Keeping up with the Klopps

By Jonathan Blaustein 

It’s finally December, which means evil November has ceded the stage. I hope the door hit November in the ass on the way out, and that it left a mark.

Like a bruise.

Or a scar.

I’d like to scar November, because she has clearly done a number on Arsene Wenger. Tim’s more of a stats guy, but I don’t need to conjure the number to prove how bad Arsenal have been during his reign. (It was everywhere at the beginning of the month.)

It’s an awful statistic.

I thought numbers were supposed to be elegant.

Objective. Neutral.

But not this one.

This stat is nastier than Jose Mourinho’s subconscious.

(Sample dream sequence: Jose climbs out of a green ocean, onto shore. He has fish scales and crab claws. He is an ugly creature, unlovable. At the crest of a small rise, he sees a boardwalk. There are carnival barkers and cotton candy.

Arsene Wenger is there. He’s on stilts, with the cheshire cat grin he wore the day he bought Mesut Ozil. Arsene is dressed in a blue navy sailor’s outfit, but his pants are short, like a little boy’s. Everywhere he goes, people applaud his fashion, like it is so creative and chic, but Jose knows he is a fraud.

A FRAUD!!!!!!!!!!!)

Where were we?

Right.

November.

I think there are two ways to read this November: the optimist’s, and the pessimist’s. I wonder how well that binary divide tracks with when fans first joined the Arsenal bandwagon? Pre or Post Invincibles?

Lifelong fans, maybe in their 30’s, 40’s or 50’s will likely know of success before Arsene Wenger, and that it comes and goes. I never saw it, but George Graham won defense-first titles a few years before Arsene, right?

But fans who came along with Arsene, or a few years after, were reared on one of the best teams ever assembled. THE best team, if you go by record. I’ve heard of the heroes many times before, Henry, Bergkamp, Viera, Pires, Adams, but never saw a game.

Not one.

I also missed the Fabregas era, joining up two weeks after he was sold to Barcelona. They must have choked and overachieved, the Fabregas teams, or just been super-unlucky.

If the standard is the Invincibles, and years of losing titles have since worn you down, then this November was totally normal. (1W 3D 1L.) Points were dropped. Momentum was lost.

And the beautiful football of late Summer was a distant memory.

At least the PR folks had the decency to hold back on the “Cazorla needs surgery: out 3 months” news until it was officially December. But November, as usual, was Phil the groundhog, predicting yet one more year of the same.

Out of the Champions League in the Round of 16.

Out of the title race by March.

Go on a winning streak at the end to secure 4th place.

Boring.

But if you’re like me, and this is your 6th season of obsession, this November’s narrative is a bit more positive. Gut it out, prove you’re tough to beat, come from behind draws against Tottenham, United and PSG prove that Arsenal has newfound mental strength.

You don’t win titles without that.

The loss to Southampton on November’s last breath also has a look-on-the-bright-side perspective. Arsenal’s 2nd and 3rd team were good enough to beat lower league opposition, but not a Southampton side that played its best guys.

Southampton are probably the 6th or 7th best Premier League Club over the last 3 years. They’ve also beaten Arsenal consistently.

So Tuesday only proved that Arsenal’s B and C team players aren’t good enough to beat an EPL powerhouse. Are we really that surprised?

That Arsene Wenger felt comfortable with his team sheet only means he believed it more important to focus on the other 3 competitions he’s got going. He has bigger fish to fry.

Maybe if Lucas was match fit? If Ramsey had more games under his belt at the 10? If Xhaka played from the start?

It doesn’t matter. Arseblog already pointed out that the next round of the EFL Cup would have come at a bad time. City and Chelsea are out of the competition as well.

Regardless of what fan cohort you rep, the truth is, we don’t know what will happen next. History certainly has a way of repeating itself with this club, but I’d say this is by far the strongest squad Arsene has had in the 6 seasons I’ve been watching.

He’s built it year by year, and there are no scrubs left. (Except maybe Carl Jenkinson.) Really, there’s no dead wood. No Andre Santos. Or Bendtner. No Gervinho. Or Vermaelen.

Finally, Arsene has a proper mix of young talent, mature talent, and superstar-in-their-primes talent.

Arsenal would be favorites to win the league, if not for the influx of the mega-managers. (Pep, Klopp, Conte, and Dracula.) But I’d argue this Arsenal squad is as complete as any.

As such, it’s going to be a fascinating six months. We might get some real proof of whether Arsene Wenger’s still got it. Is he sharp enough to keep up with the next generation?

Can he win more silverware? Will he stay on?

What do you think?

jb

71 Comments on Keeping up with the Klopps

  1. Everything depends on the midfield resources in Santi’s absence and how they’re used. The midfield is the legs and lungs of every squad. If Wenger can work out two different midfield combinations /pairs that work both offensively and defensively then I think he can keep Arsenal’s title charge going right to the wire. The return of Lucas and Welbeck will inevitably renew the forward line as well. I’m quite reasonably optimistic.

  2. He will stay on. The board is clueless without him. I hope he takes it upon himself to leave though. I think we need a change and I’m okay with things getting worse before getting better.

    FA cup is our best hope for silverware. I put our chances of winning the league around 5% (don’t ask me for my calculations). I think most betting sites have us around 12.5%. I think that’s optimistic. If Xhaksey doesn’t work, then a top 4 position may be under serious threat.

    • I would put on hold the thought about the board as clueless though. If the rumour about Hassenhutl is true, they might have some clue.

  3. Oh, but we do know what happens next! Fourth place, of course. I don’t mind. I’ve reconciled my expectations to reality. Arsenal are a very good team, and I enjoy supporting / following them, but they are not a title-winning team and won’t be in the foreseeable future.

    Last season it was Leicester, this season I think we’ll see a return to normalcy. Chelsea will win the title, probably. It would be mildly interesting, I suppose, if Liverpool won it. Guardiola will win it next year with City. There! You heard it here fourth! I mean first! But really, fourth.

  4. I’m not sure our November has been so bad. How many points should we expect to get from United away (Old Trafford + Mou hoodoo), Spurs (frustrating draws of late), PSG (expensively-assembled team tweaked for the CL)?

    The teams we were expected to beat (Ludo, Bournemouth), we beat. The teams we realistically should have expected to draw but hoped to beat – say the 50/50 teams (PSG, Spurs), we drew. Not great, but not too disappointing. The team I was sure we’d lose against, we drew.

    The only downside was Southampton, but it was the league cup and it was Southampton.

    November hasn’t been bad if you compare it to what we would expect.

  5. Maybe it’s my lack of attention to detail, but I really don’t get the November angst or the worry about losing Santi.

    I think Santi is an exceptional player, who without doubt makes us better. But over the years, I’ve been trained to forget about the loss of one player when the sales of Petit and Overmars, Henry, loss of Hleb, Flamini and Rosicky (to injury) in one year, and of course the loss of Cesc, Nasri, Song and RVP didn’t destroy us.

    Arsene Wenger cares about the teamwork more than individual talent and purchasing like for like, and it works for us. Even if we’ve not won a title, it gets us where we should be or higher, and never lower than that. I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff. The details.

    Are we out of the title race? Not by a long shot. We stayed in it with the likes of Denilson and Bendtner. With Alexis and Ozil, and perhaps an improving Xhaka, we’ve got a chance.

    Ramsey was terrible at No 10 against Soton. The worst version of himself. But he had two good games prior to that at the No. 8 spot. I still think Xhaka and Ramsey will end the season as first choice. November had tough games, and we’re still close to the top. Long way to go, but as it is, I remain confident. Even without Cazorla.

    • 1. I wish I shared your optimism
      2. “Two good games”??? Even if I spot you the PSG game (which was very much a mixed bag, but was at least encouraging), I don’t see how a 15 minute cameo at the end against Bournemouth (when he was actually operating in a midfield trio) counts as a “good game at no 8” from Rambo. And before that he was eye-scratchingly awful against Man United.
      3. No, the loss of those players in the past didn’t “destroy” us, and we “stayed in” a title race with worse squads. But nor did we ever win a title in those years, and we didn’t really come very close either. So if by “destroy”, we mean “seriously damage realistic chances of winning the title,” then I’d say the Santi injury is a pretty big deal. If you’re addressing worry about falling out of the top 4, then I agree, we should be ok for that, even without Santi. Most of us on here want more than another top 4 finish, obviously.

      • PFo

        I think you might be right about Ramsey. It’s a strange one for me, but obviously it boils down to his focus on his role for the team vs his own instincts. Xhaka – Ramsey should be a great midfield, but Xhaka has been settling in, and Ramsey was injured and is now off doing his own thing a lot of the time.

        I also agree that losing Santi is a big deal. It does damage our chances of winning the title. It would do that to any team. I just don’t worry so much about it because I think we’ll find a solution. There’s just something different about this team. November could have been a whole lot worse than it turned out, and I think the players deserve some credit for how we got through it.

        Also, the problem of getting between the lines and scoring goals. I don’t know. I know shots are down, but with just an eye test, the way we’ve been playing recently reminds me a lot of how it was often in the early 2000s. Not many shots or clear cut chances, but good combinations which are just a fraction off from creating a near certain goal. (The stereotype of Arsenal walking it in)

        Except in the ManU game. That was just terrible.

      • The Ramsey bashing by fans like PFo has become ridiculous.

        In the past 4 games he’s played wide right, wide left, No. 10, and further back as one of the two in a 4 2 3 1. Sometimes two positions in a single game. He is an ever-present because the manager holds him in high regard as a player. He’s always in the XI when fit, except for rare occasions like the last prem game which he didn’t start. That shifting around is bound to affect a player, although I think “roamin’ Ramsey” has become one of those lazy narratives that has stuck, irrespective of how the guy ACTUALLY plays. Objectively, I see him doing his share of defence, including stopping attacks and last-ditch tackles in the box.

        A funny thing was happening during a Facebook chat of an Arsenal fan group during the Manchester United game. No one was playing well, Ozil worst of all, but a number of fans kept up a steady drumbeat of attacks on Ramsey. Moved back to the centre late in the game he plays a wonderful crossfield pass to Ozil, who was in space in a promising attacking position. The German dithers on the ball, two United players close him down and dispossess him. Next comment on the thread? Yank Ramsey.

        The guy can’t win.

        • Note: beginning a sentence with “objectively” doesn’t magically have the power to make the opinion you express in said sentence objective.

          I agree Ramsey usually does his fair share of defending. Sometimes not, but my main gripe with him has to do much more with how he’s wasteful with the ball. I also agree he gets unfair stick sometimes, e.g. I thought he had a good game against Barca last year (at home, I think? not sure…), and I thought he was decent in the game against PSG recently, though he still mixed in plenty of infuriating bits too (but I except he hasn’t played much in a while). I’d love to cheer him on every game, love to see him get back to his best, or close to it. But he was woeful against Southampton, and selfish to boot. He was woeful against Man United, for me comfortably worse than Ozil (you proclaiming otherwise doesn’t make it so, though I’ll admit neither was very good). And when Arsenal needed him most, in the middle of last season after Santi got injured, needed him to step up in his best position and dominate the middle of the pitch (like he’s capable of, imo) by playing smart, simple, hard-working football, he was absolutely wretched. That’s when my opinion of Ramsey, who I’d supported through good times and bad before that, really changed.

          *Btw, for those of you who’ll point out he looked good when he came on as a sub today, I’ll agree, but with a caveat: he typically looks very good late in games when the game is stretched, there’s lots of tired legs and space for him opens up. This isn’t a criticism of him, but, a bit like Giroud, it’s why I suspect that in this current Arsenal incarnation, his best place is as a Plan B sub than as a starter (I do still want to see him play alongside Xhaka, though Coquelin was excellent today, aside from a brainless yellow card).

        • I just love your comment that my saying something doesn’t make it so. Yet all you offer is blanket, generalised non-specific observations. For example, you say, without offering anything else, that Ramsey was woeful againt United. I at least offered specifics in favour of my argument. The whole team played badly, yet, once some fans get a narrative going, that’s it, really.

          Your problem, PFo, is twofold. One, you buy a narrative and stick with it irrespective of the facts of the day. Two, you state your generalised, unsupported points with great authority, as if opinion surety is the same as fact.

          Tim offered some evidence right here that is all round play is under-appreciated. Evidence-free surety is the bane of online debate and discussion.

          • I accept that my statements are opinions, of course. But I was responding to your personal attack on my opinion of Ramsey as being illegitimate because it’s “buying into a lazy narrative,” and your “evidence” for this being a single anecdote of one brief passage of play in which (according to your recollection) Ramsey did something brilliant before Ozil “dithered on the ball” (I think I remember that same incident, but I seem to remember it slightly different than you, but no matter). Apparently such brilliant descriptions make your generalized opinions superior to my generalized opinions, e.g. that he “does his share of defense” (I don’t disagree, but that sure looks like an unsupported generalization to me). Newsflash: most opinions on here are stated in generalizations–that’s kind of the point: to draw general (hopefully accurate) lessons about the team based on watching a number of particular games over time. If next time you’d like me to make a long list of every mistake Ramsey makes in a game, I could do this but it would be tedious for me and for you, so I’m not going to. Instead, I’m going to stick to general descriptions I think are true: he’s too often (not always, but often) wasteful on the ball, sloppy with his first touch and his passes, one moment taking too many touches when he needs to move the ball on quickly the next moment forcing a pass forward that isn’t on when a simple sideways pass would do. When he receive the ball in midfield under even a little bit of pressure, he fails to play on the half turn, i.e. his first touch is typically backwards and often heavy. This slows down play. Plus, at times he shoots when he’s got a teammate in a better position. Obviously, this does not fully summarize all of his contributions in a game, good and bad, but these are the main reasons I think he’s been more harm than good to our team performances (not always but often!) for a good while now. I do rate him as a player, which is why these shortcomings that (I believe!) I observe are so frustrating to me. Others on this and other websites have expressed general agreement about Ramsey.

            You are free to disagree with these opinions, indeed you’re free to show me the error of my ways with all of this specific evidence you’ve been holding back from us, or with superior analysis (I’m not holding my breath). I’d genuinely be very happy to be persuaded. I want to like Ramsey, honest! But for someone who decries “evidence-free surety” as “the bane of online debate”, keep in mind you’re the one who started this by proclaiming my opinions “ridiculous”.

          • PFo I agree pretty much completely with what you say about Aaron. I almost want to quote your comment for use on another forum that is way too biased for Ramsey and absolutely hates Coquelin, but I digress…
            You just put into coherent words what makes this player so frustrating. For all his good qualities and ability, his play can seem so loose and boneheaded so often. It’s almost as if he plays lazy sometimes or doesn’t really always apply himself.

            It is amazing to see him and then someone who is much more limited like Coquelin keep pushing and working hard and making little yet steady incremental improvements. If only Ramsey could do the same.

  6. I am in the pessimistic group. It’s too predictable. Liverpool and Chelsea both looking very good, without Europe to worry about. Arsenal have had a lot of luck already this season. I seriously think we need a new Coach to progress. Although Wenger made 10 changes against the Saints, they themselves made 8. So their second string was good enough to beat our second string at our ground. Southampton have not been having a good season. A few weeks ago they lost to Hull! I also hear that Elneny was sick before the game. So you have to wonder how he got a start. How did Perez get a start. He’s been out hurt. Then he’s straight back in the line up. Also, people are worried about missing Santi, I’m more concerned about missing Bellerin at the moment. Jenkinson not up to it I’m afraid.

    • How Elneny get to start? Simple.
      Wenger asked him if he thought he could give it a go and no professional player will ever say no without trying , shits or no shits.

      Wenger is famous for leaving it up to the players to make these decisions once he picks his squad.
      Diarrhea ( Elneny) , hamstring ( Ramsey twice, Sanchez) or even knee ligaments( Ozil and Cazorla) are never conditions serious enough for his physios to step in and make a decision.

      Makes you wonder what these guys are getting paid for.
      Oh yeah, let’s not forget Koscielny’s concussion in a Leicester City game two seasons ago.

  7. Let’s see what Pool can do with no Coutinho for a while.

    We already know we can be touch and go with out our Cazorla.

    Somebody has to figure out a way now rather than near the end of the season to beat Conte’s system. Right that system has Moses looking like the second coming. Everybody is parking the bus within the confines of the 18 yd box to protect the front entrance and Chelsea are just going around the bus and scoring goals through the back entrance.

    Southampton’s game plan for the goals seemed to be drive our RB below the 18 and cross to the late arriving MF/LB for wide open shots as whoever was suppose to be covering the back line would be too deep in the box. Simple and embarrassingly naive on El-Neny and Coquelin’s part.

    The other problem which we see with Arsenal is that for all the hype, none of these young players can get behind the back 4 for cut backs. The only player who can run through a defense consistently at pace is at Barcelona.

    The more I read about the Chapecoense plane crash, the more it seems that it was needless tragedy from just an awful pilot decision to not have sufficient fuel on board in event of a landing delay.

    We cannot let another bull in a china shop type striker like Carroll get one over on us tomorrow.

  8. I love Wenger. He has given so much for Arsenal, sacrificing personal glory during the stadium years to ensure that we will have the financial firepower to be a contender for the foreseeable future. I will always be Wenger In, because he has shown the club immense loyalty and the least we can do as fans is to repay that loyalty. I think that that this loyalty is more important than winning, which is purely sentimental reasoning and likely disagreeable to many fans. But the fact that Arsenal operates under the principle that there are values in football held above winning is the main reason I support the club, and do so proudly.

    That being said, I am pretty pessimistic about the chances of winning a premier league title this season, unless Xhaka-Ramsey is a viable midfield that brings Ramsey back to 2013-14 form. Without Santi, the other CM combinations just get technically overrun in midfield against quality opposition. Coq-Elneny is not good enough in the final third, Coq-Ramsey can’t build from the back. Ramsey-Elneny is too soft defensively (for all his stamina, elneny’s tackling is poor), Coq-Xhaka and Xhaka-Elneny might be viable, but I think these will both be vulnerable to pressing and while Xhaka has great long passing and can build from the back, I don’t think he has the creativity in the final third to overcome Coq and Elneny’s deficiencies.

    That leaves Xhaka-Ramsey, which just might work, but Xhaka doesn’t have Coquelin’s quickness or Arteta’s positional understanding to screen the defense by himself, so he’s gonna need Ramsey to be disciplined positionally, which I don’t see happening. This sort of partnership is also going to need a lot of time to gel, since they don’t have truly defined “creator” and “destroyer” roles, but they’ve hardly played together all season.

    So yeah, I hope I’m wrong but I don’t see us winning the title without Cazorla in midfield.

      • Good comment, I agree, though I’m a bit more optimistic about Xhaka/Elneny and (especially after today against West Ham!) Xhaka/Coquelin. This one really looks promising, especially if Coquelin can keep improving his play while in possession, as he did today. Still not great starting play from deep (there’s Xhaka for that), but when he won it further up the pitch, he also played himself out of trouble really elegantly at at times. But I accept WH are poor right now.

    • agreed with doc, paul. good comment. especially when you mention how xhaka doesn’t have arteta’s ability to screen-guard-cover the defense alone.

  9. Great call, Paul.

    Coq = Terrific Destroyer.
    Santi = Terrific Creator.

    Coq + Santi = Perfect Balance.

    Coq + Any Other = Balance Against Our Offensive Game.

    No Coq + Any Two = Balance Against Our Defensive Game.

    SOLUTION:Use other areas of the team to readjust the balance. For example without Coq, use a more defensive minded full back like Gab. With Coq, use an attach minded full back, believe you me, like the Ox.

    Also no Coq when playing against PTB teams ( the softer teams), and Le Coq first name on the sheet when we are playing Manc and co. Santi we miss you. The Bell we miss you also because you are the Ox and Gab rolled into one.

  10. What this team needs is to keep pretty close to the tail coats of the front runners through the hectic December fixtures. I’m quite confident we’ll build a head of steam heading into the second part of the season. The potential is so obviously there. When we have Welbeck back and can have him, Iwobi, Ox, Alexis, Perez and Walcott as wide options, as well as Alexis, Giroud, Welbeck and Perez as forward options, we’ll be difficult to predict or contain. If (and it’s a big if) the injury gods permit…Will we win the league? Nobody can tell. But I expect us to have a positively interesting run in the two remaining cup competitions.

  11. I don’t like talking about winning or not winning the league this early in the race. That would be indecently expousing my fears or my hopes. But l can dare to say that one of the currently top 5 teams would win the league. We have a fighting chance.

  12. Wenger should ask Rambo to clear his mind and be a number 8 i.e.play box2box, help Xhaka by being available on the ball,interception and tackles higher up the pitch le Coq styles and, if and only if situation permits then late run into the box with an eye on goal.
    If he can do that this partnership has chance to take us to the very end of this closely fought title race.

  13. No, we’re not going to win the league, due to familiar failings. It starts with proper planning over summer, to be able to hit the ground running on Day 1. The league starts in mid-august, not at the end of the transfer window. I know that Wenger says the two should coincide and I agree. But they don’t. We started against Liverpool, a traditionally strong side, with Holding and Chambers in central defence, and Elneny and Coquelin in central midfield. We had a point from the first two games. One out of 6. We can’t say it’s 5 points dropped, but we’ll never know, because we had a poor spine that Liverpool easily snapped. However, they could be decisive, in a season that there’s no real standout team yet.

    I truly believe that City are not that special in terms of personnel, although they’ve got the wonderful Aguero and Sliva, and Sterling has raised his game. Their goalkeeper is a bit of a clown, and they’re hurting at centre back, with Stones still finding his feet in the team. However, Gabriel Jesus is soon joining the ranks, and I promise you, folks, this kid is very special. The latest of the Brazilian fantasy production line.

    Conte has two of the leagues’s outstanding players — Kante and Hazard — a system that’s clicked really well, and people like Moses playing out of their skins. They also have interestingly enough, a proper centre forward, Costa, and he’s been exceptional in the past 6 games or so. Big, mobile, clinical, intelligent at linking AND fast. Our 2 big guys Welbeck and Giroud, lack one ingredient or the other. If Chelsea continue playing like that and key players stay free of injury, they’ll be champions. United have been performing the less than the sum of their expensive parts, but I see them being roused, if not to compete for the title, then to compete with us for CL spaces. Ironically, their man-child is their biggest problem.

    I like the look of Klopp’s Liverpool, who like Chelsea, don’t have European distraction.

    No, JB, the league is hard. Fourth is my bet. But hey, let’s wait till May to see of we’ve broken our usual habits.

    • City also have De Bruyne, who’s not a bad player, I’d say. And Gundogan, if he can stay fit. But their defense is not at the same level as their attack.

  14. Quickly on City vs Chelsea:

    Impressive 2nd half for Chelsea but this was a close game until the end. Flashpoints like the missed open goal by De Bruyne, the no call on Luiz when he barged Aguero as a potential denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity, a few chances for Aguero he might normally convert… As so often happens in a game of football between two good teams, these big moments played a huge part in deciding the contest.

    For City, it’s clear that when their defenders are stretched, they can be had by better forwards. Willian, Hazard and Costa took turns making Kolarov and Otamendi look rather out of place (and they were). Pep’s teams must control the midfield better if they’re going to play such a fragile back line in terms of pace and 1v1 ability. I do think Arsenal are better equipped than City to counter this threat between players with genuine pace like Koscielny and Bellerin as well as Cech’s quality in coming off his line compared to the rather mediocre Claudio Bravo.

    For Chelsea, this team still has the same spine that ran away with the league two years ago under Mourinho, so they are absolutely not to be underestimated. When Fabregas, Costa and Hazard are all clicking, their offensive potential is huge. I do still think they have problems at the back, which Conte has tried to address by moving to more of a back 5 shape, but from an Arsenal perspective we typically play well against a back 3 and I still think both Luiz and Cahill are error prone (as Cahill again showed today). Moses is also not a natural defender. We can beat this Chelsea team again with the proper concentration and attitude.

    • This game reminded me of previous Arsenal v Chel$ki games. ManShitty dominated the game early, had really good chances to go 2-nil up before Chelsea scored with their first shot on goal from a counter attack. After the first and then second Chelsea goals, City still missed chances that we’ve seen them put away before the final goal put the game to bed. Quite frankly, City just shaded the tactical battle but ended up losing the game.

      Meanwhile, in our game it was West Ham 1-Alexis 5. Whether or not you believe he’s a true center forward or not, he’s the type of player who can drag a team to victory. Our overall performance was a little ragged but Alexis won this game almost by himself. Just wow, wow, wow!

    • The one thing about Chelsea is that I don’t think they’ll look so good, especially playing this novel formation, if they get a few key injuries.

    • Reminded me of games we’ve had against Chel$ki and quite frankly ManUre. Dominate the game, carve out good chances, take the lead, create fabulous opportunities to double the lead but miss, give up a goal on a counter which was the opposition’s first shot on goal, give up a second goal on the counter, and continue to miss decent scoring chances until the third goal to ice the game. That’s the story of a dozen Arsenal games. Personally, I’d say City “won” the tactical battle and should’ve been two or even more goals up by 60′ but were undone by profligacy and an inability to contain Chelsea on the counter.

  15. Chelsea currently look the best balanced side but they’ll need Costa and Hazard to be available pretty all season long to carry the EPL title. They also lack identikit options for Alonso and Moses. To that extent, they’re absolutely lucky, like Liverpool, to not be in Europe this season. These two clubs are currently favourites for the EPL title. Arsenal have greater team balance than Man City and Spurs. If City had a defence worthy of the name, they would be the overwhelming favourites overall because of their huge offensive potential.

  16. Weird old game, that. Not 5-1 on the balance of play, but their defence collapsed badly for 15 second half minutes. I watched the game over late lunch with a West Ham supporter. He kept slaughtering their left back all game long, and giving him ironic cheers when he did something right. To be fair though, they are a defensive rabble, and Bilic will lose his job before Christmas.

    Weird too that Alexis got 3 goals without playing all that well. He hit a lot of misplaced passes today. Oxlade got a goal too, but he was an encyclopaedia of bad decision-making… overhit passes, ball retained too long, runs not spotted, teammates not passed to. However, he grew intot he game, and hada decent 15 minutes.

    Our three problem positions are left-midfield and the 2 screening the back 4. Arsene doesn’t know his best players in any of those positions.

    I said earlier that City’s squad doesn’t eaxctly fill me with fear, and I fancy 3 points off them without Aguero and Fernandinho. Thank you, Agent Fabregas. Job well done 🙂

    • I wouldn’t say that Sanchez didn’t play all that well. He’s a tad undisciplined, often overly ambitious, whirlwind force of nature type of player. He’s always looking for the shortest, most direct way to goal. Sure, that leads to some rather audacious pass attempts and dribbling into cul de sacs which can be rather frustrating to watch. But with his talent, it also means he can single-handedly win you a game, which is what he did today. I’m honestly at a loss to think of a more dominating attacking performance in the BPL so far this season. West Ham 1-Alexis 5.

      • Agreed (well, on second thought, maybe giving him credit for the Ox’s goal is a stretch, so that should read WH 1 – Alexis 4 😉

      • That’s fair enough. I was frustrated with some of his early play, but, you’re right… the quality of the goals and his later play completely superseded that. It’s also forgotten that he had the vision and composure to assist Ozil.

    • Orm, I thought this was Alexis’ best game of the year. He repeatedly got in behind West Ham and scored three frankly awesome goals. The 3rd was the flashiest but for me the 1st, the one that essentially decided the game, was the creme de la creme. He takes a zipped pass from Mustafi down with one touch, turns his defender, outpaces the next defender, uses his strength to buy a half a yard, then fires a dipping shot into the far corner from a tight angle. I haven’t seen a more complete individual effort all season from him or any other striker.

  17. Good riddance to November.
    In my heart, I used to long for Arsenal to get a Sergio Aguero type striker who could ‘create his own shot’.
    I long no more.
    Costa goes off with a muscular injury.
    Coutinho is injured.
    Aguero and Fernandinho lose the plot.
    We spank WHU.

  18. Many here did not countenance the pursuit of Jamie Vardy from a morale perspective.
    We are in a better place today for not getting Vardy.

  19. Gabriel did well at right back. Much better than hoped. Monreal also coped much better than a few games previously. Kos was immense, and Mustafi did well too. (That the ref gave both of them yellows compared to how he judged West Ham’s tackles was harsh, though typical)

    Xhaka has now played in 11 of our 14 PL games, starting half. He’s grown into his role and looked better defensively than he has done previously. Walcott was doing quite well, but Wenger changed it up and brought on Ramsey and though I haven’t seen the game again, we ended up looking a lot more dangerous in attack and more comfortable on the ball since he came on.

    Ox was frustrating and wasteful a lot of the time, but he has the ability to come up with some winning moments. Iwobi currently lacks that even if he offers a more controlled performance. I think the Ox is starting on merit currently.

    Alexis and Ozil are a good, if unconventional, front two. Alexis was dominant today, and Ozil was almost flying under the radar, but the two did well with their link up play. Is that Alexis’ first hat trick with us?

    Also, it seems to me that of late we have come up with some interesting variations in our attacking set plays. I don’t know if any have led to goals, but we look dangerous from them.

  20. I just saw Gabriel’s statement on the plane crash. You could tell how much it affected him personally. Much respect to him for coming out with that, as well as getting out on the field and giving it his all. In an unfamiliar position at that.

  21. Man for man, this squad is replete with strong personalities. People often mistake a strong ego for a strong personality. This current Arsenal squad has real character. They’ll make mistakes. They’ll under-perform from time to time. But they’ll never shrink from battle or hide. The biggest burden they are carrying is that of recent inglorious Arsenal history. From time to time (as at Old Trafford last season and again last month)they’re inhibited by noxious memories. I believe they’ll overcome these demons as the season progresses. The ability is undeniably there.

  22. I like Tochukwu’s last comment. Sanchez is getting plaudits, quite rightly, but I am currently having the warm and fuzzies over squad depth and strength of character. Especially with important players and characters returning from injury. This is where I think we have the edge over Liverpool. Maybe also over Chelsea. They on the other hand have the advantage over us in terms of fewer games to play and more stable systems and personnel. It’s going to be interesting, I’m not saying we will win but I really don’t see any grounds for extreme pessimism and I hope we will be in contention right down to the last weekend.

  23. Ox’s dribbling runs through the centre is nightmarish to opposition defences and quickly brings to mind the freer role that has been given to Harzard at Chelsea.

    A similar role might bring the best out of the highly talented Ox to give the team a geater offensive potency. The Ox and Harzard basically have a similar approach,not very apparent because while Harzard employs more of his acceleration to go past opponents, the Ox uses more of his speed.

    Harzard breaks his runs only to restart. The Ox on the other hand progresses his runs with less interruptions. While Harzard’s is a series of runs, a series of trajectories, Ox’s is like one run, one trajectory.

    Ox’s can actually be more disruptive of opposition shape but limiting him to the wide areas minimzes that disruptive component that is so evident in the central areas.

    The fact that we have a natural DM (Coq) and a deep lying creator (Xhaka) has given the team a little more space to lessen the defensive demands from the forward players thereby permitting this freer role for the Ox.

    • I’ve been reminded of Hazard’s unreal dribbling ability by Ox’s best performances, but he only briefly glittered here. In the first half he should’ve had at least one goal and one assist with the way he kept getting in between the CB and the wing back but his composure was awful. Ironically he scored from a much harder chance in the second half.

      Hazard is probably higher than Ox’s ceiling in terms of creativity and vision especially, but Ox does have more physical power. It’s maddening how he switches off in the defensive phase so often. Did better from that regard in the second period.

    • Agree again, doc. This is a classic example of Arsene’s observation about everyone thinking they have the prettiest wife at home. Fans are not immune to that. Eden Hazard is streets ahead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in ability, to the point where he occupies that rarefied space with our own Mesut Ozil.

      Ox frustrated me for about 90% of the match. I thought that he lacked composure, and almost always made a bad decision in a situation of threat or promise. But there’s no doubt that he has massive ability, and his speed and power will more often than not create chances and unsettle defenders. He’s in a good streak of form too. But I lost count lost count of the number of times he raised his hand to apologise for taking the wrong option. It was actually a relief that he scored. In Alexis’ position from which he played in Ozil — an angle with Ozil central — a head-down Ox would almost certainly have shot instead of passed.

      Here’s hoping the quality of his decision making improves. If it does, he’ll be the player we all hope he would become. He has much work to do.

  24. @ Pony Eye: Ox is one of the most talented players in the EPL, not just at Arsenal. His problem is essentially psychological. Remember when Mourinho wanted the Ox in part exchange for Cech before he was over-ruled by Abramovic? The game that stands out for me was a 2nd leg round of 16 tie with Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena a couple of seasons ago. The Ox ran the show with an electric and powerful display in a central attacking midfield role. That’s the height he can reach and should use as a benchmark.

  25. Let it be written today that how a team responds when they are 3-1 up could be a deciding factor at the end of the season.
    Arsenal 3-1, then Ox and Mr. step over to a chip for goal.
    Pool not so good. A big FU to all the British pundits who criticize Jack for going to a ‘small’ team. WTF have you got to say now?

    • Jack didn’t contribute a lot to Bournemouth’s win. As a matter of fact, he didn’t look out of place in that team and that’s not a complement. If we got to pick someone off their squad based simply on the performance of the day, I’d take that kid Fraser. And this is starting to look like Liverpool 13/14 v2.0. Great going forward, not so great defending.

  26. Tochukwu great job your reference to Ox’s great performance in the CMF against Bayern. It confirms my belief that the middle suits his skill sets better than the wide areas, his great pace not withstanding.

    I can’t really see how his problem is psychological unless it is a superiority complex. What I see is a player who is always trying to bite off more than he can chew, trying to take on the whole field all by himself. When he fails he literally collapses only to pick up again when the ball gets back to him. No, I don’t believe his problem is lack of confidence. Rather it is that he has not been playing in a position that suits him best.

  27. If the answer is Maroune Felliani, you are definitely asking the wrong question. What an entertaining day of BPL football! Great way to cap off our 5-1 victory.

  28. Mourinho avoiding all eye contact while giving his interview. Staring away into nothingness. He thinks ManU are playing really well and unlucky not to win in all their dross (draws).

    He looks more and more like he has no idea what to do or even say anymore. Especially now that even the British media as a whole don’t fawn over him in the same way that they used to.

    • Mourinho is lost. Truly lost. The arrogant sneering bloody minded show man and genius is lost. Another media tin god has been reduced to the level of mere mortals. What a fascinating turn of events!

  29. Arsenal with yet another dominating scoreline against a back 3/5 (whatever you want to call it… 3 CB + 2 WB). I don’t know why managers keep trying it against us. It leaves them outnumbered in midfield (Noble was overrun) and their spare defender can’t help vs runners in between the CB and WB (neither of whom are sure who is going to track the runs from our FB!).

    To be fair, The Hammers were woeful in general in this one. The “wing backs” didn’t wing and they didn’t back. The right sided guy, forget his name, stood and watched multiple times as Monreal and Ox kept getting played in behind the lines. Only criticism is we should’ve scored more in the first half! The left sided wing back had a little more about him but the attacks weren’t coming down his flank considering Gabriel’s limitations on the ball. It was an atrocious setup and I genuinely couldn’t figure out what Bilic’s plan was. They pressed us early but with 3 at the back we always had a spare man to carry the ball. Alexis also put on his superman cape and produced some exquisite flicks to beat their press which I think unnerved and demoralized them early on.

    Then he teleported into a parallel universe and produced three completely exquisite goals. Worth revisiting each one.
    1) Sharply hit pass from Mustafi which came in low at him, and he was tightly marked by the LWB. One touch simultaneously controlled the pass and rolled the WB. Then the CB closes him down, only Alexis turns on the jets and burns him. Ogbonna tries to muscle him off it but he uses his upper body to make half a yard for the shot, then rifles a short backlift rocket into the back corner from an acute angle. For my money the most complete individual effort and should be a goal of the season contender.

    2) Shot rebounds out to him and as he is going backwards towards the loose ball, he adjusts his body and generates enough power and precision with his momentum still taking him backward to beat the goalkeeper from outside of the 18 yard box. Outrageous skill.

    3) Played through the lines by Ox, marginally offside, again outpaces Ogbonna, then uses a stepover/headfake combination to sit the keeper down just in time to chip over him. Flashy goal but maybe the simplest of the three.

    Let’s take a moment to doff our collective caps. Performances like that are why I love football.

    West Ham had a few dangerous moments going forward but it was only Lanzini and Payet’s combinations that were ever a real threat. I think Bilic did us a favor not playing Carroll from the beginning and we did a good job not giving Payet too many set piece opportunities. The one he did get resulted in their only good chance and only goal.

    • Tactics depend on players executing the system. Woeful execution doesn’t mean the tactical setup was wrong. And West Ham weren’t helped by the early injury to Collins. Arbeloa didn’t appear to know if he was supposed to be a fullback or R sided central defender.

      A back three is specifically designed to defend against two forwards. And Özil has been playing more like a withdrawn forward this season. He and Sanchez are playing like a definite, if somewhat unorthodox strike partnership. Although when we’re in possession, both Sanchez and Özil take in turns to drop deep into midfield to help with the buildup, out of possession neither are dropping into the midfield line. Our formation is really a lopsided 4-4-1-1. So theoretically, playing a back three to track both Sanchez and Özil makes sense.

      • I disagree entirely. The back 3 was designed originally to combat old fashioned two striker 4-4-2 systems because then each forward could be marked by one CB and a third could be sweeping. Only neither Ozil or Sanchez are really strikers in the traditional sense; they don’t just get into the box, waiting for the wide man to deliver something. They are both the consummate modern forward, going wide, dropping deep or running behind as dictated by the space available in the game. Marking either with a player like Collins or Ogbonna for that matter is suicide. They’ll get dragged all over the pitch and played like a fiddle. The 4-4-2-ish nature of our formation is really only in the defensive phase when Ozil joins Alexis (halfheartedly) to assist in the press while the wingers drop next to the midfield. In possession our shape is much more vertical.

        More recently, Guardiola’s been tinkering with 3 CB formations not to defend two strikers but to push one more man into attacking positions, therefore creating an overload, risking a 2v3 or 3v3 at the back. I think maybe Bilic was trying some version of this type of system given that he selected mostly mobile, smaller players which suggests he wanted to press us high. But then selecting a lumbering ent like Collins as a sweeper makes no sense against Arsenal’s greyhound quick forward line. Guardiola was guilty of similar optimism in trusting that sort of role to Kolarov vs Chelsea and was punished for it.

        I’d say from West Ham’s point of view the tactical setup was wrong and its execution was wrong, but Arsenal deserve credit for exploiting it and piling on the goals. We need goal gluts once in a while!

        • Meh, I mentioned that they were unorthodox did I not? I agree that their mobility and interchangeability make them harder to mark but you have that problem whether you’re playing three or four at the back. Whatever system one chooses to defend them requires a high degree of zone principles as man marking would tend to pull defenders out of position. All I said was that I could see why teams theoretically would choose to go three at the back against us.

          I also think that Pep’s use of three at the back is very interesting. He’s essentially bringing back the WM formation. If my history is correct I believe Arsenal manger Herbert Chapman popularized this formation. The back five form a defensive unit to protect against counters and recirculate the ball in possession and the front five are much more attacking. It’s what enables him to play both Debruyne and Silva as central attacking midfielders with wingbacks pushed very either side of Aguero.

          Interestingly, at Bayern he used a similar structure but out of back four. The central defenders split with the defensive midfielder dropping between to form a back three and Alaba and Lahm tucked in to form the midfield pair ahead of those three. I think he’s using an outright back three at Man City due to the huge difference in quality between Alaba and Lahm as your fullbacks versus the quartet of fullbacks he has available at City.

          • Both you guys are making astute points, though I think I side with Dr. at least with respect to his initial point that Arsenal have had a lot of success punishing teams with back 3’s: I remember the 3-3 with West Ham last spring when we were causing all kinds of trouble down their left flank only for our defensive mistakes and the man mountain that is Andy Carroll to suddenly get them back in the game. Earlier this season against Watford we had similar joy exposing the space between right centre back and right wing back, and, to a much lesser extent, this is where we were succeeding against Sp*rs at the end of the first half in the recent NLD, only for us to throw away our lead and momentum right at the beginning of the second half (this knocked the wind out of our sails, we lost our composure on the ball, and they were able to impose their particular brand of foul first, ask questions later anti-football from there on out).
            I know if I were facing Arsenal, I wouldn’t play with a back 3, unless I planned to completely park the bus at the Emirates with a line of five defenders.

  30. Some great comments and have been following the discourse over the last few days here and elsewhere.

    Take it from a long time Gooner: this is, despite all our issues and the ascendancy of Chelsea, a very, very good Arsenal side. Enjoy it for what it is, come what may in (actual) May.

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