Arsenal struggle at home to PSG to end two weeks of misery

This was Arsenal’s third match in a row against tough teams. This was Arsenal’s second match in a week after sending most of their players out on Nationalism duty. And as a result, for all but about 20 minutes in the second half, this was an insipid performance from the Arsenal.

My initial reaction was to declare the season over, to complain “same old Arsenal”, and to decry the month of November as Arsenal’s “mes peor”, but on further reflection I’m not quite ready to call this one.

Arsenal were never supposed to win the Champions League and we are looking at a team who have literally lost just one match all season. Yes, these two weeks have been poor but there are mitigating circumstances.

The first is that the team seems to be struggling physically. Alexis was poor yesterday. Horribly poor. Probably his worst ever Arsenal performance. His turnovers and atrocious passing knocked Arsenal’s teeth out. But watching him drop deep to collect and try to create for teammates while basically at a standstill is proof to me that he’s carrying a bigger injury than he’s letting on. Healthy Alexis drives at the opposition the moment he gets the ball; this injured Alexis collects the ball, stops, has a smoke, takes a stim pack, picks out a pass, and kicks the ball into low earth orbit.

But even an unhealthy Alexis is still Arsenal’s biggest threat. He made, I think, just one run behind for a ball. It was the ball that earned Arsenal a penalty. Özil drove at the defense and then made a beautiful drag-back pass into space for Alexis. I think healthy Alexis shoots with his first touch and scores. Unhealthy Alexis is half a step slow and has to drag back onto his weaker foot but luckily earns a penalty.

As an aside here, the penalty looked a lot like a dive. But the one thing that convinces me that it wasn’t as divey as it looked on live TV is the fact that Krychowiak doesn’t complain at all and when Alexis is confronted by the PSG players he tells them to ask Krychowiak if there was contact. Krychowiak was interviewed by le Parisien after the match and refused to call it a dive (he also equivocated on whether he fouled Alexis) and so if the PSG player concedes that it was probably a good call then that is all I need to say it wasn’t a dive.

My second mitigating factor is that Arsenal are struggling to figure out their best midfield combination in the absence of Cazorla. Wenger clearly prefers Coquelin as his number one starter in midfield. After that, he seems unsure of who to play next to him. Ramsey put in an all-action performance, playing both ends of the pitch to the best of his ability. But his ability is limited and he was clearly rusty.

Ramsey’s not a creative presence; he would much rather get on the end of a delicious pass than create one. In the last three seasons Ramsey has taken 138 shots but only created 86 shots for his teammates.

As for his rustiness: there was a moment late in the game where Arsenal were about to spring a counter attack and Jenkinson played  ball to Ramsey. He was in acres of space and Alexis was making a run but Ramsey passed the ball to Mustafi. It was frustrating to say the least. But as I showed in my By the Numbers piece, Ramsey led Arsenal in a number of categories, including tackles and passes. He was the best player on an Arsenal team that put in one of the worst performances of the season.

In midfield what perplexes everyone is why Xhaka can’t get a start. Again, in the By the Numbers piece, I show that when Xhaka is on the pitch it doesn’t really matter who his partner is, Arsenal are better with him than they are with Elneny. So, why can’t he get a game? He can’t possibly be tired. Something about the way he plays or trains is bothering Wenger. Something I’m not seeing. He was Arsenal’s best player in the North London Derby and after that he gets dropped. It’s surreal.

There was a moment where Wenger yelled at him last night, after his bad pass forward to Alexis. Alexis applauded the idea but Wenger wanted him to play a different pass. If I were to guess, Wenger probably doesn’t like the fact that Xhaka plays big diagonal balls. Wenger prefers verticality, almost obsessively.  The reaction from Xhaka was dismissive, literally waving Wenger off, and I wonder if there isn’t some professional tension between the two.

I worry about Xhaka. I don’t think he came to Arsenal to ride the pine. This was a player who captained his last team. His last manager built a team to take advantage of his strengths. He’s a strong personality and if he feels like he’s not being given a fair chance, he will demand a trade.

Given the fact that Arsenal are injured, that Wenger isn’t getting the best of his midfield duo, and that we just played two big teams and Tottenham bracketed by a group of National team matches, I don’t think we can write Arsenal off just yet.

The two things that are worrying me about Arsenal are the fact that we can’t keep possession and when we are out of possession our defense looks frightening.

Against United, Tottenham, and PSG, Arsenal struggled to keep possession and regain possession when those teams wanted to impose themselves on the game. This is another confounding fact about Arsenal. Two years ago, Wenger turned Arsenal into a pressing team against certain opposition. It worked so wonderfully that Arsenal eviscerated Liverpool causing all pundits to declare the 3-5-2 dead.

So, where has that gone? We saw it for a few minutes against PSG yesterday and it was refreshing. But against Spurs and Man U, we were so passive out of possession.

Mustafi and Koscielny go from game to game looking variably like a decent partnership and like one of the worst pairings I’ve seen in years. Mustafi seems to switch off for large portions of these big games. His positioning against Matuidi was horrible and led to the Cavani goal last night. And in the first match against PSG he was the one caught napping for Cavani’s run. A similar run happened last night and Mustafi wasn’t aware, Cavani* got a header off but it flashed just wide. If Cavani was at all a decent forward, he would have scored several goals over those two legs and many of them would have been the fault of both Mustafi and Koscielny.

But all of this can be sorted out. Wenger can give Alexis a day or two off, so that he can go mountain climbing or run a double marathon. Wenger can get Santi back healthy and find a way to maximize the potential of players like Ramsey, Xhaka, and Coquelin. Wenger can get Mustafi to be more consistent. This team has a lot of potential. There’s still time. They just need to start this Sunday against Bournemouth.



*Cavani is the most overrated forward in world football. He’s had 6 big chances against Arsenal in two matches and he’s only even gotten 3 of them on target. Cavani seems like a player who can only score by stealing a goal from a teammate. You know what I mean? Like a teammate shoots and the ball is going in, then suddenly Cavani pops up and redirects the ball into the net, claiming the goal for himself. He does make great runs and gets himself into great positions, but goodness his finishing is awful and has been for years, even when he was at Napoli.

Not only is Cavani overrated but he’s also a puke. When Arsenal won the penalty he tried to abscond with the ball and when Ramsey came over to take it back, he slugged Ramsey in the face. If Ramsey had collapsed on the ground and rolled around for a minute, which we know Cavani would do if the roles were reversed, I’m sure Cavani would be looking at a lengthy ban.

I heard that after the match Steven “I lost Liverpool the League with my error” Gerrard basically called Ramsey a pussy for his reaction to being punched in the face. I watched Cavani punch Ramsey on live television. This wasn’t some fakery, it was more like Ramsey was blown away by Cavani punching him in the face. He seemed shocked, not like he was faking it.

But I’m not sure what reaction Gerrard was looking for. Like, “don’t be surprised when some crazed Uruguayan punches you in the face”? Or how about “brush off your shoulder, turn your head and tap the other cheek in an invitation for Cavani to punch you again, like you’re in some kind of kung-fu film”? Steven “I couldn’t even make it in MLS because I was one of the most overrated midfielders of my generation” Gerrard was dipping into a deep bin to wretch up that level of stupidity.


  1. Tim is mad. Tim is so mad.
    Blame bloddy Stevie “The greatest fucker-upper of a league title charge ever seen since bloody John Terry fucked up Chelsea’s almost certain UCL win” G.

    I’m mad too. Go figure.

  2. “And when we are our of possession our defense looks frightening”…
    Dude – old news. When was this never the case? In my eponymous 1Nil days maybe.

    I’ve waxed on and on abouy Satiango Cathorla but what’s truly frightening is how dependent one team are on a single player whose name is not Messi or Renaldo.

    You hit the nail on there for sure.

    But I think you’re really saying we look like we suck but we don’t really. We can play football without Cazorla in midfield, right?

    Like cycle the ball out from deep and create real chances and stuff right?

  3. I was so glad to see Ramsey, very early in the match scream back to slide in and win a firm decisive tackle, and thought with a smile and a nod, “There he is!” There were a couple more challenges like that in the 90. Those efforts coupled with the run behind where Alexis almost found him at the back post hopefully point to a re-emergence of the dominant two-way player he was for a time.

    I like Ramsey a lot, the one who played yesterday, so I’m glad others saw it too. Center-forward Ramsey is an ass, the kind of player other good players get fed up playing with. That he has the ability as a ball winner like that and very obviously wasn’t even trying for so long was immensely frustrating.

    All-action players, provided they have a brain and use it are such an asset, and so much fun watch. So while midfield questions remain, if THAT Ramsey is back, it’s a big asset added to the squad.

    Fingers crossed

  4. Cavani is a class above any of our forwards. Big, strong, fast, always in a dangerous position. His movement is wondrous. He has married the attributes of Walcott and Giroud. He was the kind of player we’ve been begging out manager to sign 4 years now, and yeah, I’d be happy if we got him. He’s got 16 goals and a week is still left in November. Don’t tell me French league. It’s still a very good return. He missed a hatful against us but jeez, he created a barrel load. Pick any 30 minute passage of play over the 180 and Cavani will have created more clear-cut chances than our whole team combined. Missing most of them does not make him a bad player. As our own underperforming forwards showed, it’s hard enough carving them out. If we meet them again, I swear that he will administer a spanking. Yes, he’s a bit of a jerk. But his follow Uruguayan Suarez is a bigger one, and we tried to get him.

    I also think that you’re not giving sufficient credit to Matuidi for superb movement, and then turning on the turbo against Mustafi. It was a good passage of attacking play, not a bad passage of defensive one.

    Agree on Alexis, and on Ramsey, one of the least understood of Arsenal players. But you know what? He ALWAYS plays when fit, even if Wenger has to shoehorn him somewhere — a tinkering, btw, that must surely affect the quality of his play.

    Iwobi I like, but at the moment he’s contributing nothing. He almost messed up Jenkinson’s pass into box from which we scored, and then made the most pathetic attempt you will see to head a goal bound shot away. His feel never left the ground. At this moment, his celebrity seems to have gone to his head a bit, and he needs some time away from the first Xi to sort out his game.

    1. Cut and pasted from my comment at Arseblog since it’s relevant here too:

      How ON EARTH anyone is blaming Iwobi rather than Jenkinson for that goal, I’ll never know. No, Iwobi didn’t exactly cover himself in glory, but the key mistake, the one that caused the problem in the first place and was easiest to prevent, was Jenkinson getting caught under the flight of the ball and letting a short winger head the ball towards goal at the back post.

      Personally, I think people have decided that Iwobi isn’t in form, and their perception of the game is merely confirming their biases. His form and confidence has certainly dipped, but the same can be said for the whole team. He had a couple of very visible mistakes early in the game last night (but even then, a few times he held onto the ball too long because Giroud & co weren’t giving him good options), but after that I thought he grew into the match. He moves without the ball to find space between the lines, plays with composure, receives the ball on the half turn, dribbles with his head up, and all these qualities are absolutely essential for us to have balance in the team, especially without Cazorla and with Ramsey & Coquelin in the middle. He didn’t start against United, but I don’t think he needs a longer break; keep playing him, and he’ll find his form again soon.

      1. Sure your right that Jenkinson should have marked Lucas. But Iwobi is at fault as he makes a half hearted attempt at heading the ball away. He himself said that Ospina shouted at him to leave the ball, but he was caught in two minds and thus instead of leaving it for an easy Ospina save, he diverts it away from Ospina.

        This is my concern with players like Iwobi and Jeff and all others who come through our youth ranks. Are they being taught the basic defensive aspects of the game well enough??errors like these can’t be tolerated at the highest levels of the game.

  5. I have to say I clearly agree with other Tim in his article here: It’s either we sold him or make him work. To make him work, I think you just to let Coquelin go (as a starter). I believe that potentially, we could be a better team if Ramsey clicked defensively and offensively. I have the feeling that the answer to why Xhaka not playing is Coquelin. There just no player yet, who can offer the defensive security that Coquelin has. In the PSG match, there seems to be a tendency for Ramsey to be a midfielder again, instead of a forward. Maybe, if finally Arsene trust Ramsey again to be a box to box midfielder, he can trust the Xhaka-Ramsey partnership, or even Elneny-Ramsey partnership.

  6. Wasn’t Wenger Angry that he didn’t play the big diagonal??
    He points out two overloading players on the other side of the pitch and Xhaka take the clearly wrong vertical pass toward alexis, which as your saying is probably what wenger would ask for. which might be why he was dismissive. It actually explains why he didn’t go for the long diagonal because i was sure he looked for it before he played the errant forward pass.
    Anyways on a (slightly) unrelated note I agree entirely with your analysis on Elneny, when the moment appears for a tackle he magically disappears… plain sight. Its astonishing. maybe hes there to be the exact opposite of coquelin in a weird kind of way that isn’t helpful. Like opposite to the way santi is the exact opposite of coquelin.

  7. I agree with you Feng. Xhaka is slow, and also has a slow reaction time, exactly why his tackles are clumsy. They come in late and when he is beaten he instinctively tries to trip because he knows he lacks the pace to recover. These mean he can’t be trusted as a DM.

    On the positive side he is very good with the ball. He is calm, controlled, knows how to create space for himself, and has an amazing vision and the range of passes to match. Before a pass reaches him, he already knows what to do with it,

    He is the very opposite of Coquelin who is excellent when the opposition has the ball, but not close to great when he or his team has the ball. I guess Wenger thought that in Xhaka he had found the rounded midfielder (Vieraesque). Wenger now knows he is a box to box who currently trails Santi and Ramsey.

    1. astute observation concerning xhaka. in fact, a fabulous observation and i think you may be 100% right. we’ve been looking for the reason that wenger doesnt’ play his £35 million swiss and that might be it.

      xhaka appears to lack both speed and quickness. to compensate for this perceived lack of speed/quickness, he needs to continually read the entire situation on the field. this allows him to anticipate what’s likely to happen a few passes earlier. this also allows him to talk to teammates earlier and take up better starting positions when defending. lastly, he needs to understand that there are other things he can do to help his team develop the situation on the field other than making a tackle; some tackles can’t be successfully made.

      these are all tactical skills, hence, not quantifiable. if you’re right, which i think you are, xhaka needs to develop these skills or he’s not going to make it at arsenal. if he does, not only will he excel, he’ll stop getting sent off. the coaching staff appear to have their work cut out for them. arsenal have already spent a lot of money on this talented youngster. however, he’s still very young and very raw. he needs time to develop. he also needs to be patient. an arteta-type mentor would have been fabulous. we’ll see.

  8. Lets zoom out a little:

    Arsenal have slumped a bit, as they tend to do, except they’ve done it during a spell of immense importance, playing big teams who desperately wanted to beat us. We come out with zero defeats, qualified in Europe with a game to spare, and 3 points off the top with a decent enough goal difference. Soon welbeck bellerin and cazorla will be back playing. Not bad.

  9. RE: the Ramsey slap, I watched it a few times, and Cavani seems to hit Ramsey’s shoulder, not his face. So Ramsey’s reaction becomes comical in that context.

  10. We have guys coming back: Perez, Santi, Wellbeck and Per.
    New guys wanting to play: Elneny and Xhaka.
    Drew against 3 tough teams and will continue to march onward and upward.
    Just think, $h*ty lost Kompany for another few weeks-they will be dropping points and going nowhere.
    Optimistic going forward.

  11. I don’t think Xhaka’s speed is an issue considering how well Arteta played the role when fit. I think its his speed of thought defensively and his awkward tackling gait that are problems.

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