Arsenal v. Southampton: the importance of Packing

Arsenal’s central midfield trio

As you know, Arsenal have struggled to get the ball forward in the first two matches of the season, regaining (as Wenger would say “a bit”) their fluidity in the 3-1 win over Watford.

Against Liverpool the problem was a combination of Ramsey making too many forward runs, Elneny being the sole outlet for the defense, and Coquelin’s continued struggles to integrate into the structure of the team when Arsenal have possession. It wasn’t until Cazorla and Xhaka were introduced that Arsenal were able to move the ball forward from defense and create in the final third — scoring twice to set up a grandstand finish.

Against Leicester, Arsenal regained some of the composure lost to Ramsey’s constant forays forward with the introduction of Özil. Cazorla also provided a stable platform in midfield but Arsenal struggled with positional play as Xhaka’s tendency to stay deep created imbalances in attack — though it did (crucially) protect the back four and limited Leicester’s ability to hit Arsenal on the counter. Once Özil was on the pitch, Arsenal suddenly looked likely to score, though you could tell that Özil was lacking (a bit maybe the) fitness and he waned quickly after his introduction. Still, if Walcott had finished just one of his two big chances Arsenal could have ended with all three points.

Arsenal’s midfield all came together nicely in the win over Watford. And it wasn’t just about player quality which finally got Alexis the service he needed.

As you know Wenger prizes verticality. The average Arsenal analyst hears what the pundits say on TV about Arsenal’s “pretty passing moves” or catches a glimpse of Arsenal’s goals against Norwich (Wilshere) or Sunderland (Rosicky) and thinks that Wenger wants his team to score what amounts to miracle goals, as this article argues. Nothing could be further from the truth.

He understands basics like triangles, teamwork, and positioning but he isn’t a slave to positioning nor a technocrat like Mourinho. But he’s also not entirely a jazz coach, setting out his team to play improvisational football for 50+ matches a season for the last 20+ years. There is a method to his seeming madness. Wenger wants his team to play the percentages. Wenger knows that throughballs, and the resulting shot from the throughball, is the most dangerous pass in the game. Arsenal already have 4 throughball key passes this season, more than any other team and they consistently dominate throughball stats.

If you have read any of the books by the players they tell you how much he drills this verticality into his teams. In her book Invincibles, which is the best researched Arsenal book of the last decade, Amy Lawrence interviews all of the players from that Invincible side and the remarkable insight into Wenger’s coaching style is how much he pounded verticality into that team. Ball goes from center back, in to midfielder (usually Vieira) and quickly up the ladder to Henry.

Wenger achieves this because he sets his teams up to capitalize on movement both on and off the ball which will allow them to capitalize on spaces behind defenders. On and off the ball is important. There was a recent study about football passing by Stefan Reinartz which looked at how many players a single pass could bypass. Think of what a throughball does… it slices through two banks of four, creating space in behind the lines. This is what Reinartz means when he talks about bypassing players. There are other ways to do this as well, for example, Xhaka is an expert when it comes to the long pass which bypasses the midfield. In fact, Reinartz’s system ranked Xhaka as 5th best in the Euros at bypassing midfields and 2nd best in the Bundesliga last season.

Reinartz and his team also looked at dribbling and how player movement off the ball creates these opportunities. It’s not a coincidence that Wenger constantly talks about how he prizes a forward “running behind” the defenders. Wenger particularly prizes this in Theo Walcott and I suspect (along with his work rate in training) is the major reason why Wenger let Joel Campbell go.

Again, we see the importance here of Cazorla (who is Arsenal’s best dribbler) and his ability to slip past midfield markers, creating space for him to then find the vertical runner or create mismatches in defense. But unsung is often the player’s ability to get into these vertical spaces for his teammates. The Reinartz system (which is called “Packing” UGH) measured players receiving the ball as well as passing and it turned out that… shock… Özil is “the best in the world between the lines.”

As a side note, this concept of verticality, dribbling, and playing between the lines is the reason why Wenger just as recently as yesterday said that he wants Jack Wilshere to finish his career at Arsenal. When Jack is 100% fit and mentally committed to the game, this is exactly what he does best. He is very much like Cazorla in that respect and a bit like Özil, though I can’t remember if he moves into spaces that bypass the defense as well as Özil.

All of this is a long-winded way to say that Arsenal’s best midfield trio is Cazorla-Xhaka-Özil and against Southampton, most of the outcome of the match depends on them starting. They provide Arsenal’s most vertical threat and most precious ability to bypass defenders.

Wide players

There is one quirk about Southampton that you should know: they actually want possession. It’s unusual for a mid-table or lower team to want to keep possession of the ball but already Claude Puel has his team near the tops of the possession charts. For example, against Man U, Southampton dominated possession 57-43. They are also geared toward playing attacking football and will almost certainly start with two strikers Redmond and Long up front against Arsenal.

Their problem is that Puel plays a diamond midfield. What they gain in that formation is control of the center, what they lose is control of the wide areas and especially the wide areas behind the fullbacks, because it’s the fullbacks going forward who provide the width in the diamond.

This flaw should sound familiar to Arsenal supporters who still have scars from when Arsenal used to play Barcelona-lite style of football and all of the fullbacks would be posted deep in the opposition half. But the good news is that Wenger now has options to exploit that flaw.

New striker Lucas Perez and old striker Theo Walcott are both whippet quick forwards who love to run in behind the opposition defense (see above with the verticality). Meanwhile, Özil, Xhaka, and Cazorla all love to make the kind of vertical passes that Perez and Walcott like to run on to. I’m not a mathematician but I think that adds up to some great chances for Arsenal.

The threat on the other end is that Arsenal’s defense is far from settled and there are question marks about who will start for Arsenal in the center back role. No matter who starts they will need to deal with the dual threat of Nathan Redmond and Shane Long. Redmond is only 22 years old and was mainly deployed as a wide playmaker at Norwich. Puel has moved him to the center forward role this season and his tricky dribbling could be a real threat to Arsenal’s defense. He’s second best playmaker on Saints behind Tadic and tied with Long and Tadic for shots per game with 3. Keeping him and Tadic quiet is the main task for Arsenal’s midfield and defense.

 

Qq

56 Comments on Arsenal v. Southampton: the importance of Packing

  1. Am cautiously optimistic about this weekend. the New boys inspire optimism but still, we are the Arsenal.

  2. The width issue is why I hope Alexis starts. He lives to drift left, and had a ton of space out wide against Watford, who played with wingbacks. The diamond gives similar space out wide for Alexis to exploit.

  3. According to my database none of Theo’s shots against Leicester were big chances. He had one in the center of the box that was blocked (0.15 xG) from from the right side of the box that was saved (0.04 xG) and one from outside the box that was saved (0.03 xG).

    It is also interesting that with all the possession that Southampton have they really struggle with creating good chances. I haven’t watched a ton but they seem to run out of ideas and just take a long speculative shot after a while. Southampton lead the league in shots at 53 but are 14th in xG at 2.47. Southampton are worst in the league in xG per shot at 0.05 primarily driven by 34 shots outside the box. They have also not created any big chances (so I guess expect Shane Long to have 3 or 4 by himself).

    It also looks like they have changed their style from the Ronald Koeman days, they are much less dependent on crosses dropping from 3.2 per game to 1.7 now. That is likely because they are trying to play through the middle with the like you noted.

    Stats from my database https://public.tableau.com/views/PremierLeague2016-17Dashboards/ChancesCreatedDashboard?:embed=y&:display_count=yes and whoscored

    • I know that Opta didn’t count them as “big chances” but he was played in two times in that game for great shots: both in the right channel, one shot low, curled toward the keeper and saved, the other blocked by Wes Morgan.

      xG should not be used for three games, much less one game. It’s one game r^2 is unreliable.

      • Yes they were good shots and I don’t disagree that 1 game or even 3 game xG is perfect. It would have huge error bars around things. In terms of chance quality they were good but you would expect a goal 15-40% of the time based on those two shots, which like you said is a good chance and would have really changed the chances for a win in Arsenals favor.

  4. Thanks for making a tactics based article enjoyable and easy to understand. It is also nice to see an article talk about Wenger’s vision of the game. Something which is now taken for granted to be considered only as jazz improvs.

    Maybe you could do a similar set of articles on Wenger (again), Guardiola, Mourinho, Conte, Klopp, Ancelotti etc. Talking about how they see the game, and perhaps what are the crucial components of their team to realising that vision.

    • I would love to, but… I don’t have 16 years of following Mourinho, Guardiola, Conte, Klopp, or Ancelotti. So, I would do as bad a job as some 19 year old trying to talk about Arsenal.

  5. One of my many frustratuons watching Arsenal games is when we win back posession, make a pass forward and the receiving player dumps it off with a sideways pass instead of driving into the opponent’s final third.

    Maybe I’m wrong and the professional footballers are making the optimal decision, but to me it looks like risk averse posession-oriented football. It looks like they are being coached to either seize clear big chances, i.e., play a through ball if it’s obvious and releases a player in on goal or play it safe and maintain possession. This is reasonable because it reduces the risk of being immediately counter attacked and we are a good probe and move possession team, but I can’t help but feel that by only taking the low hanging fruit we’re making it harder on ourselves. We’re giving up a lot of potential goals and giving the defense time to reset.

    I would like to see a little more Leicester in our counter attack; a willingness to be a bit more aggressive and speculative. The player receiving the outlet pass should either play the throughball or drive forward and try to create opportunities. Only if they are truly shut out should they pass back and then we can start our possession game. Of course this means we’ll be countered as well (counter-countered?) So the majority of the team would have to be in a defensive shape until we started the possession game.

    Where we start Lucas will be a big tell as to Wenger’s strategy. I dont know if you saw the ibtimes article, but his former coaches speak very highly of him. Some doubt whether he will fit the Arsenal possession style, but it sure looks like Wenger has recommited to the counter attack.

    • some of the passes it seems arsenal make that are not penetrative are likely intended to develop situations (move defenders). early on, they’re typically not effective but if you’re patient, you’ll eventually catch someone who’s lost focus and the significant penetrative pass will present itself.

      i compare these passes to body punches in boxing. casual boxing fans would ask why would a boxer punch an opponent in the body when they can simply punch them in the face? the answer is those body punches take a lot out of an opponent as the fight progresses, draining their power and making them less alert. suddenly, they become soft targets and far more likely to be knocked out. that’s how i view it, anyway. is that what arsenal are doing? i don’t know.

  6. Excellent post. I too read the article on Reinartz packing statistics when it came out, and I was immediately struck by what a brilliantly simple idea this is, and how it basically encapsulates Wenger’s whole coaching philosophy. However, I’m still a bit unsure about Xhaka-Cazorla-Ozil being our best midfield combo. I agree that they’re our best three midfielders, and that they’ll be the best when we’re attacking, for the reasons you mention.
    My worry (not original–heard several commentators raise worries about the Cazorla-Xhaka axis’s “mobility”) is that it might be a little bit too porous defensively. I dare say we saw some of its weaknesses in the second half against Watford, when we were really poor and had difficult winning the midfield battle. Cazorla is a lot better defensively than many people think, but it’s never going to be the strongest aspect of his game, and as he gets older he’s only going to get slower. Meanwhile, Xhaka is big, strong, positionally secure, and likes a tackle, but I fear (I hope I’m just being overly pessimistic!) that his biggest weakness is not really having the pace/agility to get around the pitch. I honestly haven’t watched him enough to know if this is a huge concern, but I’ve heard rumblings to that effect by various people, and it would be an obvious explanation for his poor disciplinary record: he gets turned/caught slightly out of position too easily because he lacks quickness, then has to make last ditch tackles that get him cards. Even if this is true, I’m not suggesting he’s anything less than a brilliant buy for Arsenal. His passing is obviously truly exceptional, and makes up for any slight weakness defensively. But part of me wonders if, e.g., William Carvalho would have been a better purchase if we were primarily looking for that dominant defensive midfielder that sweeps up everything and is hellishly hard to knock off the ball (and is very comfortable in possession to boot, just doesn’t have the incredible range of Xhaka), whereas instead, we’ve gone for the brilliant passer who’s also very solid defensively, just not extraordinary at it. Again, no player is perfect, so I’m not saying we didn’t make the right choice, just that it might leave us more exposed than maybe some fans realize if we’re going to play Cazorla next to Xhaka (by comparison: Xabi Alonso is still a brilliantly valuable player to sit deep on your team if you want to control games, but saying this doesn’t negate the fact that the guy can hardly run anymore, and that can be punished by top teams with pacy attackers, e.g. Athletico Madrid in the Champs League last year; it’s a trade-off). All this is just to say I’m led to think that Elneny or a disciplined (ha!) Ramsey will ultimately make a better partner for Xhaka, at least in games against top opposition and tough away games. But I hope to be proved wrong. I guess we’ll get a better sense, both of Xhaka’s strengths/weaknesses, and his ability to gel with Santi, over the next several months.

    • There’s a common misconception about defending which won’t go away: a great defensive midfield must contain great defenders. Not true, of course; the best defensive midfield of this football generation was a combination of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets and only Busquets could be described as anything resembling a defender. But they had an amazing defensive record because they understood defending spaces and pressing as a unit better than anyone. Better yet, they could keep the ball all day and all night and that’s really the best way to keep your opponent from scoring. A highly technical midfield trio like Xhaka, Cazorla and Ozil requires similar strategies to thrive, but Arsene’s Arsenal has never demonstrated nuanced understanding of pressing or spacing without the ball; as a result we often come under pressure late in games even against modestly skilled opposition. I don’t think this is a matter of personnel, though certainly some individuals are better equipped to hold the fort down in the face of the occasional onslaught. I also don’t think it’s about to change in Wenger’s 21st season in charge. He never was and never will be a coach who emphasizes play without the ball and consequently his teams don’t either. What it amounts to at the end of the day is that we have to be a team that wins with offense, a philosophy Wenger has always embraced. Therefore, even though a lightweight and highly technical midfield trio such as Xhaka/Cazorla/Ozil may not always be able to compensate for lapses in proper defensive positional play, we can tolerate that because of their outstanding use of the ball and awareness of spaces in the opposition side of the half. It’s a smorgasbord of passing quality and if they all stay fit our big chance creation should be outstanding this season. If our forwards finish those chances, we may even win the league.

      • Yeah, I don’t disagree with attack being Arsenal’s best form of defense, nor with defending well being more about team organization than individual skills. But we still need balance in our midfield, and a monster physical specimen (e.g. Vieira in his heyday, or William Carvalho) is certainly helpful to have around in one’s midfield late in games when protecting a lead against feisty opposition, ESPECIALLY given Arsene’s slightly laissez-faire attitude to defensive organization. My point is just that many fans seem to be rushing to ordain Xhaka as that kind of midfield titan, who can be partnered with pretty much anyone in central midfielder without any noticeable drop-off in defensive solidity, and I just don’t think he’s that sort of player. Partnering him with a slight, not-the-quickest Cazorla might be optimal for our attack, but it could have defensive ramifications. That’s all.

        • I definitely thought we could have used a ball winner in the second half vs. Watford. Coquelin is the only midfielder who meets that description, he came on and it helped. But really when you start to rely on a player like that it’s an indictment of your ability to control the match with intelligent spacing and possession play. I’m really big on Xhaka because he can put himself about and he has some size in addition to being such a cultured player on the ball. That’s a rare combination. But as Arsene himself pointed out, he’s more Manu Petit than Paddy Vieira. There may never be another Vieira.

  7. Wow, just read the article with the comments about Lucas from his former managers, and I have to say I’m pumped. Obviously they’re biased because they coached him, and they were always going to say mostly nice things, but the level of praise from them is more than I expected. We could have hit upon the bargain of the season here!

  8. Responding to the main article, the spacing issues described in the Ringer piece are definitely real. I’ve seen many analysts point out our penchant for standing in a straight line and/or not giving the man in possession the proper angle for a pass, forcing another round of onerous possession cycling and giving the opposition a chance to organize, or failing to threaten spaces behind defenders, leading to predictable play and allowing defenders to only worry about the space in front of them. Again, I don’t expect Arsene’s Arsenal to suddenly figure this out; instead, as you’ve previously pointed out, Wenger seems to be trying to gear his team more toward scoring goals before we get into this “doldrum” state, hence a renewed emphasis on speedy forwards and passing from deep areas.

    • DAMNIT!

      I had a huge reply go to the ether.

      Yeah, you saw many analysts, one of them was ME!

      Still, that Ringer piece is a hatchet job. It argues that Wenger doesn’t understand how to get his team to play basic football (triangles) and that his “jazz” methods are tantamount to telling the players to go “run around a bit.”

      My article here refutes that.

      There is no doubt that Wenger’s team in the first two matches of the season struggled at times in bringing the ball out of the back (I wrote an article about it a few weeks ago which included the photo that is the feature image for this article) and have been playing 2 players instead of three in a triangle or three players in a line at times (again, I wrote about this). These are basic observations and need to be taken with the grain of salt that Wenger was forced to play with three midfielders who didn’t compliment each other in the first two games.

      As the team grows more healthy/fit and finds its feet and how to play together I think you’ll see a return to the Arsenal that created boatloads last season.

      The real problem here isn’t whether Wenger can coach or whether the players are the right right fit, the real problem is who is Ozil’s backup? Who is Cazorla’s backup? What happens if/when we lose two of Ozil, Cazorla, and Xhaka to injury?

      That is what the first two matches has me worried about.

      • This was the big problem last season. When Cazorla was fit our chance creation numbers were great. He was huge in helping the transition from defense to attack, connecting the defense to midfield and the midfield to the final third and also acted as the secondary playmaker to Ozil giving defense more people to worry about. When he was injured Arsenal had to rely on Ramsey and Flamini who just don’t have the same abilities to carry that task.

        I am hopeful that Xhaka can maybe take up part of that role in acting as the link between defense and attack but I don’t know if he will be that secondary play maker. He also brings more defense to the midfield so he probably could have another play maker next to him instead of Cazorla who really needed Coquelin next to him to help shield the defense.

        If Arsenal are going to be at the top of the table they will need 2 of the 3 of Ozil, Cazorla, and Xhaka fit at all times. They can probably get by with 2 for a period but long stretches could get ugly like the last half of 2016.

      • Tim, I love you man.

        I think Tom Payne’s article has to be viewed through the lens of its intended audience. Sounds like he was trying to make sure novices could follow the rhetoric. I know he’s only 19 but he’s a solid analyst and he makes valid points despite also dumbing it way down in that article. I do think Wenger’s laissez faire approach to positioning was overstated and my brows were furrowing at that too. Fitness is definitely a peak concern but the worry is that sometimes even with our best squad out there we have basic spacing issues.

  9. Just like last season, Cazorla could still be our most important player, the “oil in our engine” and the the foundation of our “technical security” as Wenger describes him. There’ll be a lot of times Coquelin or El-Neny will need to come in for the Spanish maestro in order to close out a win by dint of sheer athleticism rather than keep-ball. That, and the subbing on of fullbacks like Gibbs in place of wide players, is Wenger’s preferred defensive tactic. I understand why @PFo admires Carvalho. He is strong and has a nose for danger. However, he offers nothing creativity wise and would merely take Coquelin’s place for a hefty fee. The Carvalho and Lars Bender ships have sailed folks.

    • Yeah, I’m not all broken up about missing out on Carvalho (though I think he’s still an excellent prospect, certainly moreso than Bender), but for the record I don’t think he “offers nothing creativity wise”. If that means playing the sort of through balls that Xhaka can play, I agree that’s not his game, but if the suggestion is he wouldn’t improve on Coquelin in terms of when we have the ball, then that’s not accurate, based on what I’ve seen: he’s much more comfortable on the ball in tight spaces than the Coq, a pretty decent passer (even if for Portugal in the summer he mostly kept it safe; I think that has much to do with the conservative way they play), and he can make driving runs forward from midfield, a bit like Diaby and Yaya. Again, I’m not all broken up about having Xhaka instead, but I think it’s a false dilemma to suggest that we either have to have someone who offers nothing with the ball or someone who’s defensively suspect, and I merely offer Carvalho as an example of someone who adds more than Xhaka defensively without being useless in possession.
      I’m glad we have Xhaka, just worried about his lack of pace, but I truly hope to be proved completely wrong.

  10. Nice analysis. This is a great follow-up to the Ringer article yesterday. I think a quality long passer like Xhaka and a dynamic forward like Lucas will compliment the first-rate positioning/vision/technique of Ozil really well, and improve our attack. But I do think Wenger’s emphasis on verticality and throughballs is why we sometimes struggle against both pressing teams and defensive bus-parkers. We often struggle to keep possession against pressing teams because we don’t have the meticulous triangle-focused spacing illustrated in the Ringer piece to break down the press. And we can’t find throughballs against the parked buses who minimize the space available to play those passes. I think the additions of Xhaka and Lucas will help us speed up our attack, which will make us more effective against defensive teams, but I still worry that we will struggle against pressure.

  11. Enjoyed this. In my less technical way I understood Wenger is trying to find new effective ways to goal. We have a spine of players from Xhaka through Cazorla through Ozil who can pick out a pass. Was quite excited about the idea of Koulibaly for his ability to do so from even further back. I guess Giroud will start so that full blooded new Arsenal will take a bit longer to emerge. But it is exciting.

  12. Great post , Tim. I felt the first (albeit reserved) twangs of excitement about the season ahead while reading this. It’s so nice to once again get behind a tactical vision and identity for the way Arsenal plays. I just hope we can rack up some points and momentum before the injuries come .

  13. Southampton was the team that really derailed our title challenge on Boxing Day. For two straight months after that we played absolute bullcr**, and none of the forwards could buy a goal. That game and that spell laid bare the sheer craziness of Wenger’s decision to not strengthen the forward line, and add only Cech to the squad (Elneny was to follow in Jan).

    Shane caused us problems all day Long (see what I did there?). I have us to win, but the Saints game is always a difficult one to call. I’m still a little scarred by that game. We stank, both on account of how well they played and on how badly they made us play.

    So fingers crossed that Lucas Perez comes good. Can’t wait to get my first look at him this game. Arsene — in both his pre-match press con and recently on French TV — has been talking about when belief from the player meets opportunity from the coach. The subtext seems to be that the guy has never been shown the belief that his talents deserve, but some of that has to come from, believing that he belongs and can shine here.

    Have liked the look of young Holding. Would be a shame to lose his place to Mustafa as he will eventually, but he should start ahead of the German today.

    The French TV interview, btw, is worth an hour of your time. Even those of us who have lost hope in him feel the love for the old man again. Will link to it if I dig it up again.

  14. And Tim, what do you make of the Wilshere comments about being captain and even manager of Arsenal in time?

    The way I see it, if he stays injury free and regains sharpness, we are looking at Santi’s natural successor at the back of the midfield — rather than Ozil’s, as the German is still far too young to keep Wilshere on hold (presuming of course he stays past next summer).

    Your tactical analysis is intriguing in light of Wenger’s very strong praise of Wilshere, which I believe is sincere. It makes me think that Wilshere is being groomed to slot in to partner Xhaka (with Ramsey on the right or in the Ozil role when the German is rested or injured). You’re right about Santi — he is an excellent protector and carrier of the ball in one of the most dangerous areas of the pitch, and definitely significantly better than Jack in this regard. Jack for now plays better further forward, because he hangs onto the ball too long, and none too securely, in the deep midfield. His game is based on space to run into and quick combination plays based on strong running a la Rosicky (again, space), but the injuries have completely messed up his passing versus dribbling decision making, and introduced a hesitancy into his play. That hesitancy invites the sort of dangerous tackles to which he’s been unfairly subjected.

    I’m guessing that Wenger and Eddie Howe will b eon the phone a lot about how best to deploy Jack. I’d like to see Bournemouth give him an extended run as the attacking midfielder in the 2 shielding the back 4, alongside a sitter/passer.

    I’ll be watching a fair few Bournemouth games this season. And, like Wenger clearly does, I want him back at Arsenal.

    • I was saying as time was winding down, that he has done absolutely everything in this match except score. Oops! And then the penalty.

      Oh, how we missed our little magician last year.

      So sing it with me:
      “Oh Santa Cazorla!
      Oohh Santa Cazorrrla !!”

  15. I was shitting bricks towards the end there. We were the better team overall but needed to get lucky. We aren’t firing on all cylinders yet but got it done in the end and that’s all that matters.

  16. Monreal shows us that he too is a master of the ‘dark arts’ of defending.

    Cech was unlucky on the OG so we more than deserved this win.

    Nice cameo from Coquelin.

    Lucas will get there.

    Was that Messi on our first goal, no, Koscienly.

  17. Brilliant from Koz. Maybe the best goal of his career? Happy Birthday to him. Hope he’s OK, no concussion.

  18. That was exactly like last season for large swathes: not enough impetus and poor finishing throughout. Ozil and Sanchez both uncharacteristically sloppy with their touches, Ox was a turnover machine, Cazorla our best player even before the goal; incisive on the ball and busy without it. However at least the team came back from a losing position to win, somehow, which I don’t think we did at all last season. Let’s hope it’s a springboard to better things, or our luck turning, or both.

    I keep hammering this but Xhaka was a big miss today: Top two pass combinations were Koscielny-Mustafi and Mustafi-Koscielny. We could not break their lines or pass through them. As for the new boys, Mustafi was quite comfortable in possession but probably played it a little too safe; seems agile on the ground but maybe a bit vulnerable in the air. The understanding with Kos is predictably not there yet but Southampton didn’t test him much either so it was a good first game for him. Perez was understandably a bit lost playing against a deep block and with a whole new cast around him; mustered only one shot which was blocked. Worked hard but Alexis won’t feel threatened on this evidence.

    Looking ahead, I don’t think this game will do anything to make managers think playing in a deep block vs. Arsenal is not the way to go about it; we’ll see this tactic again and again and we must adapt to it if we have any hopes of winning the league. Ox, Walcott and Perez are not well suited to playing against a deep block, so we could see the returns of Giroud and Iwobi before long in Premier League play. Against PSG though, especially in Paris, that trio could thrive.

    • Happy with the three points. If it had been United, everyone would be carrying out about their never-say-die spirit.

      many refs wouldn’t have given that, but it was the correct decision.

      Can anyone tell me why Wilshere and Campbell are out on loan but Oxlade-Chamberlain is still at the club? True he’s got power, pace and penetration, but he’s one of the least technically adept Arsenal players I’ve seen. My misfortune to have watched Pires and Ljungberg last week.

      • If he could just put his physical attributes together with a bit of subtlety and intelligence…. there’s a potentially great player in there. He’s a bit like Wilshere, needs a lot of games, but his fortune is that the wings are not as crowded with top talent as the midfield.

  19. Delighted with the win. Seemed like it was going to be one of those days but delighted for the team and Santi in particular after a great performance from him.

    Thought the referee was decent as well. From what I saw there were no terrible calls and he seemed to let the two teams just get on with it with very little fuss. More of that please.

  20. Arsene didn’t spend big on a striker because he was busy spending on referees. 😛

    I jest, of course, but it’s great to see some calls finally going in our favour. More pelanties for us, please.

  21. btw, Santi’s next penalty is going to be saved.

    It’s quite obvious that he almost always puts it down the centre.

    • This was a talking point at the Arsenal bar I was at. He always does that doesn’t he? But he’s still scoring penalties.

      He’s a wily one. He knows what he’s doing. In Cazorla we trust.

  22. Also, special shout out to Laurent Koscielny who is an absolute beast on defense and can score overhead kicks and isn’t afraid to put his head at knee height to score for the Arsenal even if it means he could get kicked in the eyeball. What a man. I hope he’s ok.

  23. Good. We won while playing not so well. We’ll know better after PSG since I have to think that we’ll play something very close to our best 11 against them, but there was a hint of rotation about the lineup. Xhaka doesn’t play, Alexis and Giroud start on the bench. All three of our right wing options played and personally I think Iwobi edges out Walcott for the starter with Ox behind both of those two. Given that we have close to the deepest team in the league, we must use that depth to our advantage. Neither Mustafi or Lucas looked completely out of their depth and showed flashes of being good players.

    Bad. We struggled yet again to create good chances against a team playing a low block. We can’t seem to beat a low block unless we, as Wenger puts it, throw everything forward which of course leads to teams being able to counterattack dangerously. A better forward than Shane Long, and let’s face it there’s a few of those, would have put away at least one of the three really good chances he had.

    Ugly. Kos obviously gets kicked in the face and Madley doesn’t stop play. I know we’re supposed to accept bad refereeing but that’s simply awful, awful, awful.

  24. Watch closely a replay of the Southampton goal. The Arsenal wall had, L to R backing Petr Cech…

    Koscielny Perez Walcott Oxlade-Chamberlain Coquelin

    Kiosk and Coq jumped to make the wall higher. Perez, Theo and Ox stood rooted to the spot, and the ball went over where Theo and Perez were standing.

    Perez is new, but boy, have I completely lost faith on Theo and Ox. Sorry if it seems as if I’m picking on Ox. He just seems to get worse overtime I see him play. Not a particularly composed attacker, and not that great with his defensive contribution either. Cech was given no protection on that kick, and having an OG against him is harsh.

    I’m amazed at the amount of stick Ramsey takes by comparison. He’s easily two leagues above Chamberlain.

    Kosc was a boss, as always, and Mustafi slotted in well.

    • The form of Ox is certainly becoming a cause for concern. I know injuries have played a part but considering the time he’s spent at the club it does feel like it’s about time he started delivering on his potential. It’s not just that he hasn’t been good, but that he’s been so consistently poor.

      I really hope it’s not another Theo situation where it seems like next year is going to be the year it all clicks for him and in 3 years time we’ll still be waiting. Has he gotten any better since we signed him? Has he actually gotten worse?

      The thinking seems to be that it’s psychological more than anything but what more can Arsenal and Arsene do for him? He has the managers trust and support. If gets game time even when he’s not played well. He’s never singled out for criticism. The crowd doesn’t get on his back. I hate to even suggest it but does he need a more Jose type manager to bully the performances out of him maybe?

      I was thinking of Giroud but your Ramsey example is true as well. They both get much more stick even though they very rarely play as badly as Ox. He seems to consistently be one of the worst Arsenal players on the pitch.

      I know he’s still young but so is Iwobi and that hasn’t stopped him doing just as much if not more in a shorter period of time on a more consistent basis. Maybe this year will finally be his year to show what if can do.

  25. Several people have pointed out that karma came back to bite Long who tripped Koscienly last season prior to his goal.

    We are still not all there yet when I look at the play of some other teams but we need to get there quick. Man City looked particularly devastating today and Pool also looked good if you take the Lucas mistake out of their game.

  26. good for arsenal to get a win after going behind. that’s the ‘team of men’ thing wenger was talking about. arsenal weren’t brilliant but the ability to win when you’re not at your best is what champions are made of. great to see arsenal come out after halftime and really take the game by the scruff of the neck.

    i was surprised to see wenger start perez ahead of giroud. to temper expectations, i’ll say that i don’t believe lucas perez is an ‘upgrade’ to giroud. he might be an upgrade but what’s important is that he’ll give arsenal depth at center forward. prophetically, he struggled. giroud came on and won arsenal a penalty that perez couldn’t have won. i’m excited about the perez signing but this was an awful game to play him from the start.

    for the most part, i’m happy to see theo playing wide again. he wasn’t world class by any means but he wasn’t half bad. i think he’ll have a very good game midweek against psg. now that he’s accepted his role in the side, the hope is that he’ll continue to improve.

    despite his poor performance on the day, the decision to start alex chamberlain was a good one. he was given an opportunity. with iwobi just coming back from injury and alexis coming back late from international duty, i probably would have started him as well. he needs to be mindful that this is probably his last season to prove he’s good enough to make the grade. i believe in the kid. he’s got the ability and potential to be a great arsenal player. we’ll see how he does.

    monreal made a few mistakes but i thought he was immense on the day. he’s a good player.

    lastly, i think arsenal will beat psg. the parisians had a fantastic preseason but an awful start to their domestic campaign. they’re missing zlatan. i like psg and i hope they get it right, but i prefer arsenal and will be rooting for them midweek. we’ll see.

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