Models are just models, they aren’t real life. Sometimes a model can predict a 1-1 draw and then real life can throw up a 5-2 win. Meh, it happens. I’m not even going to alter the model, yet.
My predictron merely looks at past performances and uses them to “predict” a likely outcome for the future. It doesn’t know that Ronald Koeman’s men are going to give up on a game. Nor does it sense that Arsenal’s front three of Lacazette, Ozil, and Alexis are going to come prepared to fight for once this season. And it doesn’t predict red cards, which make the game so much easier. But that’s exactly what happened and Arsenal ran out 5-2 winners.
After every defeat we are told that we need to take it as a one-off and that we aren’t allowed to see a pattern of despair. And after every big win we are told we should celebrate as if the team has turned a corner. But for me, I’ve seen so many Arsenal performances now, some brilliant losses, some well deserved wins, and some absolutely appalling wins, and now I know that the truth is somewhere in between.
It was a marvelous performance by Arsenal’s front three. Adrian Clarke in his breakdown on the dot com showed how Arsenal’s one-touch passing between Alexis, Ozil, Ramsey, and what’s his name the guy who is sometimes allowed to play up front, opened up the passing lanes and eviscerated Everton’s defense. And it’s very true! That was a sweet display.
But clarke also showed how Everton’s midfielders, especially Gueye (he wears “Gana” on the back of his shirt), didn’t really track the runners, especially Ramsey. He made that one tackle in the first 10 minutes, and in fact the entire Everton team looked up for it in the first 10 minutes: they pressed and harassed Arsenal, forcing turnovers and showing that the Gunners really can’t cope with pressure. And then after they took the lead, Everton pulled up the handbrake and Arsenal took them apart.
That Rooney goal was exactly what Gooners have been complaining about for years. Xhaka was having a nightmare first 10 minutes, he literally cannot handle pressure, and his midfield partner (I guess it’s Ramsey) was off playing CF. So, when he has a brain fart and doesn’t notice that Gana is closing him down, he’s super casual with the ball and has it taken off him. From there the goal is almost inevitable. Mertesacker can’t really close down because he lacks the speed and if he tried to step up even lead-footed old man Rooney would simply dribble around him. So, he hesitates and rooney picks his spot for the goal.
I was fuming after that goal. I was complaining about the fact that Arsenal are the only club in the world that tries to get away with playing a single midfielder.
But then Arsenal gathered themselves up and took the game to Everton. Or maybe you’re still a tad cynical, like me, and feel like Everton didn’t really fight back. Either way, it was a master class of what Arsenal can do to team if they let them. Ramsey’s runs went unchecked by Gueye-Gana, Ozil was popping up everywhere to pick up possession, and Ozil’s passing was perfect on the day. Meanwhile Alexis was running at the defenders and no one tried to even take the ball off him, he was dispossessed just once. Even that forward guy who is allowed to have the ball every once in a while was graciously given four shots.
And there was no element of luck in this game. Arsenal created 30 shots, got 14 on target, and took 6 big chances. Expected goals for the Arsenal were 4.63. If there was any luck it was Pickford, who saved 3 big chances in the first half and Rooney with his long range shot – that’s a 3% shot normally (I admit that I don’t know what the percentage is when the defenders don’t close down). Everton were so poor on the day that they only created 0.99 expected goals. Everton didn’t even try to hit Arsenal on the counter. They just looked like a team who had given up on their manager and it’s not a surprise to find out that Koeman was fired today.
It’s a funny thing. I think that 5-2 win perfectly sums up Arsenal under Arsene Wenger since 2008. Score five because the opposition didn’t show up but let two in because your defenders and midfielders are a bit too relaxed and the midfield is disorganized.
While everyone else is celebrating, it’s actually a frustrating result for me. I see the quality in this team. Lacazette should score 30 goals for Arsenal, easily. Ozil should have 20 assists now that he has a real goal scorer. Alexis should find the game easier now that Arsenal have so many more attacking options.
But this was the same team which lost 1-0 to Stoke City, the worst defensive team in the League. That lost 4-0 to Liverpool, a team with calamitous defense as its hallmark. That lost 2-1 to Watford, the 6th worst defense in the League. And which scraped a 1-0 win over Red Star Belgrade. The commonality among all those teams is that they pressed and harassed Arsenal and Arsenal couldn’t handle the pressure.
Next Sunday, Arsenal host Swansea, the worst attacking team in the League – they have an expected goals for of 7.2 for the season… Man City created an expected goals of 6.22 when they played against Crystal Palace! Swansea’s expected goals in all 4 of their away games this season is just 1.33. Total.
That will be followed by Red Star at home and I think we should enjoy these next three games while they last because after that Arsenal are getting shoved into the wood chipper that is Man City and Tottenham, back-to-back.
Maybe I’m overly cynical. Maybe I should just enjoy the 5-2 wins while they last. But I just can’t help but think this is yet another false dawn for the Arsenal and that as soon as we face some opposition who want to give us a good game, we’ll be right back to scrabbling for 6th place. Or maybe I can just be optimistic for a few weeks. Watch Arsenal gain some momentum against Norwich tomorrow, Swansea on Sunday, then Red Star at home, each game building into a crescendo, a tidal wave of a performance against Man City, just before the international break. That’s the hope, isn’t it?