It’s morning in America.
Here is a bit of stuff to talk about before the Chelsea match.
First, there is a lot of talk about Wenger coddling to some of his players, specifically Giroud and Gabriel. This talk is thanks to my respected colleague Tim Stillman. I’m going to disagree with Tim and others here.
Wenger gives players their chance and then is ruthless if they underperform. Once he drops you, you’re done unless there’s an emergency. Look at Per Mertesacker. He was dropped last year after his red card at Chelsea and hasn’t played since except on emergency basis. I know that there was an injury in there as well but I doubt we will see much PT for Mertesacker from here until the end of his contract.
So, why did Wenger extend his contract? Because he’s still useful and it’s a lot cheaper than buying a new center back. WhoScored.com (not journalists or even really a reliable source) broke a story that Arsenal have agreed to personbal terms for Kostas Manolas and that we are going to buy him for £47m. With Mustafi costing Arsenal £35m and Manolas priced at £45m+, it makes an awful lot of sense to re-sign Per.
But Per is done as regular starter for Arsenal. Now, I doubt this Manolas story with all my heart BUT what is a fact is that Wenger has been buying center backs left, right and center the last two years. Since dropping Per he’s bought Mustafi, Gabriel, Holding, and Bramall. And word is that Arsenal are interested in Manolas, but we aren’t excited about how much he’s going to… Kostas. So, Wenger is clearly shopping for a replacement.
I also don’t think Wenger is happy with Gabriel. Gab had that mental moment in the Chelsea match (it’s always Chelsea) and Wenger has since used him sparingly. Let’s put it this way, if Wenger was happy with Gabriel and Mertesacker he wouldn’t have bought three other center backs.
Giroud is in the same boat. Far from mollycoddling him, Wenger has tried to play just about every other player in the forward spot. Giroud has been dropped over and over again and is, in my opinion, Wenger’s least favorite forward. What Wenger does appreciate from Giroud is his physicality. Whenever Wenger talks about Olli he mentions how big and strong he is. And it’s that which is what got him selected against Watford, not some sort of misguided love for Giroud.
Against Watford, I think Wenger just got his team selection wrong. For Gabriel he played him at right back because he felt like he needed size and power against Watford. I sensed it before the match when I saw the team sheets and Wenger confirmed that after the match. In fact. he’s said this several times. Against West Ham he said of picking Gabriel, “I thought we’ll need some good headers here”. And again similar in the Watford post-match “We knew we had to be strong in the air with their direct challenges.”
As for Giroud, if he was “rewarding” or “worried about keeping him happy” then hauling Giroud off at half time was a huge blow to his ego and the exact wrong thing to do. When Wenger is worried about a player’s ego he leaves them on the pitch and subs them at his traditional 67-70th minute mark. That’s part of the reason he has that traditional sub, so that he can say that that’s just when he takes players off. Removing Giroud at half-time was one of the few times in his career that Wenger has openly admitted a mistake in the starting lineup. And if Giroud is as precious as everyone seems to think, Wenger would have to know that that substitution was the end for Giroud: both from Giroud’s standpoint and from Wenger’s.
He picked them for their size. He wanted more power in the team. End of.
If I’m right and Wenger is done with Giroud (I’m rarely wrong about this: calling Denilson, Vermaelen, Arshavin, Podolski, Gibbs and Mertesacker) against Chelsea we are going to see a different team selection. I expect that Welbeck will start along with Walcott and Alexis as the attackers. Welbeck for his power and intelligence, Walcott for his pace (picante sauce) and intelligence, and Alexis because he’s Alexis. Wenger will be looking for space in the Chelsea flanks with Alexis and Walcott and runs in the middle with Welbeck with Özil arriving late in the box. Alexis and Walcott will also help in the midfield along with Özil, Ox, and Coquelin. Bellerin will start right, Nacho left, and Mustafi and Koz in the middle.
I also disagree with Tim that Arsenal should pick up their high-pressure game again against Chelsea. I know that Arsenal scored the opening goal with “pressure”* but Conte will be expecting pressure and will counter by doing what he did against Liverpool and play a 5-4-1 at the start. This is designed to kill the game and make sure Arsenal don’t get an early goal. After the 55th minute I suspect he will switch to a much more attacking 3-4-3 which is what he did in the last game against Arsenal and what he did late against Liverpool (both times when he brought Pedro on). Almost immediately Chelsea won a penalty (which Mignolet saved) and probably should have won the match.
It’s going to be a difficult match for the Arsenal and a rare instance where Wenger might try to out tactic his opponent. One way to counter the 5-4-1 is to concede the ball. Give up possession and force Chelsea to play wide. Once their fullbacks are engaged in attack, close space around them and quickly counter.
If Arsenal start the fast attacking lineup and actually press low rather than high there is a good chance to get a result against Chelsea and give Arsenal supporters hope that they might climb back into the title race.
*Alexis applying pressure by himself is not a high pressing game.
We are almost but not quite out of it.
If we cut the deficit to six and go on our customary second half tear, there’s a chance that both the Manchester clubs could deliver for us. Provided, of course, we run the table. I feel dumb, but I’m saying there’s a chance.
I’ve been feeling frustrated that Santi going down has hamstrung us, again. Wondering why Wenger can’t come up with a viable plan B. But the truth is he did, he bought Xhaka, it just hasn’t quite worked out. Just as I would argue that Moustafi, hasn’t quite worked out replacing Mert. I wonder where we would be if we’d gotten Kante, whether we’re always going to be a Tier Ia team, that can be muscled off the prize free agents by the Spanish majors and the Oligarchs.
Tim, as I watch Leicester hurtle toward the drop, I am enjoying no small measure of schadenfreude when I think of Vardy. I wonder whether you still think Mahrez would be a major upgrade on the right wing?
On the one hand he has all of the technical ability to do the job.
On the other hand he has taken a year off from football.
Maybe the fire sale this summer would be a better time to get him.
And the fact that he so easily gives up makes him perfect Arsenal material.
I bet he could be had this summer. I haven’t seen much of Leicester but generally when the whole team struggles, flair players look the worst and Leicester have been awful. I’d much rather have Mahrez than a diva like Payet and I don’t think there’s any question about his talent. Let’s hope we can grab him because despite Iwobi’s development, a creative winger who can also score remains a big need. Bummer about Mkhtaryian last summer.
Wenger started Gabriel at rightback because he wanted to protect Bellerin from a relapse. He mentioned it in his post-match conference. In the past, the manager has often been accused of rushing some players back from injury or overworking them. That was the same rationale for leaving Welbeck out of the squad and Walcott on the bench vs. Watford. Many fans blame the manager and his team selection for the defeat vs. Watford, but I just think the starting XI was good enough to win and the players were simply too complacent!
It’s not either/or: yes blame the manager for his selection, yes blame the players who played.
Surely one of Welbeck, Walcott, or Perez could have started (or the Ox on right wing, for that matter). He wasn’t led to start Giroud purely by concerns over the fitness of his other options.
I agree about Gabriel: in addition to his ability in the air, I think Wenger was motivated to start him because he’s protecting Bellerin a little bit, who, in my opinion, hasn’t really been his usual brilliant self since returning from the injury he suffered against Spurs.
My sentiments, precisely, for the team selection for this game; only thing is I expect Iwobi to start ahead of Danny, which makes Danny our counter-move for when Chelsea switch to 3-4-3, late on. Welbeck is still returning from injury and won’t be risked as we avoid any setback with him (I think he’ll be the joker against Bayern and needs to be in cotton wool), till he is strong enough. I expect he and Perez/Giroud to be brought on as the game nears its end. There may be room for Gibbs or even Gabriel too, if we need to be defensive in offense.
Giroud let Wenger down against Watford; failed to use his strength against Kaboul and Prodl, as expected and if you ask me, was too lackadaisical as he lost ball after ball, or was bumped off the ball too often. As for Gabriel, my guess is someone talked too much to him about how good Mbaiye Niang was and he became apprehensive, giving him too much attention and, in the process, fluffed his lines a couple of times. After that, he did little wrong except when bombing forward into the box to no great effect.
The result could go either way tomorrow, to be honest and every Arsenal fan has to be all nerves, except for those who wish the club ill, in the hope it gets Wenger out.
Wasn’t there some rumor about Giroud having a knock, which is (at least partially) why he was taken off? I know he’s fit for the weekend, but that’s consistent with him being hurt on Tuesday. Of course, the “he had a knock” line could just be a way to make OG look less bad given the substitution, but then, the fact that Wenger used that tactic sorta strengthens the point that Giroud is a bit precious and Wenger knows this and protects him a bit (not because he’s just a softie, but for the sake of the team, since we might need Giroud in the future). It’s also hardly a great sign of ruthlessness to sub a player off at halftime when your team is losing 2-0 at home and playing atrociously in a game they absolutely should and must be win. Most other managers would also make a change in those circumstances.
I side with Tim Stillman here, but maybe it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say Wenger is coddling Giroud or didn’t want to hurt his feelings (and I don’t think the same argument applies to Gabriel at all). What seems more right to say is that Wenger tends to be much more likely to stick to the “don’t change a winning team,” rule–even when the team’s recent performances have been poor and disjointed for fairly clear reasons–than are other top managers. He’s been that way for ages, and the approach has pros and cons to it.
But acknowledging that, in general, there can be some positives that come from erring much more on the side of keeping faith in a winning team (or in particular players who have been a part of recent winning performances) doesn’t mean that we can’t call Wenger out when his overly strict adherence to that rule, in the face of poor performances, seems to have led to a preventable bad result because he didn’t address the problems early enough. This has happened in pretty much every season I can remember: the team is playing poorly but scraping by with a clearly disjointed lineup until humiliation against a rival, or an unforeseen meltdown against a weak team, seems to wake Wenger up and changes come. This costs us very winnable points, and sometimes these points are the difference between us being in the title race in April and our title chances going up in smoke in February.
We could go through and evaluate each one of Tim’s examples of Wenger’s ruthlessness, but instead I’d just say that (a) in many of those cases, Wenger discards the player only after the player has had many, many, many chances to prove himself, many more chances than other managers would give him (again, I’m not saying that’s always bad; keeping faith with players often results in the player turning their performances around and being a great asset); and (b) some of those players weren’t really summarily dropped after a bad performance; rather, they were out of the team (after one or more poor performances) due to suspension or injury, and a better/younger player came in and made the position their own. Arteta is an obvious example. And even though Per was dropped last year, this was after he had been suspended after the Chelsea game (and even then, didn’t Arsene give him another chance by bringing him in for the Barca game, where he was partially at fault for their counterattack goal?), and then he had an injury late in the year, and then another serious injury in preseason. So it’s hard to say that Arsene totally washed his hands of him after Chelsea, rather than decided it was time to start phasing him out for younger, quicker alternatives. He may have brought Per back in from the cold by now, were it not for his injuries. (Personally I find it hard to believe that even AW would sign a player up to a new contract ONLY because of their impact in the dressing room, with no intention of ever even considering playing him for games that matter.)
The problem with playing Giroud against teams sitting deep is that he likes to play in the middle with his back to goal which is far too congested an area for someone with his limited technical skills. It also means the ball gets funneled into the centre rather than the wings. Those flaws in his game entirely cancel out any advantage his size gives. Alexis, on the other hand, shifts from side to side to create over-loads on the wings which makes the attack far more dynamic.
I side with Tim on this one.
The Tim that gives us lovely prose mixed with politics and philosophy.
Giroud started at Watford because of his perceived physicality and Gabriel started because he was thought to be able to do the job in the air and help Mustafi.i also believe that Wenger was protecting Belerin who had just returned from injury and had an eye on keeping g him fresh for Chelsea. Wellbeck not starting or being in the squad was clearly due to his return from injury too.
Wenger changing things at half time was great to see. Plan A didn’t work on the day and he went to plan B.
I hope and expect that Plan A today will be as Tim writes above but I expect that Iwobi may be used on the left to help out more in midfield. However l would be pleasantly surprised if Perez were to be unleashed with Sanchez and Walcott.
Giroud is likely to be back to plan B or even C if Wellbeck is on the bench with him.
Could there be a shock move for Ozil out to the left of attack and a stronger midfield three played? Haven’t seen that for a long time.
We’re a good team the majority of the time, an outstanding one on occasion, but a temperamentally soft one too often — for the past decade at the business end of the season. I said in a previous thread that I don’t agree with Doc that overall we’ve recruited well, although clearly in the case of Alexis, Koscielny, Ozil and Mustafi we have. We have too much that’s average. If your spine includes Giroud and Coquelin you’re not going to win the league. Giroud, Perez and Welbeck are all decent players. Having all 3 is a lack of ambition in recruitment. I’d take Perez, btw, over the other two. He couldn’t even make the bench today, and Welbeck didn’t against Watford. So with Arsenal at full strength up front, Arsenal has a new rotation innovation — rotating Welbeck and Lucas in and out the match day squad.
I haven’t seen the game, so I’ll withhold comment, but the result is not a surprise. Remember, as you light on Ozil today, he was superb when the teams met at the Emirates earlier in the season. Yes, Chelsea are better, but I wonder whether John Moss (who gives red cards for probable injury), would have yellow carded Alonso for his obvious assault on Bellerin (I saw a clip).
The shocking thing (ok, not at all shocking, given the standard of football TV commentary, particularly regarding physical play) was that no one on the Sky broadcast even RAISED THE QUESTION whether it was a foul or not. It was quite obviously a foul, and would probably have been called as such elsewhere on the pitch, but then again plenty of challenges like that do go unpunished (while others get yellow or even red cards), so, once again, it’s the consistency of refereeing that leaves so much to be desired, and I think we can very much feel aggrieved about it, not least because it meant our first string right back had to come off and we had to use up an early sub.
Still, of course I agree with everyone else that we can’t really blame the loss on that call. I blame it on (1) that all important first goal, yes, but also (2) tactical naivety that saw us constantly exposed on the counter after that first goal because both our fullbacks push up too quickly and often (as GNev pointed out in commentary), (3) Coquelin making a complete hash of challenging Hazard when all he needed to do was stay on his feet and force him wide with Kos behind for cover, (4) Chelsea being able to play with their entire first choice eleven as they’re completely injury free, as they have been for much of the season, thus growing in form and understanding and confidence all the time (what a novel concept!), (5) a tiny pitch that makes closing down easy and passing football hard, and, finally, (6) the fact that this Chelsea team (perhaps not on talent, but on working as a team) is much, much better than this Arsenal team.
Agree with every word of that.
Plenty will raise hue and cry about the Bellerin non-call. Terrible foul and he looked concussed aferward. Hoping for the best there, obviously.
Still, that is clutching at straws. It is not what lost us the game. We lost because we are not very good at football and haven’t been for a few weeks (FA Cup rout excepted).
Nothing happened today that many of us weren’t expecting and nothing to expect for the remainder of the league season.
We are the Arsenal.
It’s not straw-clutching to say it should have been called. In fact, I haven’t seen anyone anywhere saying that is the reason we lost the match. It’s kind of like my Rebublican friends arguing away Russia’s intervention on Trump’s behalf by saying that we shouldn’t blame Russia for Hillary’s loss. Not quite the same thing. You can be upset with the non-call (and refereeing inconsistency in general), while accepting that Arsenal are/were second best, in the game and in the league, to Chelsea.
Didn’t make the clutching at straws comment to you specifically Claudeivan but rather in reaction to somebody here locally which I should have made clear.
Saying we’re saying 2nd best in the league however, is on recent form, a bit generous. We’ve huffed and puffed our way to this point and we look clearly out of both huff and puff right now.
Still a lot of the season left to play and far be it from be to say that it may yet tighten up at the top but I might as well go too far and say it anyway: we will be as usual, scratching and clawing for 3rd or 4th in April.
No no. I did not mean second best in the league literally, Morty. 🙂 Thats not true in any case. Thatd be Spurs, not us. Agree on everything else.
Cheers, Claudeivan. Did you notice my Trumpism: saying you’re not going to say something and saying it either directly or by inference?
That people are getting fooled like this is surreal.
Who saw that one coming, right? Amirite!?
I wonder if Wenger is finished with Coquelin after hazard’s goal today and watford’s second on Tuesday? Xhaka has been a loss, hope he has been traumatized enough to adjust his style
Wenger has taken us as far as he can. He was a great manager once, but football has changed, and there’s now very little room, if any, for the footballing purist (you have to be Barca/Bayern levels of good to pull it off, and even then, you need to know how to organize yourself without the ball). Ask yourself: are Marcos Alonso, Victor Moses, and Gary Cahill really top class footballers? Would we want them at Arsenal as more than squad members, and if we had them, would they make us any better? For that matter, what about Pedro or Cesar I-can’t-spell-his-name? As excellent as Kante and Matic are without the ball, are they really much better than above average with the ball? Not saying I wouldn’t have them at Arsenal, mind, but if we’re going to play Arsene’s tactically laissez-faire, unstructured, expressive-yourself-as-you-see-fit brand of football, would they contribute nearly as much in that sort of team as they do at Chelsea? My point is not that these aren’t good players or that Chelsea aren’t a good team, but it seems pretty clear that they’re greater than the sum of their parts. In the starting lineup that’s played in almost every game for them recently, they’ve got two genuinely top class attackers (Hazard and Costa), one amazingly energetic ball-winning midfielder who’s nevertheless not much more than simple and efficient with the ball (nothing wrong with that) in Kante, maybe one top class defender (who happens to be a bit mental) in Luiz, and a top class goalkeeper. Yet as a team they looked streets ahead of us today (yes, yes, of course we have our injuries, but it was forever thus).
This is why Wenger is past it, as sad as it makes me to say it. I read a comment on another arsenal blog today that said football as the beautiful and free game has given way to a game of extremely well organized robots, and while that’s a bit of an exaggeration, watching the likes of Spurs and Chelsea now you can see the point. But until the laws of the game are altered significantly (ha ha), this is the game we’re stuck with, like it or not. And Wenger’s brand of management and playing simply doesn’t work well, not well enough to win titles anyway, in this footballing landscape.
PS Of course the truth is more complicated. Of course if Wenger would just buy more dominant players in certain positions, he might still get away with his style. Of course we have a bizarre problem with injuries that won’t ever, ever go away and that no one seems to have a clue how to get to the bottom of (maybe it really is just bad luck!). Of course we lack mental strength and leaders (blah blah blah), and maybe those qualities could be got somewhere without getting rid of Wenger (not holding my breath). But, again, Wenger’s purist approach just seems to be so much harder these days to be consistently successful than the hyper-organized alternative–it’s like we leave ourselves no margin for error, everything has to be working perfectly for us to perform well consistently, and to consistently get maximum points even when we do perform well. And as we know, this is Arsenal: nothing ever goes smoothly for this club for more than a game or two at most.
The league is definitely done. If we can win the FA Cup and/or Champions League, that would be a great season. We haven’t shown we can win the ultimate prize though. And I think this is the last straw for Wenger. I don’t think he will continue. I have been okay with Wenger leaving for the last couple of seasons now. But now I’m ready to say this should be his last season as manager. We are not going to get fair refereeing or proper tactics or mental strength or any of that stuff with Wenger in charge. The team needs change. I love and respect the man. I am grateful for all the change and success and the values he brought to our club.
We have about as much chance at the Champions League as Leicester has to make top 4 instead of z relegation fight.
We have not been within sniffing distance of a CL semi or final for more than 10 years.
It’s galling when Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund have all broken through to have a go in recent years.
Something consistent is missing and the one constant (hence consistency) at Arsenal is Wenger.
I’m not a die hard fan.
I’m a fair weather fan.
Because in the end, this is still a product.
I have a child with special needs, and terminally ill father.
I have a demanding job.
I have watched my last match of this season.
I woke up at the ballsack of dawn this morning to watch this.
I’ve got better things to do with my time.
See you next season.
Hard to fault you there, Jim. When I saw this was a 7:30am (ET) kickoff I groaned. Not because it was too early; far from it. Because when I ‘sleep in’ on Saturdays, I wake up around 7:15. Had this been a later kickoff – 10am, 12:30pm – I would have had other things to do, and so would have skipped this happily. With no urgent distractions, I couldn’t resist.
I tried sleeping in. Got up at 7:35am. Busied myself with some breakfast and playing with the baby, but my eyes were glued.
In the end I left with the score at 2-0. I broke the spell. I haven’t even seen Giroud’s goal because really, why bother?
Life is more important than this. It’s not even a good distraction from the Trumpocalypse around us.
And always remember, Jim: the product is no longer the football. The product being served is us. We’re being sold to sponsors, advertisers, etc. When you remember that… I don’t know about you, but I don’t like it.
Honestly the highlight was seeing Holmes and Watson in the audience.
I sympathise with your family situation, and sincerely wish you all the best. But I have to that you ARE a fairweather fan, and don’t let the door hit you. A surprising number of “fans” don’t get how this fan thing works. Like our marriages, it is about going through thick and thin. Yes, we have had a fair amount of thin, but with Arsenal FC, it’s mostly thick. You get to experience days like our back to back FA Cup wins. Try supporting Carlisle, Sunderland or Scunthorpe. I’m serially frustrated by Wenger’s Groundhog Days, but on other occasions I am elated. Like when we thumped Chelsea at home. Long time ago, different Chelsea, but it’s not nothing. I do not have a great deal of confidence in this Arsenal team to win the league anytime soon, but it doesn’t mean that I’ll stop watching them. We the fans are not entitled to victories. That’s not how this fan thing works. So go. Do better things with your time. Leave me and others to shout at our TVs.
If you’ve followed Arsenal through the ups and downs since the invincibles or before, you’re not a fairweather fan. End of.
So that’s that, then.
tough to consider yourselves legitimate title challengers when you’re twelve points back in the first week of february. how can title challengers be so outplayed in a game they need to win?
for the record, i don’t think it was a foul on bellerin. the collision was nasty because hector didn’t see it coming but that doesn’t make it a foul. it was unfortunate for bellerin but what was alonso supposed to do?
at the start of the season, like many others, i said that arsenal could win the title this season. i amended that statement when i declared that it would be nearly impossible for arsenal to win the title with cazorla out of the side. many disagreed with me. time always tells.
i’ve beaten the lack of leadership drum ever since cazorla went down. i’ve even been accused of being obsessed with this position. bottom line is that soccer is a team sport and arsenal are a bunch of talented individuals, not a team. individuals will always struggle to beat a proper team. for crying out loud, arsenal just lost to watford at home.
arsenal is talented enough to win the league. however, when there is no one to provide direction to the team, you have disorder or entropy with the way they play. no collection of players can win a tough league when they are that inefficient regardless of how talented they are.
Matches like this and Watford are the reason why I will never pay Sanchez more than 200/week, never mind 400. Yes he is one of the league’s best players, never mind Arsenal’s best, but he doesn’t do enough to make Arsenal title contenders. To give it some context, Suarez did that with a Liverpool team nowhere near as good as the team at Sanchez’s disposal. Yes he had Sturridge that season, Sanchez has Ozil. Sturridge has not played anywhere near as good since Suarez left meaning Suarez made him a much better player. If Sanchez can have half that effect on Ozil, Iwobi, Walcott instead of feeling superior and looking disgusted at their relative lack of talent. – that is the title at the Emirates. And for God’s sake someone get Wenger give PEREZ a fair chance!!!!!
It’s just impossible to achieve a good balance in the team with so many luxury players.
With Coquelin, it’s almost like we are playing with 10 men when we have the ball. That’s luxury.
With Ozil, it’s like we are playing with 10 men when the opposition have the ball. Another luxury.
Walcott coughs up the ball ever so often. It’s like all his good works are nullified by his bad works. Plus-minus equals zero. That’s again like playing with 10 men half of the time. Yet another luxury.
Outside of the penalty box, Giroud offers next to nothing. That appears to me a big luxury.
The costs? We are handicapped playing out from the back. We are handicapped defending as a group from the front.. Our pretty triangles brake down ever so often. Our box man cant help cause over load elsewhere. All sum up to too much of an indulgence for a team that wishes to to be up up there.
I agree with you except for the Ozil bit.
Respect what you’re saying, but this is an argument of 5 years ago. I think it is becoming increasingly clear that regardless of personnel, regardless of how many Alexis’ or Welbecks this team has, the problem lies deeper. If we sell these 18 key players and replace them with another 18 I guarantee we’d see occasional sexy football, a soft midfield, a panicky defense, and a superhuman ability to crumble when it matters.
These are things that go deeper than the players – they run in the fabric of the club. It is Wengeritis.
For me it’s not a question of indulgence but one of identity. It’s fine to alter your approach somewhat for the specific opposition, but you can’t really change the fundamental way you try to play unless it’s drastically underperforming expectations. There’s been too much change at times, from the opening season wobbles of trying to figure out life with Sanchez at striker, then reverting to Giroud, and now back again. I understand the desire to ride the hot foot in the case of Giroud but the cost to overall team chemistry was too great in the long term because the team lost all the cohesion it had gained in playing that style of football. I’m surprised by that from Wenger who is usually the ultimate long-termist. Against Chelsea he was forced into wielding a rather untraditional central midfield and tried to make the best of it with the sort of 4-3-3 that beat City so impressively a few seasons ago, except he asked his men go and press the ball. A front three that includes Ozil and Walcott is not exactly going to be a terror without the ball; and behind them, Iwobi and Ox are not renowned for tackling either. His best interceptor and tackler was fielded in a destroyer role when perhaps he might have been better deployed in the sort of box to box pressing role that would’ve troubled Chelsea’s buildups and transitions. Unfortunately the team didn’t have enough belief in themselves after conceding the early goal to outfight Chelsea and in the end it was kind of a meek defeat.
This is a team that isn’t sure whether it wants to press or not, it’s not sure who it’s best striker is and it doesn’t know what its identity is in midfield. More broadly, it’s a group of good players, it appears, without consistent direction or style of football from one game to the next. And that is on the manager.
Wenger has been struggling to define a fundamental style of play for the past several seasons. We’ve tried pressing, we’ve tried defending in a low block, we’ve tried possession and combination football, and we’ve tried counterattacking all with inconsistent, mixed results. The upshot is that we’re not fundamentally sound at anything, especially without the ball and during transitions. I’ve read elsewhere that we have good defenders but defend poorly and I agree with that. Against most teams, are individual players’ superior ability allows us some measure of control in games despite our fundamentally poor team play. However, against teams of broadly similar talent level, our poor team play is exposed.
The team’s problems are primarily, and profoundly, structural cum systemic. This has been festering for years and has tragically come to a head in Wenger’s final year. What is undeniable is that this squad, and the way it is deployed, is entirely Wenger’s creation. Is Ozil doing anything in defence different to what his scouting report must have read before he came to Arsenal? Would Wenger, who used to prize security in possession so highly, not have known that Sanchez’s high-risk strategy was the very antithesis of that? Did he factor in their effects on the team’s defensive structure before he sanctioned the deals? Or he just bought them because these world-class stars suddenly became available? Individually, the Arsenal back four are consistently among the best in their respective positions in the EPL if not Europe. But there is no coherent strategy for keeping a compact shape when not in possession of the ball, and also no consistent approach to regaining possession. Was Coquelin the envisaged defensive lynchpin that he has now become by default? Why did Wenger refer to Xhaka as a box-to-box player at the start of the season rather than the deep-lying playmaker we all thought he was? Why does Wenger always talk of Ox as potentially a top-class central midfielder but prefers to play him on the wings? Why does he tout Ramsey and Wilshere as worldies in the middle but shunt them lateral? There is palpable confusion in Wenger’s mind about his players, their best positions and how best to configure his team. That has also reflected on his dilly-dallying when interesting external options for the spine of midfield become available: Kante, Wanyama, Pogba, Nzonzi etc. Coquelin perfectly encapsulates Wenger’s midfield quandary: lacking the vision of a typical Wenger-era Arsenal midfielder, lacking goal-threat, and tragically (as we saw with his pitifully botched tackle on Hazard on the way to the 2nd goal yesterday)also lacking the emphatic physicality to boss midfield duels against the elite sides…and yet he is a first pick in an Arsenal midfield of 2017.
He was also inserted into an unfamiliar role completely unlike what he was asked to play for most of the season with two midfield partners unfamiliar with him or with each other as part of an unfamiliar setup away from home against by far and away the best team in the league so far this year. Coquelin’s a fine enough player who is far from perfect but brings something the team needs and delivers that as a homegrown talent. We could be (and have done) a lot worse off than with him.
If the option is Coquelin and not one else, than we couls be worse off. The problem is, having him excluding us from adding better one, like Kante or even Naby Keita. So rather than him or no one else, the thinking is either him or someone better and we have suffer having him because we now missed on Kante and he is now becoming a vital cog for our rival title push.
I understand that line of reasoning but it assumes we could’ve had Kante, whereas I believe he chose to go to Chelsea over Arsenal. Wenger has admitted he tried to sign him but as in the case of Hazard, the money (and chances for titles) was probably sweeter on the south side of London for the player.
I also believe that Coquelin has suffered from not having a consistent role in a consistent team setup and is a far better player than he’s looked in recent games. Coquelin doesn’t have Kante’s range or reading of the game but he does have aggression, mobility and physique, traits that are in short supply elsewhere in Arsenal’s midfield. Our best performances of the year came when he was deployed in a box to box ball winning role and he forced several key transitions with his pressure on outlet passes that led to goals for us. We’ve gotten away from using him that way which speaks to the above mentioned lack of identity which is hurting his play along with many others.
Naby Keita is a bit of a new phenom who is doing great for an up and coming Bundesliga team but there’s no telling how he would stack up playing a supporting role for Arsenal’s midfield. I’m sure the scouts have been looking at him and I’d be shocked if he wasn’t involved in a transfer saga this summer, but for me it’s a stretch at this point to say we missed on Keita because of Coquelin. It’s too early in Keita’s career to suggest we should’ve signed him already because he’s superior to Coquelin.
I think Coq can be a good player for us and like you, I think he can provides some needed physicality in our midfield. The problem is structural and the way Wenger insists we build from the back. We push our midfielders and fullbacks so high during the early buildup in the hopes that it pushes the opposition midfield line backwards. Basically, it overloads the attacking third AHEAD of the ball so that if the center backs can find a pass between the lines, we are in a good position. It’s a high risk, high reward scenario especially against teams that press our central defenders. Pressing teams try to overload and trap the attacking team’s backline, forcing a turnover or a panicked long hoof. The risk is that if the ball is turned over by the center backs or deepest midfielder, Cazorla when he’s healthy, we’re extremely vulnerable to an immediate counter because our fullbacks and other midfielders are now behind the ball in transition and struggling to get back. It’s fairly easy to press and cut off passing lanes when teams only have to press two center backs. Your central defenders and deep playmaker, when positioned ahead of the center backs in a 2-1, had better be damned good with the ball in this scenario.
I don’t watch every match in every league but as far as I’ve seen, Wenger is the only coach who tries to build up play in this manner. Most, especially against pressing teams, play three across the back, usually by splitting the center backs and dropping a midfielder between. For me, this opens up passing angles because now the press has to cover players and passing lanes across a much wider horizontal area, stretching the press across the pitch. It forces the pressing team to make a decision to either commit a third player to the first pressing line, or to leave the third player open and press the back three with two forwards.
It seems to me if you’re the only person trying a tactic, you’re either a genius who’s ahead of the curve, or you’re a quack who hasn’t realized the drawbacks that others have recognized in your approach.
Yes, Tom Paine described exactly the above conundrum over on the Ringer a few months ago. It has unfortunately been a recurring theme that Arsenal’s backline has looked up for a pass and has found only massed ranks just waiting to pounce on the attempted outlet. It takes excellent passing from the back and excellent movement and combinations ahead of that to be successful. The problem is, we don’t know how else to play when it isn’t being successful and teams know it’s coming.
The problem is especially severe when Gabriel plays one of the CB roles or when anyone bar Monreal and Bellerin start at wing back, or when Cazorla isn’t playing. Basically it’s the way he prefers his team to play because when it works, it really greases our attacking engine, but the problem is he persists with it even when the personnel isn’t quite there to pull it off at a high rate of success. It goes without saying that better, more expensively assembled teams are usually better able to snuff it out, especially with the influx of highly tactical coaches savvy with pressing. This is primarily why, in my view, he brought in two outstanding passers from deep areas in Mustafi and Xhaka. He also recently extended Mertesacker, a very secure passer, and signed Holding who seems generally excellent on the ball.
I wouldn’t say he’s alone with his approach to building play, but I would say the approach needs tweaking when the players to pull it off aren’t on the pitch. It looks bad when teams jump on it and we don’t have the players to compensate, but I don’t think it’s fundamentally a flawed approach. Unfortunately the previously impressive cadre of technical midfielders with which we started the season has been blown apart by injuries, suspensions and Jack Wilshere’s fit of childish pique at being left off the England team by disgraced former manager Sam Allardyce.
I suppose it’s not fundamentally flawed, but you do bring up the point that tactics are dependent as much on execution as theory. You can draw up a perfect tactical plan on the chalkboard but if you don’t have the players with the necessary skill or drill the team well enough in their roles, the theory is not going to be followed by the desired result on the pitch.
Awhile back I was heavily criticized on this board when I opined that, theoretically, a back three could work well against us. Some believed that the way we attack nullified a back three and any team would be foolish to try it against us. I am of the opinion that some teams trying a three man central defense against us simply didn’t execute it properly. Well, Chelsea play a back three and we weren’t able to breach it, at least not when it counted. The difference of course is that not only are Chelsea’s players better but Conte has drilled the team well enough in his version of the system to execute it well.
i agree that we currently lack the personnel to play Wenger’s preferred method of build up play. Cazorla has been out since October. It drives me crazy that Wenger developed a system of play based around one player’s singular skill set and hasn’t been able to figure out an alternative adjustment.
El Neny!!! Great goal.
As Tochukwu said, this is Wenger’s team and to me there is something anachronistic about it. It’s philosophy and its personnel are at variance. This is an era of the universal player where each player should be able to perform many roles creditably. Wenger’s philosophy of a fluid mobile team full of interchanges in position as a game progresses tallies with the need for universal players but contradicts the use of players like Giroud who is only productive in the box, or Coquelin a midfielder who can only defend, or Ozil who can only create, or Walcott who is a genius with his runs of the shoulders of defenders but with nothing else including inability to trap balls, or Gibbs whose use of his only left foot is so narrow that as soon as he cuts infield he becomes terribly handicapped. The £34M Xhaka, excellent with his ball distribution, we now know has a handicap with tackling. Even the very versatile Ramsey fails to measure up to that universality standard for a top team because of his lack of speed and agility. They say the strength of a chain is the strength of the weakest link.
Our weakest link, imo, is our scouting department. Shock? They seem to recruit players without reference to our playing philosophy.
Despite our relative success in the transfer market, scouting has been a weakness for some time, especially with respect to identifying up and coming stars. There have been big time misses and years and years of invested player development mostly on eventual flops like Jenkinson, Sanogo, Miyaichi, Wellington, Joel Campbell, Eisfeld, Vela, Miquel, Nordtveit, etc. It’s always difficult and I don’t know if Arsenal are worse than anyone else at this but, despite some glimmers of success with the likes of Szczesny, Coquelin, Ox and Bellerin, it seems like this is a department where we have really stunk the place out in the past 10-12 years (which happens to be how long it’s been since we stumbled upon Cesc Fabregas).
Seems like the club is being more careful these days and after investments in StatsDNA and Leicester’s head of scouting, we seemed to have hit on something with Rob Holding. Let’s hope he and the current crop of Asano, Jeff, Martinez and a few others can bear more fruit than their predecessors.
Comments are closed.