Real football returns as Arsene looks to gun down the Moose

Weird fact that you probably don’t know: Arsenal and Watford train at adjacent fields which are both just 23 minutes North of Watford’s stadium on Vicarage Road.

Weird second fact you may not know: if Alexis and Ozil don’t play tomorrow, I can’t see Arsenal getting three points from this match.

Much of what will have me worried about tomorrow’s fixture is the health of the Arsenal team. Mustafi, Monreal, Koscielny, Kolasinac, and Ramsey have been Arsenal’s top 5 best players this season according to WhoScored.com. Below them, Lacazette, Cech, Sanchez, Welbeck, and Xhaka. That is the order that these players are rated by WhoScored’s metric and Xhaka’s rating has dipped well below 7, which is awful for a starting center mid. Of those ten best Arsenal players, only 5 are ready to start with no issues (Monreal, Ramsey, Lacazette, Cech, and Xhaka) with two of them certainly out (Mustafi and Kolasinac) and three of them being rushed back under uncertain circumstances (Koscielny, Sanchez, and Welbeck). This is a less than ideal squad setup.

That said, it is a chance for Ozil (who could also be rushed back) along with Iwobi and Bellerin to pick up the slack and give this team a chance. That said, I see a starting lineup of:

Cech : Bellerin – Holding – Mertesacker – Monreal : Walcott – Ramsey – Xhaka – Iwobi : Ozil – Lacazette

Despite the short drive for both teams from training ground to stadium, this will be a home game for Watford and using my predicted lineup, my model gives them the advantage. If Alexis starts, Arsenal have the advantage. It’s that simple, really.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that this Watford side is a terrible mid-table team. Watford have scored as many goals as Arsenal (11) and created 12 big chances this season (tied for 7th with Spurs). More important, they have created 3 big chances against Liverpool and 2 against City – they know how to play against top teams and aren’t afraid to take the game at their opponents – even if they only took one point from those two matches.

Their top two threats are the Brazilian Richarlison and Mali center mid, Abdoulaye Doucoure. Both players have scored 3 goals already this season.

Watford are overperforming according to my expected goals model by three goals (on offense). This is down almost entirely to the fact that they have scored 4 goals from outside the 18 yard box – more than any other team.

Where Arsenal could find some joy is that Watford are tied with Crystal Palace for the most shots allowed in prime with 32 and have allowed a further 13 big chances (6th worst, one less than 5th worst Liverpool). This is Arsenal’s attacking sweet spot: Wenger’s teams are very patient with their shots and wait until they can get one in a dangerous position rather than letting rip from 80 yards like Liverpool. If Arsenal can get the ball to Lacazette, through the Arsenal midfield, which will be pressed by the likes of Capoue and Doucoure, then Arsenal could win this game. If Arsenal can’t move the ball up field – watch to see if Watford force Arsenal’s center backs to play the ball, Holding and Mertesacker could be a major liability – this will almost certainly be a predictable loss for the Gunners.

Watford have an expected goals against average of 12.23 and have allowed 12 goals this season. They are vulnerable at the back, the question, then is can Arsenal exploit that given their injuries and lack of form.

Qq

Source: Whoscored.com, my personal database

Ed. Note: I know it’s a hart and not a moose on the Watford crest, but it looks so much like Bullwinkle J. Moose that it could have graduated from Wossamotta U. and be mayor of Moosylvania.

35 comments

  1. Not surprised by Xhaka’s rating, he has easily been our worst performing CM since the season began. Luckily for him, we have so many other issues everywhere else that it hasn’t become a major talking point yet. I hope he turns it around soon.

    Do you really think we’ll line up in a 4-4-2 with Theo and Iwobi as wingers? I don’t think that’s gonna happen. We are not shifting away from our 3-4-3 unless we go through a stretch of games where we are drop points. Wenger hardly ever changes formation even if that’s best suited for the players he has available. Rather, he will play players out of position if necessary to play in the formation he wants. It will be a 3-4-3. No idea who he will go with though. I think there will be some late fitness tests.

    1. I had him down as 100% out when I wrote this. Since then he has participated in training. So, I’m putting this down as “100% chance he’ll play and get injured.”

        1. Good thing his only viable replacement is now a crucial member of our back three (and we sold one of our senior centre backs in the summer without bringing in a replacement, so as to ensure we’d be short in that area two months into the season).

  2. NYCGunner’s right: it’s definitely going to be 3-4-3.
    Cech
    Holding, Kos (probably, though maybe Per), Nacho
    Bellerin, Ramsey, Xhaka, Kola
    Ozil (probably, though maybe Iwobi), Sanchez
    Lacazette

    1. Ronay is a better writer than analyst.
      Ozil has very clearly adapted his game, it just hasn’t worked out because the team structure is flawed.
      First Ozil has added muscle and toughness, not enough, perhaps and certainly not the kind we want (defensive), but he doesn’t go down nearly as easily as he used to.
      Second Ozil added a bit of scoring to his game. Again, he’s not quite what we want, he doesn’t have the predatory instinct of Sanchez or the clinical finishing of Laca, but he makes runs, gets on the end of balls and makes shots.
      A better, more organized team would sing with Ozil. Or rather, our team, when full strength and in good form used to sing with Ozil. But we were bizarrely fragile and when Santi went down we never successfully adapted.

  3. Not really surprised by this loss. A couple of posts ago I said Silva would have been a great fit for us. To which another poster ignorant as to who Silva is disagreed, I think tonight showed Wenger has little to offer and we need a hungry young manager.

  4. Not trying to rain on anyone’s parade, just gonna point out it wasn’t a total disaster: Watford didn’t have a shot on target until the weak penalty call. We weren’t playing that well but it was also without a few of first choice players in Mustafi, Ramsey and Sanchez. We did what good teams do on tough away days: keep it tight, don’t give up chances, try to score on the counter and it probably should’ve resulted in a win.

    That said, although for many gooners Ozil will get the blame for missing the big chance, I thought the substitutions were wrong and were a big part of the reason we were under so much pressure at the end. Bringing on Giroud meant Watford’s CB’s could move their line higher and he played into their hands by backing in and trying to force his usual flick-ons. Bringing on Ozil meant we stopped pressing their central mids and they could move the ball through the lines more easily. Result = pressure. Up 1-0 at Watford is not the time to bring Ozil on. This has the scent of the same type of appeasement that was going on with Ox before he left and it’s only going to hurt the team.

    Also in general the team looks like we have too many older players with leaden limbs. Add in Xhaka and Ozil and this is a team that is going to have real issues getting into these track meet type games with younger, hungrier teams.

    1. I guess people will always see what they want to see. I think Giroud was a bad call, because he’s so slow and it kills our ability to play quick, fast interchanging football up top, at a time in the game when we really should have stayed on the front foot, rather than going into our shell and looking to play it long (basically, we needed to impose our style on them, rather than let them turn it into a Deeney-inspired scrap-fest, and bringing OG on played into their hands in that respect). But I don’t see how having Ozil on the pitch suddenly made us much more defensively vulnerable (but since it’s the lazy, fashionable thing to say these days, I guess everyone will be saying it). As if Danny Welbeck was single-handedly closing off every passing lane and that was all that was standing between Cech’s goal and the offensive might of bloody Watford!

      Here’s what I saw (feel free to poke holes in it as you see fit):
      1. An uninspired, workmanlike Arsenal playing insipid football for 90 minutes and being fairly fortunate to take the 1-0 lead.
      2. A Watford team clearly coached well, and trying to play passing football, but without enough skill or attacking cutting edge to trouble us, thus looking very pedestrian, with lots of sideways and backwards passing.
      3. We miss a couple of good (not insanely good) chances to put the game to bed.
      4. They bring Troy Deeney on, and decide to have a go, thus putting us under pressure for the first real time in the match (THIS was by far the most important sub of the match, not ours).
      5. They get a ridiculous penalty that should never have been.
      6. Their tales are naturally up, and our lack of fight and zip and ambition is criminal.
      7. Wenger makes a ridiculous third sub in bringing on Holding for Kos, when we are DRAWING TO WATFORD! And it’s hardly like we were holding on for dear life at that point–they were playing better, but the quality from both sides was pretty low. A big club manager with any ambition in that moment would have brought Wilshere or another attacking player on and gone with a back four. We needed the three points, and they weren’t good enough to stop us getting them if we played like we can.
      8. Us getting what we deserved for utterly failing to respond to the (unjust!) equalizer in any discernible fashion: Xhaka watching as Cleverley walked right by him to score.

      1. “But I don’t see how having Ozil on the pitch suddenly made us much more defensively vulnerable (but since it’s the lazy, fashionable thing to say these days, I guess everyone will be saying it).”
        __________________________

        I laughed out laud at that line. Forgive me.

        I think that your Ozil blind spot is in inverse proportion to the one you harbour about Ramsey (as Tim said one of best players statistically), whom you seem to blame for just turning up. I’ve no doubt if he had played today you’d have found a way to blame him.

        We’ve been playing better without Mesut, precisely because of his indifferent defending and his play when we dont have the ball. He looks a million dollars playing for Germany. For Arsenal, in the EPL, he goes missing at important junctures of games — with the thrilling exceptions of our stuffing of Chelsea at home last season, and the FA Cup final.

        I agree with Doc about the pressure being relieved. He’s an outstanding player, but increasingly it seems, not the perfect fit for this league. It’s just not his game to shore things up.

        He’s in a weird position because he’s (deservedly) an automatic starter for the best football team in the world. But for my money he no longer deserves to walk into an Arsenal XI, and with him uncommitted to the club, the manager no longer has to give him special treatment. Indeed Arsene is obligated to look at how well things work without him — in other words play more of Iwobi and Jack in that role. If he plays less, his hold on his German spot is weakened in a world cup year. So he needs to and probably will pull up his socks… languidly, of course.

        Mesut is a tragic situation. when we acquired him, we failed to give him the supporting cast his talent deserved. Or to complement his weaknesses. We can’t afford to have even one player who can’t press and tackle, and we have TWO, the other being Xhaka (badly caught out ball-watching for Cleverly’s run).

        Mesut’s time looks nearly up for us. Hope I’m wrong, and that he can replicate his early season form of the past two seasons. Plus add some defensive awareness and commitment.

    2. There’s “keep it tight and play on the counter,” and then there’s play insipid, reactive football and let a much lesser team take the game to you. In the second half we did the latter. We looked comfortable (if utterly uninspired) in the first half, because they were so toothless, not because of our great defense. All that changed (surprise surprise) when Deeney came on and they showed more urgency and ambition (and got the help of a very dodgy goal).

      I don’t think at any point today did we look like a genuinely top team. We were kinda/sorta in control at halftime with the 1-0 lead and their attack being so poor, but we were always there for the taking. We started the second half poorly, and it got worse and worse.

    3. Far from inspired football from us to be sure, particularly in the second half. The team was coasting toward a win and then couldn’t up the ante when they had to do it. I do think it was a sound defensive performance until the very end. I also think Koscielny had to be subbed; there is no other way Wenger takes him out at that point. Wilshere was going to come on but was then told to sit back down; clearly Kos had hurt something. To my eyes, Deeney didn’t change the game, the goal did. That gave them confidence and hope that was previously lacking and then they smelled blood as Arsenal were unable to up the ante themselves.

      I know blaming Ozil is fashionable. I think you know me well enough to know I’m not here to score popularity points! The truth is, the team plays better without him because Wenger wants the team to play on the front foot and win the ball back off the opposition early. Ozil doesn’t do that. And a press is like a spiderweb; one broken link means the whole thing breaks down. That’s not to blame Ozil only but the truth is he does not press the ball well and that makes it harder for everyone else. This is especially apparent when he plays from wide positions because he has to cover more ground out there without the ball. Welbeck is important for two reasons: one, he stifles their buildup at the source by working hard to occupy space, which in turn makes it easier for the second and third lines to compete for mis-hit passes; and two, he pins the wingback because of the threat of the run behind. Insert Ozil into that void and you get neither of those things and suddenly you have buildups and precise passes coming at the second and third lines that they hadn’t fielded all game. That can destabilize a defense. You do get other things: he almost set up Iwobi for a goal right away. But in modern football, I’ll take Welbeck every time unless I am facing a completely reactive outfit who’s just going to sit back and let me come on to them. In that fixture, I’d sit Welbeck and play Ozil because nobody is better at picking a tough lock. Against a modern, aggressive, pressing side like Watford, Welbeck or even Walcott would’ve been a better choice than Ozil. In fact, I quite liked Lucas on the few opportunities he had in that role. He’s a disciplined, hard working player who can score goals. Podolski was a disaster in big games for the same reasons Ozil often is: he doesn’t get to play to his strengths when the team is not on top, and his very presence contributes to the team not being on top.

      1. Oh, just to clarify: I agree Kos had to be subbed. I object to subbing like for like, when we should be going for the win with less than 10 minutes to go at Watford (if they had absolutely been laying siege to our goal and we were hanging on for dear life, that may have been different, but they weren’t and we weren’t). We should have subbed Wilshere on for Kos (and even before Kos got injured, pretty sure Wilshere was coming on for Iwobi, when he should have been coming on for one of the central defenders or for Elneny or Xhaka).

        1. And I agree that the goal changed the game much more than Deeney (though I’m not convinced that if the former hadn’t happened and the latter still had, we wouldn’t have gone on to drop points anyway). I only meant that the Deeney sub was more important than our subs.
          My point was that as soon as they had a real go at us (in the shape of Deeney and a more direct/aggressive style), we looked shaky, which suggests to my eyes that our defensive performance in the first hour was more about them being toothless and trying to play a very passing oriented game when they don’t really have the players for that, and less about our defensive solidity and control.

      2. As for Ozil: we’d have to go back and look at the tape in painstaking detail so you can show me all the precise moments that our press suddenly failed due to some failure on his part.
        Football–even compared to lots of other sports–is incredibly complex in terms of all the contributing factors that lead to any particular event happening, so it would be extremely difficult to establish that Ozil was consistently the weak link when he came on. But if we were in the same room and we had the video tape to rewind and fast forward, you might manage it, or at least make a pretty good case.

        But in the absence of that evidence, I’m not buying it. I didn’t see much change in our play–for good or ill–when Mesut came on. I saw Watford get a very lucky goal and then win a bunch of 50-50’s off the back of the high that any team gets from equalizing. I saw an Arsenal team that were flat THE ENTIRE GAME fail to respond in any meaningful fashion. I saw us play the ball long to Giroud more than we had been before he came on, and him fail to hold onto it several times (not saying that was all his fault, but our trying to hit him long certainly didn’t lead to more cohesive attacking play from us).

        The idea that someone like Theo, of all people, should now be preferred over Ozil in an away match at Watford (WATFORD?!) just seems wildly reactionary, like Ozil has become SUCH a useless player that he can ONLY be started in home games against teams that park the bus?!? Really? I think Silva is a good young manager, but this was hardly like a trip to Poch’s Spurs or even someplace like Poch’s Southampton (or Rodgers’s Swansea from a few years ago, say). They pressed us a bit but they really didn’t give us much to worry about, over the entire 90 minutes, and the suggestion that we need to be afraid to play Ozil in fixtures like this just seems ludicrously conservative.

        1. I think think this one will end up in the “agree to disagree” bin, but that’s Ok. I’m not fundamentally anti-Ozil. I do think football has moved beyond players like him, which is part of the reason he is still at Arsenal. The modern playmaker is active in both phases, and Ozil and other creative players under Wenger’s tenure simply have not been. That matters even in smaller games now because even little Watford are not what they used to be; they now have a cosmopolitan bunch of talented footballers managed by a bright tactical mind. They have roughly the same fitness, training, and coaching that Arsenal’s players do. The advantages we used to enjoy over minnows like them have eroded, considerably, and not just because of the slow senescence of our cutting edge under Arsene. That said, of course we should be expecting a win from this fixture, regardless of how we line up. To me though we have a better chance without Ozil than with him, given the other options.

          The degree to which Ozil’s introduction swung this game is highly debatable; my main point was that I thought it was the wrong move at the time, given the style of the opposition and the flow of the game, and I tried to highlight broader tactical reasons to support my thinking. I would offer that the reason you didn’t think Watford were that dangerous passing the ball is because Arsenal’s players did a nice job of closing down lanes and service to the forwards as a result. All that changed once Olli and Ozil were on the pitch, IMO. To cite an example, Richarlison got 1v1 with Bellerin as a result of a rare fast break from them. He was not isolated like that until that moment, and that’s because the forwards and midfielders covered him superbly. To cite another, look at how many Watford crosses came in from their right, our left in the last 20 minutes… it’s because they overloaded that side and the cover wasn’t there to deal with it; then panic and the loss of bedrock defender Koscielny did the rest for their winner.

          Finally, I want to say I agree with you: Tim Stillman and many others also pointed out a certain lack of appetite and application from many of the players and I’d say that was a big factor in this result as well.

          1. The reason your reasoning about Ozil doesn’t ring true to me is the number of games against similar opposition in the time that Ozil’s been at the club that we won comfortably and in which Ozil played a key role. To take one example: our win against Watford away last year. Admittedly Silva has them playing a better brand of football than Mazzarri did (though I wouldn’t say they were much harder to play against this year than in recent seasons–I think you were much more impressed with them today than I was). But it’s not like they, or the PL in general, suddenly got WAY better in the last 12 or 24 months. So if Mesut could be a key part of us defeating teams like this fairly comfortably in the recent past, how has he suddenly become a liability in such a short space of time (assuming he hasn’t become a much worse player, of course)? I just about buy the (highly vague, and therefore debatable) claim that elite football has changed dramatically in the last 4-10 years, making players like Ozil a dying breed. I don’t buy the idea that it’s changed so much in the last 24 or even 36 months!

            To put the point another way: let’s grant your assumption that Ozil is considerably worse at defending than Welbz, etc. Now, to think that Welbeck, and even Walcott (?!), would give us a better chance of winning this game than Ozil, you’d have to think that either (a) Ozil doesn’t possess substantial positive qualities that those two lack and that would be quite handy for Arsenal to have on the pitch when trying to win this sort of game (this strikes me as patently false); or (b) “defending from the front” has now become so crucial to “the modern game”, that its importance–not just, e.g., against Chelsea away, but in every sort of game short of those against very weak or park-the-bus teams at home–absolutely dwarfs all the other, creative qualities that Mesut–almost uniquely in our squad–brings to the table.

            It seems to me your line of thinking commits you to something like (b), but it strikes me as pretty dubious. It’s one thing if we’re playing City or Chelsea, etc, away, but Watford away? Put the Lacazette-Sanchez-Ozil trio (assuming all are in relatively decent form, of course) up front and a high quality, hard working midfield pairing behind them, and we cruise to victory in that game 9 times out of 10. What we lose of Danny’s hard work and athleticism, we more than make up for in Mesut’s movement, first touch, vision, and attacking understanding with like-minded mobile skill players. We don’t need to be afraid that Mesut’s inability to close down like Danny will make us vulnerable to Watford’s attack because, frankly, they’re attack isn’t that good, and because we could easily take the game to them and make their attack irrelevant. I think we had the attacking personnel to do this today, even without Alexis, but (1) Wenger bizarrely took off Lacazette right after bringing on Ozil, (2) our center midfield is still only one step up from dysfunctional at best, (3) the whole team was lackadaisical throughout, and (4) our supposedly much-improved backline (five defenders is more solid than four, don’t ya know) is still incredibly brittle when teams have a go at them. (Plus, (5), Watford were given a non-existent penalty!)

          2. Yes, b) is an approximation of what I’m trying to convey. Ozil hasn’t become a worse player and I hope I haven’t made it sound like I doubt his ability on the ball; he is unique when he is able to be the creative hub of a team on the front foot, like when he created 4 goals against Bournemouth last season. The issue is, he doesn’t help you get on the front foot, so when the team is losing the territorial battle because we are losing 50/50’s and can’t tackle anyone, Ozil looks like a dud out there. My feeling is those games where he really shines we would win with or without him because we are so much on top; that’s what gives him his platform. You want your best players to tip the competitive balance in your favor in close games, and Ozil doesn’t do that often enough for my money. The Watford game was a close game, chances were few, and after Ozil came on the competitive balance swung in their direction (correlation vs. causation? Up for debate); but he also had the game’s two best attacking moments when he slipped in Iwobi and his shot that he should’ve buried past Gomes to seal the game. That’s my last bit of beef with Ozil: despite a brief glimpse of what he could become last year when he was making runs off of Sanchez into the box and scoring his share of those chances, he lacks composure in front of goal.

            The Chelsea game was a rare example of him giving 100% on both sides of the ball. If he did that consistently, he would be an awesome player. I have no hope of that happening at this stage of his career and under Arsene’s leadership. My feeling is that Ozil’s time at the club has come to an end. I think the future is the trio of Iwobi, Welbeck and Lacazette and we may add Lemar to that next summer. But none of that matters while the midfield remains functional at best.

  5. Meh, this is the type of game that teams that are destined to win 65 to 75 points over a season lose. We controlled the game without dominating it. Despite never getting out of 3rd gear, we not only took the lead but had very presentable chances to put the game to bed. And then buoyed by a penalty gift, Watford turned the game into a scrappy, helter skelter game which turned on physicality and hustle over skill and we promptly wilted. It’s all just way to familiar. Once they tied it, there was only ever going to be one winner and we were just hanging on for a point.

  6. Arsenal are kind of boring, and have been for a while, yes? I’m not even angry about these results anymore.

    1. In a better world, he would be afraid to say things like this because Coquelin, who’d just be back from suspension for ending Shawcross’s career would come for him.

  7. If we were a big team, the kind of team that refuses to tolerate these results and has the wallet to back up that kind of entitled attitude, we would cut bait with Xhaka. We would do what Real did with Illarramendi, say, you’re good, but not good enough for us and cut our losses.

    Actually, it’s much worse then that because we play Elneny, a player who is even more inadequate. Add in our aging keeper and the fraying achilles of our defensive linchpin and upgrading on Xhaka is priority number four.

    After winning the FA cup we should have called up RB Leipzig and asked them how much they wanted for Keita then written the check, then turned around and done the same with Lemar. Sadly we are not that kind of rich and Arsene is super stubborn. So we continue to be thrift store fabulous, expensive designer castoffs mixed in with the dross in an incoherent mess.

    Given our place in the pecking order and the realities of the market, I’d rather be Dortmund or Monaco, i.e., have a defined style then buy the very best young players that fit that style then play them while accepting uneven results as they develop. But be a TIer 1a club by signing them to extraordinarily long contracts, cutting our losses on the failures and giving then stars big raises, provided they re-up of course.

    sigh..

    1. After wasting the summer balking at paying 70m Euro for Lemar that would have got the deal done (our ceiling was 50m, their asking was 80m), we were prepared to throw 100m at Monaco on transfer deadline day. Forget big club. We’re not a serious one. At least not when it comes to transfer management.

      But you know what… Watford are 4th in the table for a reason. That was not a gimme game, a point that I heard many savvy Arsenal fans making before the game.

      Xhaka’s form is mildly concerning; his shortcomings significantly so. The guy has a hint of the Vermaelens about him, and when Arsene goes off a player, it’s usually the end of him. He’s a fabulous player to watch, strolling through the middle and pinging it over the top. He’s not so great when we don’t have the ball. I’d really love him to beef up that side of his game.

      1. I know Watford are high up the table but can anyone here say they were genuinely impressed with them yesterday? Before the pen I really couldn’t see them scoring, and this against our fragile defense. I like their manager, but talent-wise they look very, very ordinary to me. We’ve had much sterner tests against small teams in recent years. We should have strolled to victory yesterday.

  8. Xhaka is not a bad player, not at all, and the comparison with Ozil rings true: he’s outstanding on the ball but often suspect off of it. More damning for the Swiss, he doesn’t have anywhere near Ozil’s offensive output, rightfully so given their respective positions on the pitch, so his defensive ineptitudes are nowhere near as forgivable. I wouldn’t say Xhaka is purely a bad defender, however. I would say he excels at one type of defending, the type he performed for ‘Gladbach and Switzerland for most of his career: having the game in front of him, plugging gaps, relying on players beside him to do their jobs with him in unison. That’s NOT what happens at Arsenal. At Arsenal, defensive players are often left out on an island by themselves and when that happens to Xhaka, he looks particularly vulnerable. His ability to track runners and find angles to tackle in the open field is borderline atrocious, and his ability to press in forward positions is almost as bad. The upside is that these things can be coached, but Xhaka has such a slow first step that I worry he will never be able to accomplish these tasks on a consistent basis against high level opposition. Lately even his passing has been pretty awful which begs the question of what exactly he is doing in the team. Wenger must be hoping an extended run of games will help him find his feet but so far that is not happening. If it goes on like this, the manager will have another difficult choice on his hands.

    Santi Cazorla, where art thou?

    1. Some of the things Xhaka is poor at are coachable. Positioning and awareness of defensive situations are teachable. But is Wenger even capable of teaching a player those basic defensive requisites? And of course, some of Xhaka’s problems are tactical, in the sense that he’s being asked to cover ground that even Kante would have difficulty covering. I opined several seasons ago that even if we could afford the best holding midfielder in world football our schemes would reduce that player to looking very average.

  9. Some questions about any manager, in any sport, and independent of what other teams around them are doing. Questions can be asked regardless of prior performances, they are meant to diagnose whether the manager is performing in current time, not used to assess what has already happened. These aren’t loaded questions, and they aren’t posed to elicit a negative answer. Just critical questions (again, can be applied to any manager, any team, acknowledging that a couple of them are economics-dependent).

    One doesn’t need to successfully answer “yes” to all to be a successful manager, of course, nor should one be expected to be able to.

    Perhaps worth answering each of them about Arsene Wenger, and trying to anticipate how they might be answered by any future candidates for a managerial position. In no particular order of importance, everyone has different priorities.

    Are they tactically prepared for any given opponent?
    Do they put their players in the best frame of mind to face that opponent?
    Do they deploy their players in the best tactical fashion to face any given opponent?
    Do they anticipate, within reason, unexpected conditions during matches?
    Can they adjust to these unforeseen conditions (within reason), on the fly, even if they haven’t anticipated them?
    Do they hold their players accountable for their performances?

    And for managers who also assume personnel recruitment and assessment roles:

    Do they identify team needs critically, and honestly?
    Do they identify players to fill those needs?
    Do they secure the playing rights of those players?
    Do those players perform to expectation, below expectation, or above expectation, over a reasonable amount of assessment time?
    Do those players grow and develop over time, if that is the expected trajectory?

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