Arsenal pluck the Cherries (Kolasinac, Mkhi, Torreira, and the boos)

Arsenal cruised to a win over the Cherries at the Vitality stadium and we have plenty to discuss but I want to start with something that bothered me: Unai Emery took Lucas Torreira off in the 79th minute and the Arsenal away fans booed. The booing was loud enough that I could hear it on my TV and certainly loud enough that the players and the manager could hear it. You could see the look of confusion on Guendouzi’s face as he high-fived with Torreira and came on the pitch.

It was, no doubt, meant to communicate love for Torreira and possibly a desire for Emery to take off Mkhi instead.  Or maybe they were just “taking the Mickey” as they say in England. Whatever the intent, it was poor form from our normally excellent away supporters. The manager is right to rest Torreira – Arsenal play a match on Thursday in outer Vorskla and then Spurs on Sunday. But even more important, Torreira has played 750 minutes for Uruguay this season, his first year being called up for national team duty. That’s after a season at Sampdoria where he played 3300 minutes in 38 matches, or the equivalent of 87 minutes per game. Added all up, since August 2017, Torreira has played 70 matches for a total of 5197 minutes. Resting him for 10 minutes at the end of a match that we have won is not only a good idea it’s one of the best ideas. Booing that decision, and simultaneously undermining Guendouzi’s confidence, is unbelievable.

The love for Torreira is understandable and even laudable even if it’s a bit over-the-top. He was even voted Man of the Match today, despite only playing 79 minutes and putting in a rather weird performance.

For the Bournemouth goal, Torreira was actually Arsenal’s furthest forward player. When I saw the goal developing I thought that Arsenal would certainly snuff out the attack but it was left up to the three center backs and Granit Xhaka to stop Bournemouth going forward and that’s probably never going to be a winning defensive combination. I immediately wondered where Torreira was and had to go back through the play several times to find him. He was here in the center forward position:

You have to admit, as a Gooner, that this is a bit strange to see from Emery’s Arsenal. We’ve seen this sort of thing before from Ramsey and even Coquelin during the Wenger era but I think this is the first time I’ve seen Arsenal’s “real DM” this far out of position. I’m not blaming him for the Cherries’ goal. I’m just stating a fact: Emery wanted Torreira to play high up the pitch, all three of his tackles were in the Bournemouth final third and he had two shots.

In terms of “blame” (which we must do because I will get stick if I don’t “why do you always hammer _____ and here you didn’t say anything about ______”) I would put most of it on Kolasinac, etc, who did zero tracking back on the left. Those two Bournemouth players on the left side of the image above are the two who combined for the goal (King and Brooks) and there is no excuse for them beating everyone back to the goal.

I’ve heard things like “uncharacteristically sloppy” for that goal but as I’ve been saying for a few years, sloppy defending is a hallmark of this Arsenal team. I “trust the process” and expect Emery to iron that out eventually but man, we are difficult to watch in defense.

Mustafi gets all of the blame from the fans, and he committed another errific foul on the edge of the box (I thought it was a pen) in the final second of the match to gift them a shot, but again I think Arsenal suffer from a very similar systemic problem to Chelsea.

Xhaka is a lot like Jorginho in that he’s great with the ball but really slow and a massive liability in defense. A lot of folks forgive him this and perhaps we should here too, but systemically what happens is that these players need space around them to work so managers like Sarri and Emery then deploy the real DM (Torreira and Kante) in a more forward position and ask them to tackle high up the pitch. This works fine for most matches but when your fullbacks are playing all the way in the 18 yard box, and when the two wide CB’s are playing in the opposition final third, and when your defensive midfielder is playing as a striker, you’re going to give up the most valuable commodity in football: space.

Good players don’t need space, mediocre and bad players do. This is the theory behind pressing and behind all of those teams that sit back and hit you on the counter. Sitting back creates space for your forwards, pressing limits space for the opponent’s defenders which causes them to panic a bit.

Managing space is exactly what Tottenham excel at. Against Chelsea this weekend, they pressed from the start and man-marked Jorginho, both methods of controlling space. Chelsea were able to play out of that press because most of their players are very good but once Tottenham scored (off a set play) they were able to manage space in the third way, by playing deeper. That eventually led to a one-v-one between Son and Jorginho and when the Italian failed to tackle or foul (fouling is the Man City method) Son found himself in a lot of space. Luiz put in a comical tackle and Son scored.

Against the Cherries I thought Arsenal controlled space reasonably well. Bournemouth didn’t create a single big chance, that’s the first time Arsenal can boast a “big chance clean sheet” since the 3-2 win over Cardiff. The goal AFCB scored wasn’t classified as a big chance, and though I might quibble with that, I defer to the stats folks.

The only real big chance Bournemouth created was marked off for offside. The NBC crew were adamant that Bournemouth’s disallowed goal for offside should have stood but only came to that conclusion with the aid of extreme slow-mo and an extraordinarily generous interpretation of when the ball was played. In real time, offside was exactly the right call. And even VAR probably wouldn’t have overturned the call. But I do want to say right now, before VAR is introduced, there need to be VERY CLEAR rules about how the official will decide what the moment is that the ball is played forward. Is it when there is a sliver of air between ball and foot? Is it the moment that the passing player makes contact? NBC took the latter as their method of interpretation.

I noticed that the NBC crew were strangely quiet on Arsenal’s penalty shout. Late in the game Ramsey was clearly shoved over, twice, but the referee waved off any claims for a spot kick. It was a stonewall pen for me and I was surprised that we didn’t get it. When we use VAR next season I expect that fouls like the one on Ramsey late in the match will be called a penalty 100% of the time, right? RIGHT?

There are two more points to make (sorry this is already so long): Kolasinac and Mkhitaryan.

Kolasinac is a super weird player. He basically had two assists today* and he had a number of other good stats (4 tackles) but he tends to disappear in defense A LOT and he’s one of the worst passers on the team. His tackles were all in the first 20 minutes. After that he didn’t put in a lick of defense. And while he had two assists* he only completed 37/55 passes. That’s 67% passing, folks. And from open play he was 63%, that’s just one point higher than Aubameyang. And they weren’t all in attack, he completed an astonishingly poor 7/16 passes in the middle third of the park. 44%. FORTY FOUR PERCENT.  Eddie Howe targeted Kolasinac and scored one goal off that tactic, he honestly could have cost Arsenal more.

Mkhitaryan is now just a hate figure. Most of the supporters I respect are publicly bashing him now and I understand why, because in this match (stats be damned) he looked incredibly poor. I say stats be damned because he led Arsenal with 7 shots, but only got one on target (unless the target was the parking lot, in which case he was 6/7). He also led Arsenal with 2 key passes, he was 2nd in final third passes (22/26), and had more than one pass that should have been a shot go begging. Understat also had him leading Arsenal’s xGChain with 1.24 (meaning he was involved in 1.24 xG of Arsenal’s 1.68 xG) and had him 3rd in xGBuildup (meaning he was involved in a lot of the buildup play). Yet it seems that every bad pass (all 8 of them, 6 in the first half) and every bad shot was greeted with a twitterstorm of anger because they weren’t just garden variety bad passes (or bad shots) they were truly awful to watch. I think the moment that summed his match up was when he was played clean through but couldn’t control with his first touch and then took a weird stubbed shot into the ground from an impossible angle before falling over. I’m not going to tell you who to support or how (other than booing Emery when he takes Torreira off, I mean come on) so I’m just saying that the level of anger Mkhi gets is strange to me. I know he’s not amazing, that he’s really far off the form he had at BvB, and that we will probably sell him this summer and bring in a real wide player, but I’m not sure what he’s done to deserve so much anger. He’s not an awful person off the pitch and he’s not anywhere near as bad as Kolasinac (who is a truly awful defender who also can’t pass) on the pitch AND he’s a damn decent backup for Ozil. So I’d love to hear a reason for why you hate him so much. And you can’t mention his salary.

In the end, it’s a good win over a good opponent in an away match. Howe’s Bournemouth boast a top four xG record and it’s well deserved. It’s also no exaggeration to say that “last season we would have lost this match” because we did.

Despite tinkering with things constantly (we played another new system today) and despite another lacklustre start Emery already has as many away wins as Wenger managed in all of 2017/18 (4). And that’s got to be a good thing!



*Own goals don’t count as assists, it’s a failed pass. They also don’t count toward xG.


  1. That’s some analysis, especially given how quickly you churned it out. Well done, sir.

    Spot on about Torreira, and the reaction to his being subbed. Besides the huge workload that you cite, he’s also a high intensity player who has never played in a league this intense and without a mid-winter break. I’m probably beginning to bore people here with it, but he’s a top candidate for burnout, or injury-related fatigue.

    On Mkhi, must admit that the more I see him, the more I sour on him. To my eyes, he doesn’t do any one thing that well. But your stats and argument are pretty compelling.

    Well observed about Kola too, but I think he’s got immense raw talent. If he is properly coached to D, he can become a terrific player.

    I see Sokratis getting a lot of props for how he led the back 3. What did you thing about how they performed, and him in particular? I didnt see the game.

    1. I’m impressed with Sokratis. I like his speed and how he organizes (bosses) the other defenders. That said, he’s one of these defenders who is a bit nuts. He got into several “wrestling” matches with Bournemouth players and I thought they had a pretty good shout for a penalty because of one. I also get a kick out of him holding his arms up in a Jesus Christ pose every time the ball comes into the Arsenal area.

  2. “I’m just saying that the level of anger Mkhi gets is strange to me. I know he’s not amazing, that he’s really far off the form he had at BvB, and that we will probably sell him this summer and bring in a real wide player, but I’m not sure what he’s done to deserve so much anger. ”
    My guess is because of the Sanchez swap deal. Maybe the fans subconsciously expected a level of performance similar to what Sanchez gave us. Maybe the reaction would have been different if United had offered Mkhitaryan plus £20 million for Sanchez.

    1. I can’t speak for anyone besides myself, but with Mkhitaryan relative to Sanchez, I was never expecting a like-for-like replacement – that’s simply not his game. I simply wanted him to be undeniably better than final-season Sanchez, so it felt like we actually gained something from that deal. I don’t get that feeling at the moment.

      1. At least you can take solace that while he’s not been great, he’s not beer. Sanchez at United bad either.

        1. I was reading that Lord Bendtner is off to do jail time in Denmark for assaulting a cabbie. Presumably the cabbie pointed out that he may only be the second greatest striker to ever live after Zlatan.

    2. Actually,I am more disappointed that he is getting more and more like Sanchez with his passing. When the deal happened, I was happy seeing Mikhi not hanging onto the ball for too long and overall being more reliable passer than Sanchez. However, this season it seems like he is doing his best impression of Alexis…

      1. His best impression of Alexis? We should be so lucky.

        Can I remind gooners that Alexis had a 3 and a half year career at Arsenal? And that for 3 years of it, he was outstanding and our best player? This revisionism drives me nuts.

        1. The reason is he is the only natural RWF we have in the squad. Even if he’s not scoring, he does what is required in that position largely.

  3. I watch Sunday morning games on mute because I’m too lazy to get out of bed and don’t want to wake the wife, so the booing for the Torreira sub is a surprise but not a huge one.
    After all we are the Arsenal fans and booing “wrong “ substitutions isn’t for us out of ordinary.
    Even Arsenal players can get in on the act ( kinda) sometimes( RVP ‘s reaction to Ox/Arshavin substitution anyone?)

    Spot on about Torreira’s minutes and even though he and Sanchez play different roles, it was Alexis’ minutes he played for Arsenal and Chile that contributed hugely to his slump in form he has never recovered from.

    For the Bournemouth goal you can pick as many culprits as the heart desires and you can add Bellerin to the list for not tracking back fast enough until it was too late.

    As for Mhki and the reaction he gets, I think it might be his lofty wages that rob fans of any patience towards players hopelessly out of form, which he surely appears to be at the moment.

    1. I’m a little surprised every time I see Mhki’s name on the sheet for the starting XI. He does work hard off the ball, but his shooting’s gone to sh1t, and he now presents next to zero threat in front of goal.

      Iwobi might be the league’s pre-assist leader… his pass to Kola that led to the og was perfection. But his shooting ability is appalling for a forward player. I’d play Ramsey over Mhki, but we may already be preparing for life without him.

      1. The reason is he is the only natural RWF we have in the squad. Even if he’s not scoring, he does what is required in that position largely.

  4. I watched the game after reading the commentary and do think the criticism of Mikhi is over the top. I thought he was decent. We could upgrade at RWF over him (which probably is what the Pepe rumors are about), but he’s the best player for that position we currently have. My guess is the criticism he gets is related to wages. He’s a 100k a week player on 200k a week.

  5. Spot on about Alexis Claude,in his final half season he still managed 7 premier league goals.This despite stinking the place out with his attitude.His struggles at Man Utd are banter gold,but some Arsenal fans are forgetting what a good player he was.

  6. Micki is actually our most hardworking attacker. Guy has a good football brain and will always run back.
    His passes were off at the beginning of the game cos we lacked a 10 while TORREIRA and XHAKA sat deep then.
    From the formation you got a sense that we were weary of what damage the home team was capable of so we sacrificed our 10. The first 20min we couldn’t get hold of the ball cos Auba stayed way front while our two midfielders stayed deep. This made things difficult for micki and Iwobi who were easily pressed and lost the ball. But they worked hard to press from the front, micki most especially.
    Without a 10 the creativity was left to micki and Iwobi and I feel that they didn’t disappoint.
    People may hate micki but right now no foward other than Lacca is as fast, hardworking and willing to tackle like him in the squad and still have good creativity. I think about it.
    He may have scuffed a very good chance to get our third goal. But I will take him over Ramsey who is not so assured in possession and quite slow with the ball.

    1. Well said. I’m not so sure the criticism is as pronounced either outside of Twitter which tends to be an echo chamber for extreme views. I think he would be the first to tell you that he needs to improve his shooting but I do think some of his link play is outstanding, one prominent example is the pass around the corner that set Bellerin up for a clear pull back opportunity. Also I think Tim usually points out that getting shots is in and of itself a talent not many players have. To me he looks like a player who is trying to play himself back into form after completely losing confidence in his game while at Man United. He may never become the player he was at BVB again but I think he’s still a valuable piece.

  7. I think that Emery made a mistake that he’ll come to regret, in being as candid with the media as he was for dropping Mesut Ozil.

    It’s clear, and I’ve said so to some pushback here, that Ozil (technically our best player) lacks physicality and doesn’t do enough defensive work, in an area in which this coach demamns defensive work.

    It’s why he played Ramsey there earlier in the season. Ramsey, who had had great success the previous season running from deep, didn’t want to or ask to be played there. It’s why Mhki played there. It’s kind of sad because Mhki is giving a great impression right now of a workhorse who’s not especially talented at anything. And it underscores one of football’s greatest truisms… a coach first wants players who he thinks can play within his system. It’s why Giroud, a far inferior player to Lacazette, is first choice at No 9 for Deschamps.

    But back to Ozil. Sometimes diplomatic fudging is best. Arsene was a master of it. I’m sure it’s unintentional, but he’s kind of hung Ozil out to dry, and he shouldn’t have.

    1. I didn’t read it that way. To me it sounded like a challenge to Ozil. “I think you’re great but I know you can do even more,” is how I would sum it up. And honestly I think it’s a message Ozil needs to hear because it’s true. He is capable of more consistency particularly in terms of his effort in the defensive phase. It seems like he only really tries in certain games and it sounds like that’s the attitude that Emery is challenging.

      1. I agree, Doc. Ozil has to realize his game needs to evolve. Emery’s system won’t allow him to roam freely with no accountability. He will have defensive responsibilities. Not starting is a wake-up call and challenge, as you said. I really hope he responds.

        1. I agree with both of you. But I worked among British sports journalists, and I know what they’re like with Arsenal. I don’t think that Emery needed to give them additional ammunition on a player they like to pile in on, but he did. And I don’t think that that was particularly astute on his part. But hey, if he’s stung and responds, good on him. Low dropped him after the Mexico defeat, and by all accounts, he acted like a model professional.

          Guess what led the Guardian’s “10 things…” this week.

  8. I think the thing with Mihki is that he is a victim of his prior success at BvB.
    As a Dortmund follower i was so excited at the prospect of him joining us (Before his agent chose United) that i convinced myself that it would happen. He was superb there for both goals and assists.

    When he finally joined in January, i was still pumped up thinking that his struggles in Manchester was in large part down to the ‘Special Gone’ and his military tactical setup.
    However, since Mhiki has been here i’ve increasingly noticed that he seems to be ‘going through the motions’ so to speak. It’s almost as if he’s depressed.
    Maybe the EPL is too cut & thrust for him?

    All in all i still don’t regret us bringing him here, i Just hope he can do himself justice and start consistently showing us the ‘Real’ Mhiki as so far this Mikki’s coming up short.

  9. I also enjoyed Sokratis’ performance, and would like to see him deployed more regularly. His speed and physical play made an impact. It seemed pretty clear Emery was asking Torreira to take on more of an offensive role, which he did pretty well overall. But game awareness is sorely lacking for him if he’s that far forward with less than a minute left in the half. As you say, he’s not to blame, but he is way out of position given the game situation.
    I was fascinated to watch the team without Laca today. Auba, as you told us when he was signed, is a true poacher. He scores goals – that’s what he does. And as the Arsecast said today, “Who else on our squad scores that goal?” Maybe Laca would find that run and get open like Auba, but I doubt it. He’s missing the speed and length that allowed Auba to convert. Yet Auba does miss on chances, as you warned. It happened again yesterday, and when you see that, plus his lack of link-up ability, or defensive work, you understand why Laca is so valuable. 3 ATB further restricts the attacking personnel, whom we’re struggling to squeeze in as it is. As much as I like the result, everything feels haphazard with formations, player selections and substitutions. What will Sunday’s lineup look like? It’s starting to feel like a soap opera: Organ blast – Can Emery find a formation to compensate for Nacho’s absence? Organ – Will Auba and Laca’s bromance overcome their simmering competition? Organ – Can Mesut find happiness outside the #10 role? Organ – Can Mustafi finally pull his head out of his arse? Organ – And will Hector’s man bun stay in place for 90 minutes? Tune in Sunday for the next episode of All My Gooners.

  10. the decision to go with a back 3 was something i always expected, namely because of kolasinac. he’s more of a wingback than fullback. i believe the same goes for hector but he’s a better fullback than sead.

    sticking with the defense, how good is rob holding becoming right before our eyes? i’m seeing a hybridized rio ferdinand/jonathan woodgate developing. once he showcases his talents in an england camp, he’ll become a regular for the next decade, no doubt. i also have to hold my hand up concerning sokratis. i thought the league would be too fast for him and he’d get a bunch of stupid cautions/sendings off. however, he’s proven to be a very clever defender.

    i didn’t read too much into the torreira substitution booing. fans are drunk and they want what they want. it made perfect sense by emery to take the kid off. as claude and a few others have already alluded too, he’s in risk of chronic fatigue/burnout. likewise, guendouzi deserves a few minutes.

    as for emery talking slick about ozil, i was unimpressed. that man is 30 years old and has been a superstar his whole career, winning countless awards and trophies for club and country. does emery expect him to change? nuts! it’s the same for anyone who expected arshavin to work harder, defensively. it’s too difficult to teach an old dog new tricks, especially when their old tricks have led to the success that someone like ozil has had.

    1. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with expecting more if that expectation is reasonable. In today’s game you just can’t be a non-factor in the defensive phase anymore. Talent is not an excuse. Ozil is one of our captains and the highest salaried player on the team by some distance. I like that Emery is challenging him to be the best version of himself that he can be. And we know he can put in the defensive work, we’ve seen it in big matches.

      1. i agree with you that talent isn’t an excuse but a lack of talent is understandable. i remember when vieira left and people expected gilberto to take over the role of ball-winner in midfield. result, a player that went an entire season without getting booked is suddenly getting sent off in multiple games. same thing goes with hleb, who was brilliant with the ball but couldn’t shoot. some player have certain facets of the game they’re simply no good at.

        i’m not saying it’s unreasonable to expect a player to work hard but we’ve seen the stats saying the amount of ground covered and mesut is always near the top; ozil absolutely does work hard. if he were a young player or a player trying to prove himself, i’d get it. mesut is not young and he has nothing to prove. my point is to expect a player with mesut’s reputation and success to change, dramatically, at his age is unreasonable, as this change is highly unlikely.

  11. Don’t think the booing is helpful, but the game certainly wasn’t already won when 2-1 up on 76 minutes as you said. Taking off a DM and replacing him with a 19 year old rookie when defending a lead will understandably cause some dismay.

    1. while i agree with your point that the game wasn’t over, i don’t get your point in referring to guendouzi as a 19 year old rookie. i remember an experienced paul merson being replaced by a 19 year old rookie named patrick vieira. cesc was playing at 16; if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.

      1. Sure, but the point being it’s certainly a risk. I can get the fans’ concern there. Especially since we’re Arsenal and defensive lapses are what we do.

    2. Oh god, so you’re excusing the away fans booing the manager in his first few weeks at the helm??? That’s batshit crazy by any standard.

  12. Josh, you of all people should know that covering a lot of ground isn’t the same as working hard defensively. One, ground covered is relative. Yeah he covers a lot, but where is he in the overall team on that? Two, you can run around around a lot and not be terribly effective in your overall play. Elneny does that. Three, if ground covered was such an import stat, Ramsey would start every game because — as is consistently shown when he plays for 90 minutes — he often covers the most ground of any Arsenal player.

    It’s not the ground covered. It’s how you do so within a coach’s system and preferred style of play. So Ozil running a lot is not a signifier of hard work defensively, and as someone who has played the game more seriously than most of us, Im sure you’d agree with that. Ozil like Elneny does this false press thing where they just kind of busybody near the man with the ball. That’s not defensive pressing.

    Look, I wish he hadn’t so publicly, but the coach spelled out what any objective, fairly analytical observer can see clearly… Ozil does not work hard enough defensively. It doesn’t make him a bad player or a bad hombre (thanks Donald Trump). It just makes him not quite battle fit in some situations. The coach always has to weigh up what you gain and what you lose, and that depends on the opponents and the situation. We are losing the playmaking of the most technically gifted person the squad, but we gaining defensive solidity against a team when and where we need it. I’d not be surprised to see him restored to the starting XI against Spurs.

    This week’s Arsecast had a good discussion on this. They say that despite magic days like Leicester, he has not done enough, overall, so far this season. They reckon it’s a problem, and we are too heavily invested in the player (and Mhki, who is making the money that Ramsey and the club allegedly settled on). I dont agree with all their points, but they’re thought-provoking.

  13. And the North London derby will be refereed by…. (adjusts reading glasses)

    Michael Dean.

    Unai had better not kick any water bottles in frustration.

  14. We aren’t still debating whether Ozil works hard for the team on defense are we.
    We might as well argue about Cazolra being a major aerial threat or Ramsey one of the fastest players on the team.

    Debating whether Arsenal are better off with Ozil in the line up ( I think they are in most cases) is another thing entirely.

  15. I wonder if Pep will consider dropping Silva for the Bournemouth game because it might be too demanding for him.

    1. As pointed out many times before, Silva is a creative who works hard defensively. As does Hazard. So therefore Pep does not have Emery’s problem. So the question kind of answers itself.

  16. Tongue in cheek Claude.
    Silva is one of the most physical of all creative geniuses that play the game.
    Pep wouldn’t contemplate benchim him against the likes of Stoke from the Pulis era.

  17. Speaking of …. Tony Pulis is doing rather well in the Championship.
    Maybe the United Brass should hire him as Mourinho replacement and save themselves some £20m per year in salary while not sacrificing anything in style.

    I’d bet my house on Pulis having better goal difference with this united squad than Mourinho.

  18. We are the Arsenal. If we didn’t have a GOAT and a goat on the pitch at the same time, we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves.

  19. Emery ‘s mission this week is to outwit Pochettino’s plan to attack our weaknesses. Where does he start and good luck to us if we are not exploited too badly. The key will be that man Özil because unlike Jorginho, he is not a fixed reference point in our attack that one man (Alli) can mark into oblivion. He is supplemental to our attacking strength which is our wing players (Kolasinac and Bellerin). Kolasinac and Bellerin must be switch on to defend space on the flanks that they will leave open when going forward. Iwobi and Mkhitaryan must also track back aggressively as well.
    We need Lacazette and Monreal to healthy this week as well.
    What really helps us is that 3rd place ***** must play a full-strength squad against 2nd place Inter Milan in the CL while we have the luxury of resting your first teamers against Vorskla.

    1. They won’t man mark us because Xhaka is the guy that they would do that to and he’s nowhere near the level of Jorginho.

      1. It’s going to be a good game for sure, because we might witness some great tactical display. And they definitely would look to swarm our midfield, except we start a different midfield combo.

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