It’s going to be a long two years

The Arsenal are BACK, baby!

After 45 minutes of relatively good play, and with Stoke’s star attacking player off the pitch with a hamstring injury, Arsenal just needed to be patient, build up the attack, and put Stoke under pressure and they could have easily taken three points. Instead, right from kickoff, Arsenal sent Ramsey forward to play striker, Xhaka made a bad pass to Özil, then compounded the problem by trying to win the ball back, and within a few seconds, Jese scored a great goal, assisted by a fantastic pass from Berahino.

That was 90 seconds into the second half. The first half had seen a legitimate penalty shout denied, and of course the second half would have a good goal chalked off for offside. Even without those complaints, Arsenal created two big chances in the second half, one to Aaron Ramsey who was the hero last week with an almost carbon copy shot, but this week his shot was saved. Statistically speaking, those Big Chances are about 50-50, so (if you’ll indulge me a gambler’s fallacy) the save was expected.

Arsenal lost and the fans had plenty to argue about. The Arsenal are BACK, baby!

The big argument is the one that we have been having at Arsenal for about 4 years now: why is Aaron Ramsey playing as a center forward?

I remember the Invincibles era and I even vividly remember the Fabregas era. I’ve been writing this blog since January 2008, so I have been deeply involved in the debates over the years. I also have a good memory for the way that Arsenal used to play.

In the Invincibles era Wenger played with two deep lying center mids. Patrick Vieira was rarely the solo defensive midfielder, he was typically paired with a player whose job was to sit: Petit, Gilberto, etc.  This doesn’t mean, however, that Vieira roamed forward for Arsenal. He took his midfield duties seriously. He shielded the back four, helped to build play, and powered forward on occasion. In fact, my favorite all time Arsenal goal is his counter attacking run against Tottenham. But the point is that he picked his times to go forward and that most times, the team had balance in midfield.

In the Cesc era that loosened up a bit because Fabregas was both a center mid and Arsenal’s most creative player. It wasn’t all out attack, though, and it took a few years before Cesc was turned into more of a forward than a midfielder. For most of the time, Wenger placed a more defensive-minded midfielder next to Cesc. At first, the feisty Flamini and later he had two midfielders in Denilson and Song and eventually just Song.

That Cesc-era Arsenal had a major flaw, though. It wasn’t so much that the midfield lacked balance but that Arsenal were invited to attack in order for teams to exploit the space between Arsenal’s back two (the fullbacks at Arsenal have been wing backs since the Banter era) and the goal. Time and again, Arsenal used to get caught high up the pitch, and a simple long ball over the top would unlock the defense. This happened so often that Stewart Robson parlayed his phrase “Arsenal’s suicidal high line” into a career as a football pundit.

Fast forward to the last four years, the Dry Powder Era – or maybe it’s better to call it Wenger’s Denouement. What’s happening with Arsenal’s midfield is best illustrated by yesterday’s goal.

As I have already said, Xhaka was at fault for that goal. He misplaced the pass and then stupidly tried to win the ball back. In doing both of those things Xhaka left a massive gap in midfield, one which wasn’t covered by Arsenal’s erstwhile fullback, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Here is the still from right after Xhaka has made his pass and is trying to recover.

The person in the most advanced position in this frame is Aaron Ramsey. And he played in that position for most of the game, taking positions away from Arsenal’s £50m forward, Alexandre Lacazette. Turning Lacazette into the player who was charged with delivering him the ball and not the other way around – as you would expect from a midfielder.

There are a lot of things wrong with this picture. First, this happened during buildup. In a good ball-possession side, you like to develop your buildup slowly so as not to expose your defense with huge gaps. But here, we have Ramsey – Xhaka’s midfield partner – completely out of the buildup and waiting for the ball to be delivered. This is imbalanced.

Second, Xhaka tries to force a pass to Özil and fails.

Third, Xhaka tries to win the ball back. An idiotic move. He surely knows that Ramsey isn’t there to cover. So, the better option there would have been to drop and try to recover the ball off Jese rather than jump into a tackle.

Fourth, Wenger is playing a forward as a fullback. Ox doesn’t drop to cover. He doesn’t try to pick up Jese. He really doesn’t do anything defensively.

But for me the big problem, the one we have been yammering on for four years about, is that Arsene Wenger doesn’t seem to have a problem fielding a team with no real defensive-minded midfielder and seemingly no instructions for the rest of the team on how to cover, hold, and be patient in build-up.

Ramsey gets a lot of anger directed toward him but for me, Wenger is either telling Ramsey to go play as a forward or Ramsey is just going to play as a forward and Wenger isn’t criticizing him for it. In fact, after the match, Wenger blamed the three center backs.

“First we lose the ball in the middle of the park, and after that we gave them too much freedom at the back through the middle and basically gave them a goal. You need to improve the connections with the players but I was not convinced by our central defence today.”

I have watched the replay of this goal a dozen times and honestly, the center backs weren’t that bad. Yes, you could say that maybe Mustafi should have stopped Berahino, but I don’t think he did anything wrong. You could also get frustrated that Monreal let Jese get ball-side, but it wasn’t so much Monreal’s positioning as the fact that he got beat for a stutter step of pace after the through ball was played. For me, the goal was just a brilliant ball and superb finish. If you want to blame anything, you have to blame the imbalance in midfield.

Wenger has gone from a midfield duo of Vieira-Petit to Flamini-Fabregas to Xhaka-Ramsey. This is an abandonment of balance in midfield. I’m not criticizing Ramsey. Aaron had the best chances in the game, which you would expect a center forward to have. Especially when he’s getting great delivery from the other forwards. And I can’t blame him for cherry-picking or for playing in Lacazette’s space. Wenger is the boss. It’s is responsibility to tell Aaron Ramsey where to play.

Wenger also picks the team. So, if the center backs were to blame that’s also on Wenger: he played two left backs as center back, a right back as a left wing back, and a forward as a right wing back. He also picked a midfield with no defensive-minded players, and started Özil in the hole – who has a ton of amazing qualities but defense isn’t one.

This is the new reality at Arsenal. Wenger is now throwing his center backs under the bus left-right-and center to cover for his own tactical blunders. Tactical and, let’s be frank here, also his transfer failings. Wenger has the money to buy players but he’s giving us this song and dance about how he has 33 players now and needs to sell. While fielding an entire team out of position: in addition to makeshift back five, he had Lacazette feeding Ramsey and Ozil trying to cover midfield.

This Arsenal team should easily challenge for the top four. Lacazette has shown in his first two matches that he is a predatory finisher. He got just one shot against Stoke and he scored. I honestly don’t care what the formation’s phone number is: 352, 343, 442, 451, 433, whatever.

I do care about Arsenal playing with two midfielders, who pick their times to make their runs, who balance each other, and who cover for each other’s spaces. And I also care about getting Özil on the ball and having him create for Lacazette.

This should not have been a difficult match for Arsenal. Stoke created just one real chance in this match (their 7amxG was just 0.76) and Arsenal created more than enough even without the referee complaints to win (7amxG 1.62). And if this was any other Arsenal manager, I would give him time to correct these weaknesses in midfield, to buy players, and to get his team clicking going forward. But this is Arsene Wenger and this is what Wenger has been doing for four years. And what I expect him to do for two more years.



  1. Not a long two years, but one, methinks. If Arsenal fizzle out this season as they have done of recent, then not even Wenger and the gocile Arsenal board wof outdoor be able to stand the pressure.

  2. Agree with every word here, Tim. Wenger’s not going to change. He fields misbalanced teams and refuses to address defensive concerns that seem glaringly obvious to everyone but him. His team selection yesterday was bizarre. I mean, we all know he has a penchant for fielding players in positions not their own, but yesterday’s selection took his penchant to a new level of absurdity, and, surprise!, we were wasteful and confused throughout. And our central midfield is a mess.

    One thing I’m surprised you didn’t mention was Welbeck’s play. I seem to remember him having several opportunities to score, but he’s just incapable of doing so. Had we a more clinical striker, we’d be talking about a different result today. That, too, is down to selection, of course. Wenger seems to have little trouble preferring the wasteful Welbeck to the more prolific Giroud, and with Giroud you get intricate link-up play that helps unlock 10-man walls. Sure, Giroud is not the quick forward you need when playing a counter-attacking style, but we don’t play that style anymore. We need forwards who can work the angles in tight spaces, and Welbeck doesn’t do that. He charges around and uses his insane athleticism to do not very much at all.

    1. Agree with Welbeck and not only him but the entire English contingent of Chamberlain, Walcott, Wilshere, Gibbs..all have been here for so long but all of them have been mediocre, yet they continue to get starting positions. Even fans can sit here and assess that Welbeck cannot finish but yet Wenger continues to field him. Lucaz Perez showed so much promise last season, he was rewarded with an unceremonious exit. Giroud as you mentioned, has saved us more times that one can remember, yet does not get a starting place. Shameful that Wenger made the out of position CBs accountable for his mistakes yesterday, after blaming the fans for last season.

      1. Giroud is an amazing sub but I disagree that he’s the answer as a starting forward. We’ve had several years now of Giroud at the club and for most of that time he’s been a starter (when healthy) and it didn’t prevent us from falling short of our goals and playing some terrible football at times while doing so.
        Agree about Lucas, though in AW’s defense, I do wonder if Lucas hadn’t starting complaining and pushing for a move so early in his Arsenal career, whether Wenger would have given him more playing time at the end of last season and the beginning of this one (he also had a lot of niggling injuries last spring). But even so, one gets the impression that he would have had a long way to go to prove himself, whereas Wenger’s favorites (many of them part of the English contingent) seem to have to do very little to be in the team or close to it. I like Welbeck, but I think Lucas would certainly finish off chances that Welbz misses.

        1. Well, I completely agree, I’m not saying Giroud should be our main striker and an automatic starter in every game but in yesterday’s game(Sanchez would start for me and Lacazette and Ozil alongside him), considering the options we had and the form he has been in, he should have started ahead of Welbeck. When Lacazette and Giroud played in the last game, they combined quite well. Of course, nobody can prove that this would have worked but there were many other things that Wenger could have done better which probably cost us the game.

        2. We valuate Giroud a little differently, PFo, but I would argue that of the current personnel we have at our disposal, I would start Giroud ahead of Welbeck. I think Giroud and Lacazette really complement one another actually.

          1. Sure, that’s understandable, though I’d much prefer to not have to start either Welbeck or Giroud. I think a front three of Ozil, Sanchez, and Lacazette could run riot in this league if we got our midfield issues sorted.

          2. By golly, I completely forgot about Sanchez. For some reason, I’ve gotten it into my head that he’s gone!

    2. Dude, he was mocked at Manu U for his permenently lost scoring boots. Great guy, I would be happy for my daughter to date a standup dude like him. But his footballing potential has never translated into anything real. Story of the Arsenal. We are all about what Could Be and What Could Have Been.

    3. Totally agree with your assessment of Welbeck. Van gaal sold us at best a bottom half player or championship player. So he is tall, athletic and quick but my god he’s technique, game intelligence and being clinical in from of goal is so poor, i’d rather have Perez than welbeck. Can anyone honestly tell me welbeck is better than perez, how can perez see the shambles that is welbeck and not feel pissed off. And bellerin has had numerous chances in front of goal and regularly fluffs his lines. Yesterday Ozil put him through, i was expecting him to square the ball to lacazette but the shot he took was powderpuff and totally unnecessary.

      1. Perez is a battler on the pitch and makes good decisions, has good movement. Maybe he’s not good enough to start at Arsenal, but I think he’s a better footballer than Welbeck. Like you, I can’t understand Wenger’s decision to start him.

    4. All of this is harsh on Welbeck; he’s a perfect substitute striker. A strong, quick athletic guy with fantastic versatility to play either wing or the striker position. He should be used every game, in about the 70th minute, to run at an exhausted defense and provide an injection of pace and power in exchange for which ever of the front three is off on the day. I would NOT sell Welbeck under any circumstances, but that said, like so many other players on this roster – Wenger has no clue how to use him. None.

  3. The 1 chance that Arsenal had to move forward as a club, they didn’t take (i.e. not to re-sign Wenger). Time and again we have seen the same blunders over and over again and I’m afraid there is only 1 person to blame. How many times have the tactical blunders and lack of preparedness been highlighted? Only person who fails to notice this is Wenger. This supposed change in formation was another false dawn just like the one we had when Cazorla and Coquelin were in midfield and we had those string of victories. Xhaka was error prone last game and it’s as if nothing changed and he committed the same blunders. Who’s coaching him? Lastly, you but 2 reasonably good players (Kolasinac and Lacazette) and you hardly play to their strengths and get them substituted. Sorry for the rant, but we have 2 more seasons of misery ahead.

  4. Tim absolutely nails every single word (ok, well, I think Ox is more of a midfielder than a forward, but otherwise…).

  5. I think its mostly that the narrative just tends to be favorable for the winner.

    Tim, as you pointed out, the Stoke 7amxG was 0.76, and the Arsenal 7amxG was 1.62. So, Arsenal did “better”. And, a disallowed goal, 2 meaningful penalty shouts, and 2 handballs in the penalty area (if memory serves) is quite a bit to overcome.

    Lacazette was interesting. He seems to have an ability to convert chances to goals that seems to have been missing at Arsenal. Though, his first touch did seem to let him down at times.

    My wish for Arsenal – just to enjoy watching them play without the angst and recrimination that comes with losses. If only I could commit to an Internet and commentary voice over free season. Oh well …

    1. I think heavy touches are a sure sign of new club nerves and adjusting to the big expectations. It’ll take a little while for him to put together all the pieces of his game consistently for 90 minutes each game, but it will come.

  6. This was simply criminal mismanagement. Even Son of 1 Nil picked up that we had no real central defender playing in a back 3 formation. WTF?

    Plus we played with the all too familiar handbrake on. Pathetic.

    I allowed Wenger his final 2 year swan song knowing full well that it would be s$%t show but at least let’s lose while doing the basics. Too much to ask I guess.

  7. Wenger was stupid enough to Start bellerin at left wing back and the ox on the other side…xhaka was absolutely awful and ozil nothing close to helpful..happy spuds dropped all 3 points.. we meet Liverpool and finally get to see Sanchez and laca play next week.. COYG!!

  8. If Bellerin really wanted to leave and Arsenal could have persuaded Barcelona to part with £50million for the priviledge..then Arsenal should have sold him.His form in the second part of last Season and the beginning of this is fairly uninspiring.The Ox’s best and future position is undoubtedly as a right wing-back and not in the midfield.If he leaves for either Liverpool or Chelsea then that’s exactly where they would play him.This being the case then Arsenal should have told him this and signed him on to a new contract paying him the equivalent of his and Bellerin’s combined wage with the knowledge that Nelson would be back-up.Wenger is never pro-active in the transfer market.He never replaces his “favourites” with obvious improvements.Arsenal currently have a glaring need for “central-midfield steel” and leadership.Either Matic,Matuidi or even Carvalho would have offered a suitable fix but instead the Manager is currently tied up in a bun-fight…trying to offload the “deadwood”.A difficult task made all the more impracticable given a natural desire to receive market value combined by the difficulty of persuading other teams to pay the exorbitant and undeserved salaries that the likes of Jenkins on and Gibbs are currently receiving.The same argument effectively includes Ozil.He’s,obviously,happy to stay.No other club would consider paying a transfer fee for a class player who only really performs in a handful of games per season.He’s undoubtedly not even worth the risk of a “free” on increased wages either.. and the liklihood is that Wenger will congratulate himself when he extends Ozils contract next year.. paying him an undeserved 250k per week and at the same time resigned to Alexis trotting off to one of our rivals…My money is on Chelsea or God help us Spurs!!This whole farce will only end once the Manager finally recognises his deluded inadequacies.Neither the Board nor the current owner have the will or knowhow to change the “status quo”.Meanwhile we have the daunting prospect of two more years of mediocrity to witness…as you point out.Although following on from 10 years of said ineptitude I suppose that constitutes “light at the end of the tunnel”!!

    1. Ozil needs better players around him. He is not the kind of player that carries a team. Wenger needs to buy better players but as you have alluded to quite correctly, the deadwood needs to be gotten rid off. why would you buy Jenkinson in the first place from charlton for a million and then put him on an exhorbitant wage that no other club wants to meet ? That’s wenger for you rewarding mediocrity

    2. You would sell Bellerin to retain Ox? That’s so wrong. Bellerin, if he got back on track and we returned to back four, will be the best right back in the world in two or three years.

  9. Just 2 more years? When asked if this was his last contract recently, his answer was far from ‘no’.

    I don’t get all the Kroenke and Board hate. I think they want to win things, but I think Wenger has more power and influence than we realize. We spent 100m last summer. I think another 100m could be spend this summer, were it not for Wenger. This 33 first teamers canard is disingenuous, and serves his purposes perfectly. We have plenty of players on the books – lots of those are first teamers – but only 17-18 of real quality. And that should be enough – a first team with a solid bench and some youngsters can win the league. But not when your midfield consists of Xhaka (Pirlo-esque and good in a midfield 3, but not defensive or incisive enough in a midfield 2), Elneny (white bread), Ramsey (should’ve sold him years ago), and Wilshere (should’ve salvaged for parts years ago). Oh, and Coquelin. That’s shameful. The rest of the team has enough numbers, but there is no coherent plan.

    I am confident that if we had Messi on this team we’d probably play him as a wing back or midfielder and we’d score plenty of goals and concede even more, as we do now.

    Having said all that, I had as at 4 points in 2 games, and we’re at 3. Stoke was always going to be difficult, and we lost thanks to some bad play and bad luck. But my ‘model’ (read: expectation based on experience) takes out shitfuckery into account: I expect us to be at 4 points, but we ought to be at 6.

  10. Next week at Anfield, even though only 3 games into the season, will define how our season plays out. We need a result, win or draw, otherwise the knives will be out and I’m looking at my knife block right now…

  11. I thought Wenger was trolling us last season with his weird selections, but this season he took everything to a whole new level. I fully expect him to go full Rick Sanchez on us ar some part of the season.

  12. I disagree with your argument today. In fact, you contradict yourself by stating “This should not have been a difficult match for arsenal….” Guess what, It was not. Arsenal was very unlucky in this game. Stoke like you rightly pointed out had only one clear chance which unfortunately they converted. We had lots of chances unfortunately we didn’t convert.
    I read all your posts and I generally agree with your conclusions. This is different. Arsenal controlled the game and there is a reason for it. Ramsey bombs forward when we are in possession, sometimes this is by design as the other team must account for him by tracking him and thereby reducing the number they have in the midfield.
    However, when this happens, we have to be very careful with the ball.
    Further, when he does one of the 3 center backs becomes the sitting dm.
    For the goal, the problem was that Xhaka should have been more careful with the ball and yes, the centre backs should have been stronger. I blame the center backs more cos sometimes balls are misplaced. Their job is to defend in that situation. Everybody makes a mistake.
    Finally, it’s the second game of the season!!!!! We dominated this game we were just unlucky… good goal, penalties not given and chances created.
    Let’s give the team some space before we start all the negative noise. With Lacazette and hopefully if Sanchez stays we have one hell of an attack.

  13. Ramsey, as much as I criticize him, has always been one of my favorite players and I long for the Ramsey of 2013-14. Not just because of his goals but his all around game. That season, he covered every blade of grass and was the quintessential box to box midfielder. He was immense for us both offensively and defensively. But since that season, Wenger and to some extent Ramsey himself have gotten it into their heads that Ramsey is a great goalscorer. He’s a scorer of great goals, but he’s not a goalscorer.

    And based on that assessment, Wenger has invented a new position for Ramsey, the midfield striker. This position starts out even deeper than a withdrawn striker in midfield but as soon as we win the ball, he hares upfield, ahead of the ball, to get on the shoulder of the last defender to try to get played in. I assume the inherent defensive instability this creates is supposed to be made up for in goals scores. But the question which needs to be asked, does Aaron have the potential to score enough goals to justify the goals we’ll inevitably leak because of the space he leaves behind? I don’t think so.

    Ramsey has been an automatic starter for six seasons. His overall goal conversion percentage over that time is 7.6%. His percentage of goals from shots in the penalty area, those runs into the box that Wenger is always praising, is 11.4%. League average last season was 10.8%. Ramsey’s goal conversion rate from shots in the PENALTY AREA is basically the same as the league average for all shots. As a comparison, Alexis’ goal conversion rate for shots in the penalty is 20.9% in his three year Arsenal career. And if one discounts his ONE good season, his conversion rate for shots in the penalty area is 9.2%. Why the f*** are we working so hard to get Aaron Ramsey shots in the penalty area?

    Wenger somehow seems focused on Ramsey’s one good season while ignoring his other five seasons of shooting mediocrity. He’s turned a once promising box to box midfielder into an auxiliary forward, to the detriment of the player and the team. I would go so far to say the Wenger has ruined Ramsey’s career. I don’t doubt Ramsey’s heart for coming back from his leg break nor do I doubt his nerves considering the importance of some his goals for us including FA Cup finals. But from a selfish career standpoint, he might have been better off going to Man United and letting Fergie coach him.

    1. This.

      I’d add that Ramsey’s “traditional midfield skills” (finding space to receive passes; receiving the ball under pressure and holding onto it before transitioning it forward to a teammate; breaking defensive lines by dribbling or passing; variety and choice of pass; tackling/intercepting; covering space for teammates; etc) often leave something to be desired, even though he’s clearly capable of outrageous skill and at a young age looked like he’d have the ball playing ability to be a Cesc type player (ok, maybe never as good, but more of a skillful, assured “ball player” than he has turned out to be). If I’m right, then this disparity suggests that Ramsey did/does have the natural potential to improve his midfield skills, particularly with the ball, and that the focus on his forward runs and goal scoring by Ramsey and Wenger has probably stunted the development of those skills. So this is another sense that Wenger has ruined Ramsey’s career (short of a dramatic upturn in these areas), not because Ramsey is or has been consistently terrible, but just because the gap between what he is and what he could have been seems (to me at least) to be so dramatic.

      1. I think the discrepancy between the potential he displayed in his first couple of seasons with the player he has become drives the sharp division of opinion in the Arsenal fandom over Ramsey. Fans who defend him remember the potential he showed back then and are waiting for the other shoe to drop and for him to get back on that trajectory. Fans who constantly berate him see the player he’s become, a striker masquerading as a midfielder. And a poorly finishing striker at that. And for me, whatever ire fans have over Ramsey’s perceived positional indiscipline needs to be directed at the manager who’s instructing and encouraging him to play this way.

        1. If memory serves, for the first couple of seasons Ramsey got pilloried, with many saying he was never going to be good enough for Arsenal. I remember joining in on the side of “give him a chance, he’s young and very talented”. But many just couldn’t see it. He has this all-action style which means that 30% of what he tries doesn’t come off, but the sheer volume of stuff he does try makes up for that. For many this is frustrating.

          1. You’re correct in the first season, he was criticized. Most of the critics failed to realize that he was being played out of position as an attacking midfielder to replace Cesc. That was a no win situation. But when he was moved back into a double pivot alongside Arteta he blossomed. I recall Wenger saying that he told Ramsey to simplify his game and not worry about goals. I wish Ramsey and Wenger would remember that conversation now.

  14. I think his ego is standing in the way of arsenal’s success..tell me why a good manager in his right senses will make such a selection for a team like stoke at’s ego all the way.. ego also tells him to bench Sanchez for sometime to let the world know that we are good without him.. trust me, the grandpa is confused..

  15. Well, Bellerin played well on the left, we got a lot of joy down that side and he should have had a pen. Likewise Ox was man of the match on the right – and Tim had him as such over at the other place. So not sure what the complaint is there. Only two players were being played out of position, not the whole team – Bellerin (and inverting a full / wing-back is hardly unheard of) and Monreal (who has played at CB before, and who deserves the vote of confidence). Ox is a wing-back now.

    Welbz’s lack of finishing – agreed, it’s frustrating. Ramsey played well most of the match, had the most number of chances, and mostly made late runs rather than playing at CF. Xhaka too was OK. The pair of them combined perfectly to stuff it up for Stoke’s goal, however.

    Wenger – I didn’t like that he took Xhaka off as it essentially removed Ramsey’s goal threat. Otherwise the substitutions were ok.

    Overall I thought we played OK. We were unlucky with decisions. I was certain we were going to equalize, and I was half right. Chalk it up to a bad day and move on. Worryingly, Wenger already seems rattled. Can’t let that continue.

  16. Well, Bellerin played well on the left, we got a lot of joy down that side and he should have had a pen. Likewise Ox was man of the match on the right – and Tim had him as such over at the other place. So not sure what the complaint is there. Only two players were being played out of position, not the whole team – Bellerin (and inverting a full / wing-back is hardly unheard of) and Monreal (who has played at CB before, and who deserves the vote of confidence). Ox is a wing-back now.

    Welbz’s lack of finishing – agreed, it’s frustrating. Ramsey played well most of the match, had the most number of chances, and mostly made late runs rather than playing at CF. Xhaka too was OK. The pair of them combined perfectly to stuff it up for Stoke’s goal, however.

    Wenger – The team selection was not the main problem but the performance was fragmented. I didn’t like that he took Xhaka off as it essentially removed Ramsey’s goal threat.

    Overall I thought we played OK, but we are miles off where we want to be. We were unlucky with decisions. I was certain we were going to equalize, and I was half right. Chalk it up to a bad day and move on. Worryingly, Wenger already seems rattled and is lashing out. Not a good sign.

    1. I disagree that Bellerin and Ox played well. Not a lot came off for them, and for all of Ox’s swashbuckling he’s still a really frustrating player for me. There’s a lack of cohesion, generally, about our play in the last couple of seasons, and yesterday only added to the pile of games where we looked bereft of ideas, awareness, and incisiveness. Have you also noticed how ponderously we move the ball up the pitch when presented the opportunity of a counterattack? This has been happening for a long time now.

      I just don’t think Wenger’s Arsenal has a clear sense of identity and purpose.

      1. I would emphasize where we agree rather than disagree – we do look incoherent and are certainly a long way off from where we want to be. Even so we got a draw at Stoke, the record be damned, and did enough to win.

        Nobody gave a complete performance, so saying that Bellerin and Ox played well is a relative statement. It’s not just Ox – more or less the whole team are frustrating us (and no doubt themselves). It was game 2, big players still missing, let’s hope it starts to click. I want to see Sanchez, Ozil and Laca on the same pitch.

  17. So Tim,
    What are the outcomes, win’s to losses using 7amxG 1.62 (Arsenal) to 7amxG (stOke)
    over a season if one can convert to probability theory? Might not be possible but just curious.
    I would take those numbers season long all day.
    But, sometimes it does not work out that way, ask chElsea about those numbers leading into the FA Cup final, especially with out back three starting that game.

  18. In the last 15 minutes of the 1st half we got so many basics wrong, particularly ruining some effective attacks with poor situational awareness and terrible execution. I was so annoyed about this wasted period that I wasn’t paying close attention. Then in the first 2 minutes of the 2nd half we gave away possession 3 (THREE!) times.

    The 1st time Mustafi tried to pass his way out of trouble under pressure and the ball was cut out in midfield (good pressing from the Stoke player).

    The 2nd time Xhaka quickly recovered the ball from that Stoke player, and instantly tries to hit Lacazette with a right-footed long-ball (why did you use your chocolate leg Granit?). Ramsey also burst through the middle to support Laca but the ball went straight to their keeper. So Ramsey jogs back into a weird position in the halfspace on the left side of midfield next to the centre circle. There’s too much space between him and Xhaka.

    The 3rd time led to the goal. The keeper kicks, there’s a few aerial challenges, Kolasinac wins the ball and plays a smart pass to Xhaka. He should have had two options instead of just Ozil but Ramsey had started his run forward as soon as Kolasinac won the ball.

    Away from home. Up North against a bogey side. Trying to bed into our new-ish formation. Why is Ramsey playing exactly the same way he was when we played 442? Can we just respect our opponents please. Conte came to England, played gung-ho and after a few bad results knew that he could fall back on his version of 343 which is very much defence-first. He went 352 today (3 CB’s with Luiz in centre midfield flanked by Bakayoko and Kante) and got a huge result away from home.

    I can’t wait for this two years to be over.

    1. It genuinely hurt seeing the Spurs-Chelsea game.
      Both teams had so much fight about them and discipline in terms of holding their mid field together.

      Arsenal would be run over by such opposition in any such game.
      Post the loss, Wenger would blame some of the under-par players he signed, groomed and played.

  19. funny; what we still see as a great team without a cover in front of our defence, playing a deadly 3 man defence (on a high line) with no one willing and able to make quick runs back to cover & still might expect overlapping runs from our defence. and yet we want to be convinced by these three out of position playing guys?

  20. Off topic, I admit that I enjoyed the Tottenham Chelsea match. In my old age, I enjoy watching good players and good, well coached teams. Pochettino set the spuds up very interestingly. They were nominally 3-4-3 but in possession, Dier moved into the midfield from his right sided defender position to form a midfield trio of Dier, Dembele, and Wanyama ahead of Alderweireld and Vertongen. This allowed the wingbacks to push all the way up the pitch while Alli and Erikson played in the half spaces behind Kane. The solid platform of the 2-3 allowed their attackers the freedom to, as Wenger says it, express themselves while limiting counterattacking opportunities. They dominated the game tactically but managed to lose because, well, they’re spurs.

    Chelsea, despite missing a number of players were outclassed but never out battled or out hustled. Their defense creaked but never cracked and they showed the fighting spirit of champions and eked out an unlikely win based on grit, determination, and two outrageous bits of skill. An entertaining game.

    1. Two great teams. Spurs deserved to win, but c’est la vie in football. Chelsea were praise-worthy and good for them getting the win considering their last couple of weeks.

      We are not even on anywhere near the same level as those two teams, two recent wins against Chelsea not withstanding. Anyone want to place bets on us beating Chelsea next time we meet when they have Hazard and Pedro back, Bakayoko has more time to settle in and perhaps they get another singing or two?

  21. all of goonerdom seem to be in agreement for the first time in ages. that unanimous agreement is the fact that arsene wenger is the lone guilty culprit in arsenal dropping points yesterday. a long two years indeed, tim. i really don’t have much to add. i thought i would mention that chelsea had to respect their situation and switch from a 3-4-3 to a 3-5-2 today in order to win away but kaius beat me to it. conte, the man who’s made the 3-4-3 en vogue in recent years had enough about him to respect the game and change his strategic approach. why won’t wenger?

    is there anybody in the world who is interested in seeing arsenal win that would have picked the same starting formation wenger picked? it’s why i say he doesn’t respect the game. his decisions defy conventional wisdom; it’s as if he wants to prove that he’s smarter than everyone else. it’s also why i call him the football alchemist. he continually makes decisions that everyone knows are bad. he’s senile and should have retired.

    is it clear for you guys to see yet that lacazette is not good enough to be a top center forward in the bpl? he’s a fantastic talent but he should be employed as a striker and behind giroud. he can’t win most balls in a high position and the ones he wins, he can’t keep. if he can’t keep the ball high up the pitch, he’s not a center forward. there is clear daylight between him and giroud. you can’t blame it on him being new. alvaro morata isn’t having a problem keeping the ball high for chelsea.

    if man city offer £70 million for alexis, i would sell.

    1. The rumor is that the board would sell too. And Ox. I think some clarity and transparency is coming to the situation; in years past we lambasted the board for our stagnation. Now it’s becoming clearer that perhaps the board wasn’t the problem.

  22. I havè now moved into the “sell all the players”. As long as we get money.

    I think the next year or two will be dire anyway and I have no faith that Wenger will buy the right replacements.

    Better to hoard some cash for the next guy now I think.

  23. I was searching for a comment from Jack, couldn’t find one so I will write what I needed to – please accept my apologies Jack & Tim, you guys were right all along.

    All my optimism has been punctured, nothing has changed and nothing will. A couple of wins here and there won’t change it either. Now, I am not going into a meltdown, I deeply care about Arsenal and them not doing well ruins my weekend and my whole week. And by well, I don’t even mean winning a game, well in terms of fight, grit, technique and attacking play, the Arsenal that we all love.

    Arsene Wenger does not have the necessary tactical nous to win the premier league. The board and the manager are absolute rubbish. Being one of the richest clubs, we suck at getting deals done. We fail to address shortcomings in the squad season after season. We buy players and then remove them after not even giving them a chance.

    Debuchy had 1 good season and we gave him a long contract, so long in fact that after getting injured and loss of form, no one wants him.
    Campbell never impressed on loan and we still handed him a long contract.
    Don’t even get me started on the British core project.
    Chambers acquitted himself well last season (while on loan) and he has not even been given a chance. Holding plays one bad game and he is benched.

    I don’t live in past glories, no one does. Arsenal need a real manager. I hate the current state of affairs and so should YOU!

  24. I wonder what picture of an animal Wenger drew on the chalkboard at half-time? I think it was a fluffy bunny.

  25. I really like Welbeck. As a person. Unfortunately is case epitomizes the difference between Ferguson (and Mourinho) who plan and see out to win despite the odds and Wenger, who MAY win if the stars align in his favor. Welbeck is at best a decent footballer (I think it’s gratuitous to call him a good striker); Ferguson gave him ample chances in training and a few in matches and gave up. Wenger makes him a starter. I was not excited when he joined Arsenal. In fact, I dare say if Van Nisteroy was a Guuner in his pomp, ,he will still be one today.

    I wonder if we are making the same mistake as Wenger. He views Ramsey through the rose tinted lenses of his single purple patch season. We view Wenger similarly. 3 premier league titles plus FA cups and the rest in 21 years makes us expect more from him.Going by the premier league title average, he will be massively over achieving if he delivered a 4th before 2020 in an increasingly competitive league.

  26. Very long 2 years, I secretly hope something ill happens to Wenger so he could just leave. The fact is even if we buy players, why will we expect them to perform, when the manager sets them up wrongly?

    I admire your analysis Tim.

    IMO Ramsey & Ozil are meant to vie for the same position in the team. Together, they are an imbalance to the team.
    Secondly we need Wilshere back, he and Coquelin should be a good midfield pair.
    Thirdly, Xhaka & Elneny are good together.I could continue with if& whys, for instance why dont we play OX as the RF with Bellerin behind him as RWB, must we always play Ozil in that position ?

    I have no confidence in Wenger, I wish he left in 2004, but here we are stuck with him as manager, and everyone knows his flaws.

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