Alexis fires up a much needed win

Another free kick floats in

An Alexis brace, either side of a rare Walcott header (which had equalised the gentlest and softest of penalty awards to Bournemouth) hauled the Arsenal back into winning ways.

A fairly long hiatus in match day attendance from your humble scribe meant that given our last three mediocre performances, albeit against above average opposition, meant  I  feared a game that in theory should be straightforward may not be. I welcomed the combination of fried onions and spiced meats aromas as I surfaced from the underground train at Finsbury Park like long lost friends.

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Pre match banner in the sunshine

The lack of creativity in the midfield due to the continued absence of Santi meant Wenger tried another midfield pairing of Xhaka and Elneny although the big surprise was the inclusion of Debuchy, a selection that was a out of left field.

Taking my seat in the North bank lower the autumn sunshine kissing the middle and upper tiers, I had a distant view of the Bournemouth support.

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Bournemouth in the dark

From kick off it appeared Cech was aiming his goal kicks to our master of aerial ball control Theo, even though he made fair attempts to win headers, which led to attacks on either flanks. Two of these attacks led to defenders hauling down the Ox and I think Alexis thereby resulting in two yellows to the away defenders early on.

This indecision may have led one of them to attempt a calamitous back pass which our genuinely world class forward,  Alexis, seized on and slotted home with the efficiency we have come to expect. Even a below fully fit Alexis is a constant threat to the opposition goal and defenders will always hurry their passing and panic can ensue. Of course Alexis can loose possession occasionally but his pluses outweigh this and it’s probably why Wenger is loathe to drop him. An attack without him is far less potent and our pressing is half hearted when he’s not there

An early goal settled the nerves so therefore you’d expect things to improve thereafter – wrong.

An innocuous collision and then the lesser seen Debuchy was off, confirming my suspicions that he doesn’t exist in reality, just as a chimera. His replacement, Gabriel (I pronounce it Gabriel as you would for Gabriel Oak in Far from the Madding Crowd), raising eyebrows and blood pressures in equal measure.

An out of form/flavour player was always going to struggle to slot back in to the side but more so in an unfamiliar position – the Brazilian is no right back and an element of uncertainty was introduced into the back line.

Some confusion in front of the defense after the referee failed to give a foul against Mesut allowed a Bournemouth attack to result in the softest of penalties being given; the home crowd still incensed after the non-award of the foul in the build up.

The last third of the first half had the away side pushing forward for a second goal, with a point blank Cech save keeping parity,  and enjoyed rather too much possession to the extent that to go in to the break level was a relief and allowed the Arsenal to regroup.

Half time saw a pitch side interview with our crazy German ex keeper Lehmann, looking more and more like “The Hoff” as the years go on.

The second half restart saw the effects of the Wenger half time hairdryer (less a Fergie style blast of hot air than a gentle mistral) with the home side charging towards me in the north bank end, with Xhaka looking more demonstrative in the midfield.

The Bournemouth defense was teased and stretched apart by a combination of the Ox and Mesut and a cross from the left bounced in the goal keepers area where Theo capped off a vigorous display of forward play with a well taken header to celebrate the birth of his second son and to put the good guys back in the lead.

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Theo restores the lead

While it has been said Theo’s performance have dipped a bit recently on today’s performance there was plenty of evidence of “new Theo” – the one who helps out the right back, chases down the ball and tussles in tackles regularly.

With renewed confidence flickers of the old midfield fluency came back and more attacks resulted in some last ditch blocks and cross bar intervention keeping the lead slim. A note of the constant running of Elneny must be made; his constant harrying of the Bournemouth midfield was second only to the pressing of Alexis.

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Another free kick floats in

There was still danger at the Arsenal goal as particularly dangerous cross, from a corner, flashed across the goal, which form my viewpoint at the other end of the ground, seemed it would go in and make the score a dreaded “Desmond” ( 2-2 as in Tutu).

A Cech goal kick going into touch had Wenger apoplectic with anger in his puffy, light grey sleeping bag coat.

As the fixed substitution time(65-68 minutes) approached the push for a third goal was still on and Mesut started finding space and the connections he wasn’t getting in the last few games.

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The subs wait to go on

Finally Theo and the Ox were subbed, both to appreciative and thankful cheers, with Olly and Ramsey on to keep Bournemouth on the defensive.

Immediately the aerial prowess of the bearded french forward meant more knock downs were won and a third goal seemed inevitable. Olly turned provider with a smart pull back to allow Alexis to run on and dispatch his second goal and conform the win.

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A sit down third goal celebration

In conclusion although win draw or lose today we would still be fourth (yeah, of course our favourite position) small green shoots of recovery were seen in this Santi-less team, but sterner tests lie ahead where a more robust solution to cover the little Spanish maestro’s absence will be needed.

By charybdis1966 (on twitter as @charybdis1966)

14 Comments on Alexis fires up a much needed win

  1. The squad has done excellently to keep up with the pace-setters despite the attritional quality of our play over the past six weeks. It’s now time to kick on both performance and point wise.

  2. I think far too much importance is being attached to Cazorla. The last three matches before this one were all against good opponents and we led in two of them. As much as it stunk to let those leads slip, it was also important that we came back from a losing position away at Man United. How much does Cazorla influence those outcomes? My guess, over a sample of 3 highly contested games between well matched teams, is not at all; but it’s only a guess, just like yours. We play better through midfield with him on the pitch, especially when Xhaka doesn’t play. Does that translate to more goals for us or fewer goals for them? Is he that one little variable that would have lifted us one more goal clear of Tottenham or kept Mata’s goal out of the net? Football is such a wonky, low scoring game where the better team wins less often than perhaps any other sport, especially because of the existence of draws; so who knows?

    Last season, Leicester defined all conventional wisdom, logic and underlying statistics to win the title. They were much more lucky than good, and got an improbably good season out of a forward who has done little before or since then, Jamie Vardy. Arsenal is getting a perhaps improbable season out of a player who has done little at the CF position previously to show he belongs there; but now he cannot stop scoring and his scoring is energizing the whole team. So why not? Why can’t we do with a much better squad than they had, now that we finally have excellent CF play? For all the attention I give to stats, at the end of the day what really matters is that the football ends up in the net. Alexis and Giroud can put it there. We could win the league because of that, regardless of who plays in midfield.

    • I wrote an article about how much we missed Cazorla last season. He’s absolutely the key.
      Arsenal created 3.1 Big Chances per game with him in the team and 2 per game without him.
      Arsenal created 16.4 shots per game with him and 14.4 without him.
      Arsenal scored 22 big chances with him and 15 without him.
      Arsenal scored just one fewer goal without him than with him, but they did so by increasing their finishing percentages in the 18 yard box, going from 4% to 12%.
      With Cazorla in the team, Arsenal created more and created better chances. This pattern is repeating this season.

      • I’m not arguing that he does not improve the team. What I am saying is that his presence was unlikely to have changed the results of those matches. My reasoning is that the impact of a non-goal scoring midfielder over the stretch of just three games is probably not going to be particularly acute. That extra 1.1 key pass per game was probably not the difference between a draw and a win.

        I do find the statistics you cite rather odd however. Why would our finishing triple in Efficiency just because of one player? Especially if that Player is not a striker. I’m not convinced that he has anything to do with those numbers. Unless there is a big difference in the types of big chances that we were creating with or without him and the team. In which case, the definition of a big chance is much more heterogeneous that you may have thought

        • Sorry, the finishing percent was better without Cazorla. I meant that as an explanation for why we didn’t score more goals when he was on the pitch. Bottom line is that with another creative and technically gifted player on the field Arsenal created more. Finishing is mercurial.

          And yeah, I think he would have helped Arsenal in the big games. Man U was able to just target Ozil and Alexis. Adding a third player to that task is huge.

        • Doc, the best site I’ve seen concerning the importance of big chances is this website.

          http://woolyjumpersforgoalposts.blogspot.co.uk/search?updated-min=2013-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&updated-max=2014-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&max-results=9

          This blogger compiled total shots, clear cut chances, and conversion rates in every game for three BPL seasons. The stats which really jump out to me are that the average team creates only 1.9 clear cut chances per game but that half all of goals scored are from big chances. From his data clear cut chances are converted at 37.4% and all non-clear cut chances, which comprise 87% of total shots, are converted at 5.2%. It’s obvious that big chances are a clear indicator of offensive efficiency.

          Now I fully understand that these differences really only show up over a larger number of games but it surely suggests that if Santi’s presence does indeed mean that we create, over the long haul, one more big chance per game than I don’t think it’s unreasonable to presume that if over those three games we did create thee more big chances that we would have scored one more goal and actually won one of those games. And Santi doesn’t have to be the one that actually creates the big chance. But it seems pretty clear that his presence makes us a more efficient offensive team.

        • The point with cazorla playing for most of the people is that arsenal’s general gameplay is better. To be perfectly practical if cazorla was in any of last 3 games there was equal probability of us winning or losing.
          But over the years with arsenal consistently finishing top 4 but never top, we take solace in the beautiful arsenal game and consistency.
          So seeing a match with more goals than shots on target(see arsenal vs Psg) gets on the nerves. Or a game where u get zero shots for the whole of first half (united).
          These instances are way too rare if cazorla is playing. He may or may not influence the results but he definitely influence the general perception of the game.

          A 1-1 draw with him seems like unlucky arsenal whereas a 1-1 draw without him seems like making the most of our chances nd lucky to get a point. Even though the final result is the same.

  3. Carzola is technically the most gifted. His team mates have attested to that. He is super intelligent, football-wise. He is nearly press resistant. He can work the tiny spaces better than any one else. Apart from what he contributes on the field as an individual, he makes others play better, particularly Ozil and Coquelin. His presence makes a huge difference and the stats confirm it.

    Since his injury the performance level of Iwobi, Ozil and Walcott has gone one notch down. This is not to say that those holding fort for him are not great players but without doubt the team misses Santi.

  4. The duo of Elneny and Xhaka looks very promising. They both give security in possession and while Elneny contributes more of the shorter passes, Xhaka’s encompasses all ranges with a lot of creative content. Also, while Elneny is relentlessly closing down opponents, Xhaka is busy patrolling the passing lanes. To crown it all, both seem to be continuously aware of each other’s position. I saw their performance yesterday as very mature.

  5. pony, you’ve done it again. the most significant point i thought about during yesterday’s game is the fact that elneny and xhaka seemed to have clear duties and didn’t crowd each other out.

    doc, the defensive mid position has many duties that are often unquantifiable. no one is arguing that arsenal would or wouldn’t have won those three games you speak of. in fact, most arsenal fans would accept that arsenal were very lucky not to lose each of those three games. the biggest gripe concerning cazorla is the quality of the performances with him out of the side, not the result. another very legitimate point could be made that cazorla, being a senior player, is more about facilitating the overall play than scoring goals; this is a natural progression that players like arteta and even bergkamp, a striker, made as they matured.

    here’s a nugget to argue the quality of a good defensive midfielder. how much do leicester city miss kante? likewise, how much stronger is chelsea with kante?

  6. Is it just me, or was El-Neny assigned to perform a one-man press toward the end of the game? I liked the energy, but why throw the formation, as much as one exists, out of whack to let a holding midfielder bomb as far forward as a striker?

    • I didn’t notice that but I know that Wenger’s been doing that with Coquelin this season. So, it makes sense if he did it again with Elneny.

  7. To me it seemed that the Xhaka-Elneny combination worked better than the Coquelin-Elneny one of the previous game but Bournemouth played a fairly open game which will not be typical of the opposition we will usually face.
    My concern is that in the tougher games to come the lack of a third creative outlet will mean, as Tim alluded to already, it will be relatively easy for opponents to close down Alexis and Mesut thereby snuffing out our chance creators.

  8. Having seen two center mid field combinations over the last 2 matches, I am not sure which one is better.

    Wenger clearly wants one of the deep lying mid fielders to press the opposition to win the ball higher up the pitch. Elneny was trying to do that time and again against Bournemouth however, to a much lesser impact compared to Coquelin.

    If I had to pick one from the 4 players that have played in the 2 positions over the last 2 matches, I would probably pick Xhaka. His passing & positional intelligence can be a potent weapon when it comes to releasing our forwards & covering against counters.

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