Arsenal win the Emirates Cup amid familiar failings but it’s only preseason

The season is just two weeks away and I have to admit that I’m not hopeful for the season ahead.

I’ve been following Arsenal closely now for 17 years and typically, by now, Arsenal would have me excited about the upcoming season. Something would have caught my attention and peaked my anticipation for the new season. And I would even say for 15 years of that time I would be thinking right now that Arsenal have a real chance of winning the League. And for about 10 years of that time I thought we had a real chance of winning the Champions League. But as I said this summer, I’m resigned to Arsenal finishing somewhere between 2nd and 10th and I have yet to see anything (this weekend included) to change my mind.

I’m sorry if that’s a downer. I’ve been writing this blog for 8 years and I have always been honest, so this isn’t some “media personality” that I’m putting on. I also, literally, don’t monetize this blog at all (note how many ads I have), don’t write little articles 16 times a day, don’t have a podcast, or a YouTube Channel, and so accusing me of “click bait” is also false.

I’ve always been honest, even if wrong to the very end. In 2008, I honestly thought Arsenal were going to win the League. I also thought Denilson was a great midfielder. I thought Wenger’s project youth was the most noble cause of any sports team in sports history (I still do believe this). And After that Arshavin goal against Barcelona, I thought Arsenal were going to go on and win the Champions League. Even recently, in 2016, I honestly thought Arsenal were going to prove all the doubters wrong and win the League. And now, I honestly think Arsenal are going to finish outside of the top four again and this weekend only reinforced that belief.

Before I start here, I want to say that I will not be talking about other fans this season. Sport reflects the broader culture and what I have found in my own writing and thinking is a perverted belief that if you don’t agree with me, you’re just stupid. If the two of us watch the same event and you don’t come to the same conclusions as me, then you don’t know what you’re talking about. Much like in politics now we have stopped debating the ideas and mostly seem to debate about how stupid or smart other people are based on how closely they are aligned with the other person’s politics/ideals. This makes for an insanely toxic atmosphere and I don’t want to do this anymore. So, I’m going to refrain from this type of debate. Or at least I’m going to try. These ad hominem arguments will also be off limits in the comments section – though I’m a terrible cop and don’t police the comments very well.

With that said, what I saw this weekend was an Arsenal team that hasn’t changed much from last year and so I don’t think we are going to finish any better than last year. Especially not with the other teams strengthening and with the added burden of Thursday night football in far-flung European stadiums.

What I saw this weekend was an Arsenal team which allowed 4 goals and scored 6 and did so showing off the exact same range of problems as they had in the worst part of last season.

First, the players. Lacazette is Arsenal’s record signing and he did score a goal yesterday. I think Lacazette is a cool finisher and his movement and awareness in the 18 yard box is fantastic. He reads the game well and knows how to get himself into great positions to score goals. His flaws are that he’s not very good with the ball and won’t be helping the team in build-up. In other-words, he’s not going to replace Alexis Sanchez.

I had hoped that buying Lacazette would allow Arsene Wenger to keep his midfielders from flooding the box on every possession but that didn’t happen. My theory here is that having a dominant goal-scorer, someone who demands the ball, allows for players like Ramsey and Coquelin to actually hold back and help the defense but instead we saw the same pattern of play as last season. Coquelin provided an assist (before going off injured) and Ramsey reprised his role as “the little striker who couldn’t shoot.”

You wouldn’t think that having a midfielder in the 18 yard box would be much of a problem but Arsenal also send both fullbacks forward often. This means that Arsenal’s back three is exposed time and again. And more important than just exposing the back three is the amount of space between the Arsenal attack and that back three.

Space is the defense killer. If players have time to run at your defenders full speed and if they can get a teammate to make a run, it’s so much harder to defend than it is when you close off space and have bodies between the ball and the goal. Typically, after an Arsenal play breaks down, there will be one midfielder and two or three defenders. If the opposition player can get around either the CM or the Wingback, they are free to run full speed at Arsenal’s back three who need to make some kind of last-ditch tackle to save blushes.

This pattern of play repeats and has repeated now at Arsenal since I first noticed it in 2008, when we used to have two center backs.

That brings me to Kolasinac. He was great going forward. His crosses are great. He dribbles well. He’s just a good attacker. And he also left the entire left side of the pitch undefended when he played. He was slow getting back on defense (because he played so high up the pitch) and often looked winded when he did get back. Of course, it’s just pre-season and we don’t know how he will play with Alexis in front of him. I hope Wenger gets his defenders to focus on defense first but again, having watched Arsenal for years and seeing Arsenal’s fullbacks literally cross the ball to each other, I doubt it.

And then there is the back three. Sometimes I think Wenger is a joker. A comedian. For example, Wenger is clearly going to play a back three this season, despite the evidence suggesting that there was little change to Arsenal’s defense. And as if to make a mockery of the back three? He played Mo Elneny as a center back. Now, I know that Elneny won’t play center back this season. At least I hope he won’t. But you have to admit it’s a pretty funny joke to stick a player who can’t defend, I mean literally cannot defend – doesn’t see the threats, doesn’t understand where the line is, thinks raising his arm for offside is defending, can’t with the ball in the air, and is physically soft as clarified butter, the worst defender I’ve seen at Arsenal since Denilson – as the middle center back in a back three. That’s a classic jape there.

Don’t get me wrong, I get what Wenger was doing: Elneny is a fantastic passer – he has Denilson’s range of passing – and Wenger wanted someone in the back three who could start the Arsenal attack. He did that with a wide range of excellent passes. My favorite was a low, hard, long ball straight up the pitch to the Arsenal forward, Aaron Ramsey. He also found Arsenal forwards like Ox with big diagonal passes over the top. He is such a cultured passer. It’s a real shame about his defending.

In that back three Per Mertesacker also looked like a player lost at sea. You would think that with 6 (or 7) players on the roster Wenger has enough options at center back but I’m starting to worry that he doesn’t. Starting Elneny means that Chambers has clearly been kicked to the curb, which means that Arsenal will take a bath on his extraordinary transfer price. Mertesacker was dropped two years ago and despite the fact that he’s a great human being, he’s not able to cover the spaces (see above) Arsenal’s midfield/attack concede. Gabriel and Mustafi are both unconvincing (and injured) which leaves Arsene leaning on Holding, Monreal, and Koscielny for 50 games this season. That could be a real problem.

And in yesterday’s match there was the most worrying sign, something I have been harping on now for three years: down 2-1, Arsenal couldn’t keep possession and couldn’t win possession back. Sevilla just passed the ball around them. Wenger prides himself on making technical teams and yet Arsenal have seemed woefully bereft of technical ability for years now. Any team who wants to play keep away from Arsenal can and does. It was so bad that even Arsene made mention of this problem in his post-match press conference — saying that Lacazette didn’t get much of the ball because Arsenal were tired and couldn’t retain possession.

But hey, it’s only pre-season. There are two more whole weeks for Arsene to sort all these things out. So, when I say that I’m not feeling too hopeful for the season ahead? That’s why.

There were positives, of course. Reiss Nelson is an exciting young player and I think he could be a breakout player of the season – if he’s given a chance. But for me, the positives were really weighed down by seeing the familiar old failings and I have a feeling we are going to see those failings again and again this season.

Oh yeah, and Arsene’s weird comments about how Ozil’s contract situation is “ideal.” It’s going to be a long season.

Qq

92 Comments on Arsenal win the Emirates Cup amid familiar failings but it’s only preseason

  1. “His flaws are that he’s not very good with the ball and won’t be helping the team in build-up. In other words, he’s not going to replace Alexis Sanchez.”
    That’s a misconception. Lacazette has occasionally played as a playmaker for Lyon. Lately, he has exclusively focused on his goal tally. But a few seasons ago, he had very good assist numbers for a striker (you can check them on transfermarkt). I’ve watched him play for Lyon 50+ times, and what I notice is that he’s more shy and cautious with Arsenal, which is normal when you join a new team. Give him two or three more months to really see what he can and can’t do.

    • Yeah, I was also going to say I think Tim’s a bit harsh on Lacazette regarding his ball skills. But it’s one of the few things in this piece I disagree with. Mostly I think it’s spot on, and I also appreciate the plea for us to be civil on here and not take offense when other people have differing views about Arsenal and the season ahead.

      A few other minor objections/comments:

      1. I wonder if putting Elneny at CB is part of a deliberate attempt by Wenger to help him improve his defending, since it’s clearly the biggest thing that’s holding him back from being a really useful midfielder for us. We see AW try this from time to time with players (folks like to cite Monreal’s spell at CB a few years back, but although that may have improved his defending and comfort in the PL, I think it came more from desperation on Wenger’s part than a deliberate plan).

      2. I don’t think Mustafi is significantly injured at present, is he? At worst he shouldn’t be absent for more than a few weeks (insert Arsenal injury related joke here). Of course we could upgrade on our CB options, but I still think we should have plenty to cope, especially if AW does the sensible thing and keeps Chambers. More worrying is just that we don’t really look ready for the start of the season (yet again!), less in terms of not having the personnel at the back, and more just in terms of not being settled. Does AW have any idea who his preferred starting back five is? Plus, if we have two proper central midfielders, our centre backs will look better. Getting a new, dominant center midfield partner for Xhaka is STILL our most pressing need, and I predict it’s going to be his failure to address this weakness that will be Arsene’s annual disastrous transfer window mistake for 2017.

      3. I predict Kolasinac will look much better defensively by the time the season properly starts. It’s still preseason, as you say. And on the other side, the Ox will terrorize fullbacks all season long if we keep hold of him, he stays injury free, and we start him ahead of Hector (who’s very good, but could use a little genuine competition for his place).

      4. Spot on concerning our inability to keep and win back possession against quality sides, especially technically proficient teams who press. Again, we really, really need a new midfielder (or two!).

  2. I agree dat recently arsenal can’t hold d ball.it has to do wt wilshers santis absence or not buying ballers dat can hold d ball.lemar seri or any oda ball holder will do.chelc don’t have ball holders in midfield onli cescd do.so it has to do wt style of team doe arsenals style flounders badly now due to lack of ballers.I dnt agree wt u dat Gab n Muatafi can’t do well.the trick is organization.if in big games arsenal set out like against chelc or man city in FA last season den dias a chance and dnt get started dat chelc had so much chances to score cos arsenal had as well.as for city u take ur chance defend n suffer till u win

  3. Yep. On the verge of another season and our roster and tactical outlook is, frankly, a mess.

    I really cannot understand the Chambers snub. If nothing else put him in the shop window for a game.

    There’s a feeling of inertia, a club that’s treading water.

    • True story: I always thought of inertia as motion, specifically motion forward, but I guess it really means doing nothing. I got this sense of the definition from projectiles and missiles which travel on inertia after the initial propellant.

      Funny.

      • Didn’t Chambers play half the Benfica game (too lazy to actually look this up)? So he played exactly as much as Holding did this weekend, and we know the latter is in AW’s plans. Wenger may well be looking to sell, but I’m not sure we can say that decisively based on the weekend’s evidence.

      • Inertia for me (an engineer) means something remaining in its current state. You are not incorrect; if say a rocket is shot in space, inertia will continue to carry it forward at its current speed and/or acceleration.

        I use the term to describe Arsenal because I see NOTHING to suggest the club, manager or team is any different than in seasons past. We may change personnel and formations, but it’s all for the same results in the end analysis.

  4. Chambers non inclusion in the Sevilla game is interesting.. The only reason I can fathom is AW switched to a back 4 later in the game and that avoided the need for a CB substitution.

    If Sanchez stays, I think the pressing might improve as he is always the one who rallies his teammates to break the play.

    IMO, if Ramsey joins the attack, one of our wingbacks should hold back a little just to give an even distribution of 5v5 in the field between attack and defense.

    Seo seems set at LWB position, At RWB position, Both Bellerin’s offense and OX’s defense are worrying. Bellerin either doesn’t release the ball on time or chooses often the wrong option while OX is too soft as the player in the flank either cuts in or crosses easily. The manager got a real job in deciding between the two for that position.

  5. The Benfica game was pure madness, but I actually enjoyed the Sevilla game. Especially the first half. We did fall apart in the second half and I agree that Per looks poor right now. But his performance in the FA Cup final should say that he’s got the determination and ability to give us a few crucial performances. Prime option he is not.

    I disagree about Mustafi and (slightly less) about Gabriel. I’m also not sure it means the end for Chambers. Both he and Holding came back together and both played a half each in the first game. If he really were to be on his way out I’d expect him to be out of the squad entirely like Gibbs, Perez, Debuchy and Jenkinson were. We could have played Bielik or another young CB instead.

    While watching the game yesterday, I was surprised by how good Elneny looked at reading the danger. I haven’t watched the match again so I could be wrong, but he looked a lot better defensively than before and maybe having the game played in front of him helps him. He did have a poor clearing header which led to a shot but can’t remember anything otherwise terrible. In fact his tackle/interceptions saved us a few times.

    Agree about control in midfield though. We really need another ‘technical leader’ in there, though I expect Xhaka to be better by the time the season starts.

    • I think Mertesacker wasn’t that great in th4e FA Cup final. I know that’s a minority opinion but he looked ragged at times and impressed with a few key blocks. Other than that, I felt Arsenal probably should have lost the FA Cup final, but for the handball. I wonder if scoreline effects people’s perception of how well a player did in a match?

      • Scorelines definitely affect how a player’s performance is viewed. I agree he wasn’t as great as Martin Keown made it out to be. Whatever his flaws may have been, and whatever the referee decisions were (I’m not going to complain when it goes for us after all the stuff I’ve seen over the years) there is no denying that Mertesacker was a big part of why we won. He led by example and despite not having played the whole season, he came in determined to succeed.

        It helped that we had the lead instead of chasing one, especially with his lack of speed. But the fact is Per still has SOMETHING to offer. It might be more intangible, than actual skills, but he’s not a write off for the season. Or at least that’s my belief.

      • He was utterly magnificent on the day, not just in blocking… but reading, interception and leadership. The whole team turned up defensively, and Per set the tone.

        He won’t always play like that. If fact, at this stage of his career, he’ll play as he did in the pre-season more often than not.

        But take nothing away from him in that game. Per’s a great option from the bench, which is where he’ll be for most of the season.

  6. I think I agree with pretty much everything you have said. I really hope that we sign a good mid-fielder. That might help us finish fourth, which I believe is the best we can hope for under Wenger given our current squad and the opposition. I don’t think you can look too much into these games though. We had Joe Willock start in MF against Sevilla (the commentator on Arsenal.com called him Wilcock!) and he was schooled in that position by Ever Banega. Even Ramsey should have stopped and taken notes on how to be disciplined in that role but we all know Ramsey’s game now – bombing forward at every opportunity can work out well in cup competitions but gets found out over a 38 game season. I don’t think we can finish top 4 without a serious upgrade in MF but every Arsenal fan seems to understand our MF issues which probably means nothing will be done about it.

    I am finding it very hard to get excited about this season. As a matter of fact, I am full of dread. This is the first time in my 15 years of supporting Arsenal that I’m feeling this way. The club is at an inflection point and while the two early signings have been encouraging, I don’t think I can be completely at ease until the transfer window closes and I can clearly assess if we have set ourselves up properly for the season ahead.

  7. Hey Tim

    Thanks for the post. Some points of response:

    – I agree. For the first time in however long, I don’t think Arsenal have a chance at winning the league. Maybe this is a result of dropping out of the top 4 for the first time in ages, or seeing other teams strengthen, or even just look competent. I do think we have a strong change of finishing in the top 4 though, based on 3 things: 1. Spurs playing their home games at Wembley, after finishing 2nd off great home form. 2. Liverpool being Liverpool and not being as good as the media seem to think. 3. Man Utd not particularly strengthening either (up to 100m to replace and not improve on Zlatan) (Mourinho 2nd season aside).

    – Bizarrely, I’m actually excited about this season for something else: the Europa League. I stopped watching Champions League games for the most part a couple of season ago because it wasn’t worth getting all the channels just to see us play Dortmund and get humiliated later on in the round of 16. But this year will be different: new teams, the potential to progress all the way, and possibly see a heavily rotated squad. I’m looking forward to it.

    – We haven’t strengthened enough. Lacazette will hopefully improve us, as will Kolasinac (probably going forward – not sure how good a defender he is). But the flaws remain. Our midfield is a shambles. Elneny isn’t good enough at any one thing, Wilshere ditto, Coquelin’s failings are now self evident, Ramsey’s strength is getting into shooting positions and fluffing them. Xhaka looks a great talent but entirely unsuited to the role he’s asked to play. Distribute from deep in a 2 man midfield, where your partner is miles away? I don’t know.

    – The way to solve this is to sign that midfielder who does the role of 2 players. Keita seems that man but won’t come. He can defend as well as bring it forward, allowing Xhaka to distribute. Could Seri be that man? He may be Cazorla-ish, but would that work with Xhaka? If not we’re looking at Coquelin again. I just don’t see enough bodies in that central position.

    – He’s also made some bizarre – really bizarre – decisions. Letting Chesney go is the biggest one. Here you are, selling probably your best keeper for pennies, while happy to let the contracts of other bit part players go for nothing? Chesney gone. What about Chambers, who proved he is competent, and could probably play in a back 3? Looks to be out as well. Ospina content to stay and run down his contract. Wilshere is diminished, but if we could get 15-20m for him surely it’s better than paying his wages to sit in the treatment room? The list goes on. It’s disheartening.

    • Yep, yep yep. If ALL OF US can see what a shambles our midfield is, HOW can Wenger not see it?? I refuse to believe he’s the fool that so many pundits and fans believe he is, but increasingly the word ‘deluded’ doesn’t look so far-fetched…

  8. Consider me another person less excited by the season than I used to be. Part of that is, like you mentioned, a feeling that Arsenal’s days of exciting technical wizardry are in the past, part of it, you also touched on, is the feeling that we’ve had defensive issues for a while now (that were easier to ignore when we had significant strengths in other areas..see technical wizardry) and part of it is that sometimes I just feel I have a more positive relationship/experience with Arsenal when I’m not getting caught up in mostly the same arguments for months on end. Sometimes it’s fun but sometimes it’s not psychology positive at all.

    On Arsene’s comments regarding the contract situation, someone else mentioned that in the very short term there is an argument to be made that if the most important thing this year is to get back into the Champions League then having 2 or 3 of our most talented players playing for their future, even if it’s not for us, is one way of getting the best out of them (especially if they’re going anyway). Obviously, in the long term it’s more of an issue.

    I suppose we’re in the situation we’re in regarding those contracts, so I can understand Arsene trying to find the silver lining here and concentrating on that. Aren’t most of us thinking the same, ie if they’re going anyway at least they’re going to do their utmost to impress and get the move they want.

    I guess I find it easier to focus on the general sentiment he’s trying to express as opposed to focusing just on the word ‘ideal’, if only for the sake of my own sanity ha ha.

    I actually thought the more interesting thing he touched on was his belief that players running down their contracts is probably going to become more and more common. Transfer fees are getting more and more crazy and in some ways it makes sense that more clubs might prefer a player to run down their contract and then sign them on a free with a big signing on bonus. And maybe it might lead to some kind of compromise between players and clubs where players get their big paydays and in return when a player signs a 4 or 5 year contract they’ll be expected to honour it and not agitate for a move.

    • I (probably) understand where the “ideal” comments are coming from, but not where they are leading.
      Since it’s their last season, they will probably have to play good to prove themselves? I mean, Sanchez could just jog across the field, score 4-5 goals till December and then sign a pre-agreement with City.
      After that, his motivation will probably be not to get hurt. Same goes for the others. A couple of months will probably not influence the scouting and business decisions made by purchasing clubs long time ago.

      Overall, its been a long time since I had positive feelings towards the decisions and news coming from Arsen(al), and apart from the FA Cup, most of them are bordering on indifference, but comments like “ideal situation” really insult my intelligence.

      • Technicality, but he can’t SIGN a pre contract deal with City in January. Domestic clubs have to wait till 2 months before the contract runs out. Doesn’t change the gist of your argument though.

    • “I actually thought the more interesting thing he touched on was his belief that players running down their contracts is probably going to become more and more common.”

      I mentioned this on twitter the other day. Specifically, that players like Mbappe are going to look at Monaco getting £150m for his sale and wonder why they aren’t getting all of that money to them. I see a future where young players sign shorter deals and have cheaper release clauses. If a player does opt for security and has a blow out season, I see them run down their contracts and look for the big pay day. Like Alexis will do this year.

      Weird question, though, I wonder what will happen to Özil this summer? I honestly can’t see him getting a whopper of a deal from any club other than Arsenal. No one is going to cater to him the way Arsene does. I see him signing for us for one last deal. And I wonder how you all feel, has he been a bust? Have Arsenal failed him? Did he fail Arsenal? If he leaves next summer what will be the story of his time at Arsenal?

      • If he leaves, strange as it may sound, I will probably have fonder memories of Fabregas.

        Cesc may have left in bitter conditions, but I still get tingles when I remember his goal against AC Milan, the free kick he scored coming on as a sub, the game againat Barcelona etc.
        I mean, I know what Ozil represented and the fact that we won three FA Cups with him as a team member should be more relevant, but the euphoria I felt when he signed faded really quickly and hasn’t reignited since.

        Perhaps I had a more naive and less cynical view of Arsenal a decade ago and maybe I’m just worn out by all the same seasons we’ve had since forever, and you could argue Ozil consequently falls under the general sentiment, but still I believe I would feel more sad if Sanchez leaves than to see Ozil depart.

        • Comparing Fabregas in his Arsenal prime vs. Ozil, there’s no question for me that Fabregas was the better player. And you could give me all the stats comparisons you want, I would still say Fabregas was more influential.

          • No, I agree with you.
            But it’s just weird to think that even though Cesc left in such acrimonious conditions without ever winning anything, and here we have a World Cup winner who won 3 FA Cups with Arsenal, we are still remembering the first one in better light.

          • Fabregas I think won one FA Cup? I think 2005, he was in the starting line-up.

            Regardless, Fabregas has won way more than Ozil during the course of his career.

            Shoot, just talking about Cesc now, why not bring HIM back? He’d be content to play the Arteta holding role in midfield.

          • “Shoot, just talking about Cesc now, why not bring HIM back? He’d be content to play the Arteta holding role in midfield.”
            That’s madness! Fabregas’ departure from Arsenal led to half the dressing room revolting and the infamous mad trolley dash. He’s too much of a troublemaker, that’s why Wenger didn’t want him back. Also don’t forget Fabregas was involved in turning the Chelsea dressing room against Mourinho.

      • I won’t be sad at all to see Özil go. He is a luxury player and I think he is very replaceable. Not like for like obviously, but I think we’d be better off with a wide forward or another MF player who can score about 15 goals a season for us. We need more goals and more involvement from MF. Ramsey thinks he is that player but he isn’t. My fellow gooners may not like this comparison but Son, Alli and Eriksen combined to score 55 goals between them last season (55!). By contrast Ozil, Ramsey and Ox scored 22. Replace Ox with Theo, a forward, and that total is 33 – still well below. The point is, we need more production from the supporting cast.

      • I don’t think Ozil goes anywhere. You notice that there are no stories of Chelsea, City, Bayern or PSG lining up bids for Ozil, do you? He’s in his last year as well and outside of some Juventus interest, he’s pretty much been ignored. He will take the new deal but if I had to guess, he’ll get a pretty modest buy-out clause inserted, in case he does have the chance to leave.

      • My own personal feelings on Ozil’s time at the club has been that overall it’s been a positive. His signing was an important moment, he’s provided a lot of memorable moments, and his arrival coincided with us winning trophies again.

        When it comes to judgements about his demeanor, his workrate, the type of player he is, what should be expected of him, what the manager asks of him or whether his pros ultimately outweigh his cons, I think we all have a lot of different opinions on what is an isn’t acceptable from a player like Ozil.

        As for Arsenal failing him, on the one hand, like you say, is any other club going to give him the freedom he gets at Arsenal? Probably not.

        On the other hand, it does feel like someone like Ozil, a player who can be devastating offensively within a free role but isn’t overly concerned with defensive work, would come in for far less criticism in a more strictly organized team where he’s the only individualist and his weaknesses can be covered by the team.

      • I’ll be sad to see Ozil go. I watch the game for those little moments within that make me sit up and applaud. Ozil brings those moments. It’s also why I love Santi. It’s why I loved Pires and why Bergkamp is my all time favourite player. Henry and Alexis can be THE MAN.. and that’s good and important for a team. But they need the quiet, smooth assassin by their side and that’s the sort of guy I identify with.

        Ozil heralded the post Cesc age. That era was brilliant because there was a purity about it. But ultimately it ended in disappointment. Ozil may not be as influential or assertive as Cesc was, but he’s ensured that at worst his legacy leaves us wanting more than what he already brought. Ending the years without a trophy narrative, and smashing the myth about not spending. (even though that one refuses to die, just like we only buy kids continued even a few years after we bought Arteta and Per).

        I also think Ozil’s image is damaged by the hurt that Cesc (and RVP) caused. We are either unable, or refuse to see the big name, top class player who has grown to love our club. We just see a guy whose eccentricities are indulged and is using us as a matter of convenience because no one else wants him. It’s sad really, but maybe Ozil will sign up and stay with us long enough to see the return of the fun times, and challenge another set of ideas about Arsenal while doing so.

        • Well said. Count me as another in the Ozil fan club. We’ve got average players we could improve on all over the pitch; the last thing we need to do is focus on how we might improve/replace one of our best players.

          • Yeah that’s a fair point. I definitely don’t WANT Özil to leave while we are trying to improve on our average players. But if he left, I don’t think we would be feeling the effects of losing an influential player given his tendency to go missing for half the season or hide when things aren’t going well (provided of course we replace him with another world class, which I realize is a big if). I can appreciate the little things he does as much as Shard (and Bergkamp is still my favorite Arsenal player of all time as well) but I think we would be much better off with someone who influences the game more regularly. Funny thing is I own both Özil and Ramsey jerseys – and those two players are the ones I tend to unload on the most. So perhaps I have some kind of reverse bias thing going here.

        • Yeah, I agree with that as well Shard.

          Since Ozil came to the club he’s displayed a fondness and respect for the club that seems genuine. That goes a long way with me.

          And even though he has an individualistic style, i’ve always felt he sees his game and his purpose as being in support of the team as opposed to personal glory, sometimes even to his own detriment.

          He’s a very unique kind of player in that he’s kind of on the fringes and in and out of games but everything he does is for the team.

  9. I think I agree with pretty much everything you have said. I really hope that we sign a good mid-fielder. That might help us finish fourth, which I believe is the best we can hope for under Wenger given our current squad and the opposition. I don’t think you can look too much into these games though. We had Joe Willock start in MF against Sevilla (the commentator on Arsenal.com called him Wilcock!) and he was schooled in that position by Ever Banega. Even Ramsey should have stopped and taken notes on how to be disciplined in that role but we all know Ramsey’s game now – bombing forward at every opportunity can work out well in cup competitions but gets found out over a 38 game season. I don’t think we can finish top 4 without a serious upgrade in MF but every Arsenal fan seems to understand our MF issues which probably means nothing will be done about it.

    I am finding it very hard to get excited about this season. As a matter of fact, I am full of dread. This is the first time in my 15 years of supporting Arsenal that I’m feeling this way. The club is at an inflection point and while the two early signings have been encouraging, I don’t think I can be completely at ease until the transfer window closes and I can clearly assess if we have set ourselves up properly for the season ahead.

  10. While I don’t want Mo to play as a CB, I don’t think he played well. I couldn’t figure out why Wenger would bother, but he cleared it up, ‘I wanted to give him competition as well. I have many midfielders, but overall I don’t think in the future he will be a centre-back.’ My hope is that his few days as a CB will help his overall game. Not playing Chambers first is really strange though.

    In regards to players going to the end of their contracts, maybe if all players acted professionally that would mean as a club you wouldn’t need to renew contracts midway during the contract. Maybe it really is ideal that a player fulfills his contractual obligation before being rewarded with a better deal.

    • I watched parts of the game and I have this theory that Elneny is going to be our defensive midfielder for this season, or the famous “internal solution”, as Wenger likes to phrase it.

      In my opinion, the reason he was being played at CB is to help him build the aggressiveness needed as a DM which he lacks at the moment in his current Tall Denilson impression.

      • Yeah, exactly (I said much the same thing on here before I read your comment). Now, I’m very dubious about this strategy, but at least it sorta makes sense of AW playing him at CB…

  11. I really don’t understand why all of you think not playing Chambers was so weird. I mean any more weird than not playing Holding. Both went to the U21s in the summer and came back together. Both played 45 mins in the first game.

    I think it’s much more likely that it is simply about preparation. Of course maybe Chambers will be sold, but I don’t think it will be anything to do with his Emirates Cup playing time. Rather, him being in the squad when others expected to leave were not, suggests he’s staying.

  12. I’m disappointed with our formation switch too, If im honest. Switching could give us flexibility – different formations for different opponents. Keep them guessing. But it looks like we’ll switch and stick to it, becoming predictable again.

  13. Hey Tim, I read your blog all the time. I think you have really insightful analysis, and I particularly love your by the numbers series on Arseblog News. I’m bummed you’ve become so disillusioned with Arsenal lately. I get it. The team has certainly disappointed over the last few years. Every season does seem to feel like groundhog day, but I’m still having fun rooting for the boys in red and white. I hope the team exceeds your expectations this season, and I also hope you find your joy again. Keep up the good work.

  14. Both Chambers and Holding just got back to training last week and having played on Saturday weren’t going to be risked to play on Sunday and with Mustafi only back for his first training session on the Sunday he obviously couldn’t play either. Elneny was only played as CB because of the need.

    It is Interesting that suddenly Elneny has gone from a safe/limited passer to a great incisive passer. Now it’s just defensive awareness, tenacity, power and physical strength in challenges that needs to discovered and we wouldn’t need to sign a world class midfielder. The midfield was so much better in possession for his presence on Saturday it’s a real pity that the above is such a remote possibility.

    • As a fellow Arab I’ve wanted Elneny to excel, but I seem less convinced about him than most.

      Football is 11 v 11. You can’t replace one excellent player with 2 good ones, because of that constraint. That’s the biggest problem with our midfield – nobody is excellent, and the one player you do want to see there doesn’t work (I think) in a midfield two. Xhaka isn’t penetrative and he’s not defensive. He’s tidy and has a great long pass. But he isn’t a technical wizard, a defensive beast, or a dribbling maestro. He works alongside two players as an option to break down the ranks. Alone, I don’t see it working. So if you want to play him in MF, you want a player that can play the role of 2 of those listed. Maybe a Kante, to free him, but more likely a box to box. How many are available? How many are we in the market for?

      • Didn’t Xhaka play in a midfield two at Gladbach? Naby Keita and Granit Xhaka would be a match made in midfield heaven. There are probably others too (e.g. someone like Arturo Vidal, but ideally with better close control), but I take your point: Xhaka’s weaknesses are defensive (mobility, quickness, slide tackling) AND offensive (mobility, quickness, dribbling), even if I don’t think he’s as limited as you make him out to be. So we need a player beside him who contributes both offensively and defensively, and none of our other guys really do this. Maybe Jack Wilshere will come back like a beast with a huge chip on his shoulder, snapping into tackles and bursting through defensive lines like it’s 2011. Or maybe all aspects of Elneny’s game will blossom now that he’s adapted to England and in particular he’ll toughen up defensively. Or maybe Aaron Ramsey will stop trying to be Frank Lampard in his cherry-picking prime and try instead to be Roy Keane in his lung-busting box-to-box prime. Otherwise, we need to pay a lot of money towards a new recruit or we’re in big trouble.

        • Agree – I like Xhaka, and perhaps I’m being a little unfair. I think it can work, with the right player.

          I would love Jack to come back with a chip on his shoulder. I thought he was that player – 8 years ago. Somewhere along the way though, it looks like the fire might have gone out? Maybe it was when he was built as the next Mr. Arsenal. Even before he went on loan there seemed to be a sense of entitlement, that he took it as given he would captain Arsenal one day. Perhaps being told to go out on loan was a shock. If he had the fight, he would have refused and won his place back. Or at least challenged himself and gone abroad (was it Roma that wanted him)? And it didn’t take long for him to make noises about leaving. I’d love him to prove me wrong though. Because he has/had that skillset that we need. It needed refinement and it doesn’t look like he’s improved in years, but the potential was always there.

        • Yeah, they played a kind of 4-4-1-1 at Gladbach but the setup was different. First of all he had a defensively minded runner in Kramer beside him and they played deeper to start with. Also the two in front of them did a lot of running and closing off. Gladbach was basically a counterattack team.

  15. Having seen all the preseason games coupled with our summer business, I also foresee a horror show of a season tbh. We’ll be competing with Everton for 6th imo.

    – Europa will be difficult for our reserves because they are average. I don’t think domestic cups will be easy as well. The Manchester clubs have good 2nd teams and will fare better, esp the Carling Cup.

    – Lacazette will struggle because we dont pass the ball early and accurately in the final third to take advantage of his runs and great positioning. I did notice he isn’t that great with the ball at his feet like Aguero for instance. That will frustrate when he drops deeper.

    – We also still don’t shoot outside the box which means teams don’t have to leave their defensive positions to close down therefore denying us a chance to play penetrative passes into their box.

    – We have too many wannabe heroes in our team and not enough team players. For above average attacking players, Iwobi, Ramsey, Ox, Elneny, Walcott don’t contribute enough defensively for my liking. Without a CM signing (Gonalons?) we should brace ourselves for more upsets than great perfomances.

    – I suggested we go for a CB; Benatia (before Juve exercised their option to permanently sign) and Caceres (LB RB CB free agent) to get more experience into the team but one or to commentors felt we had enough defenders in Per, Chambers, Holding, Kos (archilles problem), Mustafi, Monreal, Kolasinac, Gibbs, Bellerin. Debuchy and Jenks look to be out the door.

    – Signing Benatia and Caceres would have been huge for our defence and shaved 15-20 goals and put us in a position to let go of Gibbs, Jenks, Debuchy and Per without having to rely on young defenders (Holding and Chambers) or injury plagued Kos.

    Going into the season as is, I wouldnt be surprised if we end up conceiding the most goals out of the traditional top 6 again.

  16. On a relatively side note, Manchester United just signed Matic.
    Now, he may not be the best DM in the world, but he is a very very good addition to a squad which is already quite solid. Add Lukaku and the famous “Jose second season” factor and the chances are high United are not finishing sixth again.

    So, worst case scenario, they finish 5th, which is where we ended up.
    And if 5th place is occupied, that leaves us with either moving up or down, and for Arsenal to finish 4th (I’m not even dreaming of a higher position at the moment), we need a serious slip from some of the other teams.

    Otherwise, we mathematically end up 6th or lower, depending probably on Everton.

    • ManCity, ManU and Chelsea (In that order I think) are title favourites as per me.
      We ought to finish ahead of Spurs because I don’t think they’re going to be as good this year. Liverpool is a question mark. They have the potential to be good but they tend to stumble. Maybe they again make top 4 at our expense but I’d back us to finish ahead of them.

      As ever, we are likely to be fighting Spurs and Liverpool for our place in the hierarchy. Everton…I mean I get it, but my feeling is it’s too soon for them. They’ll be a spoiler for the teams ahead of them though.

      Despite that, I can’t look upon a new season and not be excited. I’ve been watching for 20 years and I have enjoyed the journey every year. I’m looking forward to this season and I’ll be hoping we can win every game, or at least that we play as well as we can. (and pray that the refs don’t ruin games)

        • That’s fine. Sorry if it appeared that I was implying you weren’t excited. That wasn’t my intention. I was only talking about myself and how regardless of where we might end up, I’m always excited to watch us play.

      • Mourinho’s best season is usually his second.

        As of July 31st I think

        1) Utd
        2) Chelsea
        3) City
        4) Spurs
        5) Liverpool
        6) Arsenal
        7) Everton

        We slip another spot. Cue the fan base fury.

        • Jack, I think this is exactly the way things are at the moment. Though I would probably switch Chelsea and City. Arsenal is very much looking like the 6th best team.

          • Other than the “Mourinho’s second season” thing, I don’t quite see why United should be anywhere close to title favorites. Frankly, I just don’t think their squad is very good–good players, sure, but not ones that Mourinho looks to be getting the best of and not really more than the sum of their parts–and Mourinho’s negative tactics, if not entirely obsolete, certainly aren’t as effective as they were a decade ago.

            City have overwhelmingly the best attack and creative midfield, and should win the league at a canter if their defense can be solid (a big ‘if’, at present, contingent on Kompany staying fit and their new keeper being less crap than their old one). Otherwise, I see no reason why Conte’s Chelsea can’t repeat, or a very good, still young Spurs side go one better (though, like many other Gooners, I’m being optimistic and thinking that this is the year they get found out, what with the big Wembley pitch and the thin squad).

            As things stand, I think we have a good chance for third or fourth, but could just as easily finish sixth (no lower–if we finish behind a hugely overrated Everton, I’ll eat my hat).

          • PS I also don’t think City have sufficient cover for Fernandinho, but of course they could buy another midfielder before the end of the window, as well as a top quality CB.

      • Mourinho has assembled a team of bullies who will be dominating games with their physical presence. I expect them to concede lesser goals given Mou’s tactics and scoring a lot from direct play as well as long shots with Matic and Pogba in mid field. They look a complete team with apt cover in each position.

        For City, they have the best offense hands down. Moreover, they will occupy space well under Guardiola and have clever passers of the ball. A complete masterclass in possession.

        Chelsea will be better but, may struggle if they suffer injuries to either Hazard or, Morata. Will be ones to watch.

        Arsenal need to focus on their strengths and the players they have. The only strength I see now is speed on the counter. Something Leicester did very well two seasons back. With Ox, Walcott, Welbeck, Lacazette, Bellerin & Sanchez, they may have the ingredients to do that, only time will tell.

  17. Off Topic, but Where is Szczesny? I can’t claim to have watched every Juventus game, but whatever I have seen of their pre season, there’s Buffon or some other dude in goal but no Szczesny. Is he still on holiday or injured or something?

  18. Thanks for a great post. Very much so, the excitement is gone. The joy and lust of being an Arsenal FC fan is slowly vanishing..

    It feels like we’re more and more a Kroenke Enterprise and less Arsenal FC and I can’t help but losing interest.

    But still I find myself watching preseason games and following the transfer market. I don’t know if it’s old habits or a contradiction?

  19. Why are we ought to finish above spurs? In the last few NLDs they have been giving us problems in those games and should be on to take 4 points from our encounters again this season.

    The above applies to Liverpool and Man U as well. We couldnt even do the double over the weakest united sides in recent memory. Liverpool up their game against us to the point that I would be happy with a win-loss against them.

    Being optimistic is fine but to pretend we are superior to these teams is setting yourself up for dissapointment

    • And I can handle disappointment. Aim high and fail is how I approach life I guess.

      Why I think Spurs will struggle is because I don’t think they’ll deal as well with their new home stadium, and that the realities of their financial situation will start to hit them. Like it hit us. Not just in being able to bring in talent, but also with their own talent starting to question their futures there. I don’t think they’ll be as up for the fight as they’ve been the past few years, where to be honest, they have also crumbled under pressure. Add in my hope that they’ll stop getting away with foul play and diving and I think they might find it harder this season.

      Liverpool as I said are up and down. They tend to stumble when you expect them to win. They are riding a tide of good feelings after getting back into the CL, and as such they might get in ahead of us again. But I think we’re the better side in terms of talent and I’d expect us to finish ahead of them. It’s close though.

      • totally disagree with you on tottenham. there is absolutely no evidence that supports your beliefs that they’ll struggle this season. they were winning away from home so stadia is not a factor. likewise, their players are not questioning their futures. those kids know they’re on an exciting young team and are relishing the moment. no one is looking to leave tottenham. if not for the brilliance of cesc fabregas for chelsea last season, tottenham would be the reigning bpl champions.

        • So ifs and buts are allowed for Spurs? Stadium not being an issue is a weird statement to make. Why do all professional sports tend to measure home and away form as a distinct category if it didn’t matter. Spurs won 17 games at home and 9 away. Spurs also tried to get special dispensation to reduce the pitch size at Wembley to the WHL dimensions, which was rightly denied, meaning their pressing will need to cover a larger area and take more out of them physically. They’ll also not be throwing away Europe now that they are in the CL. Diving is up for post facto review. Maybe they’ll stop diving, or maybe the wonderful refs body still won’t punish them for it, but it could have an impact if you look at a couple of the pens they won last season.

          The rumours around Eric Dier moving away and Vertonghen not signing a new deal yet, and the sale of Walker. Sure, it doesn’t look like much, and maybe they’ll all stay there for their prime years. But we’ve been through this with Arsenal and if Cesc and RVP could leave in the manner he did, then so can Kane and Alli. Our 2007-08 young team was super exciting and would have been champions if not for the terrible referees in England. We’ll see how the Spurs end up and while it is also what I wish, it is not entirely wishful thinking it could happen to them too (Minus the refs part of course)

  20. The year I started following Arsenal, we finished 5th. It was just two years removed from 16th and 17th place finishes. Since 77-78, I’ve been spoiled. Even pre-Wenger we were as likely to finish top four (not that it mattered) as outside. 12th is the lowest finish, and only two in double digits (a10th as well). I am excited every season, irrespective of whether we have a chance at 1st or mid-table. You are right Tim, in that we are a bit short, even without CL football, and we are neglectful in the defensive aspect of the game. I am still excited though.

  21. There’s a kind of alchemy that happens after we’ve stumbled through our first couple games of the season. Last year it led to the 19-game unbeaten run. But from the moment Wenger’s new contract was announced I suspected we’d end up back here. Agree with every word of Tim’s post – that Sevilla game was like a long cold shower.

    Banega, Ganso and N’zonzi absolutely schooled us in the art of keeping possession, but it was 34-year old Michael Krohn-Dehli’s performance that really impressed me. Constantly in motion, immaculate first touch, always knew where the closest Sevilla player was, and made sure to draw an Arsenal defender before playing a simple pass to a teammate. All it takes it one weak link to break a spell of possession and Sevilla’s interplay underlined how in the modern game, keeping possession beats being forced into making tackles. By contrast too many of our guys:

    1) don’t move well enough to create angles for teammates
    2) take too long getting the ball under control or turning away from a pressing defender and
    3) in the process, miss the attacking runs of teammates.

    Lacazette can score 30+ league goals this season but if we don’t fix our possession game he’ll end up with regular Giroud numbers of 10-15 goals (Ghost Gooner nails why in his post above). Not taking names this early but I don’t want to see any Arsenal attackers on the pitch who cannot combine with him. We might as well flush that record transfer fee down the drain.

    The transfer window is just a distraction now – no amount of signings will change the way we play as a team. We need to be drilled, drilled, drilled. Wenger probably knows Elneny is his best possession player and wants to work him into the line-up but like that Arsene? That training ground alchemy can still happen and if it does we could be devastating. But there were too many flashbacks to last season for my liking.

    • yep, agree with this, which is why I’m suddenly coming around to getting a skillful possession player like Jean Seri in if we can, even if he turns out to be no good defensively (not like we’re defensively solid with Ramsey in there in his stead, anyway). not saying it would be the perfect fit or solve all our problems, just that it would be better than what we’ve got at the moment.

    • I am half way through making up mind to join the ‘Sell Ramsey’ club. He is simply not a mid fielder. You can play him in the front 2 in a 3-4-2-1 formation but, not in the center mid option.

      These players need to be drilled, a back 3 protected by 2 defensive mids needs to happen at all times during a game.

  22. A few obs, post pre-season…

    (1) Trump appoints Wenger Chief of Staff, and Scaramucci is celebrating his 3 year anniversary in 2020. Just saying. Unsuitable and a round peg in a round hole are such quaint concepts at AFC. The Elneny experiment is discouraging, because, even though he has since said that the Egyptian is not a central defender, Arsene’s experiments always see the light of day somehow. Clearly Elneny is being lined up as the deputy to Xhaka and Coquelin. And here we are, the gooner nation thinking to a man and woman (on this blog, others, every vlog, podcast and YouTube) that we need central midfield competition and cover for Ramsey and Xhaka. My Wengerology has got better over the years. We are not strengthening in central midfield, folks.

    (2) We have good numbers at CB, and don’t really need to buy there. Keep Chambers, who can also play right wingback. I wouldn’t worry about BFG. He’s about fourth choice there now, and you ARE going to have a dimunition in quality as you go deeper into the bench.

    (3) I’m mystified about the brinkmanship from Oxlade, who clearly isn’t in the Sanchez and Ozil bracket, much as he has improved. I can understand Sanchez being held to his contract, but 3 key players? That’s inviting anarchy. Sell the Ox if he doesn’t sign.

    (4) Shout out to the much shat-upon Theo Walcott, who was terrific on Saturday. The best we’ve looked in the pre-season is with a little and large front two of Giroud and Walcott. That is a hugely encouraging option, to tweak games tactically. It occurs to me that Lacazette isn’t really competition for Giroud (their skillsets are night and day) — he’s an upgrade on Theo, and cover for Sanchez. No one at Arsenal does centre forward link play as well as Giroud, which is both good and bad in that we should have upgraded on him with someone in the Diego Costa/Alvaro Morata mould long ago. Welbeck’s miss/scuff on Sunday was something, wasn’t it?

    • Not a chance our defence is any good. Kos is perma crocked and needs special care just to get on the field.

      Without him the rest of our CBs are average

    • Based on preseason sharpness, Theo should definitely start alongside Giroud and Ox. All 3 have had a full month of preparation and look in good shape.

      The back 3 will be a problem with Kos suspended for the season opener. Holding and Chambers need to be tied down to 6 year contracts. Both are extremely good and fulfill the English quota.

  23. 1. I wouldn’t read too much into Elneny at CB. He is now in the shop window and he needs to play to get milleage. We are short at the back, and it is clear to me that Wenger is experimenting with mid combinations. If we can’t sell him, at least the experience will make him a better defender in case he needs to step in for Xhaka. Not like Xhaka is a great defender but he worked well in this formation too.

    2. The new 3 at the back formation is a direct style, similar to the styles when we lost Fabregas. Either build from the sides or hit it up top with an accurate long ball. I don’t think keeping the ball is now a piority unlike the 4-2-3-1 with Carzola-Coquelin pivot. The attacking in the final can still be intricate but there is none of that beautiful build up.

    3. Good thing is, I think Giroud can play in this back 3 direct style as long as he has midfield runners.

  24. Lacazette is not “a dominant goal-scorer, someone who demands the ball”, fans are going to be very disappointed if they expect him to be that. He’s someone who drifts into space and strikes when his opponents don’t expect him to, essentially a French Defoe. What you saw with him and Welbeck is the model of how we can get the best out of Lacazette, the assumption here is that Sanchez will be the one to play the Welbeck role.

  25. Good article. I agree, berating fellow fans isn’t really going to achieve anything. Like you Tim, I haven’t seen anything worthwhile in the preseason to get too excited. I am banking on Kolasinac to come good as the season goes. At least shore up one side of the pitch.

    The mid field & defense needs to be planned & trained carefully. Something, the club have yet again failed to do. A lot of it may come from the fact that the Arsenal team has been undermined in front of the world and we are unable to off load players who clearly do not fit the first team stature.

    Problems seem abundant for Arsenal right now. I really hope they buy a decent mid fielder who can shield the defense and start attacks by either finding a clever pass or, dribbling with the ball ahead. The funny thing is its not like there aren’t options.

    As per the latest Guardian article, if the Neymar transfer goes through, then there will be a number of departures from PSG. In the recent past, AW has jumped on such bargain sales such as Ozil & Alexis. Most notably, if AW can pursue someone like Matuidi to join the team, it will provide stability and quality in mid field. Again, it all depends on how much Arsenal can get from their fringe players, if they can sell them. Not from a financial pov but, from the quota of foreign players we can keep.

    Also, having 6 players leave on a free next summer makes absolutely no sense. Getting some amount for each of them would be the ideal solution. I am hoping for a miracle and some serious transfer business to happen as we count down to the season opener.

  26. You brought it up earlier Tim, and I’d be interested in your own take on Ozil’s time at the club. If you consider his time at Arsenal a disappointment, how much of that do you think is down to Ozil and how much of that is down to Arsenal? He certainly seemed highly regarded before he arrived.

  27. Read this yesterday and agree with much of the sentiment. Natural optimism has me feeling that the midfield could yet click, which it needs to as both defence and attack depend on it. I’m hoping for good, attractive, inspiring football first and foremost, results come later.

    I’ve been Arsenal since I was five, which makes it 35 years a gooner. I also lived 15 years in Brighton and saw them when they were homeless, fielding 16 year old local kids and 35 year-old journeymen, and only survived as a club by the skin of their teeth and the dedication of local supporters. In the light of their story, I am even more turned off than usual by all the summer stories of obscene wage demands and transfer fees for over-entitled prima donnas and contract rebels. I am more excited about Brighton in the Premier League than I am about Arsenal this year, which is a total first for me.

  28. I may threaten to troll this site with Brighton-related comments all season. I think you should all have them as your second team.

    • I started liking Brighton when we played them in the FA Cup a few years ago. I thought they played good football and reading a little about them I felt they had a good, responsible take on running the club. I was rooting for them to win promotion a year before. I’m not ready to call them my second team, but they’re certainly one of the teams I have a soft spot for. (Just as long as they don’t harm Arsenal)

      Side note: In my Football Manager game I got a job at Brighton, got them promotion and currently have them in the top 10 🙂

  29. tim, disagree with your assessment of lacazette. it’s not that he’s no good with the ball. it’s that he can’t keep the ball as a lone center forward against good defenders. likewise, i believe he is a replacement of alexis, albeit a stepdown.

    arsenal’s biggest problem right now is this formation. sure, arsenal went on a run to win nearly all of their games at the end of the season. however, i think wenger only made the change because he was desperate. i also believe he really doesn’t understand this formation.

    the biggest weakness of this formation is that it only has two center midfielders. most teams in world football play with 3, meaning arsenal will often be outnumbered in midfield. this is one of the reasons they struggle to win the ball back after losing possession. the only teams i see play with 2 center mids and have success are counter-attacking teams like leicester city or atletico madrid. the problem is counter-attacking teams aren’t typically top heavy; they tend to run a 4-4-2, instead of playing with two strikers and a center forward like arsenal. for arsenal to have success in this formation, they need vieira and petit in center mid. problem is they don’t have vieira or petit. they do have coquelin. frank is the best two-way player at arsenal and he’s looked the sharpest of all the arsenal players this pre-season. but he needs help.

    the best option i see is the same one i gave a couple of weeks ago. that is drop the center forward for an additional center mid and simply play with two strikers. that’s a 3-5-2, ala juventus. you get to keep your back three, you’re no longer outnumber in midfield, and you don’t need someone who knows how to play center forward. 3-4-3 is suicidal.

    • From what I have seen I think that Lacazette and Sanchez are very different players.

      Sanchez comes deep to pick up the ball and loves to turn and face the opponent with the ball at his feet. From there he is all high risk attack and is either trying to score or put someone he trusts directly through on goal. He doesn’t try to play any simple link or possession football and he only makes direct runs toward goal when the ball is already highly advanced up the pitch. With Sanchez you get goals and assists and pure attack from deep positions.

      Lacazette likes to play as high as possible up the pitch and looks to get in behind and make runs that pull defenders with him to aid teammates and he is always trying to get himself free in and around the box to score. In contrast to Sanchez who is a deep playmaking attacker/striker Lacazette is a central striker that plays as high up the pitch as possible. He does link when necessary and is reasonably capable with the ball but it’s not his number one strength and he is a player looking to make runs and find space to receive the ball to score more than doing any playmaking himself like Sanchez.

      I agree that an extra man in midfield would be great for balance but I think the accommodation of both Ozil and Sanchez in the starting 11 means we are more likely to see them both given free roles again as forwards in a highly attack minded 3/4/3. It’s going to be exciting to watch and it’s going to be exciting at both ends of the pitch.

      Almost time to sit back and have fun watching the chaos again. I can’t change it so I may as well make the most of it and just enjoy the crazy ride.

      • i totally understand that they are different players and what those differences are. my point is to highlight the best position for lacazette to play. understand, i’m comparing lacazette playing where alexis plays to where giroud plays. the runs in behind that he found success with against ajacio or dijon are going to be significantly reduced against bpl teams with him playing as a lone center forward. as a striker, however, he’s more likely to lose defenders preoccupied with giroud and that’s how he’ll get behind defenses. it’s not like lacazette has the size, strength, and speed of anelka, adebayor, or henry. that’s just my opinion. we’l see.

        • Ok I see what you mean. A second striker but nothing like Sanchez who because he comes so deep is far more of an attacking midfielder than a striker. He doesn’t play anywhere near Giroud. Walcott has shown how it is done. I see your point is more about playing Lacazette off a traditional target man and seeing if he can play the Griezmann to Giroud. He has been playing as the focal point of attack at Lyon for many years now and his game hasn’t been as a second striker. Just because it’s not how he has played in the past doesn’t mean he can’t be converted but his strengths and experience are as a mobile type CF playing high and central as the focal point in a totally different style to playing beside a big man. Plan A must surely be to play to his strengths and see how he adapts to the team and the Premier League before thrusting him into an unfamiliar role playing off Giroud which would also require dropping Sanchez or moving him back to midfield where possession suffers further and the inevitable turnovers his high risk style brings bigger problems.

          If we are going to play 3 forwards then one of them needs to be Ozil or Iwobi to help out the midfield with possession. If we are playing a top 2 one of them really needs to be our best player Sanchez but he seems unwilling to play off Giroud and seems to enjoy playing with the more mobile Welbeck which hopefully for the teams success translates to the similar (as far as running and mobility) style of Laca.

    • Josh,
      Thanks for offering your thoughtful take on things, but there are a few points I have to briefly disagree with (we’ve had the debate about Lacazette at CF before, so I won’t revisit it now).

      1. Arsenal’s biggest problem right now is most certainly not the formation. This is not to say that the formation is the solution to all our problems, or even that it’s any good at all. But the personnel and coaching are seriously defective and the formation is secondary to these issues, I think.

      2. I don’t think the two players supporting the CF in the 3-4-3 are really “strikers” so much as “inside forwards,” i.e. basically dual roaming number 10’s positioned slightly wider than a typical number 10. Certainly that’s the way Alexis and Ozil were playing in most of the games near the tail end of the last season (there was one game I remember Alexis playing very wide as basically an out and out winger, but that wasn’t the norm). In that case, we don’t need to be overrun in midfield necessarily, since the midfield two becomes a four, in a “box” shape. Of course, it would still be helpful if both CM’s were physically strong, defensively disciplined, and technically excellent. Now if Wenger is going to insist on playing the likes of Theo and Welbeck in those wide forward positions, then they become more like strikers/wingers (and he could just choose to make this transition explicit by inverting the three and playing Ozil behind a front two in a 3-5-2 shape, as you suggest). But if any two of Ozil, Alexis, Iwobi, Ramsey (maybe Ox or Wilshere?), or Lemar/Mahrez are playing in those two positions, then we shouldn’t be dominated in midfield due to sheer lack of numbers (lack of skill/physicality/nous is another matter…).

      • i agree the formation is not the biggest problem but i do believe changing the formation is the best solution. it’s more practical than expecting wenger to suddenly become a good coach or expecting this fabulous center mid to come in. even if arsenal were to sign this mythical midfield player, the midfield would still struggle as they would still be outnumbered, not to mention the limitations of said player’s midfield partner.

  30. I’m with Eric – one of the reasons to look forward to the new season is more ‘by the numbers’ posts, which never fail to illuminate the action (and clarify where we’re going wrong!).
    So please don’t go losing your mojo Tim, just recalibrate your expectations.
    If we have a run in the domestic cups, and a crack at winning the Europa, flattering to deceive along the way with the occasional knock out performance, and more goals scored than last season, then I’m a happy man (again).
    It’s the hope that kills and, even as one of his fans, I don’t think anyone expected Arsene to become sufficiently ruthless and pragmatic to transform the team into title contenders. The indulgence of Ozil and Sanchez is symptomatic of that and the prospect of watching them run down their contracts, with increasingly half hearted performances as the season goes on, is the only cloud on my horizon.
    Otherwise, bring it on! We’re the famous Arsenal and we’re going to Wemberlee!

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