At 1 -0 down all I heard was “November has started!” At 2-0 down the cry was “November! The curse of November!” At 2-1 there was hope mixed with despair as people complained “Why do we show up and think we can just win?” At 2-2 I heard the rallying cry “mental strength! Mental strength!” And at 2-3 all I heard was “Özil for President 2016.”
It was a great win over Ludogorets, punctuated by a goal of the season candidate from Özil. In case you missed it, the whole sequence goes like this: Gibbs heads the ball clear, Coquelin heads the ball on but it’s collected by Dyakov, then Giroud comes storming back into defense and tackles the ball away from Dyakov and right to Elneny, Elneny plays a warbling long ball through to Özil who lifts the ball over the onrushing keeper, cuts back onto his left to destroy not one but two Ludogorets defenders, and with the entire goal to himself, passes the ball into the back of the net. It was a goal of the highest quality but that’s what it took to break this deadlock.
I would say “credit to Ludogorets” but I’m sure they would much rather have the 3 points that they just dropped than my credit. I mean, I can’t imagine their manager calling a team meeting and saying “guys, I know we are feeling bad about the fact that we went 2-0 up and just lost 3-2 but this guy from 7amkickoff just gave us a lot of CREDIT.” They played well for most of the match but Arsenal were simply better and in the end, Arsenal had Özil to break the tie.
What’s worrying about the match is the fact that a pattern is emerging this season where Arsenal are now conceding an unusually high number of good chances to the opposition. As I highlight in my By the Numbers piece on Arseblog News this morning, Arsenal are creating almost the exact same number of Big Chances and shots in prime as they did last season but they are allowing almost double the number of those same shots as they did last season.
Big chances and shots in prime are high value shots, teams generally don’t survive long allowing a lot of them. Think back to the match against PSG: they created 5 big chances in that game and only scored 1. That’s a highly unusual conversion rate and it wasn’t largely down to Ospina, who only made two saves, it was equally down to the fact that Cavani is a donkey on rollerblades. But conceding that many high value shots isn’t sustainable; Ludogorets punished Arsenal twice for this slack defending.
I suspect that there are two reasons why Arsenal are allowing the opposition to get such good looks. First, Mustafi. He’s new, he’s not good in the air, and he switches off. For the Ludogorets second goal, you can see Mustafi yelling at Koscielny to watch out for Keseru but neither center back picks him up and he scores easily – this is a case of him being new. For the Cavani goal against PSG, Mustafi simply switched off. And in the match against Swansea (where Arsenal allowed 4 big chances and 5 shots on target in prime) he was guilty of not even challenging for aerial balls. As good as he is in other areas he needs to improve in these three: communication with Koscielny, staying alert for the full 90, and being more aggressive in the air.
The other reason Arsenal’s defense is slack is that Arsene switched Arsenal up structurally and is playing Coquelin as a holding midfielder between the opposition lines. This high up the pitch defense as attack is a high stakes gambit: if he wins the ball high up the pitch it’s brilliant, but since he’s high up the pitch he’s not available to shield the back two and any mistakes by them are magnified. There are a number of good reasons to play this way, mostly because it frees up space around the deep lying playmaker, but like I said, it’s an aggressive tactic which will lead to conceding counter attacks and big chances.
This all may sound like sour milk coming from me: Arsenal have gone the last 15 matches undefeated. That is a great streak of games stretching back to the open day loss to Liverpool. But I can’t help but feel like we are riding our luck a bit here, depending too much on great saves from Ospina (like the one off Wanderson’s shot) and on even better goals from the likes of Özil.
At some point, the luck runs out. Or… Arsenal figure out how to be a little more solid in their new system and stop conceding so many good quality chances. Personally, I’d like the latter. Preferably this weekend against Spurs.