City v. Arsenal: two teams needing a win

I’m half way through Pep Confidential and I have a clear sense of Pep Guardiola’s managerial style. If you want to pluck a string that resonates negatively with the British, you call him a tinkerer. But since I have no such animosity toward Pep, nor some unhealthy desire to see great men fall, my take is that Guardiola is a manager like any other great manager. He wants to play football his way and has to change things until he can find the right combinations that unlock the opposition’s stubborn defenses.

Yeah, I know. I mean to say “he’s a tinkerer!”

It is true that reading Pep Confidential I found myself thinking that he tends to overcomplicate things. But ask yourself, how do you unlock a team playing two banks of four, who are both organized and (more importantly) disciplined, and who have practiced to play on the counter?

The answer isn’t simple. If it was, every team would do it and Leicester wouldn’t have won the League last year.

So, Guardiola’s team (and his mind) spends an extraordinary amount of time in practice and on the field trying to solve the riddles of football. A great example, and one that drives the conservative pundits mad, is his odd use of the fullbacks coming into midfield.

At Bayern, Guardiola set out vertical lanes he wanted his players to stay in and out of. So that, if the winger was in the furthest right lane, he wanted his fullback to move up and come in to the next lane over on the left. This creates overloads in midfield and attack. It also opens spaces behind, but the idea is that if the fullback is coming in to the middle of the park, his marker (the opposition winger) should be dragged with him. This should create an advantage in attack, while minimizing counters. That’s the idea.

The problem in England is that too many teams simply don’t do that. The wide player comes in a little but by and large, they stay in their two banks of four, safe in the knowledge that even if you overload the two center mids with an extra fullback, they are covered in the most crowded area of the pitch. With the fullbacks in the center of the pitch, the wide areas are open and since every team in the Premier League can and does play on the counter, City is violently exposed.

Another hallmark of Guardiola’s sides are that he insists on snuffing out the counter attack by pressing key players. He prepares his teams with massive dossiers on his opposition. Detailed looks at who the threats are from each type of play and how to stop them.

And finally, he hates tiquitaka, though he would love to have 100% of the ball. His attack and defense are predicated on taking 15 passes to get the ball into position in the opposition half. This seems like Tiquitaka but it’s not. The idea is to move the ball and the players up the pitch and into position so that they can “attack like hell”. If they lose the ball, they should have their entire team set up to quickly press the opposition and either win the ball back or at least make the opposition pause before launching the counter attack. Tiquitaka for Pep is that sterile possession that Arsenal practiced for so long – passing the ball in a U shape around the 18 yard box. He hates that! We all hate that. He wants his men to attack.

What’s fascinating is how many of Guardiola’s ideas Arsene Wenger has adopted this season and yet also how Wenger has abandoned certain ways of playing. Wenger’s teams have always been good at passing the ball and Wenger, like Pep, bought a ball-playing center back in Mustafi. Mustafi and Stones are both there to start their respective team’s attacks. If they are pressed by the opposition, they can deal with that threat.

Wenger also took a page out of Guardiola’s playbook when he moved Arsenal’s defensive midfielder, Coquelin, high up the pitch to play between the lines. Against Borussia Dortmund, Guardiola used Javi Martinez in this role to cover Nuri Sahin. Specifically, his job was to stop Sahin from springing counter attacks.

Guardiola is also credited for the resurgence of the False 9. Wenger has Alexis playing as that striker who can both play deep and can make runs behind the opposition. Guardiola used Goetze there for Bayern and Messi for Barcelona.

And finally, both managers love to play on the counter. Wenger has rekindled his romance with the Premier League’s love of the counter attack. This summer, Wenger tried to buy both Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez from Leicester City, the two best counter attacking players in the League last year. He failed to land either but he has managed to get the best out of Iwobi, Walcott, Özil, and Alexis and use them effectively on counters, earning a second-best 4 shots so far this season off counters, tied with City and two short of League leading Chelsea.

Counter attacks are Guardiola’s worst nightmare. Leicester scored their opening goal in the third minute against Man City and they did so with the following stats: 1 aerial duel won by Huth, 1 ball recovery by Slimani, 1 pass by Mahrez, 1 through ball by Slimani, 1 shot by Vardy. That, plus the one Vardy foul, was their entire stats line in the first 3 minutes of that game. Premier League teams all have the ability to get goals from nothing and counter at speed. It only takes a momentary lapse of concentration and the opposition will be ahead.

Sunday is being billed as one of the biggest games of the season and a must-win for both teams. Interestingly, for such a big game it’s not even sold-out yet – there are plenty of seats left if you’re in town and you want to go to the match:

Guardiola’s side will be well prepared for this match. They will have practiced pressing Wenger’s men, getting the ball into position, attacking, and above all rondos, rondos, rondos. Wenger’s side will be equally prepared for this match, their job will be to stay patient and hit City on the counter.

There is one last component of Guardiola’s football philosophy which is important; he believes that in order to challenge for the League title, you have to stay within 3-6 points of the leaders in December. Chelsea play Crystal Palace on Saturday. That means by kickoff on Sunday, Arsenal could be looking at a 9 point gap and City 10 points. Both teams will be desperate to close that gap.

Qq

95 comments

  1. It’s gonna be a goal fest. City will be vulnerable to the counter attack but we are also bound to let in a couple especially with Gabby in central defense. All we have to do is keep KDB on a tight leash. I think we can do it. My prediction is we edge this one out 3-2 and the gap with Chelsea narrows to 4 points (they will drop points at Selhurst Park – I feel it in my bones).

  2. I am looking forward to this match, my enthusiasm further stoked by an excellent blog today.

    Guardiola and Wenger have much in common. If our guy had the kind of money and resources their guy did in the mid-2000s the domestic and international records of both their teams might have been similar as well.

    Here’s to a great match and 3 points for the good guys.

  3. For me, tiki-taka has always been about quick and short passes to create and exploit gaps, as opposed to the sterile possession mocked by Pep’s detractors. I think Pep simply disagreed with his detractors’ definition when he said he hated tiki-taka. A lot of Barcelona goals under Pep were scored after long spells of possession. Tiki-taka perfectly made sense for speedy and diminutive players like Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Bojan and Dani Alves.

    1. “I loathe all that passing for the sake of it, all that tiki-taka. It’s so much rubbish and has no purpose. You have to pass the ball with a clear intention, with the aim of making it into the opposition’s goal. It’s not about passing for the sake of it.”

      That’s what I said: passing with sterile possession is what he calls tiquitaka. What Barcelona did was overload and exploit space.

      1. We can disagree on the term ‘tiki-taka’ but if you enter ‘Barcelona tiki-taka’ on Youtube, you will see plenty of goals that share the same pattern: quick 10 or 15-yard passes with players taking just one or two touches. That’s what most football fans see as tiki-taka. Maybe Pep doesn’t like the term or the caricature that has been made of it, but it’s a reality, it’s a style of football he created. On the other hand, sterile possession existed decades before Pep was even born.

  4. This is true. All those pretty triangles between those diminutive midfielders more often than not found their end product in the back of the opponent’s net.

    Guardiola, like Wenger always has a plan, a purpose to every small thing on the pitch.

      1. It’s been said ad nauseum but Messi is beyond words. I’m just lucky because I love this game, that I got to see him at his best on HD TV in full color and not in grainy black and white like watching Pele from 40 year old footage.

  5. The tactic I wish Wenger would tear out of Pep’s playbook would be the immediate counterpress. For sides that are going to commit numbers in attack, not giving opposition players time to turn upfield and immediately carry the ball forward or pass it forward quickly is key to preventing getting opened up on the counter. Barca and Bayern were excellent at smothering the opposition whenever they lost possession which served the dual purpose of immediately winning the ball back and allowing the rest of the side to regain a solid defensive shape if the ball wasn’t won back.

    I think this is an interesting time for Pep. I have enormous respect for him as an innovative manager but this City side is the first team he’s inherited that didn’t have a boatload of “world class” players in their primes. Man City has needed a major overhaul for a couple of seasons now. Whereas before he had defenders Puyol, Pique, and Boateng at City he inherited a broken down Kompany. Otamendi, and Mangala. He had fullbacks like Alves, Lahm and Alaba compared to Sagna, Clichy, Kolarev, and a past his prime Zabaleta. Fernandinho, 33 y/o Yaya, Fernando et al don’t compare well with Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Thiago, and Xabi. Players like Stones and Gundogan are just the beginning of the massive turnover that’ll be required at City. Trying to get some of his tactics to work with the lesser quality players he currently has at his disposal is probably the biggest challenge of Pep’s career. In some ways, it’s easy to be innovative if you have players like those at Barca and Bayern at your disposal. Messi could make a lot of coaches look like geniuses.

  6. Considering chelsea should be 9 points ahead by the time we kick off, i’m wondering what kind of game we’re gonna see- a cagey affair or a helter-skelter really going for it game.

    1. Good question. I think both teams have to go for it, but based on how Wenger likes to play against Guardiola-type teams (or even Pellegrini’s City), I’m guessing we’ll be more conservative than them, at least at first, and look to counter.

      I would be very surprised if we see the same lineup as against Everton. I think since (if?) Ramsey’s not fit (please no Ramsey out wide!), we’re likely to see Iwobi come back in for the Ox.

  7. A blog? Or is it a journey through football’s great minds? Thrilling!

    Tiki-taka is it all. It is defensive in that it dominates possession and prevents the other team from having the ball. It is also offensive because attack can only be in possession.

    The color of the tiki-taka depends on what goes with it. For example, when possession is lost is it high press or getting behind the ball? Guardiola is more of the former, Wenger more of the latter.

    The brand of tiki-taka also depends on the personnel available. With players who thrive in tiny spaces like Messi and Iniesta, a patient tiki-taka build up is viable. The parked buses can always be unlocked. But in the absence of such exceptional players the tiki-taka has to assume greater verticality, greater turn overs and greater susceptibility to counters aka Guardiola’s Manc.

    Guardiola will keep tweaking, keep buying until he gets there, but my bet is that he would get there not before tomorrow. That tomorrow, we got a good chance.

  8. We need a win tomorrow. After that, we get to see whether Chelsea can pick up three points on Boxing Day, without the suspended Costa and Kante, against Bournemouth. They’re really impressive. Their game management is outstanding. You know a team is good when it has a 1-0 lead and that lead doesn’t look fragile. Arsenal, and the rest of the chasing pack, have their work cut out.

    1. I’m not saying Chelsea aren’t good–it’s most of their title winning team, with a really good coach–but the chance to play a settled side and concentrate on the league has really, really, been an advantage for them. (I think it’s fundamentally unfair but of course that’s the way European football works so there’s nothing we can do about it.) Now they’re at the point where they’ve got a lot of confidence and momentum from their winning run, which are huge factors in sport, impossible to measure but often decisive.

      Let them get a couple injuries and one bad result (it will happen eventually; we can only hope when it happens it’s not already too late), and then we’ll see how they respond.

  9. This is a very straightforward mission for Arsenal. They have to beat Manchester City to prove that they have what it takes to be champions. If they don’t, then they’ll have told me that they don’t have the stomach for the challenge.

    Normally you legislate for two things. One, top teams tend to play conservatively and take a point off each other (the exception was Liverpool on the opening day, where Arsene simply, again, did not have us sufficiently ready for the start of a season). Two, the opposition gets up for Arsenal games, no matter what their form is coming into the game.

    But this time it’s different. While they have lots of quality — Augero, Silva, Sterling, De Bruyne and the sublime Gundogan — this is not that great a City squad. They have a clown keeper and a good but error-prone young defender who’s not playing with any confidence. It’s a team we should beat, or more importantly, have expectations of beating. Last year, the point at which we really knew we weren’t going to be in the hunt was losing to a threadbare man United away. That was a poor side. We HAD to beat them. Our weakness in recent years is that we play on reputation. To me, it’s in our players’ heads. Whether they play the personnel, or the reputation.

    This time, City are without Fernandinho and Aguero. It’s a statement game from us, and nothing else but a win will do.

    1. I almost agree with you, though I think it’s hard to say they ever *have* to win against another top team (City’s side tomorrow will be considerably stronger than United’s was in the game last year), except of course near the end of the season when it starts to be mathematically imperative to win games to stay near/at the top. If they put in a really strong performance and draw tomorrow, then I think they’ll have shown that they’re still contenders for the title, even 8 points behind Chelsea.

      But of course the other reason that your point makes sense is Chelsea’s form, and the danger of falling too far behind. Yes, there’s a ton of games still to come, and, as this week has proven, a lot can change in a week. But the gap to the top is also psychological: if we go 9 points behind them, our confidence will take a blow and our performances are likely to suffer. If Chelsea get a healthy 6+ lead against all the other sides, then can start to play a bit more within themselves (they’re already starting to grind out the 1-0 wins), knowing that they don’t have to take many risks because they can afford to draw a game or two down the stretch. Meanwhile, we’ll have to go all in every game to win in order to make up the ground, and are likely to get done on the counter and lose some games as a consequence. (I’m not saying Chelsea are in a position where they can start to coast yet, of course; one bad week in January for them, say, and the pressure will be very much back on.)

      In short, the game tomorrow is huge.

  10. It’s about time we play above our competition…we need to stop stoop to their level….We need to play our game with conviction. We need to rise to the occasion!!!

  11. We are not winning the game tomorrow, it’s as simple as that.
    I’m willing to bet my house on it.
    We tend to look things through our Goonervision, but if you imagine yourself as a neutral fan and try to guess the result of this match, I bet 90% of us say there’s no way in hell a Manchester City team coached by Pep and in need of a win can afford to lose a game against Arsenal.

    1. That’s an incredibly defeatist mindset! We might still go on and lose but, make no mistake about it, we’re Arsenal. Are we worse than Leicester or the other teams who’ve beaten City this season? Certainly not. And Guardiola, great coach though he might be, is certainly no magician or demigod. We tend to look down on our players and manager. At the elite level, mentality is at least as important as ability. We can win at the Etihad.

      1. It mat sound defeatist, but it is based on the opinions on several of my neutral friends who also think exactly the same. That is why I find it to be more realistic than the belief that we can win.
        We tend to view the game tomorrow through hope and the fear of what a loss represents, they just look at it through the betting odds and seem much more confident in that outcome, however defeatist it may sound to us.
        Make no mistake, I desperately want us to win, but my mind and my betting ticket says No way.

  12. Losing the game tomorrow as many expect us to do, will given the current form of the top 4, effectively end any real title challenge bye Arsenal.

    I think N’Golo Kante is the main reason for Chel$ki’s success in this run. How tall is he? But he’s as massive a presence for them as he was for Leicester last year.

    We’ll be chasing the pack the rest of the season hoping for a couple of teams to go off the rails while we maintain our best form AND hope for no fresh injury crises to hit us. Hardly an inspiring possibility given past history.

    Tim has distilled it down to the title of this blog entry: both teams need those 3 points.

    I hope our sports psychologists has some tricks up his sleeve because we need all that after last week.

  13. So much for my optimism and the feeling in my bones that Chelsea was going to drop points today. This increases the pressure on both teams to get a result tomorrow but still think neither team will walk out on the pitch with the intent to defend first. A draw would not be a horrible result for us but a loss will be devastating. On the whole I think the pressure to win is more on City. It’s their home game and they are behind us.

  14. If the Arsenal can’t beat $h*tty on Sunday without Komp, Ague, Fern and Gund, everyone can forget about winning anything this year!

  15. What do this year’s leaders so far and the current holders have in common? N’Golo is The Man. Best player in the Premier League. Not Sanchez or Ozil or Costa or DeBryune or anyone else.

    1. Got scoffed at on this blog by Shard and someone else for saying at season’s end that Kante is the Leicester player we should be pursuing, not Mahrez or Vardy. The first 3 names on Chelsea’s team sheet are Hazard, Kante and Costa. You can argue the order.*** I’d have sold two of Jack, Coquelin or Elneny and bought one Kante. He was an absolute steal at roughly £30m.

      ***btw, what about David Luiz, folks. No one’s laughing anymore.

      1. Hey! I didn’t scoff at you. I agreed that he was a good player. Just didn’t agree that we should go for him over certain other positions of need with our already packed midfield.

    2. As far as similarities go, I’d put a lack of CL football and having a fit first team higher on the list than Kante’s presence.

  16. We have a good chance against Manc if we get our team selection, for the tactics of the day, right.

    Guardiolaesque, Manc leads the epl in possession and passing accuracy. We are not effective at collective high press, and we usually respond to opponents possession by getting men behind the ball. That sets the stage for a lot of counter attacking opportunities for us.

    Perez is Vardy MK 2. He should be the point man and Sanchez should play wide left. Reasons:

    1) With Manc having the greater possession of the ball, our point man would not be sufficiently busy and Sanchez there would amount to a gross under use of what he brings to the table. Put him wide left so that his energy and other assets could be fully utilized.

    2) A lot of people think that Sanchez has great pace (speed). What he has is excellent short reaction time and excellent acceleration, but not top final speed, Note that Usain Bolt has a poor acceleration for a world record sprint holder, but an incredible final speed. Sanchez’s assets give him a running advantage over the shorter distances 0-15M, but for longer distances as is required in counters Perez (Vardy MK2) bests Sanchez.

    3) Lucas Perez helped Deportivo de La Coruna escape relegation with his goals. Deportivo was a lowly La Liga team that were forced to play on the counter which suited Perez’s assets perfectly. He is made for leading counter attacks (Vardy MK2). That’s exactly why Wenger bought him.

    One thing we should never do is play the Ox and Walcott at the same time. Both lack consistency. When they click, it is fantastic. When they don’t click Ozil, who needs to be lifted by the players around him, plummets and the team fails. One at a time is sufficient gamble.

    Get the the right team for the tactics of the day and Manc can get badly hurt by us.

  17. Of course, Perez as point man can be taken as the default position for counter attacks. Passages of the game, where we are building our attacks slowly, could have Perez on the wide left with Sanchez leading the line in our usual informal interchanging of positions.

  18. City are strangely similar to Arsenal. On their day, they cam play some of the most free flowing, intricate, scintillating attacking football in the league, capable of blowing teams off the pitch. And yet they can be guilty of more than the odd unfocused, lackadaisical performance. They’re prone to individual defensive errors, open to counterattacks, and they’re more than capable of a string of poor results. They’re more a team of brilliant individuals than a collective which is greater than the sum of their parts. That they’ve won two titles is very much a testament to the power of the petrodollar. In Europe, both teams struggle due to their lack of tactical sophistication. I think it’s why we’ve managed decent results against them.

    At full strength, I’d say City are favorites. Without Fernandinho, Gundogan, and Aguero, we have a chance to nick this game. The keys for will be our focus in defense, since we’ll be without the ball for long periods and De Bruyne and Silva are still brilliant attackers, and good decision making on the break. Hopefully the boys will show a little more fighting spirit than they did in Goodison.

  19. Looking at lineups, Pep going ultra attacking with really only Fernando with a shred of the traditional “defensive” about him. However if we beat their press, we can use our speed to get the better of Kolarov, Zabaleta and co. Looks like a back 4 from Pep this time and he picks Clichy in deference to that.

    From Arsenal’s perspective, Iwobi instead of Ox makes a lot of sense when you’re trying to beat a vigorous press but other than that the team picks itself. It’s our best XI, realistically, against a City side without two key performers in Aguero and Fernandinho and playing without a recognizable striker. Both teams need this result but City are at home. If Arsenal can weather the early storm and make City doubt their ability to press them, this should be a game we can win. If we succumb to their press and concede early, it’ll be a long day.

  20. Cech’s kicking is very erratic, he hasn’t kept a clean sheet in ages and I can’t remember him saving a penalty this season. Ospina has got to be close to being given a run, I’d have thought.

    1. It’s difficult to know how to judge goalkeepers sometimes, but I don’t think you’re using the right measuring sticks here. I want my goalkeeper first and foremost to keep calm in difficult situations and not commit crucial mistakes. Cech is a beacon of solidity in that respect. After that, I want my keeper to make big saves when it matters. Again, think about all the goals he’s saved us this season: most recently, Crouch’s bullet header from 6 yards that would’ve made it 2-2 at that point. Tim’s big chances conceded metric backs me up on that one too. Arsenal have conceded fewer goals than we were supposed to, and you have to think the keeper has something to do with that. I do think he’s at the end of his career, a bit like Jens Lehmann was in 2006, and he’s nowhere as athletic as some of the younger keepers out there. You take the bad with the good and in that equation I still think he’s one of the best in the business.

  21. I know we probably mean to play on the counter more with the early goal but we’ve dropped off too far for my liking. We’re frankly not a well enough drilled team defensively to hold City at arms’s length when we drop deep. They’ve come really close to opening us up on more then a few occasions. By dropping off, we’ve allowed them to cover up they’re biggest weakness which is Fernando at holding midfielder and Otamendi in central defense. Neither handle pressure very well. If we don’t move up a little, City has the initiative.

  22. We have completely lost control of this game. I don’t think I’ve seen a worse spell of play from us this season. Iwobi is coming off, but if Wenger was really courageous, it would be Ozil. No fight after losing the ball. None whatsoever. Much as he’s improved this season, he really needs to show for the fight.

    Offside goal, btw.Not flagged by the same official who flagged Montreal in a more marginal situation early on.

  23. We will never win the League under Wenger. I know this has been said like a million times.
    It’s not the players, it’s something about him that instills this vanilla mentality.
    And it just confirms what I wrote at the beginning of the season and a couple of days ago after Everton.
    He just can’t win against these so called modern day managers and apart from Conte, he hasn’t won against any of them for years.
    Now of course we win the next 3-4 games since we play inferior opposition and then we fight for second a third place, and the same old story goes again and again.
    And like I said yesterday, there was no way in hell we were winning this game, Aguerless or not.

  24. Coquelin can’t do much beyond defend. We need a secondary Creator. Should buy Leipzig’s Kieta as his replacement.

    Too weak and easily shoved off today. Need strength in the center.

    Özil has to start doing better. Has to start playing worth the money he demands. No, only vision isnt enough. Nor is only assisting. Needs to take charge of games – our team needs those kind of players since we’re way too soft/weak.

    Not an observation from today but since the first game, when barring a few games, we’ve been lucky to win. Though of course, if ref had flagged them offside today, or a pen and foul against Everton, story would’ve been different.

    Tldr: we need to start dominating matches and play like champions if we want to be champs.

  25. The most benign 45 minutes of futbol I have seen when needing the team, the team to press, and take it to them.
    EPL title push is over.
    FA Cup or CL league and playing for something other than 4th place. All personal should be rested and rotated with those two Trophies in mind!

  26. We’ve just played the same game twice in 4 days. Go away from home to a tough place to play, against a forward thinking manager, take the lead early, sit back and invite them on, succumb late to a dominating press. The team looked physically unable to match their hosts in both games in the second half, which contributed to two of our worst halves of football. Arsene’s got to freshen his team up when the fixtures come so thick and fast.

    I don’t like to pick on individuals but Xhaka was awful in this one. Far too passive off the ball, he kept dropping off and allowing City to build play, too scared of getting played around. In possession, he didn’t show enough composure or vision to beat City’s press. Between him an off color Ozil, our pressing was disjointed and halfhearted. The deep block we retreated into handed them too much impetus and left us pinned too deep in our own half.

    On the ball, we had an obvious weak spot in Gabriel, who seldom had the composure for anything other than a right footed backpass to Cech. City kept funneling play towards him, it seems. He did improve somewhat but Mustafi was a big miss here. We had moments when we had them scampering backwards but didn’t do enough in crucial moments to convert that into chances, just as in the Everton game. The Coq-Xhaka partnership seems backwards with Xhaka at the base and Coq at the thrust if we do not press the ball. Coq has improved in possession but he is still no Cazorla with the ball at his feet, and Xhaka as I said seems utterly unsure of himself in such deep positions.

    The title feels a long way away now.

    1. Agree with most everything. I’m not sure how it was surprising to Arsene that a group of players who physically dropped off in the second half mid-week wouldn’t again drop off physically today. It was so bad that our own goal kicks became the best launching pad for City’s attacks as we simply couldn’t win headers (not surprising with Alexis, Walcott, Ozil et all) nor win second balls. The ball came rushing back to Cech more quickly than he kicked it out. Özil wasn’t so much off color as being completely invisible.

  27. We really fell apart in the second half. It’s still annoying that all the margins in the game go against us (Everton the foul/corner call, and the non penalty call. Today two offside goals and the crap call for the Elneny booking that allowed City to kill the game at the end) But we really aren’t helping ourselves. Ozil has fallen off and is Alexis playing injured? Our lack of control over the midfield is the most worrying though. With Cazorla out, Wilshere on loan, and Ramsey injured and uninspiring recently, we don’t have many options to change it up there except Elneny.

    I’m still not ready to give up on the title though. 9 points with more than half a season to go? Doable. (We’re 4 points behind my hopes at this stage though) A good Christmas period and we might feel a lot better.

  28. Well very disappointing….I think the second half was our worst half this season. We were played not just off the pitch but out of the stadium. I look forward to by the numbers if Tim can be bothered but using the eye test we were second best to the ball about 9.5 out of every 10 times. Ozil great player but like I said 2 articles ago, not a 200grand a week player.

    Having said that, Man u have overcome an 11 or 12 point deficit not only to win but by 7 points. So the title is not out of the question but can Wenger pull it off? Sigh……

    We have great individual players but they don’t form a team that can be greater than its parts. We need to sell a few and buy players that actually complement each other. We supposedly have an embarrassment of riches in midfield but they don’t gel. It’s our problem area, but Wenger’s ideology…….

  29. It’s not the points gap, Shard. It’s the attitude. This is not a team that will win the title. That’s not a mathematical assessment. That’s what they showed us from minutes 46 to 86.

    City played without a striker today, and we made Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane look like Messi and Suarez. For their second goal, Stering was fronted by Monreal, Koscielny (who did that half-turn your back thing instead of a proper defensive block) and Cech’s near post. He still scored. If our usually terrific captain has a defensive shortcoming, this is it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lZn3lWRkFI

    Ozil wasn’t “off-colour.” He stank out the joint. When you lose the ball in a dangerous place and fall over, you get up and fight back for it, instead of sitting there with your arm outstretched. He did the exact same thing a number of times against Manchester United.

    We froze. City control for three-quarters of the second half was total. Sane was offside, yes. But they had so much momentum, it was hard not to see them scoring.

    We failed a test today. And I don’t care what the points gap is at this stage, much as I love my team, I’m resigned to the fact that it’s not a championship-winning one.

    1. I agree, but it can also change very quickly. Our next 6 games are very winnable in terms of the opposition before we go to Chelsea in Feb. We’ll need to be better, and show more fight. ‘Attitude’ as you call it. (I think we’ll also need to rotate more than we’ve done so far) It seems to me that with Arsenal, attitude is more linked to confidence rather than anything else. And football really is a game of very small margins. We deserved to lose this game, but still, two offside goals is a big deal. If we can get some of that going for us, it can spark a run.

    2. When the team is on the wrong end of a result, the story always seems to be about the personal motivations of certain players. As ever, the majority of the problem has nothing to do with that but it makes the most interesting headlines and the most salacious gossip and so that’s what the conversation becomes about. It annoys me and I think it’s wrong, but there is nothing I can do to change that.

    3. That’s too glib, doc. If it’s Ozil youre referring to, we can’t unsee what we just saw. Maybe there’s correlation between positive results and him playing well — I’d love to see the stats. I did not see the Everton game (I was at work), but today, and against United, he was awful.

      Not misplacing passes or anything like that, just a lack of fight. Did he put in a tackle today. I saw many instances of a City player ferrying the ball close to him, and his not closing down or tackling.

      This is not to single him out… the whole midfield was overrun, outfought, but to me — a frequent and vociferous defender and a big, big fan — his awfulness was conspicuous. Alexis is a skilful player who always grafts, and even when he has a bad game, you know he’s fought hard.

      1. Do you think Arsenal paid 42 mill for Ozil because of his legendary fight? No. He’s not in the team to bring fight. I’m not denying there’s a minimum level of effort that every player needs to hit, and sometimes he falls perilously close to being short of that level. But in these games when we’re getting overrun, he typically gives up on the ball when he’s (visibly) discouraged and frustrated (newsflash: footballers are human beings too!). And he gets that way when the team (particularly the transition from defense and midfield to his area of the pitch) is struggling and his teammates are playing frustratingly below their individual levels, being sloppy, lacking composure, not communicating, being second to the ball, missing simple passes, etc. I’m not saying he deserves none of the blame today. Clearly he didn’t play well. But his lack of fight is no worse than other players lack of positional discipline, appreciation of space, composure on the ball, first touch, ability to look up while running, etc, etc, etc, etc etc.
        Yet when he has a bad game, it usually looks like today (he’s not flying into tackles, basically), and he gets murdered by the media and fans (especially the English ones, whose footballing culture has always been about as sophisticated as Donald Trump’s views on geopolitics) for lacking “fight” and “pashun” and “desire” and all the other same old tired cliches that are basically just synonyms but for some reason fans feel they need to mention in a long redundant list. Somehow his losing the ball in non-fighty ways is always a greater sin than the equally sucky play of his teammates whose deficiencies are just less obvious (this is not just an Ozil thing: earlier in the season I defended the Ox, who was being heavily criticized at the time for making a handful of really blatant errors in a game, I forget which one; I argued that Theo had been just as bad, probably worse, but because his deficiencies were not of the “glaring” kind, he got off scot free, whereas the Ox, who had actually gotten involved in the game and done some good things along with the bad, became the scapegoat).

        I find this view bewildering. Like, it just strikes me as so obviously simplistic and entirely lacking in understanding, at least for anyone who’s reasonably intelligent and charitable and knowledgable about football (and everyone who writes regularly on this blog certainly possesses the last attribute). But one day, maybe soon, Ozil will leave Arsenal, and we’ll still be just as bad in these sorts of games (probably worse), with all the same old deficiencies, and then hopefully people will realize that he wasn’t to blame for days like today.

      2. “Do you think Arsenal paid 42 mill for Ozil because of his legendary fight? No.”

        A question of dubious logic. It was bound to go downhill from there. And it did.

        Fight has nothing to do with Mesut’s transfer fee. Nor does his transfer fee absolve him of responsibility to do his share of tackling, ball-winning and defence. The argument is all the more nonsensical, because you absolutely pillory Ramsey for a failure to do the same.

        Any regular here knows that I am a huge fan of Ozil, have defended him plenty, and praised him lavishly — his spatial awareness in the box and cold eyed finishing this season, is IMO and as I’ve said before, on par with he best of strikers.

        I thought that — again in the face of a relentless press — he did not show for the fight. When you have the ball in space, get closed down and lose it, I sure as hell don’t want to see you sitting on your butt protesting at the unfairness of it all, leaving it to your teammates to win it back, and NEARLY having City score from your carelessness with possession. He is not the sole inhabitant of some ivory tower. And the game isn’t always going to proceed in perfect harmony with his silky talents.

        I found and many other gooners found his effort today while we were being overrun unacceptable. I am however confident that he has the talent and character to bounce back big time

        1. I never pillory Ramsey for his lack of tackling. I criticize him for his (apparent) inability to consistently receive the ball well under pressure and use it quickly, simply, and intelligently, the basics of what a central midfielder in a ball-playing side like Arsenal need to do.

          Sometimes I think Ramsey tries to get into the box too much and fails to play in a positionally disciplined way, but this is more other people’s criticism of him than my own, it’s not the same as what you say I say, and in any event, there are plenty of examples, even recently, where Ramsey put defensive effort in (e.g. against PSG). Examples of him using the ball intelligently are much, much rarer of late (whereas that’s something Ozil does every game).

          1. You’re attributing to me an argument I haven’t made. My point is: obviously we valued certain qualities he had highly when we bought him, and (presumably) his battling qualities were not among them. This does not absolve him of having to work hard (in fact, I acknowledged this). But I think there’s a double standard when people criticize players after a poor performance: any (perceived!) lack of effort or fight, especially on the defensive end, is singled out for special criticism, even if other, more “fighty”, players display all sorts of weaknesses in their performances that arguably were equally if not more to blame for the failure of the team. The rare qualities of exceptionally talented and creative players are somehow never factored in when we’re meting out praise and blame in these situations (especially if they’re often quite subtle, like Ozil’s), as if it’s fine for us fans to take those qualities for granted because they come from the guy’s natural talent, whereas another player who is, say, a far greater obstacle to the team actually keeping possession and moving up the field in the face of the opposition’s pressure, but who nevertheless “puts a shift in” is for that reason largely let off the hook. Obviously no one is letting any of our players off the hook in this game, because they were all poor. And obviously Ozil was poor. BUT THE DEEP PROBLEMS IN OUR TEAM’S PERFORMANCES OVER THE LAST TWO GAMES ARE NOT PRIMARILY OZIL’S FAULT. But to hear the fans and idiot commentators tell it, this isn’t true. If you display body language that suggests you’re not passionately fighting hard enough (whether you are or not), you’re going to get absolutely crucified by the British football media every time (especially if you’re a foreigner). Apparently if Ozil had just run around, thrown himself into a couple of tackles, and overall tried to “take the game by the scruff of the neck” (cliche vomit) a la some brainless player like say, Stevie Me Gerrard, then our team chemistry and cohesion would miraculously have been restored, we wouldn’t have been overrun in central midfield, the weaker members of the team would have stopped making poor mistakes, and we would have won those two games.
            I’m not saying you’re saying this, but this is the general tenor of the reaction from fans and media towards Ozil after the last two games. This is dumb.

          2. You erected a lot of straw men there, PFo.

            No one argued this >> “BUT THE DEEP PROBLEMS IN OUR TEAM’S PERFORMANCES OVER THE LAST TWO GAMES ARE NOT PRIMARILY OZIL’S FAULT.”

            And this, I’m afraid, is hogwash >> “The rare qualities of exceptionally talented and creative players are somehow never factored in when we’re meting out praise and blame in these situations (especially if they’re often quite subtle, like Ozil’s), as if it’s fine for us fans to take those qualities for granted because they come from the guy’s natural talent, whereas another player who is, say, a far greater obstacle to the team actually keeping possession and moving up the field in the face of the opposition’s pressure”

            It really is a simple criticism, based on what we saw in the game

            And It’s possible to both appreciate his unique talent (we do, many times), and slate him for not doing his share defensively — and other players for other reasons, as we do.

            Seems like you just don’t like us criticising Ozil for not being up for the fight, because, you know, he’s too subtle for us to understand his gifts. He’s an expensive, super creative marquee player — the argument seemingly goes — and putting in tackles to win the ball back when HE loses it can be justifiably left to another teammate.

            I commented during the game that he was so bad he should have been taken off. But in fairness to Arsene, it makes sense to keep on your players who can create something out of nothing.

    4. Look, I thought that we failed a big test today, and in my bones it feels season-defining. As ever, I hope I am wrong, and would be overjoyed to be.

  30. I was quite disappointed by Wenger’s slow reaction to the turning of the tide at the beginning of the second half. We could no longer string passes together and simply needed a spell of possession to get back in the game. Bringing on Elneny for Walcott or (more conservatively) Coquelin would have helped. Instead, Wenger dithered and the momentum went irreversibly in City’s direction. The elephant in the room, however, is that we now have a situation where there are at least two untouchables in the team: Sanchez and Ozil. While Sanchez is never found wanting in terms of perspiration and fight (his work rate today was exemplary), Ozil is too much at the opposite end of the spectrum. Compounding the situation is the current contract ‘stand-off’with the two players. Essentially, no matter how poor their form is,both of them are guaranteed to start games and to play virtually always to the end of the game even if an earlier tactical substitution would be worth trying. Have Alexis (and especially Ozil) become bigger than Arsenal? They certainly seem to have become bigger than an Arsene Wenger in the last year of his contract. Ozil’s lack of fight is really extraordinary. Bergkamp, Henry, and Pires were geniuses but they were always up for the fight and showed strong personality whenever we hit a sticky patch. With our current formation and structure, we cannot keep carrying the mercurial Ozil in big games.

  31. Arsenal has shown us time and again the players can’t string passes together under pressure. It’s all good when we’re ahead and hold possession around middle of the pitch. But the quality of the players at the team just don’t match. One needs not just skill on the ball but also confidence in controlling the ball while scanning for the pass.

  32. I hate labels. World class player. Please show me, instead, that you are world class. Sanchez is showing that regularly, not Ozil.

    Right balance for the team is difficult to achieve because of two players, Coquelin and Ozil. Coquelin so super when the opposition has the ball and so poor when he or his team has the ball. Ozil, yeah, great with the ball, absolutely not there when the opposition has the ball. Universality, that’s the key word for the modern footballer.

    Sanchez shows he is world class, a prolific goal scorer but not a centre forward. He said he loves creating more than scoring. #10 is tailor made for him. But a certain label is entrenched in there and non dare upset the applecat.

    By the way, why did we spend £17M buying Perez?

    1. Perez has every right to be peeved. I’ve been saying he deserves a look in. Sanchez is being run aground. Ozil is being placed in situations (slugfests) that he loathes. And Xhaka is having to form a partnership with strange bedfellows at a time when the games come fast and furious against committed opponents.

    2. Sanchez is not a natural number 10. He lacks the tactical awareness and calm to seamlessly transition the team from deep positions to attack and to orchestrate the play (basically: he sometimes holds onto the ball too long and coughs up the ball too often). But we’ve had this discussion before, so we’ll have to just agree to disagree.

    1. That’s not fair. He’s a top player. Alexis apart and Walcott, Monreal and Bellerin in flashes, no one else played well. Not even Koscielny. Not Cech (good handling, poor kicking, near-post goal conceded). And Monreal stood off Sterling for the second goal.

      I’d have to watch the game again to see what affected our fluidity, particularly in midfield, but if we can’t keep the ball, our quarterback isn’t going to be able to do anything with it.

      1. It would help if Wenger tweaked the formation so that we had another body in central midfield, especially given Coquelin’s limitations on the ball. With Sanchez dropping deep in a false 9 role and Ozil tasked with playing close to him and running beyond him, Ozil is really not a midfielder these days. So, in tight games against quality opposition, especially when being pinned back by the press, which often happens when we’re tiring in the second half (and especially without Santi in there to weave his magic), we need another midfield body, someone who can play with composure and strength on the ball, and who can win at least his share of 50-50 battles.

  33. Sane goal offside.
    Cech beaten at his (L) near post for the first time this season but I can recall one if not two occasions it happened on his (R) side last season.

  34. Top teams in Europe have all embraced the galatico philosophy. I can understand the purchase of youths like Chambers and Holding but I cannot understand why we should buy players like Gabriel and Perez only to regard them as not good enough for the 1st team.

    As a top team, we buy only those that would walk straight into the first team. We buy to improve the Ist team which automatically also improves the squad. The target must be the improvement of the 1st eleven.

  35. it’s the mid field which is causing all sorts of problem for Arsenal. No matter the combinations of choices if all the players are available, they must strife to make the partnership works. IF ever we are dominating at mid field we win.

    1. Agreed, but maybe part of the problem is only playing two in there, instead of three (see my post above). We’re too easily overrun. Part of that is down to player quality (and compatibility, or lack thereof), but part of it is down to pure numbers, at least at times.

  36. It is now a historical fact that Arsenal play better when their Champions League is under threat as it is now. So expect a good run to commence.

    Sanchez is a fighter and a leader on the field. That’s one of the reasons I dream of #10 for him. He is too isolated up front for his leadership role to have full effect on the team. Musti is another fighter another leader on th field. I can’t wait for him to come back. Santi is our technical leader. On the leadership level, he is also being missed very much.

  37. Arsenal played scared. They need these leaders on the field to give them a spine of steel. Get up and fight!

  38. It was quite amazing that as soon as City scored, we looked like a relegation threatened team. Panicked, disorganized, last ditch defending with a complete inability to keep City away from our penalty area. Lack of any kind of composure on the ball leading to rushed, panicked clearances which simply invited City back onto us. When a player tried to to play his way out, other players failed to show for the ball. We’ve all seen these are good, skilled players who have the ability to play better. But once they get that collective deer in headlights look about them there’s seemingly no way to arrest the slide. I understand that against good teams, we can’t expect to be on top of the game all the time and there will be ebbs and flows. But far too often we simply ebb away without ever regaining any foothold.

  39. if you watch most Arsenal games, how often have you seen players coming forward to receive the ball. This is mostly happened around the center circle where transition from defence to offence takes place. I always wonder what the hack is going on here, why no player would take the initiative and the responsibility to get the game going forward. Are we really missing Cazorla ?

  40. I want to tip my hat to Pep Guardiola for coming up with a winning tactic that involved playing with zero strikers. And turning Sane and Sterling into world beaters.

    I’d been enjoying his struggle. Particularly since he’d only ever managed sure bets in monopoly league (Bundesliga) and duopoly league (la Liga).

    He showed his prowess as a coach today. Still, he needed luck because Sane was more offside that Monreal was when the Arsenal LB was flagged. They were killing us with possession, but Sane gets called for offside, and it stays 0-1, who knows?

  41. you can only fake soccer for so long. since cazorla’s been injured, arsenal have been faking soccer. they’ve managed to draw some games that they deserved to lose and people called it mental toughness. no, it was luck that decided these results and arsenal’s luck is beginning to run out. a similar situation is happening at man united. they’ve drawn a bunch of games they deserved to win. now, they’re winning.

    in a top of the table clash, you expect to see two teams really take it to each other. what happened today was man city took it to arsenal. that’s disappointing for gooners and wenger sets the tone. arsenal seem to play as pensive as wenger looks rocking on the sideline.

    after city drew level, what would have impressed me is wenger showing the moral courage to substitute ozil. goodness knows i love mesut but this game wasn’t for him; especially considering young xhaka was in midfield and still has a lot to learn. instead, wenger’s first substitution was pulling iwobi for chamberlain. that substitution was cowardly and excessively cautious; it didn’t fool anyone or affect the game. after the everton game, i was thinking of how much success griezmann had playing behind giroud this summer and thought for sure that alexis is a better player than griezmann. why not put alexis behind giroud and drop ozil when he’s not working out? not with the intent of alexis being a play maker but being a second striker like griezmann. he would have helped out a lot in midfield and maybe arsenal wouldn’t have been so utterly outplayed.

    1. oh Lordy, I penny for every time the “Giroud and Griezmann looked good together in about three games at the Euros, so let’s pair Alexis and Giroud together” idea has been brought up in the last six months!!

      But I agree that Wenger could have switched things around proactively to stem the tide and failed to do so (just not with your proposed solution), but what else is new? This is one of the most frustrating things about Wenger.

  42. for xhaka, he gets a pass. he’s not quite ready and everyone knows it. however, what are you going to do? cazorla’s injured. xhaka has to play.

    alexis showed true leadership quality today but that’s a problem i have with attacking players being captains. the hardest thing to do in the game is to score goals. when your center forward is also trying to provide leadership that the team needs, their focus on scoring is diminished. the slightest compromise in focus for an attacking player could mean the difference between scoring and not scoring. it’s tough to do both. if the striker is more of a figure head captain and there are other leaders in the team, i.e. raul at real madrid, that’s fine. however, if the team needs your leadership and you’re the center forward, that’s a problem.

    there was a moment towards the end of the game where city had an injury and the camera cut to alexis squatting down and seemingly deep in thought. congrats to the production team for catching that image but that was a scary sight for gooners. we’ll see.

  43. Twice in these games we took the lead, only to lose it 2-1. In both cases we had some bad luck, but really not enough to call it the defining factor.

    My feeling is conceding just before and just after half time takes our confidence away. If we start playing the game in the second half and settle down, even if we concede we don’t feel so overwhelmed. My feeling also is that why we look at a loss when the pressure is on is because either we won’t, or we can’t (or aren’t allowed to) respond by roughing up the pitch. Everton did that to us last game, and their crowd got rabid. Two things you don’t associate with Arsenal. And though ManCity didn’t exactly do that, they retain the capacity to. Watch Silva trip Coq (?) at the halfway to stop another breakaway. They also pretended to get an injury and killed the game (with an obliging call by the ref for the yellow to Elneny)

    I’ve never subscribed to the lack of leaders thing, but I was surprised yesterday that Cech didn’t tell his defense to do more. To push up. Alexis kept screaming and motioning to come higher up the pitch (sometimes when not warranted it must be said) and the ball went out for a goalkick and I expected Cech to take the time to talk to his defense. But he didn’t.

    Also, we panicked with the ball at feet in midfield. Xhaka and Coquelin both struggled and it wasn’t because the pressing was unbearable like Barcelona’s used to be.

    I’d be tempted to ring in the changes next time. Play Holding instead of Gabriel. He might make some mistakes, but he’s seemed better at keeping his composure and playing through the lines. Play Perez instead of Walcott. Maybe play Elneny. We’ll see. It’s disappointing to play the way we did in both these tough away games. We’ve got to respond and win our next few games. If we can keep winning till the end of January (WBA, Palace, Bournemouth, Swansea, Burnley and Watford) then we can reassess our title chances. For now, it’s probably best to forget about it.

    PS. I read somewhere some reference to an All Blacks psychologist. Have Arsenal hired this guy? The New Zealand rugby team were all saying how much that helped them finally win the World Cup again, and at home, with the pressures that brings. They went on and retained it 4 years later as well.

    1. leadership is very real. the problem you seem to have is that leadership is difficult to see; there’s no quantifiable statistic for leadership. you don’t appreciate it until it’s not there. if you show me a team that’s won a championship without a leader, i’ll show you a figment of your imagination. do you think a team can go unbeaten over an entire season without leadership? it’s arsenal’s biggest problem and it comes from the top. wenger will tell you he has eleven “leaders” on the pitch. there’s no such thing; it’s a figment of his imagination.

      this goes back to the point i made a few weeks ago. i called wenger a liar when he said it would be easy to replace cazorla. replacing him technically, fine. however, replacing him tactically and replacing his leadership was always the biggest challenge. the bottom line is since cazorla’s been out, arsenal have been outplayed by every decent team they’ve come up against. the ability to draw games they didn’t deserve to was an illusion. what we’ve seen in the past week is what’s real.

      bottom line is to win tough games, you need experienced players in key positions on the field who know how to get you to home without getting you lost. these positions are typically central defender and central midfield. arsenal don’t have that type of player in those positions right now. that ability to get you home without getting you lost requires experience. it also requires the players to respect your guidance. who’s that guy? west brom might prove to be a handful.

      1. Did I say leadership isn’t real? I’ve played in sports team, and I have been thrust into a leadership role in them. I didn’t ask for it. I was never very vocal. I was more into doing my thing the best I could. Why do I bring this up? There are many different styles of leadership, not just the shouty arms wavy thing of English folklore.

        What I said was that I never subscribed to the theory that Arsenal have a lack of leaders. But I felt it missing yesterday. No one took charge to even calm things down when we really could have used it. The closest I saw to it was when Elneny came on and was clapping and geeing up the rest of the team. His body language was good. But he’s not central enough to the team to be a leader. (Although it is surprising how a leader can sometimes emerge in such situations)

        So as far as the eleven leaders thing goes. I don’t think we should take it literally. He does know the value of lieutenants on the field. It is why he won over Tony Adams when he first got there. Why he recognised Vieira as the leader. Why he loved Arteta, and why Mertesacker has his trust. He’s also asked Koscielny and Ozil (both quiet personalities) to be more conscious of their responsibilities as leaders. He’s mentioned Mustafi’s leadership abilities despite his relative youth. He’s basically saying…cliche alert… you don’t need the armband to lead. And he’s telling others that there’s no need to question his team’s mental and leadership abilities at every setback.

      2. Show me the quote where Wenger says replacing Cazorla would be easy. I’d like to read the original source.

  44. Although I am upset with Ozil’s tendency to display hapless indignation in scrappy and intense EPL games like yesterday, and Wenger’s reluctance to make proactive substitutions as well as the appearance that his game management increasingly looks as if he’s deferring too much to Arsenal’s two superstars, our problem is actually more structural than attitudinal. No amount of full-blooded commitment or “running around” can clear the hurdles posed by high quality teams that are adept at the high press,have the physical fitness to sustain it, and are comfortable in possession. You need a clear game plan and the right personnel to face this kind of obstacle successfully: no freestyling. Arsenal are currently too free-form, too liquid in such situations. Part of it is down to personnel and part of it is tactical. Personnel wise, was Xhaka really bought to replace Cazorla or to play alongside him? Their only similarity is in being good passers although Cazorla is peerless in the short-passing department. Xhaka is also not a dribbler unlike Cazorla. Cazorla is however a cleaner tackler around our eighteen yard box. As for Perez, why was he bought? To play in the cups only? Very strange. What player specs are our scouts given? Very strange…Now to tactics. Let’s start with the goalkeeper. Neither of our top two are progressive in their use of the ball. In games against the likes of Man City, Liverpool, Bayern etc, this inability to build play from the keeper means that we’re under needless pressure whenever we don’t have a player upfront that can hold up play competently like Giroud. Yesterday, for instance, it was painful to see Cech repeatedly punting the ball forward only for it to return almost immediately. Again, since it’s clear that Ozil will never be a Bergkamp in terms of hustle, why won’t Wenger adopt a system that essentially makes this a non-issue. Watch Chelsea. Hazard is now practically free of significant strategic defensive responsibility and it’s of no real consequence to their results. A Chelsea defense harboring the defensively limited Luiz and Cahill is keeping clean sheets for fun, while a defense containing Bellerin, Koscielny and Monreal is making heavy weather of it. While I don’t advocate a 3 man defense just yet, I do think that sacrificing a flair player on one of the wings (as would probably have happened yesterday if Ramsey had been fit) would be a useful gambit in the big games. Lastly, are we a pressing team or not? Who does Wenger delegate to coordinate the press? Is it Alexis? He was trying to do that yesterday but the others “followed” his lead with little conviction. It made us quite porous in the second half. That cannot continue.

    1. First, the criticism of Ozil is not general, at least not for me. It is specific to the two away games we played in Manchester. We’re not asking Ozil to suddenly become the king of press. We are asking him to try to win the ball back when he loses it. Did he do so in other games? Probably. But he conspicuously did not yesterday, and generally seemed nonplussed that City were not let letting him play. If he’s the player nearest to an opposition player ferrying the ball, he has a duty to close down and tackle. That’s not a tactics thing.

      Fully agree with your points generally, just clarifying here.

    2. Regarding pressing, it seems to me Wenger has adopted the idea of a press but hasn’t really studied he nuances of implementing it nor drilled the team well enough in executing. We press poorly. Players often take poor angles and don’t commit to engaging the opposition player with the ball. Too often, a player is seemingly pinned on the sideline and is able to beat the pressure on an individual basis. Worse yet, once the forwards initiate the press, the midfielders and defenders are slow to push up and when the initial wave is bypassed, there’s acres of space to run into. It looks like Wenger watched a couple of youtube videos and said, “yeah, that’s how we’ll press.”

      Let’s face it, we’re a poor defensive side period. Of the “big 6,” we’re the worst in total shots against, total shots on target, shots in the box, and big chances against. And we certainly don’t attack well enough to make up for those numbers for our porous defending. Wenger has simply neglected defensive organization for too long.

      1. A good press requires fresh legs and fresh minds. This Arsenal team had neither in the second half of this game. Pep had rung the changes, as had Koeman, in their respective sides before facing us. We made no changes from Stoke and just the one change from Everton. Motivation can always be questioned, and players like Ozil are an easy target. Let me be clear, he looked awful in yesterday’s game. The only time he actually got involved was when we were down by a goal. I think he and Wenger were fully prepared to take a draw at the Etihad but by the time we were losing (to a dubiously allowed goal), it was too late to ratchet the intensity back up again. That does expose a perhaps jaded mindset, but I wouldn’t equate that with a lack of motivation. It also has to be said that Ozil has played more minutes than most. He and Sanchez play pretty much every game and pretty much every minute of every game. Sanchez is an indefatigable little terrier, but most players aren’t cut from that cloth, and Ozil certainly isn’t. I don’t absolve him from blame but we should recognize the context that contributed to his lack of performance yesterday.

        1. i agree with your point concerning ozil but what’s the way forward? for me, it’s simple. wenger should have had the moral courage to pull ozil, not necessarily from the starting line-up but he should have been the first substitution yesterday. arsenal were outnumbered in midfield because of ozil’s play yesterday. likewise, they failed to press effectively due to his poor contribution.

          understand, i don’t blame ozil. we all know what he is and what he is not. what was disappointing is wenger’s failure to manage that situation, especially after he failed to challenge ashley williams game winner last tuesday. what does that say to the rest of the team? i hate to bring it up but it was samir nasri’s biggest gripe about arsenal; players were in the team when they clearly didn’t need to be and wenger allowed and they continually hurt the team.

          1. Josh, I think he needs a break, especially from games of that intensity. Only thing is he is too important because we don’t have enough creativity in the team at the moment, so Wenger keeps playing him because even at 50% capacity Ozil still does things that nobody else in the team can, and those moments can turn a football match. He ran Fabregas into the ground in the same way when the same mantle was on his shoulders. Personally I think a 4-3-3 would’ve suited us better against City, and was the way we beat them 2-0 last year. Leave Sanchez, Ozil and Walcott high up the pitch and play with a midfield base of Coq-ElNeny-Xhaka. Not sure why Wenger abandoned that formula this time.

        2. Being the nearest to a player ferrying the ball and virtually waving him by is not a failure to understand context.

          Running into an opposition press, losing the ball, falling over and staying there with arms outstretched while it proceeds rapidly in the other direction and other teammates scramble to clean up is not a failure to understand context.

          One of his turnovers nearly cost a goal, and he made no effort to join the team effort in trying to win the ball back.

          I love Mesut. But in these situations, he sometimes looks like a guy who’s nonplussed that the beautiful game can get a bit ragged, and that he isn’t being allowed the time or space to play.

          And I certainly don’t mean to pick on him, even if that part of the comment is what was picked up and amplified. I want to see him do more when we don’t have the ball. A lot of flair players do their share. Ask Andres Iniesta.

          1. David Silva is a hell of a flair player. David Silva puts in a defensive shift.

            Mesut Özil is fucking soft and melts like butter in any heat. I’m tired of him.

      2. Tuchokwu, I wanted to comment earlier when you said something about Pires and Bergkamp… and now you’ve said it again so this time I won’t hold my peace. First of all, it’s a completely pointless exercise to hold our players’ feet to the fire on account of their celebrated predecessors. Those were different times and those Arsenal teams had so much talent they could afford a couple of passengers when we didn’t have the ball. This was because they had superlative individual defenders and because PL teams of that era, in general, didn’t have the talent or sophistication to punish them. There is now more money, more talent, more scrutiny and more investment in the PL than ever. Bergkamp and Pires would have a lot of critics in this day and age, especially if they didn’t play for perennial title winners.

        Second, we tend to see these players distorted by the sheen of the trophies they won, the statues we built to their legacies and the highlight reel goals they produced. Pires was a passenger when the team didn’t have the ball, and everyone knew it. A brilliant footballer, but not one who cared to track back or press high. There is a reason he was the first to go when we went down to 10 in Paris. He was an artist, not a grafter and that’s OK, except in England when you don’t win trophies. And that’s Ozil’s problem, because he is cut from the same cloth, only he is asked to go against that tendency because football has moved on to the point that a team with a sheer artist of that ilk has to work that much harder to carry water. Bergkamp, for his part, was never known for his defending either, though he had a snide nasty streak in him (which in fairness you needed if you were a creative player in those days). Much like Ozil, he could be completely marked out of certain games, nor was he the player who regularly scored big, decisive goals in big decisive matches; instead, we remember his worldies against mostly middling opposition. He didn’t put the team on his back, he didn’t lead from the front by setting a tone with his pressing and tackling; instead he expressed his amazing skill and talent in the way he knew best, which was to do incredible things with the football that no one else could. For all the things Dennis was, he wasn’t captain material and he wasn’t a vocal leader, and neither is Ozil. So criticize him when he lays an egg, like he did against City, but don’t hold him to semi-fictional standards of club legends who played in a bygone premier league era.

        1. Bergkamp is my favourite player ever, and if he played today he would be absolutely pilloried. Imagine missing that penalty in the FA Cup in 99. It led to the Giggs chest hair show, and their treble. Probably also the league title in some ways.

          In today’s era, there would be no coming back for him in the eyes of many fans. And that’s without considering that he wouldn’t fly to games. (These days we even fly to Norwich)

        2. Pires might have critics in this day and age but Bergkamp? No way.

          Bergkamp was Özil plus bite. Yes he missed a penalty once. No he didn’t score. But he was never, ever, a fucking passive player like Özil.

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