Arsenal v. Bournemouth: No Slips Allowed

I had the week off and do you know what I did? Nothing. Well, nothing by my own standards, which included preparing a Thanksgiving dinner, compiling a bunch of stats, finishing my Christmas shopping, and playing a lot of video games with my daughter. I have to go back to work Monday. I think I’ll be pretty refreshed.

You know who also had a week off? Alexis. Well, off by his standards. He’s been on a slow decline since Tottenham and has averaged just 1 shot and 1 key pass in the last two matches for Arsenal. This is a guy who averages over 5 shots and key passes (combined) per game. He’s also being dispossessed 4 times a game, which is above his average by almost 2 per game, though that could just be because Man U and PSG were well organized and had top players who work as a team to shut down dribblers like Alexis.

But as poor as Alexis has been the last two matches, the invisible man against Man U and PSG was Mesut Özil. He always passes the ball at a high rate but he created just one key pass over those last two games and took zero shots. Alexis wasn’t making himself available for the passes from Ozil and was dropping deep to collect and create for others but Ozil had other options over those two games, and it wasn’t like he didn’t get any service, he led Arsenal both time in passes in the final third, averaging 20 final third passes per game. Against Ludogorets he only took 21 touches in the final third and created 4 chances, 3 from open play. He also had three shots in that game, scoring a brace.

Wenger addressed this problem in his pre-match interview saying “it’s important that we find our simplicity, speed, and pacy combinations back. We missed a little bit that fluency, that security in our decisionmaking that made us dangerous in the final third.”

I suspect that means he’s not going to start Olivier Giroud. When asked, he sounded a bit negative on whether Giroud would start, though I’m sure many will read that as him being cagey, but Giroud isn’t there to increase the speed of Arsenal’s play, he’s a hold-up player. So, I expect Alexis and Ozil up top, flanked with wide players like Walcott and Iwobi.

The big discussion point is over the midfield pairing. Wenger has started three different players in the last three games along with Coquelin (Elneny, Xhaka, and Ramsey). When asked why he said it was a position where you run a lot and fight a lot. This is true but begs another question: why hasn’t Coquelin rotated? He’s started every match since October 19th.

If Wenger is true to what he’s saying, we should see Xhaka get a start tomorrow but my instinct tells me that there is something else wrong here. When asked why Xhaka wasn’t playing, Wenger gave the line about how he’s in a new league, playing a new style of football, and so on. Again, like the rotation question this rings true. But also like the rotation question, you can just ask why has Mustafi played every match? Different positions, sure, but no less critical to the team and no less change of playing style, teammates, and leagues.

I’m not buying what Wenger’s selling. There is something about the way Xhaka plays or fits with his teammates that Wenger doesn’t like. I’d like to see what Ramsey and Xhaka look like as a pairing and this seems like the perfect match for that but I would bet that Coquelin is the starter and we will see just one of either of those two players. My guess is Ramsey.

As for Bournemouth, the English press and Arsenal supporters think Bournemouth are going to be missing their best player tomorrow, the player who drives their offense forward, who carries the team with his excellent passing, movement, ball control, vision for teammates, and knack for scoring. But from what I’ve read, both Junior Stanislas and Jordon Ibe are 100% fit.

Stanislas leads Bournemouth in goals, assists, and shots. Meanwhile, Jordon Ibe leads Bournemouth in dribbles and is a threat against Arsenal’s fullbacks. They will be missing Jack Wilshere’s through balls and overall ability to set his teammates up: he does lead them in key passes with 18.

Bournemouth have an attacking philosophy which is reflected in their stats: they are mid table with 12 shots per game, they try to own possession against smaller teams and have 50% on average this season, they are 8th in passing success rate with 81%, they are second to last in aerial duels with just 12 per game… they are 19th in tackles, 16th in interceptions, they are 8th in dribbles, and 3rd in drawing fouls.

But they are a truly poor team and they allow the 6th most shots in the League and as you can see from the low tackle and intercept numbers are not very active when they don’t have the ball. I suppose this is why people seem to think Eddie Howe is a good manager: his team does try to play football, doesn’t hit a lot of long passes, and doesn’t go out to kick people off the pitch. I do expect them to roll over and get beaten but Arsenal can’t come out and think that three points are guaranteed. We need an assured start, control, and dispassionate finishing. This should be a routine three point win for Arsenal.

Chelsea beat Tottenham this morning in a great example of control over passion. Folks were awed by Spurs’ opening 15 minutes: Spurs were literally sprinting after every ball in defense and in offense. Chelsea looks rocked and a bit out of sorts, slow to every ball, and the pressure finally told when Eriksen got a bit of space and scored a thumper from 21 yards.

But Chelsea showed tremendous control and organization and slowly got back into the game through superior passing. Pressing is fun to watch and works well against opponents who can’t pass very well or who aren’t organized to deal with it but Conte knows that passing beats running every day; the ball is faster than our legs. This is the main lesson of the rondos that Man City, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich were drilled on under Pep Guardiola. It was magnificent to watch as Chelsea simply dragged Spurs’ shape any way they wanted by passing the ball around.

Chelsea won 2-1 and stay top of the League. Liverpool also won, 2-0 losing Coutinho in the process, with Klopp famously getting on the Anfield supporters when they started booing his players. Arsenal certainly won’t be facing an opponent anywhere near as good as Tottenham but they can’t afford to take this match against Bournemouth as anything less than a must win. A slip here means that the top teams maintain a two match gap on Arsenal.

Chary will be with us tomorrow after the match providing his man at the match observations. For his sake and ours let’s all hope for a good game!



  1. How I wish wenger satisfy my wish. Do not allow Sanchez anywhere near the pitch. In fact from now till end of December. I wonder why we always overlook the way we countered. Am not too concerned about his dispossesion (most players are especially driblers), but am more concerned about his wanting to dribble everybody on the pitch and making opposition to re-organize instead of give and go type of ball. This is not a fitness issue or fatigue issue. He has been doing this since he came to arsenal. My starting line up : Giroud, Chambalin, Iwobi, Ramsey,Ozil, Xacka

  2. Good post. That team that blitzed Chlsea 3-0 is now unrecognizable in the team that has had only one shot on target in each of its last two matches. I can’t agree more with the post, that Ozil and Sanchez (our supposed two topmost players were poor in those games. How do we get them firing again?

    SANCHEZ: as a #9 lacks the patience of a beast of prey to wait for the right moment to strike. He is irresistibly drawn to areas of action thereby all but abandoning his duty post. It’s plain to see that this is not a script from a tactical instruction and works only when the players around him are able to adjust by their own initiative. Our #9 alternative Giroud is simply a Plan B. Plan B of course means a totally different approach. The bottom line then is that we are still missing a striker. Perez remains an unknown quantity. Welbeck still too far away.

    Again, Sanchez couldn’t just click playing wide right. Let’s forget that he played there for Barca. That was in a different system, and anyway they did sell him.

    OZIL: Once Ozil is crowded up, he is neutralized. Because Sanchez plays as a double #10, Ozil spaces is invariably crowded, degrading the quality of his game. Can’t be discounted also that teams have decoded this weakness and are now capitalizing on it tactically. Trust Ozil, though, to cleverly drift into spaces, which unfortunately have been further restricted by Sanchez’s ever presence.

    My take on this is that Ozil and Sanchez should be laterally separated. One at #10 the other wide. If they have to stay on the same vertical line, it should be Sanchez at #10, Ozil ahead of him. Yes Ozil as #9. Unthinkable? Ozil is more patient (vital for a #9) and very intelligent with spaces, while Sanchez’s tons of energy would assume better value at #10.

    1. pony, i think i like you a lot! i agreed with what you said about xhaka being slow the other day and agree with your points today. i, too, have thought about how alexis lacks the patience and sound positional awareness of a proper center forward. in fact, he says he learned how to play up top watching youtube. alexis has to be a warrior at the cutting edge of battle; he lacks the patience required to be a sniper. he’s not a center forward.

      as for ozil, i remember watching a game last season when giroud received his annual champions league sending off. after giroud went off, it was ozil, not alexis, who played center forward. he was very effective there with very intelligent movement, hold up play, and shooting while still creating for team mates.

  3. The drop in form of the team coincides perfectly with the absence of Carzola. Is it just a coincidence? I think not. Defensively we have remained stable but an obvious drop is evident in our offensive play. It demands that Wenger should recalibrate the balance of the team to favour our offensive game. Therefore in comes Aaron Ramsey. If need be to tilt it further, depending on the team we are playing against, out walks Coquelin and in his place Granit Xhaka.

    In the absence of Bellerin any suggestion on somebody who can be an upgrade on Jenkinson?

  4. Thanks Joshuad. I have also been thrilled by your insights. I am ecstatic with the way your mind quickly connected to when Ozil was forced by Giroud’s red card to become the front man and his performance there. It shows that you see, you note and you connect. These are the ingridents that make a tactical mind.

  5. i know i’ve gone on about it all season but xhaka simply doesn’t look ready to me as well. i know mustafi came in later but there’s a significant difference between the two. first, mustafi is a few years older than xhaka. second, central defender is a simpler position to play than defensive midfield, a position typically reserved for more experienced players. defensive midfield is, tactically, the most demanding position on the field. it has nothing to do with how well one dribbles or makes long passes for those who think jack wilshere should be considered an option there. that position is all about being the smartest player on the field. it’s why the more experienced players tend to be the better options.

    what typically happens is attacking midfield players rotate to defensive midfield later in their careers; arteta and cazorla are examples of this. young players that are good dm’s are a rare breed. if you find a kid in his early twenties who really gets the defensive mid position, you have a gem. kante and xabi alonso are two young bpl players that come to mind that were truly special. xhaka hasn’t proven he’s of that ilk. defensive midfield requires decent technique but excellent tactical skill. xhaka appears to have a tactical level that’s not quite there which i believe is the main reason he’s been sent off so frequently. he’s appears to be on a curve that he’s struggling with, particularly with the defensive component. we just have to be patient. wenger has a little bit of experience developing young players. we’ll have to trust his judgement. wenger won’t want to lose this kid by throwing him off the deep end before he’s ready. he costed too much. we’ll see.


  7. In my words Xavi Alonzo said that when he dispossess an opponent with a sliding tackle, the type that gets the stadium on its feet, he is unhappy because what it means is that his positioning was wrong. What makes him happy is nipping the ball off the feet of an opponent with little fuss or intercepting a pass. I am just trying to agree with you that the DM position requires qualities that can only come through exceptional talent invariably nurtured by long experience. Wenger, incredibly patient, will get Xhaka there!

  8. Al sensible analyses. The question is, do you still believe after all these years that Wenger is able to tactically re jig the team and harness the squad in some positive, major ways amid seasons. I don’t think so. Most of his selections look availability (eg injuries, returns) driven with apparent personal favouritism at play.

    If we can’t rest/rotate Sanchez and mobilise plan B (Giroud) playing what you classify a ‘poor team’, when can?

    Seriously, I couldn’t appreciate as a fan what Ramsey brings to the table (well pitch). You look at the numbers and, bottom line, they do appear to suggest that it’s more likely than not we’d lose with Ramsey playing. The recent draws have added empirical data unfortunately. Have you a rational rebuttal on the stats?

    Btw, playing Mert / Holding would be sensible too. Mus needs a rest; been a little slobby in recent games.

  9. I’d like to see the Ox get a start instead of Iwobi. Iwobi has lost a bit of his spark, and hasn’t improved his decision making by much either. Ox meanwhile has been putting in some decent to good cameos, and I think he deserves a start. He’s also more likely to get us a goal than Iwobi who doesn’t finish well. Our attack needs a bit of a spark, and Ox, for all his faults, can provide that.

    Xhaka and Ramsey is what I figured would be our first choice central pairing at the start of the season. But I remember Coquelin giving an interview basically saying ‘he won’t take my spot without a fight’. Which is good for us. With Ramsey out injured, and Coqzorla firing, the pressure to throw Xhaka in was reduced. I still don’t get the feeling that there is something deeper or more sinister there. He just needs time to learn the Arsenal way to play, in what is perhaps our most demanding position. I still expect him to be first choice before the season ends.

  10. One of those games where I worried that the ref might make the difference.

    Good to see Arsenal come back strong after a shaky first half.

    Bournemouth certainly didn’t play like a team ranked 19th in tackles today.

  11. Now 19 games undefeated.

    Say what you will about recent performances, that is something to savor and enjoy.

    Also the Invincibles record is safe for yet another season thanks to (gag) Chel$ki. Comte to eventually replace Wenger? Or Howe? Or Klopp?

    I don’t think we’ll have to worry about that for another couple of years because unless disaster strikes in 2017 2nd half of season, it is looking likely that Wenger will renew.

  12. tough first half but arsenal proved to be too much for bournemouth. 3-1 is respectable, especially when you consider their goal came from a flaky penalty call.

    sucks about debuchy. while i’m not particularly a big fan of his, he did look sharp before he went off. he’s been so unlucky with injury since he’s been at the club. the opportunity to put himself in the shop window may have closed for a bit. i was surprised to see him start considering wenger said he wasn’t fit enough to feature for the first team yet. lip service.

    i thought elneny acquitted himself well. his role in the #8 spot seemed clear and he was a bit more imposing that when he and frank coquelin (and ramsey) were in the same spots. xhaka looked lovely on the ball but still a bit lost when defending. i’m glad he played the full 90. he really needed that. likewise, coquelin needed the day off.

    i’m no ramsey fan but i think he played well both against psg and when he came on yesterday. giroud is the ultimate team player. he just seems to have a personality that makes it tough to not like him; like he’d give you the shirt off his back and wouldn’t think twice. he needs a start in the league soon. we’ll see.

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