Tag Archives: Welbeck

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

The Gunners made a big step toward qualifying for the next round of the Europa League by defeating Ostersund 3-0 in the first leg of their last 32 encounter. Thursday’s game was a bit tighter than what the scoreline might suggest. Arsenal created 14 chances to 7 for the Swedish side but had just 6 shots on target to 5 for the hosts.

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

As a sign that the club is taking this competition seriously, Wenger fielded a relatively strong lineup. The manager left Koscielny and Wilshere out of the squad because of concerns about the artificial pitch. Chambers started alongside Mustafi in the heart of the defense. The only real surprise was Xhaka’s presence on the bench as Maitland-Niles teamed up with Elneny in central midfield.

  1. Playing out from the back can be risky

A lot of teams park the bus when they face Arsenal. That’s what Ostersund did in the opening minutes. Then came the unexpected: Ostersund tried to play the ball out from the back. Manchester City and Tottenham often lure their opponents into enemy territory but they take calculated risks. The Swedish side paid a heavy price for being careless twice. Keita played a short goal kick in the 12th and Welbeck intercepted an underhit backpass only to be denied by the Ostersund goalkeeper. The rebound fell to Mkhitaryan, whose low strike was deflected out by Papagiannopoulos. From the subsequent corner, Keita spilled Iwobi’s low effort into the path of Monreal, who sweeped the loose ball into an open net. The play that led to Arsenal’s second goal in the 24th was even worse. Pettersson made a sloppy pass from his 6-yard box. Mkhitaryan accepted the offering and doubled the lead with a cross-shot that took a deflection off Papagiannopoulos. Those goals reminded me of some of our poor attempts to play out from the back like in the 3-1 loss at Swansea a couple of weeks ago.

  1. Mkhitaryan was motivated

In a 4-2-3-1 system, Mkhitaryan often swapped positions with Ozil and Iwobi to confuse the Ostersund defense. Mkhitaryan had 6 goal attempts, more than any other player. He had a long-range strike parried by Keita in the 16th and an angled effort that didn’t trouble the Swedish goalkeeper in the 27th. The one mystery in Mkhitaryan’s game is his relatively low passing accuracy, 82% against Ostersund compared to 89% for Iwobi and 90% for Ozil. It’s a mystery because Mkhitaryan is technically one of the most gifted players in the squad. He set up Ozil with a pinpoint pass for the third goal in the 58th. Maybe Mkhitaryan needs a bit more time to adapt to his new team.

  1. An unconvincing performance from Welbeck

Welbeck had a great opportunity to shine in the centerforward role because Aubameyang is cup-tied while Lacazette is sidelined by a knee injury for 4 to 6 weeks. As usual, Welbeck worked hard, winning 1 of 4 tackles and 2 of 2 aerial duels, according to Squawka. But he lacked end product with none of his 3 shots on target. At times, I thought Welbeck tried too hard with a curling shot over the bar in the 34th and a long-range strike wide of the far post in the 81st. He also wasted a good situation in the 40th by dallying on the ball and losing possession despite 3 decent passing options.

  1. The Mustafi-Chambers partnership was shaky

If you look at their stats, you would think that they had a good game. Mustafi won 4 of 6 tackles and made 2 interceptions and 3 blocks, while Chambers won 3 of 4 tackles and made 4 interceptions and 1 block, according to Squawka. But Mustafi made two dodgy challenges that could have cost a penalty in the second half. And Chambers made 2 errors that led to half-chances for Ostersund. Widgren intercepted Chambers’ pass for Bellerin in the 29th and made a cross for Ghoddos, whose half-volley was tipped over the bar by Ospina. The hosts capitalized on another sloppy pass from Chambers in the 88th to launch a counterattack which ended with an off-target shot.

  1. Maitland-Niles is still learning the ropes

Finding the right type of game to start a youngster can be tricky. PSG manager Emery made a mistake by playing Lo Celso against Real Madrid on Wednesday. The Argentine midfielder looked out of his depth in the first half, giving away a cheap penalty. The risk was much smaller to start Maitland-Niles against Ostersund. The academy player showed his potential with better defensive stats than Elneny. Maitland-Niles won 3 of 6 tackles and made 2 interceptions and 4 blocks while Elneny won 0 of 1 tackle and made 2 interceptions and 2 blocks. However, Thursday’s game also showed where Maitland-Niles needs to improve. He was dispossessed 4 times, the most for any player according to whoscored.com. One of his turnovers led to Ostersund’s penalty as Bellerin brought down Tekie in stoppage time. Ospina still kept a clean sheet by saving Pettersson’s spot kick.

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League Cup: A few thoughts on the 0-0 draw at Chelsea

Arsenal and Chelsea staked everything on the second leg of their League Cup semifinal as they both seemed happy with a goalless draw in Wednesday’s first leg. The Gunners were depleted by injuries with Ozil joining Koscielny, Monreal, Kolasinac, Ramsey, Cazorla and Giroud on the disabled list. By contrast, the Blues fielded a much stronger lineup but played at a too slow tempo to trouble the Arsenal defense. Maybe Chelsea had an eye on Saturday’s Premier League game against Leicester.

League Cup Semi 01

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

Like in the 2-2 draw a week ago, the Blues were the better team with 6 shots on target to 3 and 18 successful tackles to 13, according to whoscored.com, but proved wasteful again, especially on set pieces. We’ll have to wait until Jan. 24 to know which team will play the final at Wembley.

  1. Arsenal played like a Mourinho team

The Gunners played like a side that was only interested in getting a clean sheet, which is understandable after the shocking defending in the two previous games. The Arsenal defense was prepared for long balls and did not allow dangerous runs in behind like in the 2-2 draw. Welbeck and Iwobi also tried to limit Fabregas’ influence with some zonal marking although the Spaniard still finished the game with 6 key passes, the most for any player.

  1. Defending set pieces still an issue

Most of Chelsea’s chances came from set pieces. On the stroke of halftime, Azpilicueta sent a ball over the top for Fabregas, whose tame header didn’t trouble Ospina. Then Kante capitalized on a short corner in the 47th minute to make a cross that Alonso redirected toward an unmarked Christensen, who headed wide. Alonso also made a run toward the near post to meet a corner from Fabregas in the 54th but missed his header. A recycled free kick in the 66th led to another opportunity for Moses, whose low strike was diverted out by Mustafi. A minute later, Christensen headed a corner wide although Ospina was in no man’s land. Defending set pieces has been a recurrent problem in the past few years. The Gunners will need better focus for the second leg.

  1. The Sanchez saga

The presence of Sanchez on the Arsenal bench was a hot topic after the match. Why would you bench your best player for such a big game? The League Cup is the best chance for the club to lift a trophy this season. Sanchez didn’t play against Nottingham Forest and would have been fresh enough for the Bournemouth game on Sunday. The Chile striker replaced Lacazette in the 66th but couldn’t test Courtois.

Anything can happen until Jan. 31. Manchester City made a £20 million bid while Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich may also be interested. Fans can only hope that the transfer rumors won’t destabilize the club like they did in August. Even if the Gunners find a replacement for Sanchez this month, it won’t make up for the disastrous summer transfer window. And even if Wenger wants to let Sanchez run down his contract, Kroenke and the board will still have the last word.

  1. Iwobi should be loaned out

How do you know Welbeck used to be a Ferguson player? By his great work-rate. And how do you know Iwobi is a Wenger player? By his poor work-rate. Welbeck won 4 tackles, the most for an Arsenal player according to whoscored.com, while Iwobi won no tackle. Iwobi was dispossessed 6 times, the most for any player, while Welbeck lost possession only twice. Iwobi had a 17-yard effort palmed away by Courtois in the 39th but he also wasted a counterattack in the 72nd by opting for personal glory with a tame shot instead of feeding Sanchez, Welbeck or Bellerin.

There’s simply too much comfort for Iwobi at Arsenal. He needs a loan at another club to understand what playing football at the top level really means. Iwobi clearly has an attitude issue. He’s the most fined player at Arsenal because he’s often late. And British tabloids found out a couple of days ago that Iwobi attended a drug-fuelled party some 36 hours before the Forest game. Iwobi is only 21 but you kind of wonder whether he’ll become the next Bendtner.

  1. The Gunners badly missed Ramsey in midfield

Wilshere created Arsenal’s best chance in the 22nd with a ball over the top for Lacazette, whose half-volley sailed over the bar. However, Wilshere’s weak defensive contribution put the team in trouble. Xhaka tried to compensate and led all players with 4 fouls. The Switzerland international got booked in the 51st after Wilshere turned over the ball. Wilshere picked up an ankle sprain in the 54th and was replaced by Elneny, who also received a yellow card in the 86th for a cynical foul on Morata. Wilshere simply doesn’t have Ramsey’s mobility whereas Elneny doesn’t have Ramsey’s ability to win duels.

  1. Maitland-Niles is still learning the ropes

The academy player got Moses in his pocket a week ago, but the Chelsea wingback had different plans this time. Moses cut inside Maitland-Niles in the 24th to fire a low strike that Ospina saved with difficulty. Four minutes later, Moses took advantage of a slip from Maitland-Niles to test Ospina with another low effort. Somehow, Maitland-Niles grew into the game and made two crucial contributions, holding off Hazard, who ghosted past Mustafi in the 43rd, and intercepting Hazard’s pass for Moses in the 69th. Maitland-Niles is younger than Iwobi, but the Nigeria international would have a lot to learn from the academy player in terms of attitude and work-rate.

FA Cup: A few thoughts on the 4-2 loss to Nottingham Forest

The Gunners suffered their earliest exit in the FA Cup since 1996 by losing 4-2 to Nottingham Forest in the third round. The two penalties awarded to the hosts should be no excuse for Arsenal’s poor performance on Sunday. The Reds were the better team, having 9 shots on target to 4 for Arsenal, making 15 interceptions to 12 and winning 25 tackles to 17, according to whoscored.com. Now the Gunners only have the League Cup and the Europa League left to save their season.

FA Cup 3rd round

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

Wenger made 9 changes to the side that drew 2-2 with Chelsea on Wednesday with Maitland-Niles and Holding retaining their starting spots. Last season, the FA Cup final showed that Mertesacker could only play in a back three sitting deep. Yet, the manager switched to a back four against Forest and it proved a tactical mistake. Mertesacker, Holding and Debuchy struggled to cope with the pace of the 18-year-old Brereton.

  1. Was the team selection wrong?

Some fans complained about the team selection after the game. I thought the starting XI was good enough to beat a Championship side or at least get a replay. Mertesacker is a World Cup winner; Elneny, Iwobi and Ospina will play in the World Cup this summer; Walcott, Welbeck, and Debuchy are Premier League veterans; Holding lifted the FA Cup less than a year ago; only Willock, Maitland-Niles and Nelson are still academy players. On paper, it was a decent mix of youth and experience. In fact, Forest even had a younger starting lineup than Arsenal.

Because the regular starters needed a break to recover from the festive period and because the manager couldn’t afford to have more players on the disabled list, the team selection made sense to me. On the other hand, I thought Wenger should have opted for a stronger bench. When the Gunners had to chase the game, there was no Sanchez, Ozil or Lacazette on the bench, only youngsters like Akpom, Nketiah and Reine-Adelaide.

  1. The defending was shambolic

Lichaj opened the scoring with a free header from a set piece because no Gunner marked him in the 20th minute. It was maybe a communication issue, but you wouldn’t expect that kind of schoolboy defending from experienced players like Mertesacker, Debuchy and Ospina.

Playing a high defensive line proved suicidal as it exposed Mertesacker’s lack of pace. Brereton cut inside Mertesacker in the 32nd to fire a low shot that Ospina saved. The Forest striker then made a run in behind Mertesacker to control a ball over the top in the 41st but was denied again by Ospina. In the closing minutes, Traore skipped past Mertesacker and won a penalty after Debuchy brought him down. Maybe Debuchy got a touch on the ball, but it was poor decision-making. From such a tight angle, it would have been unlikely for Traore to beat Ospina. Dowell converted the spot kick to seal the win.

Mertesacker equalized in the 23rd by converting a rebound after Holding’s header hit the post. However, you don’t want defenders to have Vermaelen syndrome, i.e. making up for poor defending by scoring goals. It’s now obvious why the manager is reluctant to play Mertesacker in Premier League games: his lack of pace is simply a too big liability. Debuchy didn’t cover himself in glory either. He won only 31% of his duels, the lowest percentage for any defender according to the club’s website, and had a passing accuracy of 81%, the lowest percentage for any Arsenal starter.

  1. Holding should be loaned out

At 22, Holding needs playing time to continue his development. I’m not sure his season at the club is helping him. He doesn’t play regularly, which makes it difficult to build consistency. And because he plays for Arsenal, his mistakes are magnified and therefore hurt his confidence. In my eyes, a loan to a Premier League club would have been more helpful.

Holding had a decent game compared to Mertesacker and Debuchy. He won 3 of 4 tackles while Mertesacker made none and Debuchy won only 1 tackle, according to the club’s website. Of course, the fans will remember the challenge that led to a penalty in the 64th. Holding was a bit unlucky on that play. He intercepted Dowell’s backheel flick for Brereton but failed to see Cash and inadvertently tripped the Forest winger. Brereton converted the subsequent penalty to make it 3-1. Holding was also pulled out of position in the 32nd and was too easily beaten by Dowell in the 74th.

  1. The back four got no protection from the midfield

A couple of minutes before halftime, the Arsenal defense cleared a cross from Cash into the path of Lichaj, who had plenty of time to chest the ball down and volley into the top corner for a 2-1 lead. As you can see on the screen capture below, the midfielders failed to perform their defensive duties on that play.

FA Cup editedElneny, Willock and Iwobi giving Lichaj acres of space. (Photo credit: BT)

Elneny won 1 tackle and made 4 interceptions, according to whoscored.com, while Willock won 1 tackle and made 0 interception. That’s not good enough for a midfield pairing. We already know that Elneny is not a natural ballwinner while Willock looked too soft against Forest, winning only 33% of his duels. Willock seemed to overestimate his dribbling abilities in the first half as he lost possession 3 times while attempting to dribble past an opponent.

  1. Walcott and Iwobi performed poorly

Walcott and Iwobi wouldn’t be good enough to play in the Championship. They finished the game with 0 of 3 shots on target each. Brereton outshone Walcott while Dowell showed more end product and desire than Iwobi. I don’t understand why the manager wants to keep Walcott. At 28, Walcott won’t improve his all-around game. He’s also blocking the development of youngsters like Nketiah and Nelson, who could play in the front three. Walcott had a golden opportunity in the seventh minute but completely miskicked his shot.

Iwobi is regressing and his poor work-rate is becoming a problem. He was dispossessed 5 times, tied with Brereton for the most by any player according to whoscored.com. Iwobi also put Mertesacker in trouble by overhitting a back pass in the sixth minute. The Nigeria international made 0 interception and won just 1 of 1 tackle whereas Nelson made 2 interceptions and won 3 of 4 tackles.

Although Arsenal enjoyed 69% of ball possession, Iwobi had no impact on the game in the No. 10 role. Iwobi made only 1 key pass compared to 4 for Nelson and 2 for Walcott. That begs the question: Where can Iwobi play? He lacks the end product to play as a second striker. Playing on a wing would be an issue because Iwobi made 0 cross on Sunday while Walcott made 4 accurate crosses out of 9. And playing in central midfield would require a much better work-rate from Iwobi.

Welbeck had an average game in the lone striker role. But at least he found the net in the 79th after Smith fumbled the ball. Welbeck also had a penalty shout in the 83rd when Mancienne seemed to shove him from behind while he met a cross from Maitland-Niles.

  1. Nelson is Arsenal’s future

The only bright spark in the Arsenal offense came from Nelson, whose clever footwork won the free kick that led to the equalizer in the 23rd. Nelson led all players with 6 successful dribbles. He faded in the second half as the Reds roughed him up a bit. At 18, Nelson is very gifted technically, but he will need to beef up his game in order to survive in the Premier League. Nketiah came off the bench to replace Willock in the 65th and nearly produced another moment of magic after his two goals against Norwich in the League Cup. Welbeck fed Nketiah, who dribbled past Lichaj only to be denied by Smith in the 70th.

  1. Ospina still can’t command the area

The Colombia goalkeeper pulled off some outstanding saves in the 18th, 32nd and 41st. But his lack of authority in the box showed in the 20th when Lichaj headed home Dowell’s free kick from a yard. You would expect a good goalkeeper to beat his opponent to the ball in that kind of situation. Ospina is a great shot-stopper but his weakness in the air has always been his Achilles’ heel in England.

League Cup: A few thoughts on the 1-0 win over West Ham

The Gunners reached the semifinals of the League Cup with a 1-0 victory over West Ham on Tuesday. The game was duller than when both teams met a week ago in the Premier League. Arsenal enjoyed 67% of ball possession, but had just 8 goal attempts compared to 1 for the visitors. Welbeck scored the winner with the only shot on target of the match.

League Cup quarters

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

The Premier League is still the priority for both teams. Wenger made 11 changes to the side that defeated Newcastle last weekend to rest his key players before Friday’s game against Liverpool. Likewise, Moyes did not include Zabaleta, Noble, Arnautovic and Antonio in his starting lineup.

  1. The fullbacks were Arsenal’s main threat

The fullbacks made the most passes according to whoscored.com with 90 for Kolasinac and 87 for Debuchy, which is quite unusual. Kolasinac also led all players with 2 key passes. In the 39th minute, Kolasinac made a cross for an unmarked Walcott, who headed wide from 10 yards. Three minutes later, Coquelin picked out Debuchy, who headed the ball across goal. Welbeck outjumped Collins to connect with the ball, but missed his header. Somehow, Welbeck reacted quickly enough to bundle the loose ball into the net.

  1. December can be a lethal month

It proved a costly win as Giroud and Coquelin picked up injuries. Giroud pulled his hamstring and was replaced by Nelson in the 78th while Coquelin seemed to suffer a groin strain and was replaced by Dasilva in the 90th. Those injuries don’t make sense since the manager has heavily rotated in the League Cup and the Europa League. Plus Giroud and Coquelin didn’t even start against Newcastle. They’ll be joining Cazrola, Mustafi and Ramsey on the disabled list. Mustafi and Ramsey picked up injuries against Manchester United and Southampton earlier this month.

  1. The audition for the front three was uninspiring

Against a compact West Ham side playing in a 5-2-3 formation, Welbeck, Walcott and Giroud didn’t really shine. Welbeck scored a goal but he also led all players with 10 turnovers, according to whoscored.com. Walcott had 6 turnovers, made a poor cross in the 21st and should have volleyed Kolasinac’s cross with his left foot in the 39th instead of attempting a diving header. Giroud got no decent service and was flagged offside 3 times. His injury means that the Gunners only have Welbeck as a potential aerial threat up front.

  1. Coquelin had a great game

The technical quality of the game was poor in part because Arsenal played with 3 defensive midfielders (Coquelin, Willock and Elneny). Elneny had a poor game, sending a free kick straight to a Hammer in the 72nd while Holding, Giroud and Welbeck were waiting inside the area to head the ball. And his passing accuracy dipped to 84% while it’s usually above 90%. Willock didn’t look out of his depth with a passing accuracy of 92% and 4 successful dribbles. But the academy player also had 3 turnovers, which is too much for a central midfielder, and sometimes lacked lucidity in the final third.

Coquelin was the bright spark in midfield, winning 3 tackles and having 4 successful dribbles, the most for an Arsenal player. He also hit 8 accurate long balls out of 11. Stats can sometimes be misleading. Elneny and Willock had 1 key pass each compared to none for Coquelin, but it was Coquelin who created two of Arsenal’s best chances. Coquelin created the play that led to Welbeck’s goal. He also hit a long ball for Welbeck in the 71st. Hart came off his line but missed his tackle and fouled Welbeck on the edge of the box. The Gunners could miss Coquelin for a couple of games.

  1. The defense had a quiet evening

The manager played a back four like in the last two Premier League games. Holding and Chambers led all players by winning 6 and 5 headers respectively. West Ham made their job easier by sending long balls to Hernandez, who’s no threat in the air. On the flanks, Debuchy might be a decent option at wingback but I fear that his lack of pace would be a problem for the fullback position, especially to cover the right-sided centerback. Debuchy gifted a dangerous free kick by fouling Masuaku in the 63rd. Cresswell curled the subsequent set piece wide. In the leftback position, I felt that Kolasinac played with the handbrake on. Kolasinac had the opportunity to charge down his flank a few times but opted for sideways passes instead.

 

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

The Gunners finished the group stage of the Europa League on a high note with a 6-0 demolition of BATE Borisov on Thursday. Arsenal played in a half-empty stadium because they had secured the top spot in the previous round and the game was therefore a dead rubber.

Arsenal vs. Borisov

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

Wenger made 11 changes to the side that lost 3-1 to Manchester United a few days ago. Against the weakest club of Group H, the manager also shifted to a back four with Chambers and Holding as centerbacks and Debuchy and Maitland-Niles as fullbacks. Although the Gunners won 4-2 in Belarus, Wenger fielded an experienced lineup with just one player from the academy. Youngsters like Nelson, Willock and Nketiah only came off the bench in the second half.

  1. The World Cup is coming

For some players, the World Cup is the most important competition in their careers. They only have a few months left to convince their national managers that they should go to Russia. Welbeck played in the 2014 World Cup and is facing some tough competition for the England squad this season. He knows goals will definitely impress Southgate.

On Thursday, Welbeck had 2 shots saved by Scherbitski and proved selfish at least twice. Wilshere released Welbeck down the left flank in the 22nd minute. Instead of making a low cross for an unmarked Giroud, Welbeck attempted an angled effort that Scherbitski blocked outside his area. Welbeck was again obsessed with scoring on his own in the 37th. The Englishman tried to dribble past 2 defenders but lost possession with a heavy touch. Milunovic knocked the loose ball into the path of Walcott, who fired past Scherbitski for a 2-0 lead.

Giroud also tried too hard with just 2 of 7 shots on target. He took his chance from tough positions a couple of times. His hold-up play was also poor but at least he found the net and worked hard for his teammates. Giroud beat Scherbitski with a spot kick into the top corner in the 63rd but was forced to re-take the penalty because of an encroachment. The Frenchman chose the same side but fired low the second time to make it 5-0.

As a selfless player, Giroud set up Elneny for a strike that hit the base of the post in the third minute. He also redirected a cross from Wilshere into the path of Walcott, whose half-volley was saved in the 26th. And he won the ball in midfield for the second goal. Playing time might be a less important issue for Giroud to earn a World Cup spot because his unique profile in the France squad makes him more valuable.

Few football fans would bet on Walcott making the England squad, but he still has an outside chance. The Belarusian side played to his strengths by leaving a lot of space between the goalkeeper and the backline. Walcott notched 1 goal and 2 assists in a good all-around performance. He could have added another goal in the 40th but Milunovic cleared his low effort off the line. Poliakov was less lucky in the 51st as he sent Walcott’s cross into his own net. Walcott then won the penalty in the 63rd by poorly controlling Welbeck’s pass. Milunovic tried to win the ball but Walcott was quicker and got fouled by the BATE defender.

  1. Holding is slightly ahead of Chambers

The football website whoscored.com gave a better grade to Chambers but I thought Holding performed better. They didn’t have much work to do, but at least they didn’t make any cock-up like Koscielny and Mustafi. The case for Holding: He had a passing accuracy of 94%, made 4 interceptions and 2 blocks, hit 3 accurate long balls out of 3, and had 0 turnover, while Chambers had a passing accuracy of 84%, made 1 interception and 1 block, hit 5 accurate long balls out of 12, and was dispossessed twice. The case for Chambers: He won 1 of 1 tackle and 5 of 5 aerial duels, while Holding won 0 of 2 tackles and 1 of 2 aerial duels. It doesn’t show in the stats but Stasevich rolled away from Chambers in the 68th to shoot straight at Ospina.

  1. What is the best system for Wilshere?

It’s hard to see where Wilshere would fit in a 3-4-3 system. His limited defensive contribution prevents him from playing as the holding midfielder even if Xhaka is a choice by default. Wilshere doesn’t have Ramsey’s all-around game to play in the demanding position of a box-to-box midfielder. And he doesn’t have the pace of Sanchez or Ozil to play in the front three. On Thursday, the switch to a back four made clear that Wilshere is more comfortable in a 4-2-3-1 formation. As he is aging, Wilshere looks more and more like Fabregas in his game. Wilshere can slip those through balls from midfield while proving a serious goal threat from mid-range.

Wilshere finished the game with 1 goal and 1 assist and led all players with 5 key passes. He also had 4 successful dribbles out of 5, according to Squawka. Wilshere curled a shot from the edge of the box that Scherbitski tipped over the bar in the 42nd. A minute later, Wilshere took a pass from Walcott and created some space to smash the ball into the corner for a 3-0 lead. In a similar situation in the 74th, Wilshere drew two defenders before setting up Elneny, who curled into the far corner to seal the win. It was a great performance but the weakness of the opposition definitely helped Wilshere.

  1. Debuchy scored his first goal since 2014

Debuchy broke the deadlock in the 11th minute by pouncing on a loose ball to rifle into the far corner. Milunovic initially brought down Walcott inside the area but the referee didn’t blow the whistle, so Debuchy took his chance from 16 yards. Debuchy looked a better fit at rightback than Chambers against Cologne. Most Arsenal attacks came from the right flank although Debuchy didn’t create any chance. BATE forwards also never really tested Debuchy’s relative lack of pace. Debuchy seems to have come to terms with the end of his international career as he hasn’t been vocal about his playing time this season.

  1. Coquelin and Elneny bossed the midfield

The opposition was so weak that Coquelin and Elneny only combined for 1 tackle. The more surprising stat is the 3 key passes they each made. Only Wilshere had more key passes. Elneny led all starters with a passing accuracy of 96% while Coquelin’s technical limitations showed with 6 turnovers, the most for an Arsenal player.

 

Arsenal vs. Manchester United: Gunners pay for defensive errors in 3-1 loss

The Gunners threw their perfect home record out the window with some pub defending from the centerbacks, losing 3-1 to Manchester United on Saturday to slip to fifth place in the Premier League, 1 point behind Liverpool and 4 points behind Chelsea.

Arsenal vs. Manchester United.jpgPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Paradoxically, Arsenal produced a good performance with 15 shots on target to just 4 for the visitors. The trouble is that the Gunners proved wasteful in the final third. Sure, De Gea was at his shot-stopping best with 14 saves, but only a couple of those saves were really outstanding. By contrast, the Red Devils were more efficient at both ends of the pitch, sound defensively and clinical offensively, pretty much like the Inter Milan side managed by Mourinho from 2008 to 2010.

United created very little: all their goals came from Arsenal turnovers. The Gunners made Mourinho’s job much easier by conceding 2 goals in the first 11 minutes. United then just had to sit back and hit Arsenal on the fast break. The Arsenal centerbacks and Xhaka usually lead the team in passes. But on Saturday, it was Ozil (107), Ramsey (77) and Sanchez (67) who made the most passes according to whoscored.com, which clearly shows that the Red Devils were happy to let Arsenal enjoy 75% of ball possession.

Wenger made no change to the side that thrashed Huddersfield Town 5-0 on Wednesday. I thought the Gunners’ approach in the opening minutes was wrong. United had one day more of recovery and therefore tried to put Arsenal on the back foot early in the game. Instead of absorbing the pressure, the Gunners tried to match United’s intensity. Unfortunately, United’s fresher legs made the difference in the opening minutes. If Arsenal had played their previous league game on Tuesday instead of Wednesday, maybe it would have been a good idea to go tit for tat.

When a simple pass is the best option

Besides the final scoreline, the losses to Manchester City and United have one thing in common: both teams created chances by forcing Arsenal turnovers. The Red Devils made 14 interceptions compared to 8 for the Gunners, according to Squawka. Koscielny put his team in danger with a risky crossfield pass for Kolasinac in the fourth minute. Valencia intercepted the pass and played a one-two with Pogba before firing through Cech’s legs to give United the lead.

As you can see on the screen capture below, Pogba, Lukaku and Valencia were positioned to cut two of Koscielny’s passing options (Sanchez and Kolasinac). The static Xhaka was standing in front of Koscielny, preventing the France centerback from spotting Ozil and Lacazette. In hindsight, Ramsey to his left was Koscielny’s best passing option. It was a simple pass and maybe an overambitious Koscielny thought it didn’t help Arsenal move forward. On that play, Monreal made the mistake of rushing toward Pogba instead of staying with Valencia.

Arsenal vs. United M4editedPogba, Lukaku and Valencia cutting Koscielny’s passing options. (Photo credit: BT)

The second goal also resulted from United’s work in cutting the passing channels. Lingard pressured Mustafi into making a mistake in the 11th. Looking for a solution, Mustafi dallied on the ball and was robbed by Lingard, who slipped the ball to Lukaku. The Belgium striker dribbled past Mustafi to find Martial, who played Lingard in with some clever footwork. Lingard doubled the lead by beating Cech with a low strike off the post. Cech was Mustafi’s best passing option on that play. As you can see on the screen capture below, Monreal was even showing Mustafi where to play the ball.

Arsenal vs. United M11editedMartial, Lingard and Lukaku cutting Mustafi’s passing options. (Photo credit: BT)

The Gunners didn’t cover themselves in glory with the last goal either. The Red Devils capitalized on a Sanchez turnover to launch a counterattack from their own half in the 63rd. Lingard ran past Xhaka to release Pogba down our left flank. Instead of showing Pogba the corner, Koscielny dived in and missed his challenge, allowing Pogba to cut the ball back for Lingard, who tapped in for a 3-1 lead.

Fixing 2 key positions 

This defeat shows that the Gunners have weak defensive foundations. A world-class centerback and a top defensive midfielder should be signed next summer. As long as the club doesn’t fix those 2 positions, Arsenal will never be able to contend. Mustafi’s leadership skills were seriously questioned with his blunder that led to the second goal. Losing possession as the last defender is a no-no at the top level. Meanwhile, Koscielny is losing a step at 32 and his nagging Achilles problem means that playing 3 games in a 7-day span could prove a too big challenge for him. Koscielny only won 23% of his duels compared to 58% for Monreal, according to the club’s website.

Lingard beat the offside trap in the 52nd to collect a through ball from Martial. After Cech diverted Lingard’s shot onto the far post, Martial pounced on the rebound only to have his close-range effort blocked by Monreal. With no pressure on Martial, Koscielny should have dropped off on that play instead of playing a high defensive line. In the closing minutes, Koscielny was booked for bringing down Lukaku. Bellerin’s nearby presence somehow prevented Koscielny from getting a red card.

On the flanks, Bellerin had a poor game. The Spaniard made no interception and no block and won 0 of 4 tackles and 0 of 3 aerial duels, according to Squawka. Kolasinac did a bit better by making 1 interception and winning 1 of 4 tackles and 2 of 4 aerial duels. Both tested De Gea with long-range strikes in the 44th. The switch to a back four in the 15th because of Mustafi’s injury did not benefit Bellerin, whose game is better tailored for the wingback position. Bellerin received a yellow card for a poor challenge on Young in the 72nd. Two minutes later, Bellerin had an injury scare as Pogba stamped on the back of his knee. The Manchester midfielder was sent off for that dangerous play.

Xhaka’s poor defensive awareness

In midfield, Ramsey and Xhaka performed well against Huddersfield but the duo showed again their limits against top opposition (first Liverpool, then Manchester City and now United). Ramsey is obviously the attacking spear of the duo because of his deep runs. He won 1 of 4 tackles and made 3 key passes and 2 interceptions. The Wales midfielder set up Lacazette for the consolation goal in the 49th, raising his tally to 6 assists this season. Only De Bruyne and Silva have more assists in the league with 8 each. Ramsey could have scored in stoppage time but sent his half-volley over the bar.

Xhaka is supposed to be the shield in the midfield partnership. His stats look decent with a passing accuracy of 93%, 2 chances created, 5 of 7 tackles won, 1 of 2 aerial duels won, 1 interception and 2 blocks. No one can deny that Xhaka put in a shift. The issue is Xhaka’s lack of mobility and his poor defensive awareness.

When Xhaka is well positioned, he can make clean tackles like the one on Martial in the 40th. But when he’s a yard off, the challenge turns into a foul because of his lack of mobility. Xhaka made an obstruction on Rojo in the third minute, missed his tackle on Lingard in the 52nd and made another mistimed challenge on Lingard in the 62nd. Despite this flaw, Xhaka has shown enough self-discipline to avoid penalties and red cards this season.

A too big hole to climb out of

However, the real problem is Xhaka’s poor defensive awareness. Xhaka doesn’t smell the danger. On the opening goal, Xhaka was on the same line as Valencia when the interception was made. Yet, Xhaka didn’t rush back. In fact, he only entered the Arsenal area when Valencia pulled the trigger. The last goal showed how clueless Xhaka was. Sanchez gave away the ball with a backheel flick. Matic launched the counterattack by finding Lukaku in midfield. As you can see on the screen capture below, 7 Gunners were ahead of Xhaka when Matic made the pass. Xhaka should have realized that Koscielny and Monreal were badly exposed. He was also in a good position to spot Lingard’s run. As the holding midfielder, Xhaka should have dropped off to mark Lingard or even block his run.

Arsenal vs. United M63aeditedXhaka should have dropped off as Lingard made his run. (Photo credit: BT)

Xhaka only reacted once Lingard took Lukaku’s pass. Because Lukaku pulled Monreal out of position, Xhaka’s passivity basically meant that Lingard was in a 1v1 situation with Koscielny within a couple of seconds. See the screen capture below. Xhaka got some stick for not marking Lingard when Pogba cut the ball back, but I don’t blame Xhaka for not spotting Lingard’s movement behind his back. On the other hand, Xhaka could have killed the counterattack if he had smelt the danger in midfield.

Arsenal vs. United M63bedited Lingard running past Xhaka to be in a 1v1 situation with Koscielny. (Photo credit: BT)

We can give Arsenal some credit for reacting after a disastrous start. But the Gunners really digged a hole that was too big to climb out of. The manager shifted to a 4-2-3-1 formation when Iwobi replaced Mustafi in the 15th with Ozil playing in the hole. Arsenal looked vulnerable on the Red Devils’ counterattacks because the back four didn’t get much protection from the midfielders. On a weird play in the 33rd, Ozil even ended up in the centerback position because Ramsey and Xhaka got stuck high up the pitch while Monreal was again pulled out of position.

Lacazette deprived of a hat trick by De Gea

Trailing by two goals, Wenger threw the kitchen sink at United by replacing Xhaka with Welbeck in the 70th with Iwobi joining Ramsey in midfield while Welbeck played on the right wing. Pogba’s ejection in the 74th led to another tactical change with a switch back to a 3-4-3 system. The manager sent on Giroud for Kolasinac in the 76th with Iwobi and Welbeck playing as wingbacks while Ozil and Ramsey pulled the strings in midfield. The team lacked balance especially since Giroud had no source of supply from the left wing.

Lacazette was arguably the best Gunner on Saturday with a good all-around game. He scored a goal, created 2 chances, had 4 successful dribbles out of 5, made 2 blocks and won 2 of 3 tackles and 2 of 6 aerial duels, according to Squawka. My only criticism is the 7 turnovers he had, tied with Sanchez for the most by an Arsenal player according to whoscored.com. Lacazette is usually tidy in possession but the density of the Manchester defense deprived him of any space.

Without De Gea’s outstanding saves, Lacazette could have notched a hat trick. The Manchester defense failed to clear a corner in the 20th and Xhaka headed the loose ball toward Lacazette, who could only flick the ball with the tip of his boot while wrestling with Rojo. De Gea was lucky to see the ball bounce off his leg as he had no idea of what was going on.

A deflected pass from Sanchez led to another goalmouth scramble in the 32nd. Lacazette took the loose ball and got the better of Rojo before rounding De Gea to fire a shot that the goalkeeper, crawling on the ground, diverted onto the bar. The France striker finally found the net in the 49th, blasting the ball past De Gea from 5 yards. Lacazette was then denied the equalizer in the 56th as De Gea dived to parry his 10-yard strike.

Iwobi finally connecting with Lacazette

Coming off the bench, Welbeck had more impact than Giroud. De Gea tipped Welbeck’s deflected shot over the bar in the 83rd. Two minutes later, Welbeck headed Ramsey’s cross over the bar. He was also involved in a small controversy in the 88th. Welbeck should have been awarded a penalty after Darmian tripped him inside the area. But Welbeck quickly got back on his feet and the referee refrained from blowing the whistle. I felt that the referee bottled it. After giving a red card to Pogba, he probably didn’t want to seem too harsh with United. In his post-match news conference, a cynical Mourinho suggested that it was a dive. Well, we all know what Mourinho would have said if it had happened to his team.

There was a lot of pressure on Iwobi when he replaced Mustafi in the 15th. Substitutes sometimes want to do too much when their team trails by two goals. But Iwobi kept things simple and showed more end product than usual with 3 shots on target and 3 key passes. He also made 2 blocks and won 1 of 1 tackle. The main positive from the game for Iwobi is the improvement of his relationship with Lacazette. In the 52nd, the Frenchman picked out Iwobi, who lifted the ball for himself to test De Gea with a 13-yard snapshot. Four minutes later, Iwobi set up Lacazette for a scoring chance. Iwobi definitely needs to work on his finishing, which is mediocre. While Lacazette naturally aims for the corners, too many of Iwobi’s goal attempts are either off target or near the middle of the net.

3 must-win games

Although Arsenal dominated ball possession, Ozil and Sanchez didn’t really shine. Sanchez led the team with 5 key passes, followed by Ozil with 4. The Chile striker produced an average performance by his own standards. He had no successful dribble and made no tackle, no interception and no block. It was very similar to his performance against Huddersfield, except that he didn’t score on Saturday. Sanchez still made the penultimate pass for Lacazette’s goal with a pinpoint cross for Ramsey. He also found Iwobi with another cross in the 55th but the Nigeria international could only hit a tame header.

I thought Sanchez should have done better when De Gea parried Lacazette’s shot in the 56th. Sanchez pounced on the rebound and had his effort saved by De Gea’s foot. After watching several TV replays, maybe a chip or a strike into the roof of the net would have been the better option. Or maybe De Gea would have still made the save. That was definitely the turning point of the game. Who knows how United would have reacted to an equalizer. Sanchez also tested De Gea with a shot from the edge of the box in the 65th.

Amid all the talk about his contract, Ozil did his bit but nothing more. Ozil managed to beat De Gea with a free kick in the 30th but Young cleared the ball off the line. Then Ozil fired a low volley straight at De Gea in the 36th. When your team is struggling, you want a player who can take the game by the scruff of the neck. Unfortunately, Ozil is not that kind of player.

I expect the manager to heavily rotate against BATE Borisov on Thursday. The Gunners have already secured a first-place finish in the group stage of the Europa League, so there’s no need to start any key player and risk a stupid injury. The priority is still the Premier League, where Arsenal will need to win their next 3 games against Southampton, West Ham and Newcastle to make up ground in the Top 4 race.

Cologne vs. Arsenal: A few thoughts on the 1-0 loss

   Arsenal secured a first-place finish in Group H of the Europa League despite a 1-0 defeat at Cologne on Thursday. Their four-point lead in the standings means that neither Cologne nor Red Star Belgrade can win the group even if the Gunners lose to BATE Borisov in two weeks.

Cologne vs. Arsenal.jpg

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

Wenger made 11 changes to the side that won the North London Derby last weekend. The manager injected a bit more experience than usual as Willock and Nelson were on the bench even though they started both Belgrade games. The Gunners played at a slow tempo but still dominated Thursday’s match with 16 shots compared to just 4 for the hosts, who haven’t won any game in the Bundesliga this season. Somehow, Cologne managed to score against the run of play in the second half. In hindsight, maybe Wenger should have started more youngsters instead of keeping some senior players happy.

  1. Ospina, Welbeck and Chambers returned from injury

If we except Cazorla, the Gunners have no player on the disabled list now. That’s good news when you look at the busy schedule for the next two months. Ospina was not much tested in Germany. He palmed away an angled strike from Cordoba in the sixth minute and could do nothing about Guirassy’s penalty in the 62nd. The manager was cautious with Welbeck, who only played the first half and was replaced by Iwobi at halftime. Welbeck seemed fit, having 5 successful dribbles out of 6 and curling a shot wide of the far post in the 33rd.

On the other hand, the sluggish Chambers didn’t prove a convincing choice at wingback. Debuchy played most of his career as a fullback and would have been a better option on the right flank. Chambers made no cross in the first half. The only chance he created came in the 67th with a cross that Wilshere headed over the bar. Chambers was guilty on the play that led to the penalty by failing to stay with Guirassy, who played a one-two with Jojic.

  1. There are too many average players in the squad

Thursday’s game showed the gap between the regular starters and the second-choice players. It’s hard to see what players like Chambers, Debuchy, Elneny, Coquelin, Giroud and even Wilshere could bring to the side that defeated Spurs. Elneny sent long balls out of play in the 15th and 39th and couldn’t beat the first defender with a couple of corner kicks. Only 2 of his 11 crosses were accurate, according to whoscored.com.

Hopefully, hiring Mislintat as the head of recruitment at Arsenal will help improve the squad. The scouting department has performed poorly in the past few years under Rowley. A change was long overdue. France used to be a gold mine for Arsenal but the club has missed out on the best players from the French league lately (Kante, Pogba, Martial, Mbappe, Varane, Kondogbia).

While Arsenal made mistakes in signing Park, Chamakh and Gervinho from French clubs, Mislintat helped Borussia Dortmund sign Aubameyang, Dembele and Guerreiro. Here’s the difference between those two groups of players: Park, Chamakh and Gervinho shone in the French league but failed to adapt to the Premier League whereas Aubameyang, Dembele and Guerreiro carried their success from France to the Bundesliga. A smart scout will spot the skills that can be imported to any league while an average scout will focus on the less important skills.

It’s OK to gamble once in a while on young players like Sanogo, Reine-Adelaide, Bielik and Holding. But when you spend £16 million on Chambers, £13 million on Paulista and £7 million on Elneny, you expect to get regular starters and not benchwarmers.

  1. Debuchy was the weak link in the back three

The French defender led all players with 5 fouls. He clearly struggled with Guirassy’s pace and was booked for a cynical foul on the Cologne forward in the 49th. A poor clearance from Debuchy led to a scoring chance for the German side in the 60th: Guirassy took a pass from Jojic but could only hit a tame effort straight at Ospina. A minute later, the referee awarded the hosts a penalty for some minimal contact between Debuchy and Guirassy. It was a play similar to Bellerin’s challenge on Richarlison in the Watford game.

  1. Mertesacker had a decent game

The German defender led Arsenal players with 5 interceptions and was dominant in the air with 9 headers won. He made up for his lack of pace with his smart positional play. In fact, Mertesacker was the only Arsenal centerback who won a tackle. He won 1 of 2 tackles compared to 0 of 2 for Holding and 0 of 6 for Debuchy, according to Squawka. Mertesacker nearly leveled from a corner in the 64th, but his header was cleared off the line by Horn.

On the left side of the back three, Holding lacked focus a couple of times. Cologne capitalized on a Holding turnover in the 12th to launch a counterattack but Mertesacker intercepted Cordoba’s final ball. Mertesacker had Holding’s back again in the 28th. Cordoba rolled away from Holding only to have his pass for Osako intercepted by Mertesacker. In the closing minutes, Holding was pulled out of position and Mertesacker had to kill a counterattack by blocking a cross.

  1. Maitland-Niles rose to the occasion

The contrast with Chambers’ performance on the opposite flank was glaring. Although Maitland-Niles is a right-footed player, he still managed to make 3 key passes from the left wing. He also had a passing accuracy of 95%, won 2 of 4 tackles and had 5 successful dribbles out of 7, while Chambers had a passing accuracy of 77%, won 0 of 1 tackle and had 2 successful dribbles out of 2, according to Squawka. Maitland-Niles is not playing in his favorite position (central midfield) but at least he’s honing his skills by getting some experience in competitive European games.

  1. Wilshere’s performance raised more question marks

Wenger said before the international break that Wilshere was ready for the England team. However, Wilshere’s performance against a weak German side was a mixed bag. Wilshere tested Horn with a downward header in the 21st and long-range strikes in the 66th and stoppage time. He also had 8 successful dribbles out of 11. But his defensive contribution was limited and he only made 2 key passes despite 69% of ball possession for the Gunners. The most frustrating part was his poor ball-retention skills that led to 5 turnovers, the most for an Arsenal player. It’s hard to see where Wilshere would fit in Southgate’s plans. The England manager seems to build his squad around the pressing game implemented at Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City.

  1. Arsenal didn’t play to Giroud’s strengths

Giroud is an old-fashioned centerforward. He won’t create a chance out of nothing like Van Persie. That means Giroud needs decent service in the box. Unfortunately, the Gunners didn’t feed him with crosses. Giroud was involved in only 1 aerial duel and that was in midfield. That’s criminal when you know the France striker’s dominance in the air. His only scoring chance came in the 76th. Giroud chased a ball over the top from Wilshere but had a heavy second touch which allowed Horn to tackle the ball out of play. Deprived of service, Giroud tried to work for his teammates. He drifted to the left wing in the 30th to make a cross for Coquelin, who hit the near post.

  1. When a senior player is blocking a youngster’s path

Nelson is the most promising prospect in the academy. Walcott’s presence in the squad has forced Wenger to play Nelson in the wingback position. Nelson initially struggled in that role before improving his understanding of the position and his defensive skills. The manager could have started Nelson against Cologne but he preferred to give some playing time to Chambers and Debuchy, who both had a poor game.

When Nelson came off the bench to replace Chambers in the 67th, the Gunners suddenly looked more threatening down the right wing. Nelson could have won a penalty for an obstruction from Sorensen in the 83rd. He also showed off his dribbling skills in the 89th by slaloming through the Cologne defense to sting Horn’s gloves with a toe poke. The teenager got bonus points in the 71st for his defensive awareness. Guirassy outpaced Debuchy but Nelson rushed back to recover the ball.