That’s what I asked myself after watching Arsenal deploy a 34 year old undead Necromancer king at right back and a central midfielder with the defensive nous of an inanimate carbon rod at left back. The lack of mobility in wide areas made it easy for Palace to run at Arsenal in attack, and even easier to snuff out attacks and pressure the midfield into countless turnovers. The result was one of Arsenal’s worst attacking and defending performances since opening day as the Gunners ended up relying on low percentage free kicks to score goals and gave up brainless panicky penalties to gift Palace a point. But still, do we really need to spend some money this January?
The day that we signed Lichtsteiner I said that the best thing about his singing would be if he never played. I still think this is true. On the occasions that he forages forward you can see his shocking lack of speed – he inevitably turns the ball over as his younger counterpart just blocks his path forward and takes the ball away from him. And his tackle on Zaha yesterday was comically late. Zaha likes to draw contact, if the Lich goes up against a smarter player, like Sane, there will be no late challenges, they will simply skip away from him.
But just because signing the Lich was a massive error doesn’t mean we need to sign someone. Arsenal’s normal right back, Bellerin, is in imperious form – so much so that I think I might go vegan for 12 meals a week just to see if I can capture some of his form. And it looks like he was dropped as half-time against palace because of a minor injury. Fingers crossed there. But backing him up would normally be Ainsley Maitland-Niles. AMN suffered a broken leg on opening day but has returned to full fitness quicker than expected (he’s always been one of the fastest!) and played on Friday night for Freddie Ljungberg’s u23 Arsenal team. By all accounts he needs some playing time to get to full fitness but he’s my choice for second-string right back. Even if (when) he struggles, I would never like to see Lich in the starting lineup again.
At left back, Arsenal have a different problem: Nacho Monreal is at the stage in his career where he shouldn’t be relied on to play 40 games a season. He started 40 games last season at age 31 but 21 of those appearances were as a center back in Wenger’s weird back three. As a center back he wasn’t required to get up and down the pitch nearly as much.
His backup is Sead Kolasinac. I am “less than convinced” by Kolasinac. However, he has played one match this season, against Qarabag in the EL, and by some accounts had a decent match: 3 dribbles, 3 key passes, was dribbled 3 times, had the lowest pass completion rate of any Arsenal starter (77%, same as Lichtsteiner), and led Arsenal in fouls with 2. I would pay good money to see him sold in January and for Arsenal to get in a real left back who can take over for Nacho Monreal permanently. He came to us on a free, any price we can get for him is a good one.
And finally, there is the problem of Mustafi. I know that there are “structural” problems with the team. Yesterday, Arsenal played a Lich and a cm as fullbacks, nothing is more structurally problematic than that, as I stated at the outset. But structural problems do not wish away Mustafi’s endemic problems. Structural problems don’t make a player dive into a tackle in the six yard box. Or how about how weakly he tried to foul Sorloth in the buildup to the second? The problem with Shkodran Mustafi isn’t the team around him, he’s the problem in the team. He is error-prone to the point that he makes everyone around him worse.
I also take issue with the argument that just because Lacazette made a poor decision on a pass, that somehow explains Granit Xh*ka’s ridiculous foul for the second penalty. If that was a one-off foul like that from Xh*ka, I would probably give him the benefit of the doubt and say “yeah, the system”. But the problem is that he does this all the time.
His default defensive mode is to stick a leg out, tackle late, or pull the player back. He does this every game, as his 4 yellow cards already this season attest. The only thing that surprised me about Xh*ka’s performance yesterday was that Roy Hodgson didn’t just have Palace players running at him in waves for 90 minutes. It took Roy until the 2nd half to cotton on, and then he instructed Wan-Bissaka to dribble constantly down that side, and it took until the 83rd minute for Zaha to figure it out and get in close in the box.
The question of this blog, however, isn’t whether Xh*ka is a terrible defender – that’s settled fact, like gravity, man-made global warming, or a white supremacist in the White House emboldening acts of hatred – it’s whether Arsenal need to get out the checkbook and sign some defenders.
Even though I’d like to see Mustafi sold, I don’t think we need to replace him. I’m not saying I wouldn’t love to see a young, steady center half come in to the team, I would. But even without Mustafi Arsenal have Sokratis, Koscielny, Mavropanos, and Holding. It’s left back that for me is a larger concern. Arsenal need to get out from under Kolasinac’s contract and get in a bright, young, long-term replacement for Monreal.
Nacho was playing pretty much every minute of every game with Kola injured, and it caught up with him. LB is also my #1 concern for January. Followed somewhat closely by CB. Holding and Sokratis are real players. Musti keeps biting us in the ass, and even if Kos is back – at what level and for how long? Mavro is unproven. We lack depth there, if nothing else.
To be fair Arsenal did try to replace/buy a central defender. Completely agree on your Lichsteiner views. He is a liability and I would trust AMN more than him in either full back positions. Still surprised by the fact that Xhaka avoided a yellow card and subsequent suspension for the Liverpool game.
Against Palace… I thought Emery would bring in Sokratis instead of Ramsey (worst player to slot in if you want defensive structure) if he felt protecting the lead was our best result. Also, I won’t be surprised if he we see the Palace 4-4-2 defensive blueprint followed by the teams against us more frequently. Especially by the lower half teams. Remember? Early in the season Emery in his own words said 4-4-2 gives a team the best defensive structure and makes it hard to play through. In that case, I would like our CAM (Ozil) to drop back more frequently which he did at times. But having ‘non-regular’ fullbacks did not help our case in build-up play.
Yep, correct. We need full back reinforcements on both sides of the field. Hey look, Licht is on a one-year contract and while we have him as cover, we should be doing some serious scouting for long-term competition for Hector (will it be Reiss Nelson, or will he play WR further forward when he returns?). Hector has emerged as one of the most important members of out attack, and Licht clearly will not replicate what he brings.
Nobody handled Zaha running at them. Nobody. I’m a Xhakaskeptic, but I think he has done ok as a makeshift LB. He actually did some decent D, shielding and shepharding on occasion. He got forward a bit, but has none of Nacho’s mobility. We don’t know yet how Kolasinac would respond to good coaching, but if Hector can, so can he. Bellerin’s all round game has now improved, to complement his forward play. So can Kolasinac’s. That is absolutely faith based, nothing more.
Mustiafi notwithstanding, yesterday the big failure was of the forwards to manage any cohesion. Laca, the leader of the line, had a bad day at the office. Ozil mistook the encounter for a spot of light training. Auba worked very hard defensively, and apart from some neat poaching, couldnt make anything happen. Iwobi was poor. What the game needed after Laca was withdrawn was someone to shut the shop, maybe shore up our left side with Xhaka. Ramsey wasn’t that man. It was perhaps telling that Elneny was’t even on the bench. Smith-Rowe was. That defensive lightness was on the coach (who has been overall terrific).
So why dont we start playing earlier? A touch of complacency, I’d suggest. We think we can turn it on when we need to and want to, so we don’t bring enough urgency to our attack. We win a corner early in the game…. do we put aerial pressure on Palace? No sir, that’d be too basic. We prefer a fancy pants short corner routine with Mesut and Torreira — which we completely effed up.
Good point about Emery not having much on the bench int erms of defense. That would explain his choice of Welbeck. He brings more defense than Ozil, generally speaking. But our defensive options are thin thin thin right now. Hearing both Nacho and Kola should be ready for Saturday – without Nacho going forward we will struggle mightily, especially if Hector is out.
A bit harsh on Xhaka, I think. He isn’t the greatest defender, but I do think he’s improved. He was just being asked to play out of position against a fast, divey forward.
About the larger question, yes, we have an issue. Bellerin has been better, but Lich isn’t a great backup. Nacho is getting older, and Kos may not ever come back to 100%. Kolasinac initially impressed, but then got injured and since has been at best OK.
Still not sure why we sent Chambers out on loan. He would have been a better option than either Lich or Xhaka out of position. For that matter, even Jenkinson might have been a better option.
I think we signed the Lich simply because he was free. We didn’t have any RB replacement, so anyone that is marginally better in that position than Jenkinson is better backup than the idea of playing AMN or Chambers out of position. That doesn’t mean that we have made a good transfer (I think there was some hype because he was first Emery’s signing and he came from Juventus, which maybe has made some people to expect some miracles), but it is better than the absolute nothing else we have on that position. I had the feeling that filling the RB backup position was a low-priority task last transfer window, therefore we settled with a passable inexpensive player. This has bought us one or two seasons max to look around for a better, and longer-term fix, and I think Sven will be having that in mind.
Left back is the position where we, supposedly, have done exactly that when we brought Kolasinac. As far as I know, he has been a star in the Bundesliga and his signing was supposed to be the long term fix for the LB, not just a temporary patch. And I didn’t yet write him off, I want to see how he performs under the new coach in the new system.
About the center halves. I know many of us wished that Sokratis was brought in to replace Mustafi, but maybe Emery didn’t want to make too big changes from Day 1, therefore he started only with minor tweaks to the starting XI, and filling in for Kos’ injury was simply the less dramatic thing to do. That being said, letting Chambers go on loan was an error (was there a time where we loaned out a “first backup” player and this didn’t come back to haunt us?) .
I simply don’t know what is Emery’s long-term vision ea for the central defense. Is Sokratis a temporary plug for a problem, like the Lich or he wants to have him as a main player for the next few years? Is he intending to establish Holding , Chambers and/or Mavropanos as a first-team choice, or he really sees Mustafi as a better alternative? Whatever the answer is, I don’t think we will be looking for a CB in January. Maybe in the summer, depending on Koscielny’s form after the injury.
About Xhaka: There is one thing that made me happy when I saw him on th elef back: this means that we could see the Guendouzi-Trreira starter that we were looking for. Xhaka on the left means that Xhaka is not untouchable as a central midfielder and if the young duo convinces the coach, Xhaka will sit on the bench when Nacho comes back. The only problem is that Douzi was not that convincing in that game.
Kolasinac wasn’t really a star. He made the Bundesliga Team of the year in his last season, but before that he was inconsistent and had injury problems.
Pardon my ignorance Tim, if that is what I’m displaying here, but gravity is still considered a theory and not fact is it not?
You confuse the “scientific” usage of “theory” with its common usage. From the American Association for the Advancement of Science:
” A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not “guesses” but reliable accounts of the real world. The theory of biological evolution is more than “just a theory”. It is as factual an explanation of the universe as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease. Our understanding of gravity is still a work in progress. But the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is an accepted fact.”
Your non-local pedant
Very entertaining, shut down by something written by your AAAS
Based on Sanllehi’s comments the other day, I’d say our chances of using the January window to bolster the first team are pretty low.
Someone above wondered how it is that Kolasinac could have been such a force as a LB in the Bundesliga, but look so average in the PL. The answer, I believe, is that he excelled as a wing-back in the Bundesliga, not a full-back. Perhaps this position just doesn’t suit him. I don’t know. But, besides a possible issue with his position in a back four, Kolasinac’s time here has been marred by injury after injury. Does anyone know if he had a similar problem in Germany?
Regarding Derelicht (Zoolander reference!), I was whelmed but somewhat positive when he arrived (people talked about his insane fitness, experience, and $0 price tag, with the added caveat of “back-up”), but I’ve been very disappointed when he’s been asked to play. Slow and error-prone, the only quality he seems to bring to the pitch is sh*thousery, which, hey, I like, but preferably not at the expense of making accurate passes and keeping up with the opposition players.
Finally, Sorloth. That’s the undead necromancer king right there. Lichtsteiner, on the other hand, has always reminded me of someone who could sell scones at the fair wearing a striped paper hat. I know. Weirdly specific. He just has this face that I associate with selling quaint, old-timey food, like cracker jacks, roasted peanuts, smoked sausages, etc.
Kolasinac’s standing in the BL is a bit inflated because we got him after his first stellar season really where he made the Team of the Season as you said as a wingback. He was playing in Schalke team on the upswing that played some dour but effective football under Tedesco. They were far less open than we are and Kolasinac had the freedom to go nuts. Before that season he was an inconsistent play with potential but far from a star. So when we bought him it was always a risk as he had one very good season under his belt.
I still disagree on Licht, but not vehemently, his experience is very useful as a back up although he is looking less mobile than I expected. I wanted a killer young LB for at least two years so am well on board with that one.
It’s going to be a shame if we miss out on top 4 because we didn’t address the myriad problems in defense.
Well, we brought in back-up RB, starting CB and Keeper. The three key positions we urgently needed to fill. So we addressed problems. But sure, two of those three were stop-gaps and we haven’t yet found long-term solutions.
With Monreal and Kolasinac on the roster and the other problems in the defence, I guess it’s hard to argue that LB should have been the priority. And right now both of them plus AMN injured means we have to play Xhaka there. It’s not even close to ideal, but it happens.
I still disagree on Licht, but not vehemently, his experience is very useful as a back up although he is looking less mobile than I expected. I wanted a killer young LB for at least two years so am well on board with that one.
How about now, Greg? Do you still disagree? 😀
Cover blown. I am a bot.
Spurs behind at home against City.
And David Silva gliding over a football pitch like he owns it is one of the great sights in EPL football.
It’s crazy to think that we could have gone above City on points, albeit probably temporarily.
Objectivity Injection: I must confess. I have a conflict of interests. I am a lover of Xhaka, perhaps irrational. But I like him. My point is he scores a sublime goal, easily a contender for goal of the season but gets lambasted for conceding a very dubious “penalty”(please wacht if you haven’t). No mention hardly anywhere of his physics-defying goal, even on supporters websites. I just think that we should support the team more, which at least means credit, where credit is due. He scored another decisive goal against Newcastle, with a superb free kick. If you love and enjoy football, both goals are something you watch again and again and savour from the weekend.
What does the guy have to do to get credit amongst his own fans? I am not blaming Zaha (players do what players do). But I am definitly not that critical of Xhaka for the penalty. Emery says as much, when he says he “will say nothing to him” about giving away the penalty.
This wasn’t a post-match wrap up. It was a question: does Arsenal need to buy?
In the end, I care less about scoring 5% chancer goals (twice in his career) than I care about giving away 2-3 penalties a season. That, for me, is a much bigger problem. Those DFK goals are nice and fun and defy the odds but it’s very much on odds for him to give away a penalty or stupid free kick. We also need to stop pretending that wasn’t a foul by Xhaka. That’s veering into brain worms territory.
Mate, you are a right I am sorry, I mis-read your article. You talk more about weaknesses Arsenal need to plug to progress, rather than post-match analysis. Also I agree with with you, whatever our target: title/top four, we need to eradicate unnecessary penalties rather than target spectacular goals. What I will say though, whatever our target, we need to enjoy the journey – the games the, goals or what is the point? We have already scored at least four ridiculous goals this season – ramsey back-heel/Auba’s 2nd against Leicester/Xhaka Newcastle/Xhaka crystal palace. I cant help but feel that under Wenger we have become spoilt with this type of “caviar” and quite literally take goals like this for granted – goals which other teams, even the very best, score, maybe, once a season/a decade? So we dont even talk about them but focus on “mistakes”. As to the penalty – I have already admitted I am a Xhaka-lover, and have no objectivity when it comes to him, I dont see his faults only his creativity/passing range/left foot (all the things that made everyone/Rafa want Gareth Barry – remember). But Emery openly criticises Laca for the penalty – his pass (https://twitter.com/GoalUK/status/1056927517959962625) but says he will say “nothing” to Xhaka about it (https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/45930537). I think that says everything we need to know about what he thinks about the “penalty”. Mate is your real problem with Xhaka, the fact that his extravagant goals mess up your XG metric (joking…)?
I love you Tim, but you’re like anyone else when you interpret stats, you only give credence to the ones that support what you already believe.
1). Does anyone think that perhaps Bellerin’s improvement in form can be somewhat attributed to having Licht around to provide a word or advice here and there?
2). Zaha eats better defenders than Xhaka for lunch. No shame there getting suckered in for a dive.
3). Good luck finding anything in January.
I’m I the only person who thinks that Mustafi could make a decent DM? He can dribble, he has decent pace, can pass through the lines and in DM, his stupid tackles will not be much of a liability anymore.
Mustafi would make a terrible midfielder. He doesnt know how to beat a marker with his first touch and then play a pass on the run. His passing is fine with a bit more time on the ball but midfield is a different ball game.
Agree with every word Tim.
Further more, I find it interesting people give Xhaka a pass for giving away a dumb penalty just because Zaha gives everyone else problems.
As if expecting a professional player to do the basics right ,like show an attacker onto his weaker foot is something only a top defender can do.
Zaha is a relatively poor finisher and letting him go by you in the penalty are , especially when there’s other defenders to possibly cover for you, isn’t as bad as dangling out a leg for him to tumble over.
I wasn’t critical of the team when I said we were second best on the day .
Three games in six days ( two away) can be difficult for best clubs to deal with and Arsenal are far from that level yet.
That’s why it’s important not to give away stupid penalties, especially when you’re not playing well.
Make them earn it.
Conceding two unnecessary penalties to a team that hasn’t scored at home all season is criminal.
Not sure the pens were “criminal”. Mustafi reacts to clear a dangerous loose ball. He’s trying to get there first, not diving in to an unnecessary tackle. I think he’s relatively unlucky to clip the Palace player. Xhaka was drawn in by Zaha, not “hanging out a leg”. I’ve seen much better defenders (Campbell, Keown, Kos etc.) give away much worse pens.
Fine , care to give an example of two worse pens given away in one game by one team because I’m all ears( or eyes rather 🙂 )
I should just do the socially acceptable thing on this thread and pile on to the players for not being good enough, but that would make me feel dead inside. I don’t know why that’s such a popular past time, or why I always feel compelled to fight it. Maybe it’s a popular past-time because sports is a safe haven where you can still say what you want and what you think about someone without too much backlash. Maybe that’s why when I criticize a critical comment, that’s seen as 10x worse than the actual criticism.
You might say this is a paranoid over-read but it feels like the part about Xhaka in this post and in the one before is referenced to my beliefs/comments about the player and the plays he was involved with. Honestly I haven’t come across a less charitable interpretation of a player’s value than Tim’s assessment of Granit Xhaka, closely followed by his valuation of Lichtstenier. Maybe I need to get out more. Maybe I need to care less. I won’t change Tim’s mind, nor do I really want to, although being able to move the needle some in the other direction would be a reward of sorts. I think I care because I follow the narrative and I like the characters. Yes, I think both Granit Xhaka and Stefan Lichtsteiner are decent people and decent footballers, protagonists of sort for me at least, people who are not the the chief players in the story but people who are important nonetheless. I want to believe in their value because they are part of my Arsenal story, and for me that is a nice story, even if the team doesn’t win. And I want to at least feel like they are being given a fair chance to become the best version of themselves that they can be on the football pitch. Maybe I’m too childish and I just don’t like adult stories: deceit, unhappy endings, suffering, the feeling of pre-destination for mediocrity, entrapment in bad situations. Maybe I have a child’s naive trust that it will all work out for these players if we only give them some proper instruction and a chance to make their very best impression. I make no apologies for that. I think the world would be a better place if more people thought like that more often. I definitely disguise these convictions in a hyper-logical approach. I actively look for stats, as so many people do (while pretending to themselves that they are being objective), as a way to support my convictions and I can honestly say I do not look for stats that would weaken my stance. I become invested in my on players partly because I’ve already put so much effort into arguing their cause, all the while pretending I am soberly seeing both sides. I can confidently say I am not, as proven time and time again with the benefit of hindsight! So I will declare, at the end of all of this, that despite my visceral reaction to all the comments about these two players and the wild itch to prove you all wrong, you all are probably right and I am probably wrong. The pair of them are probably not at the required level for a club with championship aspirations. But you know what? I’ll still root for them to prove you all wrong. Easier for me if they do the work and nobody gets offended. I’ll just try not to be too disappointed when it doesn’t work out that way.
First of all, let me start by saying that I really appreciate the rational and calm fashion, but also very clear way you are able to articulate your position. I wish I am also able to do that, but I guess I’ll never be on such level (easily noticeable, English is not my mother tongue), so I apologize in advance.
Can you say, what is your reason for liking Xhaka?
And I don’t mean rooting for him — we all do and we all wish that hedoes well for the team, succeeds in all his tackles, scores all his shots from 30+ meters and delivers hundreds of perfect passes. We all do that.
Also, I don’t really mean liking him as a person – one can be truly marvelous person, and still not good enough on the pitch.
But what makes you like him as an first-team Arsenal player?
In your post above it sounds somehow like he has not been given yet that “fair chance”, that there is still some side of his game that remains unlocked and unexplored.
I personally think that I have seen a lot of him, he is a untouchable starter since a long time, and I must admit that he is playing his game with a Monrealish consistency. This means however that I don’t think that it is possible that he defends more effectively. The only chance is that Emery tweaks the system around him in a way that his weaknesses are better covered and his strengths are better utilized. But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t a other players out there that can do better job, and delivering to the requirements of a top team. Because in the end you are right – he is just a passable player. And like Elneny for example, I wouldn’t mind if he was used in some kind of a backup role
Maybe it just comes down to the fact that he’s one of us and wants to be one of us, the Arsenal family that is. At least, I see it that way. And I can’t support bashing of one of the family, even if I recognize that they have significant flaws.
What do I like about him as an Arsenal player? I like his ability to progress the ball in possession. I think in that skill he is excellent, thought people would usually rather talk about the one mis-placed pass than the 10-15 routinely excellent ones he makes that start attacks from our half. I like his fire and his determination, I like that he won’t be bullied, and I also like that he is a player with size and strength in midfield. We don’t have much of that. And I like that he added set pieces as a new string to his bow this season. That to me is a sign of a player who not only wants to improve but puts in the necessary hours.
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