Bias for defense

Sorry I didn’t post yesterday, I spent the day compiling stats instead of writing. I did want to reply to the comments about my bias against Elneny.

It’s true, I have a bias: I expect players to be defenders first and attackers second. In fact, I prefer teams that start with a strong basis in defense and extend the attack from there.

I’ve learned that defense first can take many forms in football. There is ball-control defense, as practiced by Guardiola sides. There are pressing defenses, like Klopp. Mourinho’s sides play a variety of defenses. Simeone’s teams play counter-attacking football. And Arsene Wenger has taken several different defensive approaches over the years: this season, he’s doing something creative and weird by putting Coquelin in between the lines and having him quick press when we give the ball away.

As an aside, this trope that “Wenger doesn’t do defense” is prima facie false. He might not spend as much time drilling players on defense as some of us would like, and his defensive schemes can sometimes be odd and frustrating, but he absolutely teaches defense. Wenger has a bias toward attacking but he doesn’t neglect defense.

My bias is applied to players, in a big way. I used to demand forwards play defense, and guys like Özil and Pires drove me crazy, but recently I’ve softened on that position. Özil is an atrocious defender but he gets a free pass because he wins us games.

Cazorla isn’t a great defender and he’s not running around snapping into tackles or intercepting passes left and right but he does what’s needed to help the team: he tracks back, he covers space, and he presses as part of a unit without the ball. It took him an entire season to learn how to do all of those things, and before he did I was badmouthing him constantly, but that is my baseline minimum I expect from a center mid.

Elneny doesn’t do those things, at least not consistently, and when your center mid isn’t playing defense, the whole team is exposed. He’s not a bad human. He’s also not even a bad player. But he needs to learn how to apply himself more to his defensive duties. Just like Cazorla did. Just like Theo Walcott did. Just like Iwobi needs to do. That’s my whole beef with Elneny.

This is what drives me crazy about Aaron Ramsey. He often abandons his defensive duties, making crazy runs into the opposition 18 yard box. He can also be seen slowing his runs back on defense so that he can “be available” for a counter attacking pass. That last one drives me absolutely spare: it’s like he’s saying “you guys go clean that up for me, I’ll be here waiting to take the glory.” I played with a guy like that. He once told me “defenders should defend and attackers should attack.” I told him to fuck off. If he didn’t want to play defense, he could find another team to play with. He did.

This is also why I have an irrational love of Alexis Sanchez. He’s a beast. I would die on the pitch for a forward like Alexis. Not only is he a classy forward, he is a guy who recognizes that you need to win the ball back to win the game.

This bias comes from my own playing days. I have played all the major American sports and I’ve always been a defender. In High School, I was a strong safety. The key to that position is in the name, think of it as the American football version of defensive midfielder. In baseball/softball I’m a catcher. In basketball, I’m that annoying guard who steals your passes, grabs an unrealistic number of rebounds, dives for every loose ball, and frustrates your best player with solid face-to-face defending. In football, I prefer to play defensive midfield but I’m comfortable in any of the defensive positions. And if I’m lucky enough to get on a team who let me play forward (I have good touch and I’m strong on the ball) I take the forward’s defensive duties very seriously.

My bias is that I want every player to play like me because I know that if everyone isn’t giving at least the minimum to defense, it makes my job a lot harder. Elneny’s lax approach to defense cost Arsenal the game against Liverpool, and nearly the game against Man U. And when he’s on the pitch, Coquelin’s job is that much harder.

If you think about it for a few minutes, you can probably see how this sentiment permeates my writing.

Now, I’m going to get back to crunching stats. Believe it or not, I’m currently looking at a model for measuring defensive efficiency.

Qq

47 Comments on Bias for defense

  1. I agree that you have a bias for defense, Tim but maybe you should open your fulcrum a bit more. I know you have read Pep Confidential and that’s why I’m a bit confused with the last article. I think the problem is, you specifically have a bias on actual defensive action not necessarily defense in itself. I agree that from last swason, I have said that Elneny weakness is not engaging enough which stems from confidence, but it seems it hasn’t improve even now. Having said that, if you put it another way, Elneny actually play a good defensive possession by circulating the ball when we have possession. That is, like Guardiola said, much more important for defending than actually having to do defensive action. In that regards, this is why I just have a huge problem with your permissive writing towards Coquelin. By looking at possession as a form of defense, Coquelin actually have just as much bad performances as Elneny. Just look at the ball circulation for Arsenal, Coquelin definitely a passenger and that is actually a two way problems, because not only he stifle our attacks, if he failed to intercept, he got us into a counter and it might make Elneny look much worse than he actually is. So, basically, on defense, please don’t look it in a narrow view because i know you’re better than that.

    • First off, “I think the problem is, you specifically have a bias on actual defensive action not necessarily defense in itself.” I was very clear that I don’t have a bias toward making tackles or interceptions. I completely understand that even just eating up space, closing down an opponent, or maintaining shape are all keys to defense.

      Second, I read Pep confidential. Yes, possession is important, but just as important to Pep is actual defensive shape and partnerships. There are several chapters devoted to just Pep teaching defense to either Hooijberg or Javi Martinez.

      As for possession, Coquelin is not horrible in possession. He does turn the ball over more than I would like, and because of his new weird position (Wenger playing him high up the pitch) he is at an all time high in terms of dispossessed per game and turnovers. His tackle numbers are also way down, and his “was dribbled” numbers are way up. All this, again, is a function of his new position high up the pitch, between the lines, where he is being swarmed by opposition defenders.

      But he’s actually getting more passes than last year! And he’s getting them in a much more dangerous area so his key passes are up and long balls are down.

      In fact, in the three Champions League games, when paired with either Cazorla or Xhaka, he’s had his three best games of the season. He is averaging 1 key pass per game, career high passing at 50 per game with 90% accuracy, and he has had zero turnovers and been dispossessed zero times.

      But to your point about Elneny being great in possession. That is not a question. He is the very best short-pass-move-pass-back-move-pass-sideways player I have seen at Arsenal since Denilson. I think I was clear, my problem is when Arsenal are out of possession.

      Arsenal are no longer the possession-as-defense side we once were. Now days, whenever a big team wants to take the ball from us, they do. We have gone from the team with the highest possession stats in the League to fourth best in the last two years. Thus we need players like Elneny to be switched on when we don’t have the ball. And again, like I said above, that’s my problem with him.

      And finally, don’t condescend to me. The “you’re better than that” line is not funny or cute.

      • Ok, let’s address the last point first. I’m sorry if i offend you, but I really think you are a better person than people who want to scapegoat someone for a problem of a team in a sincere way, and not in a funny or cute way.

        If I’m not clear enough, on the Man Utd match, you’re picturing or highlighting that 99% of the defensive problem is on Elneny. I’m just saying it’s not, on the Man Utd match, Coquelin also share some responsibility too. Am I saying Elneny is actually super great and Coquelin super shit? No. I’m aware of Elneny problem and I agree with your statement of his weaknesses. It’s the “look Elneny in trouble, it must be all his fault for that” stance, that I don’t agree with.

        Now, on your point of Coquelin improvement. I said that is great, and I also recalled that not just Elneny who need confidence, Coquelin too need confidence to have the ball because in some cases, he shows to have a good ball retention. You said it yourself, Coquelin best performance is when he shows up to want the ball, and on the Man Utd match, he didn’t. It causes problem too for our attacking and defending at the Man Utd match.

        Finally, on the Arsenal no longer the possession as defense we once were. That is probably the biggest thing that might be up for debate not just on Elneny, but also to every thing on the interchanging players in midfield for us. There seems to be acknowledgment that we have a versatile midfield players. People who have different kind of attribute, who excels at something and weak at other thing. It’s the unacknowledged of that on the pitch that is the issue. People seems to demand us to play the same way regardless of the players on the pitch. It’s either having the same composition of players or a variate kind and right now, we have a variate kind.

        What’s that got to do with Elneny? It means that when we have Elneny on the pitch, the partner should also acknowledge that we can play the same way as when we have Cazorla. If we have Cazorla, I can just let him have the ball and create, with me just prepared to intercept when we lose the ball. That’s not how you should play with Elneny, the partner should shows up more than he should when he has Cazorla as a partner. Which means, if we were not a possession as defense we once were, we ought to revert back to it when Elneny in the side, because he could be the template to do that kind of style.

        Right now, Elneny-Coquelin partnership doesn’t gel because both of them can’t adapt to each other. It shows both of their weaknesses and strength at the same time. Elneny with his ball possession and Coquelin with his ball winning, as a strength. Elneny with his ball winning and Coquelin with his ball possession, as a weakness. Can they ever work together? Of course, if they have the time to build the partnership and they both shows the potential of improvement that they have. Coquelin shows that he can improve, highlighted by your stats, but sadly doesn’t shows on the Man Utd match. The onus is on Elneny to also shows that he can improve. Is it because he has less game time than Coquelin, so he can’t improve like Coquelin? Maybe. I just believe he can improve, at least, it seems Arsene thought so, with his selection of Elneny instead of Xhaka at couple of times.

  2. Football is different from American sport in that there’s far less special teams switching and subbing. So therefore a Francis Coquelin, while a superb breaker-upper of play, doesn’t offer much else. If (let’s say for the sake of argument) soccer didn’t flow as much, you could bring on a Coquelin in a defensive situation, for just that purpose, and sub him in and out. (Similarly, you could bring on a guy to take free kicks and take him out of the game right after).

    In my assessment Coquelin is the problem, not Elneny. Coquelin is bouncer, not deejay. Every team needs one, but they tend to have more in their locker than the Frenchman. We are not going to win anything if he is (as he is at the moment) our primary defensive midfielder. There’s a reason why N’Golo Kante has seemingly come out of nowhere and leapfrogged over him in the France setup — he’s a much cleverer and more cultured player, and offers far more, attacking-wise, than stopping and defence. We thought we’d upgraded on Coquelin with Xhaka. We’ll see how that plays out from now.

    Elneny lost Mata, party due to Mata’s clever movement, and you could see that he was disgusted with himself. It was a case of him not reading the play, not him being insufficiently committed on defense.

    ***Btw, took some stick here for saying that Kante was the Leicester player we should pursue, not Mahrez or Vardy. He’s the best in his position in the premier league, certainly on form.

    • Elneny might not even have been at fault for the goal, at least not totally. Walcott has said he should’ve been the one to mark Mata’s run. I agree that the real issue is Coq and his limitations in possession. Paired with a superb passer like Cazorla, his limitations are mitigated. Without Cazorla, his limitations become more of an issue.

      • Walcott said that to be nice, but he couldn’t have done much because he was on the wrong side of Mata (watch the replay), while Elneny was closer to Mata and in the perfect position to intercept Herrera’s pass. Coquelin may be technically limited, but he’s good at tackling and making interceptions. Elneny does everything OK, but he’s not great at anything. He doesn’t pass like Ozil or even Xhaka, he doesn’t dribble like Cazorla, he doesn’t make deep runs like Ramsey, and he doesn’t tackle like Coquelin. In that regard, I believe Tim is right.

        • i agree with you comment on walcott. besides, he had the responsibility to provide balance on the backside of the formation. looking at the replay, he probably feels he could have at least gotten a challenge in. however, he was looking in retrospect and had no idea where that ball was going to go. also, it would have been tough for him to make the play with mata hitting the ball first time.

          i don’t think elneny has to be great at anything so long as he’s very good at most everything. failing to track the run of herrera, not seeing the play develop, or not acting on what he saw are three failures for a good center midfielder, especially in the same play. the question is were these failures mistakes or is this how he plays soccer. i think we need a greater sample (more minutes) before passing judgement.

    • seems like i’m picking on you, claude, but i swear that i’m not. i don’t agree with your assessment of coquelin. is he limited? yes. so is every other player i’ve ever seen except patrick vieira, michael essien, and yaya toure at their best. those gentlemen had no weaknesses.

      for me, coquelin’s weaknesses are his crosses and his finishing. that’s it. everything else about his game is top notch; first touch, passing, tackling, mobility, positional awareness, decision-making, fitness, etc. despite his aggressive approach, i only remember one sending-off in arsenal colors. he certainly isn’t a problem.

      as for saturday’s game, the biggest problem was wenger playing with three #8s. elneny is a #8, coquelin’s been playing as a #8, and ramsey is trying to convince the boss he should be playing as a #8. coquelin has not been playing as a defensive mid. three #8s unbalanced the midfield. also, the center forward dropped so deep that seemed to be trying to play defensive midfield, meaning arsenal had no penetration. it’s not as simple as it’s elneny or coquelin’s fault. it was a poor team put out by wenger and he was too slow to correct his bad decision.

      • I think this is the take I most agree with. Individual performance issues yes, but more a systemic problem. But this reflects my own cognitive biases towards seeing everything as flows, interactions and feedback.

        Incidentally, these discussions we are having are one of the reasons why football is such a great game. It can be whatever you want it to be. A story of individuality, a story of collectivity, a morality play, a battle, a test of character, a test of physical strength… We all approach the game different ways and see different things in it, and on this forum in particular the resulting differences of opinion, thoughtfully expressed, are actually a source of pleasure… which is how it should be.

  3. Very informative comments on any arsenal blog worldwide.

    The thing about coquelin is he is very mobile and able to tackle well meaning he can cover more space than other midfield players. This mobility is what Xhaka lacks more than the temperament issue and I suspect that’s the cause of him being seated d in the bench.

    Elneny is a mix of Cazorla, coq and Xhaka with a bit each of their qualities. When I watch him I get the same frustration when I watch the Ox as a quick look tells you he has a higher gear but is not switching onto it. This confidence issue could be what breaks or elevates them both.

    If I may digress, if the ox scored or assisted 10 goals in a span over 15 games that would really sort him out.

    I agree that coq and elneny are the worst pairing but if paired then elneny has be closer to iwobi as they have some chemistry.

    Who’d have thought with all these midfielders Wenger couldn’t get his balance right… Without Cazorla. It seems accurate to state that Wilshire is the only one who can replace Cazorla

    • On Wilshere as the only one who can replace Cazorla, I disagree. He still a heart over brain player to me and his questionable injury record doesn’t help either. In term of ability, his Bournsmouth spell doesn’t speak he can replace Cazorla too. If you want to see someone who can potentially replace Cazorla, look at Kevin Kampl or Naby Keita. Even on our squad, I think Iwobi could be good there looking at his intelligence in positioning and on the ball. Ox could be too, as long as he is fully focus.

      • I agree about Iwobi in the longterm, but I wouldn’t go looking outside the current squad (plus Wilshere) for a replacement just yet. We’ve invested a lot of time and money in the current crop of midfielders, who in my mind are all good enough to play for us, so even if there’s no perfect replacement for Cazorla (no surprise there), I think we’ve got to let Arsene work with these players and find a longterm solution. Wilshere is one possibility next year (maybe with Coquelin, as they know each other well from the youth ranks?) as is Xhaka-Ramsey, or, failing that, Xhaka-Elneny.

  4. i coach a u19 soccer team down here in georgia and just last night i explained to my team what i thought the difference was between a talented player and a good player. a talented player is effective when he has his foot on the ball. a good player is effective when he has his foot on the pitch, ball not required; the point being what are you doing to develop situations when you don’t have the ball (are you ball watching?).

    that is my opinion. is it wrong? that will depend on your bias. tim, you’re not alone. everyone likes players that play like them; they’re easy to understand. everyone likes special talents on the ball but you biased towards defense first guys and i’m biased towards good decision-makers especially being 3rd attackers/defenders. who’s better, ronaldo or messi? they’re all biases. that’s the beauty of this site; we all teach and learn from each other based on our biases.

  5. found myself nodding at each disagreement! Fwiw, I agree that no player is perfect, and none of the individual players are the problem. It’s just a matter of finding the best combinations…even a whole team of vieras or messis may not be better than a mix..

  6. I agree with u on the fact that everyone likes the player who they can understand. And playing in a defensive midfielder position myself I can understand the fascination with a Sanchez like player or a frustration with Ozil or Ramsey like player.
    But I still think giving this much stick to elneny is a bit harsh. I think we give some players a free pass for errors (like u did to Ozil). I am not a fan of either Coq or elneny. So when I saw the match I thought both played very poorly. But when I talked with people everywhere the same opinion is that Coq was great nd elneny messed it up. For some reason with cazorla absent everyone wants Coq to be the same Nd elneny to do what cazorla used to do. Which is impossible.
    Both are defensive midfielders in extreme. No one can be expected to do what cazorla does. Either both have to contribute or it won’t happen. Coq is a Gud player nd so is elneny but at the same position.

    I think until cazorla is injured Ramsey nd Xhaka shud be there in midfield. That is perhaps the second most balanced partnership after Coq cazorla.

  7. Sometimes I think the recent preoccupation with ‘bias’ isn’t doing any of up many favours. It often seems to be used in the sense that ‘I disagree with what you say because you are biased due to your own perspective, whereas I am right because I come from a place of ‘zero bias’. When I give you my opinion it is nothing got to do with who I am, or what I think, or my lived in history. It is all bias free, I swear’.

    I don’t see how we are all not each biased in our own football opinions and I don’t see much reason to pretend otherwise.

    I can understand where Tim is coming from. You want all your team putting in a shift and anyone who isn’t is a potential liability. I don’t see how this is controversial in any way. Are there other ways to approach football? Sure.

    I just worry about the way accusations of bias have come to be deployed these days, where it often means ‘You don’t like what I like, and the reason for that is because you’re biased and therefore wrong, whereas I’m beyond bias, and therefore correct.

    Back on topic….

    So far, I don’t think El Neney has proven to be anything better than okay and Spurs lost and are out of the Champions League.

    • The question isn’t whether Tim or anyone else is “biased” for having a unique set of opinions about football, players, etc. Of course we all are, and since there’s no objective standard as to what are the right opinions to have, what to like admire, etc (what are the questions, even?) the charge of bias doesn’t really make any sense. Of course, given some basic facts about the goal of football, it would be “wrong” to think Messi is a bad player or that Lee Cattermole is better than Messi, for example. But that still leaves an awful lot of leeway for us to disagree, and on top of that, some of our opinions concern what we prefer to watch (or how we prefer to play ourselves), rather than just strictly speaking what’s the most useful way to win football matches (if we only cared about the latter, presumably we’d all be disciples of Jose Mourinho, the most odious man in football).
      The question, rather, is whether we allow our background beliefs (our “biases”)–e.g. about players we like and don’t like, etc–to influence our assessment of particular games and the performances of players in particular games. Of course, even then, there’s no objective standard that establishes this player had a good or bad game (it would be odd but not impossible for a player to score a hat trick and still to have had a rotten game overall, I submit), but even if we just take our very own standards, whatever they are–or standards that any reasonable fan would share–we might apply those standards in an unfair way to our assessment of a particular performance, due to our background beliefs about that player being good or bad, and in this sense our judgment has been biased. This is the charge that’s going around, I think: even according to metrics that Tim himself would acknowledge are important, he might be being too harsh to Elneny, or Andrew from Arseblog might be being too lenient on Ramsey, or I might be too easy on Ozil, etc.

  8. My bias is not with any one player. My bias is with a specific type of player. A player that can transition from defense to attack. Santi, Jack & Xhaka are the players I feel can do this role.

    Going with Elneny and Coquelin in midfield, the onus is on Ozil & Alexis to drop deep and play the forward passes. This is why I think we will see Xhaka starting tonight.

  9. Good read as always but a bit harsh on Elneny and Nikki makes a fine point about the different defensive qualities that Elneny and Coquelin brings. Midfield is all about balance. While I can appreciate a defense first approach, whether it be through possession (Pep), pressing (Klopp) or parking the bus (F***face), if we don’t have a player in the center of the pitch who can pick out a team mate in between the lines, we are always going to struggle to create chances. Maybe Wenger saw some improvement in Elneny’s forward play (as did I) but turns out playing away at OT isn’t the same as playing away at the Stadium of Light (a name they should reconsider). Elneny is improving but it’s obvious he isn’t at a level where he can play away at Old Trafford and impress – very few can to be fair.

    Wenger has to find a Santi-less midfield solution and I am sorry but it does not include Jack Wilshere. Even if JW does find some form in Bournemouth, he is playing further forward than a traditional #8 and it’s hard to see how he develops the discipline necessary to play the role. But we don’t even have to worry about that till next season. For now I think the only way we get some decent forward play from midfield is if we play Ramsey there and then it’s a question of who we think partners him best. Since there is some precedence here of a good partnership between Ramsey and Arteta, I think a Ramsey and Xhaka partnership could work. However Ramsey isn’t the same player that he was 3 seasons ago. That was a time when he was getting a lot of flak from fans for trying too many fancy moves rather than keeping it simple, so he simplified his game and developed an effective partnership with Arteta which, as it turned out, made him efficient in front of goal as well. Since then, Ramsey has slowly reverted to type and worse, it seems like he fancies himself to be somewhat of a goal scorer. If he wants to be a central midfielder, we need to see much more discipline from him but he should be given a chance. The goals will come from him if he is patient.

    I think Ramsey needs more guidance and Wenger should have a word with Ramsey and help him improve in the areas he is lacking. It’s not as if he doesn’t have the talent. Talent is not coachable but discipline and being conservative with your forward runs certainly is. He needs to able to press high up the pitch like Coquelin and then drop deep to help in defense. This is what Coquelin does well and if Ramsey can replicate some of that while adding better passing to our game then he should be able to form an effective partnership with Xhaka. If not, I think our next best partnership would probably be Coquelin and Xhaka – and that’s a bit scary because that feels like a red card waiting to happen.

    • good chat, nyc. i believe both coquelin and elneny are good enough forward passers of the ball. the problem is in order to pass the ball forward, you need passing lanes. that requires the team shape to provide penetration and width. on saturday, arsenal had no penetration because alexis dropped too deep. arsenal’s width was minimized because ramsey and walcott were playing too central, monreal couldn’t commit forward because of valencia, hector was unavailable, etc. all of these issues allowed mourinho’s defense to be more compact, making it much more difficult to play the ball forward or out of pressure.

      what it seems is that wenger gave the players more of a philosophical approach and less of a strategic one. all of the arsenal players are great talents and wenger seems to like players expressing themselves. however, in tough games, some players need more direction from management than others. a poor performance is not always down to a player. by the way, i agree whole-heartedly with your opinion of ramsey following instruction from the boss. however, wenger has publicly criticized ramsey in the past, which leads one to believe that he’s simply ignoring the boss’ instruction and likely the main reason he’s become so notorious.

      lastly, everyone wants to see xhaka in the line-up but wenger’s not starting him too much. why? i don’t think wenger believes he’s ready for the tough away games. we’ll see.

  10. Once again this is proving to be the blog to go when you want to read well put arguments about Arsenal. Although everyone has a theory about what is going wrong in midfield and poiting culprits we can agree that there is a problem there. The last two goals conceded have their origins in some unbalance there: Dembele dribbling his way from the half line towards Koscielny’s foot and Mata arriving unmarked to the area to sidefoot Man U opener. Considering that the midfield combination was different on both matches i guess the issue is a lack of full understanding between the players at the base of midfield. Because Wenger doesn’t really play with a proper destroyer kind of DM but ask both of his DM to share tasks (good passing, intercept, tackle, build play, etc) its harder for the players to figure out what they should be doing at times because the tasks are not so clearly define. It will take some time and lots of games for another combination like Coqzorla to settle.

  11. Just who are you referring to as “f**face”? Could it be…SATAN?”

    That is for whoever remembers Dana Carvey’s Church Lady on SNL.

    And of course you refer to Satan because to paraphrase Bob Dylan once more, sometimes Satan come as a Portuguese.

    • Oh, great.

      To put it short, my point is:

      – I’m sorry if i offend you Tim, i don’t mean that
      – I agree about Elneny weaknesses, but he shouldn’t be a scapegoat when his teammates could help him
      – It’s great that Coquelin shows improvement, because i believe he could do it. It just didn’t show up at the Man Utd match. I also believe Elneny could improve, but he hasn’t shows it. Could more game time be given so he could improve? I think so, and it seems Arsene believe in it too.

      • I don’t know if this applies to your comment, but Tim has decided on a curse word free policy on comments to help keep things civil and respectful. It’s a good idea but does mean that comments with any bad language risk moderation.

  12. You can try to dissect every defensive breakdown that leads to a goal and point to a number of mistakes by a number of players.
    Elneny is as guilty of ball watching as at least three other Arsenal players on this particular play, and while he does turn to look briefly to his left, he fails to pick up Mata who makes a clever run into the area.

    You could also ask why Koscielny felt the need to abandon his position to challenge Pogba by the touch line-something probably to do with the perceived weakness in the left back position these days. Kos isn’t even in the penalty box when the ball hits the net. Not ideal from your central defender.

    The toughest thing to do on defense is when to decide to switch from defending the space and instead try to pick up runners. When you fail to do the latter, it’s not unusual for six atteckers to find empty spaces amongst eight defenders, which is what happened on this particular play. Herrera getting lucky with his blind pass( he never looked up once to see who’s available) notwithstanding.

    • good comment, tom. i can’t speak for everyone else but with my team the directive is if you commit the keeper to the near post, play the ball to the back post or to the penalty spot. i don’t think herrera’s pass was luck. he didn’t need to see where mata was, just to know that his role was to play the ball to the penalty spot. rooney made the near-post run which moved coquelin and opened up the passing lane. mata likely knew where herrera would play the ball but didn’t want to draw defenders there by moving to the spot too early.

      koscielny’s decision to come out wasn’t a bad one; pogba is a very dangerous player to give space in the final third. typically, when a center back goes out wide, the outside back momentarily checks to the central area until the threat is reduced, when they switch back to their more natural role. unfortunately, monreal slips, which seems to be a cool thing for arsenal left backs to do when they play against man united. you’re 100% right in that there’s usually many mistakes and not just one that leads to such an easy goal being conceded. this was a bit unfortunate but not the reason arsenal failed to win. arsenal failed to create chances.

  13. Well Tim, the question I guess is: is Elneny worth the investment of time and opportunity, given that it took cazorla a year to adapt, and being played whenever fit? Another way to ask, given his good points, if he improved defensively how good would he be for arsenal? A shoe in for a start?

    • He certainly has the potential. That doesn’t mean I can’t criticize his current state. Also, it will be interesting to see how long we let him develop.

      • I have no problem with your criticisms. They’re usually based on astute observation over time.

        To me he looks a bit timid, sometimes like he’s overawed to be playing for arsenal.

        I have no idea what xhaka is doing in training to be constantly benched. Even tonight. 35million is a big investment for arsenal, and on a senior player with good international experience. Why the hell isn’t he playing?!

  14. Giroud starts, not too surprising. Gibbs over Montreal and Iwobi over Walcott, bit of a surprise. Ramsey pairs with Coq in midfield, probably my least favorite pairing. Hopefully, Coq is instructed to hang back because if he pushes forward between the lines and Ramsey does his usual runs into the box there’s going to be an awful big gap for PSG to counter into. Mainly, I hope that after tentative starts to both halves against tots and ManUre, we actually start the game well.

    • If Ramsey and Coquelin end up playing well tonight I’d be very pleasantly surprised, but I agree with you: with those two in there, I can’t see any other consequence but us struggling for possession against this very good PSG midfield. I suppose we could let them dominate the ball and try to hit them on the break, like Bayern last year, but the omens aren’t good….Xhaka Arsene?

  15. This is probably a dumb question (and a little last minute, obviously) but is there any way to watch the game on espn online for free (I have comcast but no tv at the moment)? I’ve been in the UK for 7 years and now I’m back in the US and have no idea how to watch the games…

  16. It’s cool, brother. It’s a debating forum (sort of). I don’t take it personally. Swing away. 🙂

    I’m not saying Coq is a bad player — he’s not. He certainly isn’t the complete midfielder you describe, but hey, it’s possible to disagree about these things. I don’t think he’s the level of DM/firefighter/cop we need if we want to win titles. He’s been part of a midfield that hasn’t coped in two of our worst games this season — United and Liverpool. Santi makes him look a much better player than he is.

  17. Geez, we’re really not in PSG’s league are we? Over two games, we were outshot 25-10 and gave up 8 big chances vs “creating” 1, a penalty. If Cavani wasn’t such a shite striker, we’d have lost both games.

  18. Geez, we’re really not in PSG’s league. Two games, outshot 25-1, big chances 8-1 with our one a rather soft penalty. If Cavani wasn’t such s*** striker, we easily could’ve lost one if not both of these games.

    • From what I’ve noticed, we rarely played diagonal short passes. Most of the players played straight forward passes. The one who I noticed played and occasionally position themselves diagonally is Ozil and Alexis, and at times Iwobi. Giroud also does position himself diagonally, but his passing almost always straight forward. I think that Cazorla might also be that type of player that can position and passes diagonally, which is important to break teams down. As long as there’s no one deep enough to also do this, Coquelin or Ramsey, we would not create good possession and able to get dangerous counter easily.

  19. Man, I just looked up Jenkins’ perfomance on statzone to see if he was bad as I thought last night, and I think he was, if anything, worse… Aside from 6 failed crosses almost all his passes were backwards. While he got up and down the line well, every time the ball came to him he took the safe option and killed our momentum. Alexis was urging him to take the ball on, Mustafi too at the start of the second half, but nothing doing. Defensively, he had one nice clearance late on, in fairness.

    Why am I ragging on the limitations of our backup right back? Because to me the gaping flaw in this set up is the need for players in the back 6 to work the ball vertically to our attackers, without those players coming deep. Bellerin and Cazorla can do it, but there are question marks about everyone else. Right now, most attacks are fizzing out before they even begin when Jenkins, or Coquelin, or Ramsey, or Mustafi coughs up possession needlessly, or they cycle it aimlessly around the back until it ends up with the ‘keeper. Wenger needs to identify the players that can work the ball better (Xhaka? Debuchy even??) or change the set-up significantly, otherwise this team is going nowhere fast…

  20. One thing I respect you so much for, you admit it when you are wrong, you state when you are bias and you don’t have any problem changing your mind rather than defending yourself to death

  21. I thought we did ok against a decent PSG side. We are about at their level, so I’m not going too disappointed at the result. In fact, on chances created, they should have won both games.

    Blaise Matuidi, in ghosting between our full back and centre back and demanding the ball (what a pass), showed the guile and craft that we lack in midfield. The guy is supposed to be a DM but is movement, positional awareness and pass for the first goal were exceptional. People who wonder why Coquelin doesn’t play for France should look at players like Matuidi and Kante.

    Cavani is getting a lot of criticism for being wasteful, but he engaged in classic centre-forward play, and the big man has everything — speed, timing of runs, link up play. Yes he missed a lot last night but he has 16 goals for PSG and November hasn’t even ended. He’s there on the end of thing a lot. We don’t have a player like him, except perhaps Lucas Perez, who’s a poor man’s version.

    We can talk all day about our mistakes that led to the goals, but I’m not of the Alan Hansen school of football analysis, that seems to think that EVERY goal could have been prevented by a switched-on and alert defence. Matuidi’s goal was a beauty of attacking, aware play. He got the better of Mustafi, rather than Mustafi not doing his job properly.

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