Sorry, I don’t have as much time this morning as I should have. I am a bit distracted at the moment and I lost an hour just looking at posts on Facebook and Twitter. We should talk about that some day, how much time I personally waste on those sites. In the meantime think of this site as the home of what you get is what you get and this is what you get!
First off, it is always lovely to see Arsenal score five and keep a clean sheet! I’m not being at all salty when I say that the score line flattered Arsenal because while it did, it also didn’t. And also, it’s weird to me how scoring seems to solve everything but also that it really doesn’t. I guess I have to explain.
The scoreline didn’t flatter Arsenal! They had 21 shots, 6 of which were big chances and I have the total xG for this game at 3.85. That’s the second best of the season (behind the match against Everton) and a pretty accurate representation of the shots that Arsenal took. With an xG of 3.85 you can’t say that the scoreline flattered Arsenal. It’s not like United who scored four goals against Watford, all from outside the box, with a combined xG of all their shots totalling just 1.12. Or Everton’s 4 off 8 shots which included a ridiculous goal from 60 yards. Those are the definition of “the scoreline flattered”.
That said, there were large parts of this match which Arsenal just seemed to be off. And by off I mean like handbrake on, foot off the gas, lying outside the car, face down, on the gravel, probably drunk, certainly not moving, then you poke it with a stick to see if it’s alive and it lets out a groan. From the 4th minute until the 50th minute, Arsenal took just 6 shots and while two of them were good chances – Kolasinac wasted one right in front of goal and Lacazette’s cheeky curler was cleared off the line – Arsenal also were conceding possession carelessly and gifting Huddersfield chances. By the time Giroud hit the woodwork in the 60th minute, I was officially worried. Cech had already made two big saves, including the volleyball spike, and it looked like this was going to be “one of those games”.
Huddersfield didn’t play like a team that was confident but Arsenal let them back in it in really subtle ways. The Terriers weren’t pressing as much as I expected, they lead the League in away tackles but Arsenal matched them 11-10 in the first half. They also didn’t try to steal the ball back from Arsenal with Arsenal winning 8-7 interceptions over them. And Arsenal didn’t pass the ball too poorly – Xhaka made 93% of his attempted passes, Monreal 96%, and Mustafi and Koscielny 92%. It wasn’t the sheer number of bad passes, it was that there was just.. a weird lackadaisical way that Xhaka and Kolasinac turned the ball over. I don’t like saying things like “it gave them belief” but you could almost see Huddersfield gaining confidence as the game wore on! So, in that sense, the scoreline flattered the Gunners. Until the 70th minute.
That’s when Ozil picks the ball up about 40 yards from goal and back-heels it to no one. His marker, Hadergjonaj, doesn’t follow his turn, doesn’t stop Kolasinac picking the ball up, and then just lets Ozil run into the 18 yard box. Ozil exchanges passes with Alexis and Zanka just seems to give up on the possession. Ozil simply walks into Mordor and so too does Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil slots the ball over for the goal. That was the 68th minute and Wenger said “Maybe we benefited as well from the fact that they had to give a lot for 70 minutes and they collapsed a little bit in the last 20.” I’d say. Yeah.
More evidence of the Huddersfield collapse: in the second half Arsenal out-tackled the Terriers 15-10, dominated passing 386-142, outshot them 15-4, and despite having more than twice as much possession, Arsenal forced them into 15-8 turnovers. As Koscielny pointed out after the win over Burnley “When you are 11 players who fight together, it is easier for us at the back to defend.”
Which brings me to scoring solving everything… Everyone is hailing the Arsenal defense right now and there are certainly some great signs ahead of the match against Man U. The holy trinity of Mustafi, Monreal, and Koscielny kept yet another clean sheet. When Arsenal play those three at the back, they have yet to concede a goal.
Koscielny puts it down to the work rate of the players in front of him and while this could be true it also doesn’t give enough credit to some of the performances his partners have put in this season. Against Huddersfield, for example, the midfield was cut open multiple times thanks to giveaways by Kolasinac (who is showing himself to be a rather poor passer) and Xhaka. The Terriers put Cech under so much pressure on one possession that he had to volleyball spike the ball out of play. And Cech was forced to make another save off a Quaner shot in the 50th minute (Kolasinac horrible pass) which wasn’t counted as a big chance but was as close as it gets.
After the match last night Wenger praised Ozil.. for his defensive work, “The fact that he is fit, the fact I believe that you come often to games nobody has to convince you that Ozil is a great player, but he added something that people wanted to see from him as well, against Spurs and tonight, that he can fight and come back and win the ball back. Once people see that they are behind you, everybody knows in the stadium that he is a good football player and at the moment he shows that he can fight.” I don’t remember him winning the ball back even once in this match and the stats back that up. He didn’t make a single tackle and didn’t intercept a single pass. He did, however, block a cross and foul a player. These stats are consistent with his season: he’s at a career low in tackles per90 (since 2011) and a career high in fouls. Maybe Wenger and the team just want him to foul more. I don’t know.
This is what I mean when I say that “scoring solves everything.” I feel like there are a lot of people who forgive players for their defensive weaknesses whenever they have a great offensive performance. Ozil was awesome last night. He showed why he’s such a huge talent and why he will be missed if (when) Arsenal let him go. He has the rare ability to turn a game on its head and he’s back to creating 4.2 key passes per90, like he did in 2015/16 when Arsenal should have won the League.
“You just hate Ozil” is always the response I get when I say anything remotely critical. Please note, I do not hate him and I’m not criticizing Ozil. I hate false narratives and I can’t figure out why Arsenal want to push this weird story that Ozil is suddenly playing D. Maybe he is and I’m missing it. He did make 2 tackles against Spurs and really there wasn’t much tackling he needed to do in this game. Let’s be honest here, the club didn’t need to play better defense against Huddersfield, they needed to just keep the ball better, which was something he did with aplomb.
Maybe Wenger is trying to “gee” Ozil up ahead of the United match this weekend. I don’t have a problem with that but let’s not pretend he put in a great defensive performance. It was the Arsenal back line who put in the great defensive performance and who have been immense all season. Let’s give them credit!
Especially, in my case, Mustafi: I have been very harsh on Mustafi over the last year and he is slowly proving me wrong. He’s been brave in headers this season, he seems more switched on than last, and his partnership with Monreal and Koscielny is turning into one of my favorite Arsenal back lines. They can pass, intercept, cover for each other, and win aerial duels. It’s quite special.
Wenger and Koscielny quotes: www.arsenal.com