested. It was no surprise to hear the crowd at the Emirates stadium boo at halftime after such a listless display. To a certain extent, it was similar to the Sunderland game with the Gunners enjoying 69% of ball possession but struggling to create clear-cut chances.The only difference with the Sunderland game is that Giroud and Welbeck played together in the second half.

Instead of replacing a Giroud low on confidence with Welbeck, the manager decided to pressure the Norwich centerbacks by pulling out Iwobi and sending on Welbeck in the 56th minute. That move quickly paid off as Giroud knocked down a cross from Bellerin into the path of Welbeck, who fired a half-volley into the bottom corner in the 59th. Giroud won his duel against Martin on that play while Bassong failed to block Welbeck’s first-time effort. That was Welbeck’s only shot of the game but he definitely made it count.

Most of the talk before the game was about some fans’ protest 12 minutes after kickoff and 12 minutes from time. There were in the stands some signs reading ‘Time for change,’ an obvious criticism of the club’s lack of ambition this season. However, the fans also sang loudly ‘One Arsene Wenger’ and ‘We love you Arsenal’ to show their support for the team.

In complete denial

Was the protest necessary? That initiative had its flaws but I believe it was necessary for the simple reason that every level of the club has been infected with complacency. When Wenger claimed Arsenal could contend for the title just by signing Cech last summer, I thought that was the worst piece of spin the manager ever tried to sell.

Arsenal got off to a poor start last season before Wenger found the balance in midfield with the tandem formed by Coquelin and Cazorla to finish third in the league and win the FA Cup. The opposite is happening this season. The Gunners led the league until January when their passing game started decomposing and Giroud and Ozil struggled to respectively score goals and make assists.

If you look at the bigger picture, there’s an obvious pattern in the past few seasons. Either the Gunners get off to a poor start and finish strong to secure a Champions League spot. Or they have a good start before fading in the second half of the season. In both cases, the squad is not good enough to perform consistently throughout an entire season. The protest was necessary because the owner, the board and the manager are in complete denial.

Now what I didn’t like about the protest is that it mostly targeted the manager. If Wenger is getting some stick for the club’s stagnation, then the owner and the board should be blamed too. The most ridiculous part of the protest was the reference to the 12-year period without a Premier League title. How different is that from Mourinho claiming that Wenger is a specialist in failure? If you go through those 12 years, there’s not much you can criticize Wenger for.

Giroud’s link-up play

Arsenal finished second in the Premier League and won the FA Cup during the 2004-05 season. A year later, the Gunners reached the Champions League final and ended up fourth in the Premier League. Both were good seasons. Finishing in the Top 4 from 2006 to 2013 was a great achievement when the club had to pay for the cost of the Emirates stadium and struggled to keep its best players.

The Gunners have enjoyed more maneuvering room financially since the summer of 2013. They signed Ozil and Flamini in the 2013-14 season to win the FA Cup and finish fourth in the league. They added Sanchez, Welbeck, Ospina, Debuchy, Chambers and Paulista to the squad the following season to retain the FA Cup and finish third in the league. Both were good seasons. The current season is the only one that has been really disappointing. We could have significantly strengthened the squad to contend for the title but we failed to do so.

On Saturday, a stubborn Wenger made no change to the side that dropped two points in the goalless draw at Sunderland. Not much really clicked offensively. Giroud was caught offside three times and had no shot on target. His best chance came in the 11th when he took a pass from Ramsey and had his goal attempt blocked by Martin. The Frenchman’s main contribution was his link-up play. Giroud made 3 key passes, tied with Ozil and Redmond for most chances created from open play. Iwobi played a one-two with Giroud in the 10th to fire wide from a tight angle. Giroud then set up Welbeck for the winner in the 59th and fed Elneny for an 18-yard effort that Ruddy tipped over the bar.

Ramsey’s tactical discipline

On the wings, Sanchez and Iwobi under-performed. Iwobi made just 1 key pass and none of his 2 shots was on target while Sanchez too often ran into traffic and had 5 turnovers. The Chile forward fired a long-range strike wide in the 65th and shot straight at Ruddy from a counterattack in the 71st. His poor understanding with Giroud is one of the reasons for Arsenal’s poor scoring form. Sanchez made a cross for Giroud in the 80th but the Frenchman couldn’t climb high enough and Ruddy had no trouble to catch the ball. Knowing a victory was crucial in the race for third place, the manager replaced Sanchez with Coquelin in the 84th.

In the playmaking role, Ozil had an average game. He is nowhere near the form he enjoyed in the first half of the season. The Germany international is still able to produce moments of magic, like the volleyed pass he made for Sanchez in the 71st. But there are also moments when you can’t help hanging your head. Ozil had Giroud and Ramsey to his right in the 85th, both in a very good position to pull the trigger. Yet, Ozil’s 10-yard pass was so shockingly poor that the ball rolled between the two players and the chance was gone. His only goal attempt came in the 73rd when he pounced on a clearance from the Norwich defense to unleash a half-volley from 30 yards over the bar.

Maybe the only surprise of the game was Ramsey’s new tactical discipline. In theory, Elneny is the holding midfielder and Ramsey the all-rounder. But Saturday’s stats showed Elneny and Ramsey took turns protecting the back four and providing support to the forwards. They had 1 key pass each and combined for 5 tackles and 5 interceptions, according to whoscored.com. The unusual stat here is their goal attempts. Ramsey didn’t take a single shot whereas Elneny took his chance three times.

Cech’s crucial saves

At the back, Monreal had a poor game as he was unable to keep Redmond quiet. The Canaries tested Cech’s shot-stopping skills in the sixth minute with their second foray into Arsenal territory. Sanchez failed to track Olsson, who hoisted the ball into the box. Mertesacker redirected the ball toward Redmond, who took a touch before forcing Cech into a leg save. Monreal was late for the block because Mertesacker and Koscielny were marking the same player, Brady, and therefore left Monreal with Jerome and Redmond at the far post.

Cech also prevented Norwich from taking the lead in the 42nd. Redmond chested down a cross from Houlahan to fire a powerful strike that Cech punched away. Elneny failed to stop Houlalan’s cross while Monreal was not tight enough to Redmond on that play. On the stroke of halftime, Redmond took advantage of Mertesacker’s sluggishness to create space but he missed the target with his low drive. The last scare came from a counterattack in the 70th. Redmond outpaced Ramsey down our left flank to make a low cross for Mbokani, but Paulista cleared the danger with a sliding tackle. The Brazilian centerback replaced Mertesacker, who pulled his hamstring in the 48th.

In the race for Champions League spots, the Gunners play their most important game of the season next Sunday. They could secure a third-place finish with a victory at the Etihad stadium. The Citizens could be knackered as they will also travel to Madrid for a Champions League match on Wednesday. Arsenal would retain third place with a draw but would then need to get a result against Aston Villa in the last game of the season. A loss at Manchester City could leave Arsenal in a fight with the Red Devils for fourth place. That’s not an option knowing the potential number of international players who will miss the start of next season.

Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace: Gunners blow lead again to drop out of Top 3

Can Arsenal stop the free fall? The Gunners blew again the lead in a 1-1 draw with lowly Crystal Palace on Sunday to drop to fourth place in the Premier League. They fell out of contention last month after dropping too many points against the weak teams this season. Now, they are in danger of missing out on a Champions League spot.

Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace

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

There will probably be no St Totteringham’s Day for the first time during Wenger’s tenure as the Gunners trail Tottenham by five points with just five games left. Arsenal’s form is so poor that you can’t even take for granted a Top 4 finish. At the end of February, the Gunners were four points clear of Manchester City and 10 clear of Manchester United. The Citizens are now level on points with Arsenal, but with a better goal difference, while the Red Devils are only four points behind us.

Here’s a quick look at our league results this year. January: W, D, D, L. February: D, W, W, L. March: L, D, W. April: W, D, D. We’ve racked up only 5 wins in the last 14 games. That’s basically one victory every three games, the kind of pace set by an average side. In fact, that’s exactly what we are. Seven clubs in the Premier League have collected more points than Arsenal this year: Leicester (34), Tottenham (30), Southampton (27), Manchester United (26), Manchester City (24), Chelsea (24) and West Ham (24). With 21 points, the Gunners are performing at the same level as Liverpool, Swansea and Bournemouth. That sounds gross but it’s the cruel reality.

Arsenal struggled to create clear-cut chances against Crystal Palace despite enjoying 72% of ball possession. The Gunners wasted good situations because of a poor final ball and lacked efficiency in the final third with just 6 of 21 shots on target. The Eagles made Arsenal’s job difficult by defending deep to deny space, but I thought the Gunners played at a too average tempo in the first half and lacked urgency in the second. At times, it almost felt like a friendly.

Iwobi’s average game

The match showed Elneny’s limitations against teams parking the bus. In those situations, we need an organizer like Cazorla to dictate the tempo and make some key passes. Iwobi, who made the difference against Watford and Everton, could have been the answer in the final third. Unfortunately, he’s still a teenager and can’t perform consistently like a seasoned player yet. Iwobi mustered only one shot, that was off target, and was dispossessed four times according to http://www.whoscored.com. The Nigeria international headed wide a cross from Coquelin in the 51st minute and fed Welbeck with a backheel flick in the 53rd. Welbeck attempted a curling shot from a tight angle instead of crossing the ball for Sanchez at the far post.

Sanchez and Ozil were arguably Arsenal’s two best players on Sunday. Sanchez opened the scoring on the stroke of halftime by meeting a cross from Welbeck to beat an advanced Hennessey with a looping header. Welbeck made the assist but you would expect more from a centerforward. Played clean through on goal by Ozil in the sixth minute, Welbeck wasted a good opportunity with a poor first touch. Welbeck then took a pass from Sanchez in the 47th but had his shot blocked by Delaney. Following a goalmouth scramble, Welbeck finally tested Hennessey in the 65th with a point-blank effort that bounced off the goalkeeper’s chest. Centerforward is a relatively new position for Welbeck, but he must find a way to become more efficient in the final third.

Ozil finished the game with 8 shot assists, five more than any other player. Taking set pieces obviously helped. Sanchez connected with an Ozil free kick for a diving header that sailed wide in the 68th while Paulista could only head another offering from Ozil straight into the goalkeeper’s arms in the 87th. At times, Ozil reverted back to the player who vividly shone in the first half of the season. The Germany playmaker played a one-two with Sanchez in the 43rd but had his left-footed toe-poke parried by Hennessey. With Dann closing down Ozil, I thought a right-footed effort would have been a better option to shoot with a wider angle and with more power. Ozil also made a cross for Sanchez, who missed the target with a header in the 67th, and picked out Giroud, who sent his flick straight at Hennessey in the 77th.

Cech not sharp yet

The Gunners couldn’t put the game to bed mostly because of a poor final ball. Monreal made a poor cross in the 7th, Coquelin overhit his pass for Ozil in the 8th, Sanchez delivered a poor final ball for Elneny in the 21st, Iwobi’s through ball for Sanchez lacked accuracy in the 27th, Monreal’s cross went beyond Welbeck in the 33rd and Sanchez squared the ball back for nobody a few seconds later. Bellerin, Ozil and Coquelin also had their share of poor passes in the second half.

The manager tried to get a second goal by sending on Giroud and Ramsey for Welbeck and Iwobi in the 75th. I wouldn’t blame those substitutions for Crystal Palace’s equalizer. It was a goal the Gunners should have never conceded. The Eagles capitalized on a poor cross from Monreal to hit Arsenal on the fast break in the 82nd. Paulista cornered Adebayor against the touchline. Heavily booed by Arsenal fans, Adebayor turned around and found Bolasie, who cut inside Coquelin and fired a 25-yard low drive inside the near post.

Cech was well positioned but couldn’t go down quickly enough to make the save. Wenger gave Cech one more week to get sharper but apparently that wasn’t enough. I thought Paulista could have made a better effort to block Bolasie’s goal attempt, but maybe deflecting home two shots from Carroll the previous weekend played on Paulista’s mind.

Paulista and Coquelin looked bad on the equalizer but both had a decent game. Coquelin won 3 of 3 tackles, more than any other midfielder, and 67% of his duels, while Paulista won 4 of 4 tackles, more than any other defender, and 73% of his duels. By contrast, Koscielny lost the 2 tackles he made and 47% of his duels.

A 10-year investment going nowhere

Crystal Palace created as very little as Watford and Everton, relying mostly on set pieces, counterattacks and long-range efforts. Bolasie’s curling shot did not trouble Cech in the 28th. Sako got ahead of Giroud to meet a corner in the 76th and force a routine save from Cech, who tipped the header over the bar. The Eagles nearly pulled Arsenal out of position on two counterattacks. Paulista failed to win a 50-50 duel with Bolasie in the 16th but Coquelin cut out Bolasie’s cross for Wickham. In stoppage time, Zaha intercepted Koscielny’s risky pass for Coquelin to bear down on goal but Paulista made a last-ditch tackle inside the area to end the threat.

The most painful moment of the game was when Wenger replaced Elneny with Walcott in the 84th in the hope of scoring a late winner. Two minutes later, Walcott wasted a counterattacking opportunity by running into two defenders and losing possession. Somehow, Walcott has become the symbol of the manager’s failure to rebuild a squad good enough for a title bid. Wenger has shown more patience than any other manager in his attempt to turn Walcott into a decent forward. The return on investment has been poor after 10 years at the club. Any Arsenal fan can see Walcott’s limitations. If the club doesn’t sell Walcott this summer, it will just show that the Gunners love mediocrity and don’t intend to contend for the title next season. Walcott had 10 years to prove himself. Now it’s time to give other players a chance.