What more could Alexis do?

I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about the body language of Alexis Sanchez lately. These complaints go along the lines of “instead of throwing his hands up in the air and complaining about his teammates, he should be leading the team, helping them win the game.” I’ve even heard from some fans that they are “sick” of Alexis and his attitude. But honestly, I understand the frustration Alexis is showing and I think he should show more. After all, he’s literally doing everything he can to help this team win.

First, let’s look at what Alexis has contributed this season: 15 goals and 10 assists in 26 appearances. That’s a total of 25 goals in 26 appearances. That’s 10 more goals or assists than Arsenal’s second best player, Mesut Özil, who has 15 in 23 appearances.

Further quantifying Alexis’ importance to the squad, we have the fact that Alexis has only failed to score or assist in 10 matches this season. Özil has failed to score or assist in 13 matches, plus has sat out an additional 3 matches that Alexis played in, including the season opener which Alexis started in despite returning from a Copa America winning summer. So, Alexis, Arsenal’s most prolific forward has failed to score in 10 of Arsenal’s matches this season and Özil, 16.

But football is a team sport and maybe Alexis isn’t pulling he weight compared to the other players on the pitch when he does play. Scoring and assisting isn’t everything after all! I ran a comparison of Alexis’ WhoScored.com player rating per game compared to Arsenal’s team rating and compared to Özil’s player rating in those same games. To run this comparison, I simply took the player’s rating and subtracted the team’s average rating. If a player was better than team average (helping the team) he ended up with a positive score. If a player was worse than the team average (dragging down the team) he ended up with a negative score.

Alexis was better than the team average in all but five of the games he played in. Alexis was giving positive contributions in 21 of 26 matches this season. Özil, on the other hand, had 10 games in which he was below team average in terms of contribution. That means Alexis provided positive contributions in 81% of his matches this season. Özil provided positive contributions in just 56% of his matches this season.

There are times when Alexis cuts a strange figure at Arsenal. Against Bournemouth, he let frustration bubble over and threw his gloves on the ground after the match. He also returned to the match after half-time, a half in which Arsenal allowed two of the worst goals you will see all season, and spent 10 seconds in what is now a familiar pose: crouching down, contemplating.

It was a pose we first saw toward the end of the Manchester City match. He was completely exhausted. He just saw Arsenal pressed out of yet another match by a big club, indicating that the quality of Arsenal’s midfield and back four is probably not as good as we like to think, and he crouched down and put his hand on his chin. People complained about Alexis’ body language that day but according to the WhoScored ratings, Alexis was almost a full point better than the rest of the team while Özil was half a point below the rest of the team.

Alexis played at Barcelona. He knows exactly what the construction of a top team should look like. He also played under Guardiola who, while he may actually have too many ideas, stressed several key things that Arsenal often get wrong.

One of Pep’s mandates is that the team needs to stay switched on at all times. Against Bournemouth, Arsenal switched off three times and the first time was possibly one of the worst defensive possessions I’ve ever seen in my time following Arsenal. Guardiola himself would use images to convey the data and here’s the image I would use:

That’s not fatigue. That’s not players being bad players. That is a failure at all levels of coaching. Bellerin is a talented player. Ramsey is a talented player. Iwobi is a talented player. But here you have Bellerin ball watching, Ramsey covering no one, and Iwobi running off to close down some imaginary space. If my top player didn’t get pissed off after seeing this play? I wouldn’t consider him my top player. Alexis knows what good organization should look like. He knows this was grabasstic defending. He was rightly upset. And what’s he supposed to do about it? Teach the team how to stay switched on and be more organized?

The other problem Alexis will have noticed is that opposition clubs can stop Arsenal bringing the ball out from the back and often win superiority in midfield. Big clubs like PSG, City, Tottenham, Man U, and Liverpool have all pressured Arsenal to great result this season. This kind of pressure is what big clubs do to little clubs when they know that the opponent is not as good with the ball as they are. If you remember a few years back, Arsenal did this to Liverpool when they played with Kolo Toure in the backfield. The result was multiple turnovers, chaos, and a win for Arsenal. When Alexis sees the opposition doing that to Arsenal, it has to make him question what’s going on. And frankly, there is NOTHING he can do about this. He can’t play center back, false 9, wide left, left back, and center mid all at the same time.

The team needs a line-breaking midfielder – Guardiola himself wasn’t fast, strong, and didn’t score goals but he was the guy who found the key pass which broke the opposition’s lines of defense. This isn’t a key pass or an assist, it’s the pass that initiates the chaos which creates the chance for the goal. Arsenal have that guy in Xhaka.

But more important, Arsenal need midfield superiority – with the ball and without the ball. Coquelin is a fine player and a crucial component to Arsenal’s ability to shield the back four and to win the ball back. But that’s not midfield superiority. Midfield superiority is gained through control of both the ball and space. Ask yourself which of these current Arsenal midfielders would get a chance at Bayern Munich this year? How about Barcelona? Real Madrid? Even Chelsea’s double pivote (which has similarities to Arsenal’s) is superior because Kante is so much better with the ball than Coquelin, runs as much as either Ramsey or Elneny, and is a much better defender than Ramsey and Elneny. Kante would walk in to Bayern Munich’s midfield. Would Elneny?

Alexis knows all of these things. He has worked with the very best midfielders in the world. He has worked with managers who demand 100% attention on the field. He has played on teams that were organized and had the technical quality necessary to play the ball forward from the back against other big teams.

Alexis is currently the best player at Arsenal and one of Arsenal’s most experienced players. He should be throwing strops when Arsenal concede three goals to Bournemouth. If he doesn’t do it who will? Özil?

Qq

91 Comments on What more could Alexis do?

  1. My sentiments exactly.
    I would be punching everything in my path if I was in his shoes.

    Hell of a player being dragged down by a piss poor team setup.

    • Why would he? He can certainly earn more money (or the same) elsewhere plus he could win the League and Champions League.

      • I agree. I could see Alexis fit in nicely at Bayern. Their top winger all on their final thirty. Alexis and Costa as winger to replace Ribery and Robben would be a great pair rivaling them.

        • On The other hand, why would Alexis want to go somewhere else to play second fiddle when he is the main man here

          • If you’re a top player with huge ambitions, winning matches and thus trophies is the number one thing on your mind. Football is a team sport, so why would you want to be the main man in a team that you can’t single-handedly drag towards trophies if you could easily go to a team that’s just better and has more chances of winning trophies? Don’t think Alexis has any ego problems of this kind.

          • Additionally I think he’d only ever be the ‘second fiddle’ at Barcelona or Real Madrid. Don’t see him be anything but the main weapon in any other team in the world and at the moment actually. He’s a monster.

          • I was replying specifically to the person who said he could go to Bayern to be a winger. Why would he want to go back to being a winger when he has already tasted the sweet, sweet nectar of central striker.
            I guess I am trying to be positive.

  2. For me, the worst case but unfortunately most likely scenario is that Sanchez and Ozil don’t re-sign but Wenger does.

  3. Alexis under Wenger is superior. Under Pep, he was a good player, in and out of Barca team, almost usefull as Pedro. Sure the quality level of the two teams weren’t the same, but equal sure, Pep, as he said, didn’t discover his abilities at all. He also didn’t work his making decision (speciality in the last third), the passing accuracy.
    Ιn correspondence, Peter Sellers was a big actor. But we saw diferent Sellers under Stanley Kubrick, diferent in other films. All I said are food for thought and nothing more.

    • Pep had a better player to build Barca around by the name of Messi. And the only players we have who might compete for a starting spot in Pep’s Barca teams are Koz and of course Sanchez, but not over Messi as a false 9.

    • Under Wenger, Alexis has had the freedom to really become the player he was destined to become. I wonder if Wenger even coaches him all that much. He’s got a very individualistic style and has the ability to justify the license given to him. If Alexis were to go to City (heaven forbid) I reckon Pep would build his team around him like he did with Messi at Barca.

  4. Come on guys, let’s give Wenger some slack.
    After all, the financial shackles only came off like a half a decade ago. Let’s give him time to finally build this squad now that he has the money. Judge him in 2030, I say.

    • By 2030, I’m pretty sure that we will need a new stadium again. Probably will need to wait until 2045 before Wenger becomes fully operational again.

  5. I’ve heard a lot of the “no player is bigger than club” type comments when discussing Alexis and Özil and while this is ostensibly a truism, it sounds like a pre-fabricated excuse for the club not putting 110% effort in getting both of them to sign da ting.

    Why risk bringing in players of their calibre in an environment when you KNOW the top 6-7 spending clubs in the world will happily snap them up if we can’t tie them down to another deal. Surely we’d still manage a top 4 finish with less expensive but still very talented players though not to that elite level perhaps.

    Reduced to fighting for yet another Champions League place instead of major titles 3-4 years into their Arsenal careers is nothing less than a managerial failure.

  6. What more could Alexis do?

    In terms of personal performance, not too much more. He has upped his game, adding assists with fewer dribbles into blind alleys. But clearly there is another level beyond where he is at; Suarez, Ronaldo, Messi.

    But demanding that level seems unreasonable. What he could do is improve his leadership on the pitch. Not throwing public tantrums would be a good place to start. To be sure he leads by example in practice and in games, but you don’t see him talking to players, telling them what they should be doing, how they can be better. Per media reports he was silent after the game “with a face like thunder”.

    From what I’ve read Wenger likes his teams to be semi-self-organizing and self policing. He expects players to be adults and he needs leaders in the locker room. Alexis has the stature to be one of those leaders. If he thinks of himself as a truly elite player, then he needs to assume that role of guiding his teammates and holding them to account. Throwing your gloves on the pitch and screaming F off might work, but I wouldnt hold my breath. I’d rather he get together w Cech and Koz and call a players-only team meeting to hash things out.

    • “From what I’ve read Wenger likes his teams to be semi-self-organizing and self policing. He expects players to be adults and he needs leaders in the locker room.”

      This is true. Reading the Invincibles I was shocked by how much of the off-pitch coaching, organization, and reaction to failures was done by Vieira and others.

      However.

      This is not a team full of Vieiras, Henrys, Bergkamps, and Sol Campbells. This is a team full of Ramseys (who abandons his duties all the time), of Bellerins (who switch off while Ramsey is daydreaming), of Iwobis (who press like they’ve never been taught how to press), of Oxs (who dribble into trouble), and of Coquelins (who aren’t really great at bringing the ball forward) or Elnenys (who aren’t that strong at shielding the back line).

      What is Alexis really responsible for here? Is he supposed to hang an arm around Ramsey’s neck and say “hey buddy, when you see that Bellerin is being a dick head, don’t just shout at him to get into position, go cover for him”? Is he supposed to do this for everyone? Is he the coach?

      Also, there is a language problem. His English is better than my Spanish but his English is not good. Communicating complicated ideas in English, on the pitch, isn’t something he’s going to be able to do.

      As for Alexis being at Messi level? He’s better than Messi at the international level! HA! I kid.

      I don’t see Arsenal ever able to afford a Messi-level player. We couldn’t even afford a Pogba level player. So, we need to put together a better TEAM. And we have to be better organized. The days when Wenger could let Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira organize his team for him are over. It has to be Wenger doing this work.

      I love the guy and this is his team. It plays the way he wants. It’s a mess at times.

      • I think it’s time we all admitted that while Arsene is a good coach, he also got a bit lucky in his first years at the club. Wenger’s biggest strength is talent evaluation and at the time, he was probably the sharpest evaluator of potential in the world. He came to a league which had a very parochial view of players. And he had inside knowledge of and access to a golden generation of French players before their careers were to ignite. He was also, for his time, a modern coach who brought improved nutrition and conditioning programs to the club. And tactically, he played a style of football that hadn’t been seen in England. It was a perfect storm of circumstances which enabled him to bring three English titles, four FA Cups, and an undefeated season in his first seven years at the club. Now his tactics have become stale, he runs his players into the ground, and rival clubs have caught up with him in terms of scouting. And he has not been able to adjust to his new reality. I am grateful that Wenger chose to stay and guide the club through the stadium construction. I’m convinced that only his faithful stewardship enabled us to not miss one season of Champions League football through that difficult transition. But I’m equally convinced that Wenger is no longer a coach and can conceive a coherent tactical vision and make a team play better than the individual sum of its parts.

      • I agree 100% Tim.

        This is a flawed team, built out of flawed individuals. But when you don’t have the resources to buy the very best that’s what you have to work with.

        The question is can Wenger make this team into more than the sum of its parts, so that one player’s strengths offset and cover for another player’s flaws? My answer is “I hope so” but I’m not entirely convinced. Certainly, he was very successful with the Santi-Coquelin midfield and the Mertesacker-Kozcielny back line, but each was a one off tactical success rather than a strategic vision, a la Simeone’s defense.

        I return to the famous comparison of Wenger to a Jazz musician. I think it would be more appropriate to describe him as a Jazz band leader. He respects his players as fellow artists and wants them to express themselves. This does not lend itself to strategic systems quite so much as felicitous pairings. These can be brilliant, but I think they take longer to develop, are inherently more fragile and it is difficult to get the whole structure in harmony. When injury, age or a predatory transfer steals a piece it takes time to get the band back in sync again because part of the magic depends on the deep understanding the individual players have with each other.

        In the end I’m not mad at Alexis for his tantrums any more than I am at Giroud for his 11 seconds of mini-showboating. Those flaws are baked into their characters. Just as Wenger’s decency, loyalty and belief that football should be an art is part of his character.

        Ask yourself, am I rooting for ‘laundry’ or the club? And if it is the club, doesn’t that include the players and manager, who despite of their flaws have clearly given all they have? For me, their flaws make them more lovable than ‘perfect’ specimens like Ronaldo or brilliant but ruthless pragmatists like Simeone. What I wish for Arsenal is a moment of transcendence to achieve something special on their own terms, for their flaws to become strengths. Am I a romantic? Sure, but this is football, not medicine. No one’s life is at stake. I can afford to dream.

  7. Honestly, reading this, I know that this the Tim that is one of the top Arsenal writer out there. I questioned his understanding weeks ago related to Elneny. It’s not exactly on how he view Elneny ability because I agree with it, it’s how it seems he portrays Elneny as the scapegoat of our problems. How can he not understand when he read so many football books, including Pep Confidential.

    Reading this and the last few articles,I can say that he did understand the problem. Him actually acknowledged what Coquelin problem for the team is and our basic team approach towards each match. It’s an enjoyable reading for me.

    After reading this, me wondering Ozil benefit to the team plan grow bigger. Is he becoming a shackle that couldn’t elevate us to new height just like Coquelin has? If you look at Real Madrid, without Ozil, they can finally move on from two man structure. I can still see his potential in another system though, like him as a false nine or recently as one of the attacking midfielders in 4-2-2-2 alongside Iwobi or Alexis.

  8. “Big clubs like PSG, City, Tottenham, Man U, and Liverpool have all pressured Arsenal to great result this season. This kind of pressure is what big clubs do to little clubs when they know that the opponent is not as good with the ball as they are.”

    This almost made me tear up because its so true. I think there is a real chance that Wenger doesn’t solve the mid field issues and we drop out of the top 4. Yes, a lot of people has said that in the past and we always seem to find a way but it looks pretty bad to me this season. The latest on Cazorla doesn’t help. You can also add defense to the list of things that need work at Arsenal now because we have been looking increasingly shaky in the back. Maybe solving the mid field issue will help with that as well – so it really just boils down to Wenger finding a solution to the high press. I won’t hold my breath.

  9. Maybe we’ll come back with a strong performance against Preston North End and Walcott will tell the world that the team had heart-to-heart in the dressing room and they’re all sorted now!

    When did we last play them? Just remembered that this is a match-up of the only two teams to go undefeated in the top flight of English football, though Preston N End’s feat was in the early days of the game in the Victorian era.

    I understand they are quality side this year. Playing the top half of the Championship. Hoping for an entertaining match and the win of course.

  10. this is simple and i began declaring it after the unbeaten season. back then, i stated that wenger didn’t deserve all the credit for arsenal’s success but that the leadership provided by the senior players was just as significant. i haven’t read the invincibles book but to hear tim talk about how vieira and other senior players provided so much tactical and strategic direction to the team doesn’t surprise me at all.

    i don’t think wenger places enough value on player leadership. he inherited a team that had a clearly established hierarchy in the dressing room as well as facilitated the natural ascension of patrick vieira. that allowed him to take the leadership for granted. then arsenal sold vieira. when that happened, the direction of the team was as predictable as expecting darkness at night. i won’t argue that vieira was no longer at his best but, with vieira gone, who was going to lead the team? with that move, arsenal went from championship contenders to pretenders.

    fast forward to now and arsenal have plenty of talent to challenge for the championship. in the easy games, it’s not a problem. however, when the game is tough coupled with the continued absence of santi and mert, who’s there to lead the team? not the attacking players. they need to focus on scoring.

    wenger will say that he has eleven captains but what ship has eleven captains? with no primary leader on the pitch that everyone follows, there’s no true direction to arsenal’s play. instead, arsenal have eleven very talented individual operators instead of a sound collective. this is the problem alexis is likely having. he knows the talent of his team mates and there is no way the likes of bournemouth or everton should get close to arsenal but they do. so, what’s the way forward from here? my guess is shokdran will step up or arsenal will fall by the wayside. we’ll see.

    • Ok, your preoccupation with “leadership” is bordering on the obsessive. The problem with your theory is that it’s an entirely unmeasurable quality, so you can never be proven right or wrong (or even be discredited by evidence). If you so choose you can interpret literally anything that happens through this prism. If we lose? Down to lack of leadership. If we suddenly go on a 15 game winning run with the same players? You can tell us that it’s because so-and-so has really stepped up with his leadership skills. Either way, it’s all about leadership baby!
      Here’s a nice article by Michael Cox you should consider reading:
      http://www.espnfc.com/barclays-premier-league/23/blog/post/2818906/arsenal-criticism-for-lack-of-leaders-is-missing-the-point

  11. Alexis is a great player. He is a fighter and a leader on the field. But he’s overworked trying to carry the whole team on his shoulders. This has degraded his temperament and luckily not his playing performance. He needs to be sympathized with and given some rest. Am happy he is not playing today.

    Arsenal, by any stretch, is not a poor team. Paradoxically, the team is being hampered from attaining its optimum by two of our most valued players, Coquelin and Ozil. One is great when the opponent has the ball, awful when we have the ball. The other, the very opposite. And this is not compatible with this era of a team of universal players, of the well rounded specialists. Any great team team can only accommodate a maximum of one such unrounded specialist at a time and the tactics of the day adjusted to accommodate it. Two is one too many.

  12. Alexis is a great player. He is a fighter and a leader on the field. But he’s overworked emotionally and physically trying to raise the team to his own level. This has degraded his temperament but not his playing performance. He needs our sympathy as well as a rest. Am happy he is not playing today.

    Arsenal by any stretch is not a poor team. Paradoxically, the team is being hampered from attaining its optimum by two of our generally regarded very valuable players, Coquelin and Ozil. The former is great when the opponent has the ball, awful when we have the ball. The latter, the very opposite. This is incompatible wìth this era of teams made of universal players, specialized but well rounded. Any top team can only accomodate a max of one such one sided player at a time and the tactics of the day adjusted to accomodate it. Two is one too many.

    • Let’s see what happens in Preston when both of them unavailable. Is it the player that hampered the team, or the manager vision of the team that required them, that is hampering the team. Ideally, to see whether it’s one or the other, we could see it by watching the plan when they’re not available. If it’s the same, with personnel change impersonating Coquelin and Ozil, than I’m inclined to believe it’s the manager vision of the team that hampering us rather than those player specifically. On the other hand, if when both of them unavailable and we see a change in the system, those player might be more responsible to limit the plan vision of the manager.

    • TBF, we should be beating Preston with our second XI, so that game won’t really tell us anything about Alexis.

    • So yeah, the last two games have shown without a shadow of a doubt that it’s Ozil who’s holding us back. Him and Coquelin. We’ve looked positively scintillating with them out of the team!

  13. Nikki, you are right, the buck actually ends with the manager. I suspect he (Wenger) thought that Xhaka would satisfy his DM demands of a fully developed two directional player (Vieraesque) only to find out that he is not. So the root of the problem is really poor scouting.

  14. I’ve had it with the ungrateful lot of you, looking for ways to make it all worse than it really is. Fortunately it doesn’t matter what you think and Arsene will continue to pour his heart and soul into this club whether you appreciate him or not. Just remember you wanted him gone when his replacement doesn’t live up to your lofty ideals.

    • Just imagine if you had millions of people second guessing your every move at your job, making elaborate assumptions about you and your employees all along the way. Social media has made the game more accessible to everyone but it turns out it’s not a good thing when everyone suddenly think they are qualified to know better because they’ve watched football on TV and argued about it on the internet.

    • I’ve had it with people who can’t seem to understand that it’s possible to have mixed emotions. Why isn’t it possible to be grateful for a man’s past achievements, admire his wit and principles, and yet recognize or at least have an opinion that same man is no longer the best man for the job? I don’t think anyone on this board has accused Wenger of not loving the club or working to the best of his ability for Arsenal. But if love for the club is the primary job requirement for managing Arsenal, then there’s a few million fans out there who are qualified to manage us.

      • Both of you, read the comments above again and tell me if you still think it’s mostly “mixed emotion” and objective criticism or whether it’s mostly entitled sounding pseudo-expertise nonsense.

        • You’re the one that chose to call every single poster on this board “ungrateful.” You, as well as I, have been posting on this board for quite a while and I don’t think “the lot of us” can be characterized as ungrateful.

          • You’re right, it’s not my place to judge others and I regret that. It was an emotional reaction. I don’t retract the essence of my message, however. In general, the tone of too many of the comments was, quite frankly, a ridiculous mixture of bias, revisionism and pseudo-expertise. We all need a bit more humility (myself included) at times before making far flung assumptions about people and things we don’t understand nearly as well as we would like to think we do.

    • Oh stop it. What is this? A football club ora cult?

      I don’t know about anyone else, but I support Arsenal — whether Wenger, Koeman, Tuchel or Santa Claus is the manager. I see no contradiction between loving Wenger, being appreciative, and not too unhappy at the thought of him going. It’s possible to hold all 3 positions at once.

      My club and its current manager are completely separate things. He was a tremendous, revolutionary figure and he has to leave someday. Moreover, he’s manifestly not the manager he was in the first half of his tenure, and he looks, increasingly, like the man that time left behind. Comprehensively out-coached and out-thought by Pep at the Emirates.

      You’re a smart enough man to know that being critical of Wenger (mildly in this case), is not the same as being unappreciative of what he has done.

      Will Arsenal struggle after Wenger. Probably, even likely. Many clubs do after losing people of Arsene’s power, grip and hold. But it would not mean that the club was wrong to go for change, any more than someone coming out of a stale marriage faces a period of uncertainty.

  15. I agree with the fact that Alexis has a huge drive to win and his frustration after the game is understandable. But I completely disagree with the argument that he shouldn’t be blamed for his on-pitch behaviour. There have been numerous times where he has made bad decisions which have resulted in dangerous turnovers. The dismissive (bordering on rude) comment on The Ox being someone who dribbles into trouble could also be applied to Sanchez. When players make a decision he doesn’t agree with, Sanchez blows his top but when they try to find him (even if it really isn’t the best option) and fail, he applauds them because they are looking for him.
    There comes a stage when the players start to think that his behaviour is unacceptable. Argue in the dressing room or even after the 90 mins but not during the game, especially in the attacking third. Players always make bad choices in attack because it isn’t easy and it applies to Sanchez as well. One of the reasons I think Wenger prefers Sanchez upfront is because he really isn’t a consistent defensive player. Sometimes he tracks back and sometimes doesn’t on the wings and as a striker, it frees him of that defensive responsibility and he can initiate the press.
    This might look like I am having a go at Sanchez but I am not. I am just trying to say that his repeated shouting and whining during games is never going to help. Especially if he is complaining about decision making in the final third.
    As for Wenger’s tactical setup, I agree that we are a bit of a confused team every time we step out. I believe that it is primarily down to Wenger having been forced to enforce a new system into the team. I don’t think he planned for us to be a pressing team in pre-season and probably realised as the season started that its the best way forward. We seem to have neither worked out the best way to press nor the best way to counter a high press. That’s down to the manager and I hope he finds a solution soon before we face the top 6 teams.

  16. Great write up Tim.

    I’m probably in the camp that thinks his public shows of frustration and anger might not be the best way to express his dissatisfaction but you make a compelling case all the same.

    As for Kante and Elneny. Is it really a fair comparison considering the roles they were bought for? While Kante was bought to be one of the first names on a team sheet would it be fair to suggest Elneny was bought to be a back up and is probably the 3rd or 4th choice in his position?

    And regarding the language barrier. Wouldn’t running over to Ramsey, baring his teeth and shaking his fist furiously in Ramsey’s face have accomplished 80% of the job? 🙂

  17. So, a new worst half of football of the season from us, I think (to be fair, there are a lot of close seconds).

  18. That’s about as bad as I’ve seen us play. Offside trap not cohesive and in general the midfielders just aren’t tackling anyone. Ramsey is spending most of his time in the CF area. It should be worse than 1-0 but we can definitely score on them.

    • Yes, this: of all the things that drive me crazy about Ramsey, the decision at various times in a game to just not play in the position his manager has clearly asked him to play in (central midfield), because, you know, he doesn’t fancy it (and isn’t very good at it, most of the time), has got to be the most infuriating, just ahead of taking 3 touches when 1 would do and thereby slowing down any attacking momentum we have.

  19. Just when I thought we couldn’t play any poorer, we show up with a new low with that first half display against Preston.

  20. Welbeck enters the game. Is he the only player on Arsenal to have won the Premier League? Am I missing someone?

  21. Needed luck and grit in the end to pull out a win against Preston. Just don’t understand why we have been such sluggish starters. Almost every time without fail these days.

    • Teams go at us aggressively and we can’t handle the pressure defensively and with the ball in midfield. As Wenger would say, we lack Santi’s “technical security”. We really need to work on our quick transition from defense to attack when the opposition presses. And in general the defense looks a shambles, but tonight it was a bit makeshift so that’s not that surprising. Worse against Bournemouth.

      • We absolutely miss a technician in mid field but even without one we shouldn’t be so poor especially against Preston. The passing and movement has been poor but more than anything we just seem to lack sharpness and a fire under our belly to work harder than the opposition. Where is the will and desire from the opening whistle?

        • I agree, though I do think (this is not to excuse how bad we’ve been lately, just to provide context!) that there’s quite a bit of fatigue around, and lots of players missing with the squad so banged up (twas ever thus!), and some of the fresher players, like Ramsey and Mustafi, are rusty as they haven’t played much in a while.
          I suspect our performances will start to look less jaded as we progress through January, though whether we’ll be able to control midfield with Xhaka and Ramsey in there each week for the foreseeable future remains to be seen…If not, could be a long couple of months.

  22. Completely different Arsenal in the 2nd half, not really surprised we won in the end, but could’ve lost it in the 1st half like against Bournemouth. Ramsey started playing like a midfielder instead of a CF (and, ironically, scored because of it), the wingers started helping their fullbacks when we lost the ball and the back 4 started playing closer together; in sum, we looked like a football team in the 2nd half as opposed to the first. There was also generally far more fight about the team. Hard to explain how all that went missing in the first period and in back to back games, however. I was impressed with Preston as well, it’s clear they really wanted this game more than our players did. Giroud is on a tear, making it hard to bench him, but I still think we are a better team with Sanchez at CF and with Ozil back to health we need to go back to the setup that got us all those impressive results at the beginning of the season.

  23. Tim, here a suggestion for an article in the near future (I can’t remember you addressing this in a full length post, so apologies if you have).

    1. Many of us have been saying recently that our biggest problem is our inability to deal with a high press, not just against top teams, but even against the likes of Bournemouth and Everton.
    2. Why is this?? Or, more specifically (since we all know we miss Cazorla, etc, etc): why do we seem to struggle with this WAY MORE THAN the other top teams? I mean, I don’t watch the other teams as much as I watch Arsenal, but I’m pretty sure they don’t struggle like we do, or at least not as often.
    3. Here’s the really interesting thing: the our-midfield-isn’t-technically-gifted-enough, while certainly valid to an extent, doesn’t really hold water, once you compare our midfield to the other top teams’. Other than Man City (who are also probably lacking at least one top quality central midfielder with Yaya on the wane and Gundogan injured), all the other teams have WORSE, or certainly not better, central midfields when it comes to technical quality in possession:

    Spurs: yeah they have Dembele, but he’s missed a lot of games for them this season, and anyway he’s the only one, really. The likes of Sissoko, Wanyama, and Dier are certainly not better than our midfielders with the ball at their feet!
    Liverpool: another midfield full of runners, not technicians. the closest is Lallana, but he tends to play further forward
    Chelsea: Kante and Matic are both quality, but not particularly known for their technical quality on the ball. I know people on here think Kante is a massive improvement on Coquelin (I disagree only on the “massive” bit), but even if he is, it’s not like either he or Matic is going to beat the high press with wonderful Cazorla-esque close control in tight spaces
    United: An interesting one. Carrick is quality, but he’s like an older, slower version of Xhaka, basically. Obviously Pogba and Herrera are quality, but it’s not like their main contribution to the team is to build deep from the back and beat the press with skill and composure. But I need to watch United more this year, as I confess I’m not even sure who they’ve been starting in midfield of late, or how they’ve faired against the press. I’m sure someone else less ignorant can fill me in.

    4. My not at all polished initial thoughts are that (a) these teams beat the press by pressing themselves. If they can play the majority of the game much further up the pitch they almost completely erase the need to worry about building from the back in the face of the press. And (b) they mostly play 3 in midfield rather than 2. But obviously this isn’t entirely true either, as Spurs often play 4-2-3-1, and Chelsea have the 3-4-3 (though Luis often steps up). But even when these teams only officially play 2 in central midfield, their midfield area almost never looks as open as ours does on a regular basis.

    Anyway, whatever the reasons, our recent (or not so recent, as it’s been happening for at least 2-3 years) struggles with the high press is maybe the most damning evidence that Wenger is struggling against other managers, not just because we struggle to deal with their pressing, but because we’re so much worse at dealing with it THAN THEY THEMSELVES ARE WHEN TEAMS TRY IT ON THEM. Or maybe I’m wrong about this…

    • the key element to beating the press is not as much about talent as it is about vision (awareness) and decision making. the players you mention like carrick, cazorla, kante, dembele, and henderson, etc. are good at defeating the press because they do the simple things better than mostly everyone else. they never ball watch, they always get their angles and distances right, and they always play the intelligent ball out of pressure. that heightened sense of situational awareness means the game is slower to them than most players. they see situations developing far earlier than most players and they know what technical skill to use to give themselves even more time and space to defeat the press. it’s almost like seeing the future.

      like leadership, this is not a quantifiable skill but it’s the one quality that had the most profound effect on my game when i was a player. that experience i had makes it easy for me to recognize that quality in other players where i didn’t recognize it before. those guys may not be the most talented but they all make their teams better.

    • For me, a big issue against teams that press comes from the off the ball runs made by our midfield and attack. Wenger emphasises verticality and so when we get the ball those players, rather than coming towards the ball and offering an outlet, tend to push up against the opponent, threatening the space between their midfield and defense. That can be really effective if the players in the back 6 have the quality to avoid pressure and find the forward pass. Big problems arise when the player on the ball lacks that quality – Coquelin, Gabriel, Gibbs, jenkinson, even Ramsey (on current form, at least) struggle to do so and are often looking for safer passes as a result. Since there are few advanced players showing for the ball, we pass backwards and the ball ends up with the goalie. This has been the pattern since injuries to Santi, Bellerin and Mustafi kicked in but was especially awful in the first half against Preston, where no one seemed to make any kind of off the ball runs of any description whatsoever.

      I love Wenger, but when backups are on the field he needs to structure the team to give them more support on the ball. Coquelin’s role in a team playing this style is also highly debatable, despite the enormous improvement he has made.

      • That’s a good theory and I can see this being a drawback of Wenger’s emphasis on being vertical but surely that’s not all we do in practice. From what I know, we also practice a lot of triangles and quick passing. This should be able to beat the press.

  24. The win is fine and all but I wish our players would stop celebrating goals against teams we really should be beating comfortably, especially when it isn’t for one of the big trophies.

    Small club mentality.

    🙂 (Joke)

  25. Ramsey was excellent today. Yet posters here find nitpickerty stuff to criticise him on. The worst thing about football fan commentary is the taking hold of a narrative. PFo slates the guy for positional indiscipline. It does not sound as if he watched the game. It also reminds me of Alan Hansen’s decision to criticise Walcott for lacking a football brain, on the very day he scored a hat trick.

    Here’s the thing about Aaron. He’ll get a run in his natural position. And if he played like he did today, he’ll be fine.

    btw, Wenger’s comments on his team’s first half performance were a devastating indictment of the players. He didn’t lay into them the way Mourinho does, but boy did it make for sobering reading.

    • we all know how much you love ramsey but i don’t believe most would concur that he was excellent today. likewise, i don’t agree with whoever blamed him for going forward too much. his approach today was fairly balanced. the problem he has is when everyone’s fit, it’s going to be tough for him to get into the team. the other arsenal midfielders are simply more effective than he is. with so many players unavailable, this is an opportunity to raise his game. we’ll see how he does.

    • 1. I watched the whole game, thanks.
      2. I made my comment about his positional indiscipline at halftime (I wasn’t the only one commenting on how far he was pushing up in the first half, constantly making runs up the field as opposed to checking for the ball, leaving Xhaka isolated).
      3. He was much better in the second half, both in that more of what he did worked, and in his positioning. Overall I’d give him a 6.5 or so for the whole game.
      4. I officially don’t have an agenda against him. I genuinely want him to do well, now more than ever. But I remember saying something similar to what you’ve just said, last season after Cazorla’s injury: ok, now Aaron will get a run of games in centre mid, hopefully he’ll find his form. And I was sorely, sorely disappointed in what I saw from him. So I’m now more critical of him than I was, and much less optimistic going forward.
      5 . Him scoring a goal yesterday doesn’t undermine the case against other weaknesses in his play, and never should, just as Theo scoring goals a few years ago didn’t change the fact that his game had a TON of holes in it at the time, holes that it seems he’s only finally working to address this season. (I can’t stand Big Al, but always felt he had a point about Theo, even if “football brain” wasn’t quite the underlying issue.)

    • Ramsey had a quietly impressive game: one goal from three shots, two out of two tackles, two interceptions, 121 touches, 88% pass success rate and a key pass. He drew three fouls and was dispossessed only once. He also drew the lunge that got their player sent off, a sure sign that Preston’s midfield was having a hard time with him. It was a pretty good first game back individually.

      The first half was more about the team intensity than any one player, but I was constantly looking for his #8 jersey because I was very much looking forward to seeing him partnering Xhaka. I’d say it was a mixed bag. Xhaka’s positioning defensively still leaves a lot to be desired and my sense is he gets played around too easily. That’s probably a byproduct of being more isolated than he’s used to in the Swiss and Borussia teams as well as being a bit slow to his first step. He only registered one interception and one tackle despite playing quite deep. On the other side of the ball he was much more useful, playing 6 successful long balls (of 9 attempted) and a 90% pass success rate.

      Ramsey needed to play closer to him in the first half and so seeing him frequently standing in the box, waiting for service, was frustrating as it left his already vulnerable partner even more so. In the second half, he was doing a better job of timing those runs into the box (rather than being static in there) and that’s how he found the space to shoot and score. I also felt in general his positioning protected the team better and together with a heightened team intensity, this meant Preston failed to register a shot in the second half.

      • “Ramsey needed to play closer to him in the first half and so seeing him frequently standing in the box, waiting for service, was frustrating as it left his already vulnerable partner even more so. In the second half, he was doing a better job of timing those runs into the box.”

        Exactly this.

      • Xhaka is very intelligent, but he still isn’t up to the pace in England. You can see that clearly. When he he’s going to be a beast of a player. Look, Arteta played the role beautifully for a season, relying on his world-class game reading ability to be in the right place most of the time defensively, and be a superb distributor. Ramsey was his partner then. DM isn’t solely about tackling… it’s about reading too. positional intelligence. Xhaka does not have to match Coquelin’s tackling ability, but once he gets up to speed in the purely defensive area, the combination of defensive solidity and on the ball excellence will be awesome to behold.

        And talking about reading, one guy who I hope is going to have a say in our season run-in in the much underrated Per Mertesacker. One of the reasons that Santi and Arteta played their different roles well in that screening midfield two, was Mertesacker’s positional intelligence, reading, and passing out of the back. Sure he was slow and vulnerable on the counter playing high line, but he has demonstrated that a big part of this game is played between the ears. Per won’t displace Mustafi, but he’ll be needed.

  26. there’s an old line that says that hard work can beat talent when talent doesn’t work hard. this is applicable to arsenal. everton and man city out-worked arsenal, that’s why they beat arsenal. bournemouth and preston, with a tiny bit more quality, could have beaten arsenal as well.

    pfo, you have to pardon what seems to be my obsession with leadership. i was a warfighter for 23 years so leadership is what i know. it’s a quality that has kept myself and many of my colleagues alive in tough situations. i’d like to place an emphasis on TOUGH situations. in not-so-tough situations, our training and talent typically sufficed. however, when situations get bad (like a pilot losing two engines on takeoff) it’s nice to have experienced, senior guys that you trust and can lean on to help you find success (putting an airbus in the hudson river). clearly, war fighting (and dual engine failures) don’t compare to soccer as no game causes man to contemplate his mortality but the unquantifiable qualities of leadership are still very real and very relevant to success and failure in both arenas.

  27. i liked iwobi’s performance today. his mobility poses a real problem for opposition defenses. more importantly, unlike most arsenal midfielders, he’s not afraid to receive the ball with his back to goal. he’s so much better in the #10 spot than he is out wide. arsenal didn’t miss mesut ozil today or against crystal palace.

    • Especially with us short in central midfield, I wonder about playing Iwobi deeper in midfield. He’s got excellent, quick feet, a good range of passing and the ability to play a telling forward pass, and dribbles with power and speed. In fact, his strength allows him to hold off defenders better than many of our other attacking players. Obviously, defensive awareness would be an issue but on the ball, he provides some qualities we’ve been missed.

      • Totally agree. I think he played there in the second half against West Ham last year, when we were really going for it, and looked good. It was obviously only a short amount of time, but it was impressive how he dealt with a pressure situation.

    • Iwobi’s a tremendous young player, but I’m not ready to join the raving just yet. He started to find the net after a long dry spell, but one of things our left-sided player absolutely must bring to the party is goal productivity. It does not have to be Bobby Pires-like. It just has to be consistent, and probably more than 10 a year or season. Santi had stopped being effective there after his standout season, but he found a new lease on life in the back of the midfield, where he’s far, far more effective for us.

      Iwobi gets, will continue to get chances in this team, but his finishing lacks a little composure at the moment. And as long as that remains the case, the berth isn’t locked down yet. And as Tim’s example against Bournemouth showed, his tendency to wander inside leaves us defensively vulnerable on the flanks. That spot will be a straight shootout between him, Wilshere and Ox when Jack comes back. In fact, I think that Jack’s run of games on the south coast will help him to cement that spot, probably at the youngster’s expense. Wenger’s belief in him (Wilshere) is absolute, and Jack is a natural left-footer.

      But we’ll see. I don’t even know that left midfield is Iwobi’s best position, because he rarely goes for width (Monreal provides that on the overlap). That makes it easier for defensively resolute teams to close us out.
      All that said, Iwobi is 20, and his growth potential is vast and exciting. He could be a £70m player in 2 years.

      • we were talking about iwobi playing centrally in the #10 role and how much better he is there than out wide.

      • Yes, but the position isn’t vacant, that’s one. Two, he’ll still need goal productivity, which he doesn’t quite have the composure for yet. Still, as I said, he’s a terrific young player. let’s not big him up too soon.

  28. I don’t think we lack players who could counter the press in the right system. I think Wenger is still working out how to beat a high press and employ it ourselves and our mixed performances are proof of that. You look at other teams who press high there appears to be a sense of organisation about it. Not with our press. And while using Cazorla’s dribbling ability to counter the press is a rudimentary solution, it’s not a fool proof one. And with both Xhaka and Santi, we effectively have one player in midfield who can pass us out of trouble and as in the City game, once they shut Xhaka down we start losing possession. Here is where Ozil is our weakness according to me. He takes up spaces in the attacking third but if he doesn’t get the service be doesn’t drop deeper as much as he should. I guess that’s part of Wenger’s emphasis on verticality but without enough options to pass, it looks extremely difficult to get out of the press.
    Another weakness could be Cech and his repeated long clearances.
    As I said, maybe it’s just the instructions Wenger gives them but he quickly needs to find a way to employ and counter the press effectively before our big games come up.

  29. Disagree with the Sanchez knows this and that blah blah blah.

    No he does not. He was considered an undesirable piece by Guadiola precisely because of his lack of ability to conform. Lets not talk about the high press when he can’t even get into the team.

    And this bashing of Coquelin needs to stop. While he does not control the ball, he controls the space especially in high tempo games. It is up to the team to build up the high risk, high energy game that Arsenal excels at.

    Ramsey’s problem is just lack of games and injury. Give him a run of games and lets see where he goes. Just look at Wilshire now.

    • The Coquelin thing is almost funny. For years when Wenger was playing people like Alex Song(inho), fans cried out for a Propah DM. To concentrate on defense and just play the short passes to more attacking and technical players. Now we have him, and obviously we must now play a guy who also builds attacks on his own.

      I know there’s more nuance to it than that, but in essence this is it. Also, while there is obviously truth in it, I think Coquelin isn’t as poor with the ball as is made out. He’s certainly getting better too.

    • Coquelin has his strengths but using the ball isn’t one of them. He almost always plays the short, safe pass. Which is OK, but it slows momentum allowing the defense to get into position and sometimes it looks like opposing sides play off of him because they know he can’t hurt them.

      It will be interesting to see how Wenger sets up the team without him. Maybe we should back off of the press anyway, since we’re giving up an ungodly number of big chances. Our back four could use more support.

      • Yah but he controls space very well. And his ball control and mobility is good so he is a reliable passing outlet.

    • You’re not going to win any major trophies with Francis Coquelin as your main ball-winning defensive midfielder. And your recollection of what fans thought about Song may be a tad faulty. Song had Coq’s ball winning attitude, plus he proved in his final year to be a terrific provider of assists for Van Persie. If not for his sour attitude, he’s have been an absolute boss for us. He didn’t work out at Barcelona, but they bought him for a reason. Coquelin is not an improvement on him any any department. Sure he sits and doesn’t bomb forward. But to what effect would he do so? Having a one-dimensional midfielder is limiting. The other teams let him have the ball and press gang Xhaka and Ozil.

  30. But isn’t that Alexis’ role? To be the spearhead of the team. The team is geared towards him being the main guy. We know Ozil is not the kind to grab a game and drag it to victory(though he has shown signs of that this season) He’s more a facilitator.

    I don’t know man. I don’t like this thing of pitting our own players against each other, or putting them above the team. I have no problem with Alexis’ body language. He was frustrated to not win, and that’s how he expressed it. I also don’t take that as a larger frustration with Arsenal, the manager, or his teammates.

    Honestly, I don’t get the need to make a narrative about how Alexis will leave us. If he will, so be it. But for now, he’s an Arsenal player, and should be treated as a member of the team. Not as an individual looking down from his Andean mountain on the the rest of his colleagues.

    • When Giroud misplaced his layoff for Sanchez, you can see Sanchez throwing his arm in disgust while retrieving the ball. That was part of the events leading to the 3rd goal.

      It seems that he feels he is too good for this. But more than that, he is probably unhappy that the spotlight is away from him.

      He wants to play the main striker and be the top goal scorer. Looks like there is no choice but to plonk him there.

    • for the most part, i agree with what you’ve said. i mentioned earlier in the season how i believe alexis wants to be viewed in the sam vain as messi and ronaldo. he’s moody but such is the temperament of great attacking players in arsenal’s recent history; no different than anelka, henry, or van persie. i learned when i was a player that when your strikers and goalkeepers are a bit weirder than everyone else, you tend to see brilliance from them so i grant them that latitude.

      i don’t have a problem with alexis expressing himself. people that criticize him are either naive and don’t appreciate that everyone reacts differently to stress or they’re hypocrites. there is no law on how someone is supposed to feel and he was simply expressing his feelings. that’s how he reacts. what are you going to do? would you rather him behave a certain way that you agree with even if it means taking the cutting edge away from his game? get over it, folks. everyone reacts differently. likewise, he’s had time to reflect on how his reaction is perceived. he’ll be fine.

    • “Honestly, I don’t get the need to make a narrative about how Alexis will leave us. If he will, so be it. But for now, he’s an Arsenal player, and should be treated as a member of the team.”

      This sums it up. Enough already with the elaborate interpretations of body language and post game frustrations. The game is football, not Sherades. If Alexis stops playing hard or if he starts criticizing his manager or team mates in the media, that Would be concerning. Posing like the thinker or throwing his gloves after a poor result? I don’t care. AT ALL.

  31. Every team needs squad players. Even top teams have squad players. Sometimes the criticism on our squad players isn’t fair. Let’s look at the situation pragmatically. If all of our mid field players were available, I would rate Santi, Xhaka and Ramsey as our best mid fielders and the ones who would start the most games. Criticism for Elneny & Coquelin saying they would not fit at a Bayern or, a Chelsea is unfair because they are our squad players (even though Coquelin does start when fit alongside Santi).

    To put things into perspective, Mikel wouldn’t walk into Bayern’s mid field and Kimmich wouldn’t walk into ours. Imagine if Arsenal had continued their unbeaten streak they had since, the opening day loss. We wouldn’t be having this conversation & perhaps, our squad players would have been much better than they have been off late.

    The problem with Arsenal are patterns around injury and confidence. Each year, we have players going off injured with niggles and hamstrings and one or, two unlucky ones with long term injuries. Niggles for Ramsey (accounts for 2 months), hamstring pulled for Coquelin & Mustafi, long term casualties in Cazorla & Mertesacker. Its the same old pattern.

    Elsewhere, you have teams like Spurs & Chelsea who have hugely fitter squads both in terms of physical fitness & injuries. In my view, this is down to the coaching. Surely, we cannot afford draining training sessions being in the number of competitions we are part of, yet we seem to be lacking physically on most of these games in November and December. Good in parts of a game and lacking for the rest of it.

    Whether this is due to coaching or, due to players’ mentality, I do not know. I do know the problem is intrinsic. And Alexis and the other players playing would know of these problems. Its their decision if they wish to leave but, the basis of the discussion should be the management of these players, not the players themselves and their behavior on and off the pitch as the media reports.

  32. I very much want Ozil and Sanchez to stay. All the same I belong to the school of thought of the Napoli president ( I think) who once said that if the price is right he would sell his whole team. The critical thing is ‘right price’ to sell well. If you sell well and buy well where is the loss. If China offers £150M for Alexis I would sell in a hurry and make a statue of him at the Emirate, and then plash the cash. I flow with the market forces.

    Meanwhile in Europe there can’t be more than 7 or 8 teams at the most, more attractive than us, and many in this group are already well stocked and don’t need our players. Wilshere, Giroud, Ozil, or whosoever don’t have more than 2 or 3 teams they can seriously be thirsting after and who at the same time would be thirsting after them, with our prices well set. In Europe the forces are in a state of equilibrium and is neither the buyer’s nor the seller’s market. If anything it is the sellers market but then we have to buy to replace. Absolutely nothing to fear.

  33. “What more could Alexis do?”

    ” ‘Cept for… sing for a Klopp and roll band.”

    I assume that was the reference? I made my own little addition.

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