5 Things We Learned: West Ham v Arsenal

Arsenal stuttered to a 1-0 loss to West Ham at the London Stadium. The Gunners went down to a Declan Rice strike but had trouble finding their groove throughout the match. 

Here are 5 things we noticed as Arsenal slipped up in their challenge for a top four place in the league.

SLOPPY PLAY

Arsenal’s last two January games showed a team who looked to have regained their attacking mojo so it was a bit of a surprise when we were treated to some really ponderous play against West Ham. Overall, the team was lethargic with their passes and movement off the ball and Arsenal did not deserve to get any points from the match.

Ironically, Arsenal started on top with Iwobi and Lacazette producing slick exchanges in the final third but their connection petered out after the first 10 minutes. Guendouzi held on to the ball for too long and squandered possession while Ainsley Maitland-Niles flattered to deceive on the right hand side.

The 3-4-3 formation also did not help matters as Aubameyang was tasked to drop deeper into an attacking midfield role on the right where he had trouble knitting play and combining with Maitland-Niles. This role definitely did not suit Aubameyang as he spent more time as an awkward playmaker rather than being played to his strengths as a lead forward.

It was a poor tactical set up and a bad day at the office for the players. 

RAMSEY NEEDS TO PLAY MORE

Arsenal gained some fluidity after Ramsey came on to play in an attacking midfield role. He is by no way the perfect no.10 but his technical ability and movement did cause West Ham some concern.

In the 3-4-3 set up, he should have been the second attacking midfielder alongside Iwobi as he would have at least pulled the West Ham players out of position with his clever positioning. 

ramsey.jpg

Despite positive remarks about Ramsey’s professionalism in his final year, it is obvious that Emery is freezing out Ramsey as he plans for life without the Welsh international. However, with Ozil and Mkhitaryan’s continued absence, Emery should use Ramsey to fill in that gap in the short term.

IWOBI’S IMPROVED FORM

The only player could leave the match with his head held high was Alex Iwobi who took on the responsibility of driving the team forward. He was a blur of legs – trying to make things happen with his dribbles and passes into the feet of the forwards.

He didn’t shirk his defensive duties either, as he won the ball in his half during the second period before outrunning his marker on route to the West Ham penalty box.

iwobi.jpg

Iwobi might have had a blip in form in December but looks to have returned to his best with 2 goals and 2 assists in the last few games. His skill set, being able to carry the ball and take on defenders, is unique in this team of passers and runners.

Emery would be wise to add another ball carrier like Iwobi (Denis Suarez maybe?) during the transfer window if Arsenal wants to make the top four. 

RISKY FORMATIONS

I like seeing Aubameyang and Lacazette upfront as part of a classic front two. I also understand that a three-man backline helps keep the defence secure as each member of that backline does have weaknesses in their game.

However, it is quite a big risk playing most of your available players in these positions when there isn’t enough back up on the bench. Aubameyang and Lacazette are the only fit forwards with Welbeck out for the season. Nketiah is too inexperienced to start games in the league or in the latter stages of the Europa League.

Aside from the three defenders who started against West Ham, the only options in reserve are Mavropanos and Monreal. The former is an inexperienced player who is only coming back from an injury that sidelined him for months. The latter, our back up left back who has also struggled with his share of injuries.

A return to a back four and a single striker formation should be on the agenda for future matches as we are precariously on the brink of an injury crisis the moment one of the strikers or defenders goes down injured.

WHAT IS EMERY’S PLAN?

As previously mentioned in our mid-season ratings of the manager, we’re half way through the season and we’re not sure what the plan is by Emery. There’s been many formation changes and it seems that the only constant is the focus on cutbacks by rampaging full backs.

The chopping and changing looks to be confusing the players as the game plan changes too fluidly, not just from game to game but also, from each half. Emery spoke at his unveiling about being protagonists in attack but it’s tough to do so without any coherent plan to work towards.

Emery.jpg

It’s starting to look like Arsene’s last season all over again where the performances would swing wildly from game to game. Emery isn’t helping himself with the constant switches in formation. The faster he can settle on a plan, the better.

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

Arsenal Mid-Season Ratings 2018/19 – Forwards and Manager

We’ve hit the mid-season mark under the new Unai Emery regime. Here at the Arsenal Vision Podcast, we will be looking to rate the Arsenal players based on their performances so far. 

In this piece, we’ll be assessing the forwards and the new manager, Unai Emery. 

Danny Welbeck – 6.5/10

Poor Danny. Just when he was getting into the groove of things, he suffered a major injury in the Europa League that ended his season early.

Emery integrated Welbeck into the team slowly due to his commitments in the World Cup, bringing him on as a substitute in league games and starting him in the cups. His versatility, physical power and diligence in following instructions were a plus as the manager has shuffled his team through a series of formations and tactics. 

Welbeck clocked in a respectable 5 goals and 1 assist in all competitions despite being moved between a supporting and lead striking position. He’s a major team player and always puts in the hard yards for his teammates. If he’s leaving at the end of the season, which looks quite likely, Arsenal would be hard pressed to find a back up forward with his experience, ability and professionalism.

Alexandre Lacazette – 7.5/10

Lacazette’s value to the team was evident in the first couple of games when Arsenal’s forward line struggled to find any rhythm without the Frenchman. Lacazette has since become indispensable to the team as his hold up play, clinical finishing and a willingness to put in a defensive shift high up the pitch has endeared him to Emery and the fans.

9 goals and 6 assists in all competitions shows that he’s not just a good goalscorer but a selfless provider for his teammates. He’s on course to better his goals scored in 2017/18 and has already surpassed the number of assists from the entirety of last season.

Much has been made of his moody demeanour when being substituted but he’s managed to show a more positive disposition in the recent Fulham game – providing another assist for his team from the sidelines.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – 8/10

A player that I feel doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Aubameyang’s 14 goals in the league puts him at the head of the goalscoring charts but not much has been made of his supremacy in front of goal. This is probably because, for the casual viewer, he’s not an all action player like Lacazette. 

Aubameyang operates in the periphery of the game and his skills are more cerebral. His game is based on finding pockets of space to exploit and his speed helps him gain an extra yard of space to pounce on the tiniest opportunity in the box.

He does miss his fair share of chances but he averages close to 3 shots per game and that is enough to get him a goal in most of the games he plays. 

Aubemeyang also deserves credit for playing a big chunk of the season out of position on the left of midfield but has played on diligently. Scintillating shots from outside the box, something he rarely did at Dortmund, and improved pressing from the front since the North London Derby shows that Aubameyang is expanding his repertoire as a forward.

Aubameyang looks the elite striker we have been crying out for since the departure of Robin Van Persie and Thierry Henry and we should appreciate his talents while we can.

Manager: Unai Emery – 7/10

Emery had a tough task of replacing a legacy manager but said all the right things at the start about working harder. Under his guidance, the team does look fitter and stronger which may explain Arsenal’s second half dominance as the Gunner tend to overrun tired opposition legs. Despite losing the first 2 games of the season, there is a resilience in the team now that has been missing in the last few seasons under Wenger.

Emery has improved individual players like Iwobi, Holding and Bellerin who stagnated under the previous regime. A focus on the collective is also to be applauded but that has come with its set of problems.

The new manager has found it hard to integrate Ramsey and Ozil into his plans – 2 high profile players who have previously been given free creative reign under Wenger. In the case of Ozil, that means dropping the club’s biggest earner and most creative player due to poor form. That is a political minefield that has complicated matters for Emery but he seems to have that under control for the time being.

While the results have mostly been positive, fans have been right to call out Emery on a lack of “philosophy” and a coherent plan. He changes formations very often and has not been able to improve the defence. The half time substitutions were refreshing at the start but it’s hard to see what the team is building towards. Tactical flexibility is always welcomed but it has to be anchored in a clear blueprint.

Still, I believe he deserves more time and the hierarchy needs to back him with more players during the current transfer window, especially in defence and on the wings. 

Emery has been tasked to get back into the Champions League through a top 4 finish and/or via the Europa League. To attain his goals, he has to tighten up the defence, have a consistent plan for the players to adopt and bring out the best of Ozil in the second half of the season.

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

Arsenal Mid-Season Ratings 2018/19 – Midfield

We’ve hit the mid-season mark under the new Unai Emery regime. Here at the Arsenal Vision Podcast, we will be looking to rate the Arsenal players based on their performances so far. 

In this piece, we’ll be looking into the midfield to assess who’s played well and who could look to improve as the season progresses. 

Lucas Torreira – 8/10

The defensive midfielder that fans have been crying out for since Gilberto’s departure. Torreira’s drive, aggression and pace belied his small stature as he regularly shielded the defence with his combative tackling

Some have compared him to Flamini in his prime but Torreira is nowhere near as reckless and is a much more accomplished technician of the ball. He’s comfortable on the ball, passes quickly and is capable of delivering a pass through the lines – something that he honed as an attacking midfielder earlier in his career.

Torreira’s form dipped a little from playing so many minutes through a heavy festive period but you can expect him to bounce back sooner rather than later. One of the bright spots in a mixed first half of the season.

Granit Xhaka – 7/10

Finally, fans are starting to appreciate the qualities that Xhaka’s the Arsenal midfield. Xhaka has been able to play his natural game by dictating the tempo from deep. Gone are the days that he would have had to shield the defence alone with midfield partner Torreira picking up the defensive slack in the centre of the park.

His absence was keenly felt when he was moved to the centre and left side of defence due to an injury crisis at the back. Arsenal struggled to progress the ball up the field and could not find a rhythm in those games.

With Emery marginalizing Ozil and Ramsey, Xhaka’s excellent range of passing and set piece expertise looks even more crucial to making the team tick. He looks more and more like a leader on the pitch and could well be the successor to the armband when Koscielny ends his Arsenal stint.

Matteo Guendouzi – 6.5/10 

Guendouzi’s name was on everyone’s lips after a productive pre-season in Singapore. Guendouzi plays with courage and confidence that is rarely found in someone so young. He’s eager to receive the ball in tight spaces and is always committed to play out under pressure. You can see why he’s a favourite of the manager.

However, he is still a teenager learning his trade and his rawness is apparent when he switches off defensively and makes silly tackles in dangerous areas. Sometimes, that courage on the ball also means that he holds on to the ball for a bit longer than he should and ends up losing it in midfield.

Guendouzi is a player with great potential and Emery needs to ensure his minutes in the league are managed accordingly to aid in his growth as a player.

Mohamed Elneny – 5/10

The ultimate “safe” player. Possessing a good engine and an ability to make safe, albeit conservative, passes of the ball, I always felt that Elneny looked a good option to bring off the bench to protect a lead. 

However, Emery doesn’t seem to rate him and he’s been relegated to starting in the cups. Elneny has only one league game to his name – the 3-1 win over Burnley on 22 December which saw him substituted on 59 minutes.

The Egyptian international hasn’t been bad, though he hasn’t been spectacular neither, and would look to be a handy squad player for the cup games where you can be guaranteed of a steady 6/10 performance from him.

Aaron Ramsey – 6.5/10

1 goal and 6 assists in 9 Premier League appearances is stuff many midfielders can only dream of. Despite the good record on paper, Aaron Ramsey hasn’t always looked comfortable in the number 10 role – a position he’s played for most of the season.

Arsenal’s announcement regarding the non-renewal of Ramsey’s contract has also thrown a spanner into the works as his appearances have been marginalized since.

There are rumours of a January departure to PSG or Juventus. A move for him might be a blessing in disguise as managers past and present have struggled to find Ramsey a role to best express his talents. 

If he stays, I would love to see him on the right side of midfield in a “Ljungberg” role where he can tuck in and protect the midfield and make late diagonal runs into the box to add a goal threat in attack.

Mesut Ozil – 4/10

There is no one in the team right now who can divide opinion like Mesut Ozil. The biggest star in the team has struggled to play within Emery’s setup. He’s been peripheral in the earlier games having started on the right side of midfield and hasn’t been on board with the high pressing tactics. Blockbuster performances such as the one against Leicester have been far and few in between. 

For someone of his ability, I believe he should be performing better in the games he starts in though at times, he has unfairly been the lightning rod for wider issues in the team. But as the biggest star and the highest earner in the club, the spotlight is inevitable.

Constant rumours of a backroom rift with the manager has also dogged Ozil – missing games due to a series of “back spasms” and “tactical reasons”. Whether you see him as victim or villain, it is imperative that Arsenal find a way to get Ozil performing in 2019 to lead the team back into a Champions League spot. 

Henrikh Mkhitaryan – 5/10

Much was demanded from Mkhitaryan at the start of this season. He’s an experienced attacker who can play in wide and central areas, has a telepathic relationship with Aubameyang (judging from their Dortmund days) and is one of the highest earners at the club. The Armenian playmaker has not delivered and his performances have so far been mediocre. 

For a player of his talents, he hasn’t shown enough consistency for Arsenal with only 4 goals and 3 assists in the league and Europa League to show for. Very often he struggles to get the basics right with his link up play and finishing but is equally capable of a brilliant moment of skill (see goal against Chelsea). 

His form did seem to be on a slightly upward curve towards the end of December before suffering a metatarsal injury that would see him return in February 2019. 

Alex Iwobi – 6/10

Iwobi started the season on fire. Like Bellerin, the ex-Arsenal academy player found a new lease of life under the new coaching team. Opponents were struggling to cope with his dribbles, powerful runs and his nutmegs. 

However, December saw the team’s spiralling form affect Iwobi’s performances. A greater responsibility to be the team’s playmaker due to Mkhitaryan’s inconsistencies and the absence of Ozil has seen Iwobi revert to the ponderous play that plagued him game last season.

He could do with a bit of a rest but with scant options within the team for a wide player, Emery may be forced to play Iwobi into the ground. If there was a consolation to the Liverpool game, Iwobi looked like the one guy who could have created something for the team but more reinforcements are required to shoulder the responsibility in attack.

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

Arsenal Mid-Season Ratings 2018/19 – Goalkeepers and Defenders

We’ve hit the mid-season mark under the new Unai Emery regime. Here at the Arsenal Vision Podcast, we will be looking to rate the Arsenal players based on their performances so far. 

In the first of three articles, we’ll be looking into (theoretically) the bedrock of the team – the goalkeepers and defenders.  

Petr Cech – 6.5/10

The veteran goalkeeper was the surprise first choice shot stopper for the Gunners at the start of the season considering the big money acquisition of Bernd Leno, a “modern goalkeeper” who was adept with his feet. This is an important trait in Emery’s plans to play out of the back and there were worries that Cech, an ageing ‘keeper whose strengths don’t include these traits would struggle.

And struggle he did. Cech lacked the composure with the ball at his feet and was almost culpable for a few major blunders. That was in stark contrast to his shot stopping and command of the box as he often bailed the defence out on many occasions as they struggled for cohesion in front of him. 

His performances did improve with each game, averaging 4 shots saved per game (1.9 saves in the penalty box alone) but succumbed to injury and has lost his spot to Leno. Something tells me he won’t be first choice any longer.

Bernd Leno – 7/10

The German international never looked back after displacing Cech after the latter’s injury. Leno hasn’t been spectacular but has had pretty steady performances.

He definitely looks more comfortable on the ball. Despite the myth that all ball playing goalkeepers are adept at a dribbling past pressing forwards (blame them on those Neuer Youtube highlights), he’s not afraid to boot the ball long if the situation calls for it.

Leno still looks like he is acclimatizing to the robust English game. He’s had some shaky moments, the Southampton game comes to mind, but he’ll be a reliable performer if he continues to improve as the season goes on.

Hector Bellerin – 7.5/10

Bellerin’s performances, like many Arsenal youth products, hit a glass ceiling towards the end of Wenger’s regime. He was extremely enthusiastic about learning from the new management team during pre-season and has flourished under the tutelage of Emery and his team.

Tactically more astute with his positioning, Bellerin also has gotten 4 assists to his name this season. His role in the team is crucial due to the lack of wide players in midfield and it’s no surprise that Arsenal’s results have tailed off since his injury in the game against Southampton. 

Could move up a gear if he just has a settled partner ahead of him on the right side of midfield.

Stephan Lichtsteiner – 4/10

I was unsure if Lichtsteiner was a good acquisition from Juventus. Massively experienced and a master of the dark arts, he looked a good fit as a back up to Bellerin and could also play a big part in the locker room. 

While we aren’t privy to his impact in the locker room, Lichtsteiner has been below par on the pitch and occasionally, a liability (as seen in the build up to the goal conceded to Brighton). I do have sympathy for him as he’s got the unenviable position of having to adjust to a new, faster paced league at the age of 34 in a physically demanding position. On top of that, the collective defensive issues and the constant rotation due to the growing injury list makes it doubly hard for Lichtsteiner.

At this rate, I’d even take Jenkinson over him to play right back. A longer term replacement for Lichtsteiner will be on the agenda this summer.

Sead Kolasinac – 6/10

One of many polarising players in the team. Kolasinac’s got the physique of a burly centre back with the balance and agility of a twinkle toed winger. He is a player who needs a run of games to get into his best form. Kolasinac struggled earlier in the season, especially with the defensive side of the game.

However, his ability to provide width and deliver the final ball means he’s considered one of the most important players in attack for Emery – he registers an average of 1.8 key passes per game.

Emery needs to find a way for the team to cover for Kolasinac’s defensive gaps and allow him to channel his inner Marcelo as Arsenal’s creator from the left.

Nacho Monreal – 6/10

I’ve got a soft spot for Nacho. He’s been a reliable and underrated player for Arsenal but this looks like a season too far for him as a regular starter. He’s struggled with injuries but he’s still scored a goal and notched 3 assists in 14 games across all competitions.

Nacho could still do a decent as back up to Kolasinac and needs to have his minutes managed as he approaches 33 years of age in 2019. A left back should be on the list for the likes of Sven and Raul.

Shkodran Mustafi – 4/10

Mustafi has been a calamity. He makes rash tackles, switches off at important moments and often dangles his leg out to “tackle”. These are Sunday League-level errors that has no place in this team. His defending in the second goal scored by Liverpool at Anfield says it all.

You see the talent in him when he nicks the ball off opponents and plays calmly out from the back. On paper, he’s a World Cup winner, a player in his prime years and has had two and a half seasons with the team. Mustafi should be an undisputed player at the back but he’s been a massive failure.

Arsenal will not be able to push for a top 4 position with Mustafi as the first-choice centre back. They need a January signing to relegate Mustafi to the bench for the second half of the season before selling him in the summer.

Rob Holding – 7/10

Probably due to inexperience, Holding had to sit out the first few games of the season as Emery went with the more experienced duo of Sokratis and Mustafi.

Holding made his first competitive appearance against Vorskla at the end of September and was a regular fixture since. Predominantly a left sided centre back, he caught the eye with steady performances at the back and assured technique when passing and dribbling out from defence.

Holding’s season was curtailed prematurely with an ACL injury and is a big loss for the team lacking in defensive numbers.

Sokratis – 6.5/10

Sokratis has the makings of a cult hero at Arsenal. Deceptively quick, strong in the tackle and a student of the dark arts, he has had good performances in the Arsenal shirt. However, his game is also marred with the occasional needless tackles that put the team under pressure. The kick on Salah’s calves at Anfield displayed the need for better discipline as he gave away a silly penalty to seal the game for Liverpool.

I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt as he’s still new to the team and has been thrusted into a dysfunctional backline but Sokratis has room for improvement in the second half of the season. 

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

Scoring in an Auba Wonderland

Things really are different at the Emirates this season. After his brace against Burnley on Saturday, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be top of the Premier League scoring charts on Christmas day. Since Robin van Persie picked up his Golden Boot in 2012 and moved up the M1 to Manchester, Arsenal involvement in the race to be top scorer has been rare. By this stage of 2016/17 Alexis Sánchez had 12 goals, and he finished with an impressive 24, but in a particularly high scoring season, he was only able to finish third overall. That is the only time in the last six full seasons that an Arsenal player has found the net more than 16 times in a league campaign. 

For Aubameyang, however, such a position is not a new feeling. This is a player who, in his last full season in Germany, not only won the cannon award for top scorer in a closely fought race with Robert Lewandowski, but also scored more goals in a single Bundesliga season than anyone since the 1977. Last season he played for two struggling teams whose managers didn't last past May, and his campaign was impacted by the January transfer, but he still managed to score 23 league goals. 

Despite this, however, it actually feels like Aubameyang is somehow underrated, or overlooked, when it comes to the Premier League’s standout players. Even amongst Arsenal fans there sometimes doesn’t seem to be a full recognition of the fact Arsenal have one of world football’s most prolific goal scorers, who isn’t injury prone, a luxury they’ve arguably only had for a single season since Thierry Henry left the club. 

I think Aubameyang ins't helped by his style of play in this regard. His lack of involvement in general play means he rarely stands out in matches, even when he scores. His repertoire of eye-catching goals has actually been better this season than in his time at Borussia Dortmund, but a significant proportion of his goals still look relatively simple and aren't very memorable. It’s not an exaggeration to say that many of his goal celebrations are more spectacular than the goals themselves.

Arsenal more than most clubs have come to appreciate strikers for more than just scoring. Thierry Henry was arguably responsible for helping to change how strikers are viewed in England, thanks to his selflessness in setting up others and amazing all-round dribbling and passing skills. Like Henry, Robin van Persie evolved from a wide man or support striker to a genuine centre forward, while maintaining his top class technique and link up skills. When he became only the second Arsenal striker of the last ten years to score 20 league goals, Alexis Sánchez was still near the top of the league in chances created, through balls and dribbles. Even Olivier Giroud was defended for not being the most prolific striker around because of his perceived ability to bring others into play.

This combines to mean that on a match to match basis, Aubameyang rarely has single performances that are considered particularly impressive. He has four games this season where he scored a brace, yet hasn’t won a man of the match award in the Premier League this term. Sure, the goals at Fulham came when the contest had already been decided, but his goals in the other three were decisive, yet the general consensus afterwards was that there had been better performers. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. People’s idea of a man of the match display is a complete performance rather than one or two decisive moments. It does, however, show how such a player can go a bit unnoticed. Consistency can sometimes be overlooked at the hands of the spectacular.

Describing what it is that Aubameyang does so well can be both straightforward and quite difficult. His goals speak for themself, but attribute wise it’s harder to explain what makes him so good. He’s not a link up striker and he’s not very good at creating his own shots off the dribble. People often describe poachers like him as clinical finishers, but this hasn't been the case for most of his career. In has last six months at Dortmund he scored just ten goals from almost 14 expected goals in the Bundesliga. This season he’s been efficient in front of goal but has still missed some big chances, like in the 1-1 draw against Wolves or the 2-2 at Old Trafford. His strength is essentially getting on the end of chances. At Dortmund he got on the end of chances more than almost any other player in the world and the goals naturally followed. He’s a similar player to Edinson Cavani in many ways. He can have misses that look sloppy, but his movement allows him to keep churning out good chances, and his fitness and durability allow him to keep getting on the park and produce big numbers over a season.

More to come

Despite him sitting at the top of the Premier League scoring charts, it's clear Arsenal are yet to fully get the best out of Aubameyang. This could either be viewed as a concern - what happens when he goes on a finishing slump? - or as something to be encouraged by - if he’s top scorer now, what could he do if Arsenal managed to eek out even more from him? His non-penalty expected goals per 90 minutes figure is currently 0.51, 5th highest in the league. But that pales in comparison to his last 30 months in Dortmund, where the figure was 0.9, one of the absolute highest in Europe. 

His period of elite output in Germany can kind of be broken into two parts. In 15/16 Dortmund were one of the strongest teams in Europe, with a balanced and cohesive midfield and attack able to consistently create all types of chances. Their off ball movement and creativity meant they were regularly able to get in behind opposition defences and all of the front three scored multiple tap ins. After that season key players were sold and injury ruled Marco Reus out for most of Aubameyang's final 18 months in Germany. The team suffered significantly but it only increased their dependence on their star striker. 

Aubameyang formed a brilliant partnership with 19 year old Ousmane Dembélé. The winger assisted 10 of his 29 non-penalty league goals in 16/17. Dembélé is a player who can assist all types of goals, but his trademark assist that season became the low cross to Aubameyang. He had the ability to manufacture space on the wing with his speed, dribbling and two footedness and send low curling crosses to Aubameyang in behind the defence (see 1:20, 1:40, 4:00 and 5:30 on the video below). This is one of the most effective ways Aubameyang utilises his pace. When a wide player gets the ball behind, or even just close to inline with the defensive line, they can play the ball behind the defensive line and Aubameyang has the speed to reach what the defenders and most other forwards in the world can’t. The finish is simple but most players don’t have the athleticism to reach the number of balls he does with his slide tackle esque tap in. 

A winger of Dembélé’s ability makes creating these situations relatively straightforward. Their individual skill allows them to beat a fullback and deliver the killer ball. This isn’t a luxury Arsenal have had since Aubameyang’s arrival, however. Teams without high level one v one players have to rely on good movement and combinations to get into the areas where they can play dangerous passes across goal. Arsenal’s lack of true wingers has been well documented, and as such their route to providing him with such chances has inevitably fallen to the fullbacks. In the early stages of the season Hector Bellerin was Aubameyang’s best route to getting big chances, and since his return from injury and Arsenal's increased use of a back three, Saed Kolasinac has become the Gunners’ chief creator. Here’s a breakdown of the chances created for Aubameyang in the league so far this season: 

Aubameyang chance providers.png

While it’s not a surprise that without genuine wingers, Aubameyang has relied on fullbacks for service, it is perhaps concerning that the other attacking players have been responsible for such a small proportion of the big chances he has got on the end of. Only Ramsey has been able to set up multiple chances of decent quality for him, and although Ramsey's assist total is inflated, his xA (expected assists) on passes for Aubameyang in the limited number of minutes they’ve played together is fine. 

I made a graphic showing the chances that have been created for Aubameyang this season and colour coded it by who created the chance. As you can see the majority of chances in the danger zone were created by either Bellerin or Kolasinac. Other than the chance Iwobi created against Chelsea, there's no other openings from the half spaces. 

Aubameyang chances recieved map.png

Most concerning is the lack of significant chances created by Özil and Mkhitaryan. Other than the one assist against Leicester, Özil hasn't been able to find Aubameyang on the end of moves, though he was instrumental in both his first goals against Leicester and Burnley with brilliant pre-assists. Özil did create some good chances for Aubameyang in the few matches they played together last season, which suggests the problem is more down to the Özil specific issues this season rather than a lack of compatibility between the pair. Mkhitaryan enjoyed a fine partnership with Auba in Germany and assisted two of his first three goals for the club, but since then it’s been slim pickings. 

The reality is Arsenal lack a brilliant one v one winger like Leroy Sane who would help get the most out of Aubameyang, and that has to be the focus on the attacking front in future transfer windows. But that doesn't mean the current attacking midfielders can't contribute more. They have the capabilities to be doing more on the creative side, whether it be playing incisive through balls or getting into the half spaces and finding accurate cutbacks. If Aubameyang is to get the goals needed for the Golden Boot and, much more importantly, if Arsenal are to get the goals needed to move back into the top four, both player and club will be hoping for, and relying on, getting more from their chief playmakers.  


Oscar Wood is a special contributor. Follow him on twitter @reunewal.

5 Things We Learned: Southampton v Arsenal

Arsenal’s unbeaten run came to an end at the St. Mary’s Stadium as their defensive frailties finally caught up with them. To make matters worse, more defenders went off injured and Arsenal’s rival for the Top 4 have all gained maximum points. Arsenal trail Chelsea by three points in fifth place.

Here are 5 things we observed in the game against Southampton.

Threadbare Defence

The paucity of options at the back meant that Emery set up a three man central defensive line with a rusty Koscielny being flanked by makeshift centre backs – Lichtsteiner and Xhaka. Koscielny looked off the pace on a few occasions and he was culpable for the first and third goal. He could have been better positioned to meet the crosses before they reached Ings and Austin respectively.

However, it is harsh to put all the blame on him as he’s been rushed back to play after 6 months out with a major Achilles injury. With injuries and suspensions decimating the defence, the captain will be required to get to grips with his form double quick time with a whole slew of matches coming up.

Such demands and a packed fixture list are worrying as it might push Koscielny into the injury “red zone” faster than the club would like.

Hector Bellerin.jpg

Things got from bad to worse when Bellerin hobbled off at half time and Lichtsteiner went off injured towards the end of the game. Oh, and Kolasinac sat out the game due to a thigh problem. It’s going to be a rough December.

Missing Fluency and Thrust in Midfield

Just like in the game against Huddersfield, Arsenal struggled for fluency and penetration in the first half. The reason for this, however, is slightly different from the previous league match.

With the 3-4-3, Emery’s gameplan was to focus play through the flanks to create overloads via the wing backs and the interior attacking midfielders (Iwobi and Mkhitaryan) but the players seemed to be on a different wavelength when it came to their movement and combination play. There were good moments that were borne out of those overloads (the first goal and Bellerin’s cross for Aubameyang that was snuffed out just before his tap in) but the team struggled to move the ball fast enough.

Iwobi-Southampton.jpg

Perhaps it was fatigue or the team missing Xhaka’s distribution from midfield. Emery needs to come up with new solutions to provide a spark through December. My eyes are on the well-rested legs of Ozil and Ramsey push the team across the line when the going gets tough.

Mkhitaryan’s Graft A Positive

As one of the top earners at the club, Mkhitaryan’s performances has been relatively poor for Arsenal. I’ve spoken often about the need for him to step up as one of the team’s chief playmakers further up the field to compensate for Ozil’s and Ramsey’s lack of contribution in Emery’s system this season.

Mkhi.jpg

Against Southampton, he was one of the bright sparks for the team. His header and impeccable timing to receive the cross from Monreal was a much needed boost when Arsenal went a goal down. While he was lucky with the deflection on the second goal, it was a deserved goal for a player who put in a great shift to press the opponents relentlessly and get involved in the build up for some of Arsenal’s better moves.

Aubameyang’s All Round Play Getting Better

Another rare positive in this game was Aubameyang’s improvement in his all-round play. The match against Spurs proved that Aubameyang was more than just a penalty box poacher. He showed fantastic ability to press intelligently and hold up the ball.

Against Southampton, he used the ball efficiently by opening up the game through dribbling into half spaces and layoffs for teammates to bring them into play. His back heel to set up Iwobi in a crowded penalty box also showed good vision and composure under pressure.

Auba.jpg

His predatory prowess was still evident on two occasions when he was close to scoring a tap in if not for last ditch tackles from the Southampton defenders. If he keeps playing like this, we should expect him to be at the top of the goalscoring charts by the end of the season.

Does Arsenal Need Cech?

Leno has shown that his judgement isn’t the best when it comes to crosses. All three goals conceded were headers created from wide which perhaps showed that Southampton were looking to test him in those situations.

The third goal was a combination of defensive mistakes throughout the team but it could have been averted if he was better positioned to palm the ball away from Austin. This was not the first time in the game (or the season) where he hasn’t been able to reach the ball when defending the cross.

Leno flop.jpg

David de Gea faced similar issues in his first season at United but was given leeway to make mistakes while acclimatizing to the Premier League. Would Emery take a similar risk if he sees Leno as his long-term solution? Arsenal need to finish the season in the top four and Emery may not be able to afford such mistakes with crucial short-term targets. Could he revert to Cech in goal who has a superior command of the box?

My guess would be that Leno keeps his place but with a thinning backline, having a leader like Cech in goal might be a big help to that makeshift defence.

5 Things We Learned: Arsenal v Huddersfield

It was 1-0 to the Arsenal but the game was far from a classic. Poor refereeing, sluggish play and a defensive crisis dominated a game where Arsenal showed some mettle to get the result right at the end.

Here are 5 things we observed in the match against Huddersfield.

3-5-2

Unai Emery is the new Tinkerman. It was Arsenal’s third game in seven days with a heavy schedule looming over the next four weeks but that didn’t dissuade the coach from playing both his strikers, all his three trusted central midfielders and a three-man backline despite having only two fit centre backs.

The formation did not work out as the flat midfield could not provide enough passing angles and lanes for the team to pass the ball out progressively from the back to front. Very often, players were made to pass sideways and backwards as Huddersfield cleverly pressed Arsenal to limit their play.

It is in these games where a natural number 10 like Ozil would have been perfect to find pockets of space in midfield to break the press and create more passing options for the team to move out of the back.

To his credit, Emery noticed this and switched the personnel and formation to a 4-3-3 shape – spreading out the play to the flanks. The change posed Huddersfield new problems, culminating in a goals for Arsenal in the 83rd minute.

Opposition Tactics

To the neutral eye, there was a lot to admire with Huddersfield’s approach. Their selective but well drilled pressing was effective in suffocating the game. Though they don’t have many household names, I thought their players were had decent technical ability to move the ball forward and generally kept their shape well to defend against the likes of Aubameyang and Lacazette, especially in the first half.

image1.jpeg

Their rotational fouling of the Arsenal players also stifled the Gunners and impeded any chance of good passing moves progressing from the Arsenal backline. Emery has to start thinking of ways to tackle such a tactic in the future as teams may take a leaf out of Huddersfield’s book to nullify the Gunners.

Though, this wouldn’t be such a problem if the referee controlled the game better. Which brings me to…..

Poor Refereeing Decisions

By the 20 minute mark, Huddersfield were guilty of 9 fouls versus 1 by Arsenal. The referee should have stepped in and cautioned players to deter Huddersfield against such cynical tactics. Instead, he let it go and it became a free for all in the latter stages of the first half. He then started to overcompensate by booking every Tom, Dick and Harry, with the worst of the lot the three yellow cards issued to Arsenal players for simulation.

image2.png

Xhaka was tripped on the half way line and the cards for Guendouzi and Mustafi were borderline at best. Most referees would have waved play on and demanded the player get up if such an incident occurred.

While VAR can’t come soon enough, technology is not a solution for such levels of ineptitude.

Defensive Crisis

Mustafi, who’s had a decent run in a three man backline, picked up his fifth yellow for diving though his suspension is inconsequential considering the hamstring injury he picked up that should rule him out for the rest of December.

Sokratis, who only recently came back from injury, will be suspended for the Southampton game and will then have to play back to back matches every 3-4 days in December as the only fit senior centre back. Arsenal’s other options are Laurent Koscielny, who needs to be reintegrated very slowly considering his age and the awful Achilles injury he picked up. It was quite telling that Emery chose against putting him on for the last 20 minutes as Mustafi’s replacement.

image3.jpeg

Monreal and Lichtsteiner look like they can do a temporary job in the centre of defence due to their defensive nous and experience but their best position would still be at full back. Their availability would also be dependent on rotating minutes with incumbent fullbacks, Kolasinac and Bellerin, who would need a rest at some point.

Elneny has played there in the past as part of a three man backline.

More natural solutions would be Mavropanos who looked decent last season in the few games he started but hasn’t convinced Emery this season as he hasn’t played at all this campaign. The youngster also is recovering from injury.

Youngsters from the academy may be needed to fill the gap for the Europa League and Carabao Cup games alongside cult hero, Carl Jenkinson. There are no easy solutions and the Gunners would need to dig deep to come out of December with results.

Terrific Torreira

Easily the signing of the season and one of the most important ones we’ve made in recent years. Not only has he been excellent defensively, he’s shown to have a good instinct for attack. His passing is much more progressive than traditional defensive midfielders (see: Kante and Casemiro), he isn’t afraid to shoot and he seems to have gotten a knack for goal scoring too. A defensive midfielder who can attack? Arsene would be proud of such a signing.

image4.jpeg

Torreira will be susceptible to burnout and injuries considering his intense playing style and the hectic festive schedule. Emery needs to hold a little more faith in Elneny and Maitland-Niles who could step in to do a job for the team in the cup games and the occasional substitute appearances in the league.

A fit and firing Torreira is key to Arsenal’s chase for a top 4 finish.

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

Understanding Emery Football And The Importance Of A Back Three

Special Contribution by Oscar Wood. Follow him on Twitter @Reunewal.

Unai-Emery.jpg

That's more like it. That’s what we've been waiting for. Sunday’s North London derby win didn't just give Arsenal their first landmark win of the new era, it also helped give us our clearest indication yet of what it is Unai Emery is trying to achieve on the pitch with this squad. Despite results so far this season being positive, it's hard to escape the feeling a performance such as this was needed for us to get a clear view of what a working Emery Arsenal team looks like.

I think one difficulty Emery has had since joining is that, compared to many of his Premier League compatriots right now, he isn’t as renowned for a particular style of play, nor is what he tries to get his teams doing considered innovative. When Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri arrived at their clubs they began implementing stylistic overhauls that could easily be observed while watching a single game or making cursory glance at the statistics. With Emery the changes have been more subtle. Arsenal have predominantly still lined up in a variation of 4-2-3-1, they still try to control the ball and build through the thirds and still rely on quick combination play to break teams down.

In fact it’s arguable Emery’s biggest impact so far hasn’t been tactical, it’s been in the physical conditioning of his players, which has helped allow an improved level of intensity on the pitch. Heavy pre-season training sessions and pre-match sessions taking place at kick-off time have clearly contributed to the fact Arsenal have never looked physically outmatched this season (something they often did in previous years) and probably goes someway to explaining their quite incredible second half record this season.

Possession Structure

All that doesn’t mean Emery hasn’t made his own tweaks, however. The most clear tactical shift Emery has made has been in Arsenal’s possession structure. While many modern coaches put an immense amount of focus on the first phase of build up (i.e. the goalkeeper and defenders moving the ball to the midfield) it’s easy to get the sense Arsene Wenger always considered it all a bit tedious. Wenger’s priority in build up was usually to move the ball forward as quickly as possible, to maximise the amount of time the attacking midfielders could spend on the ball in the opposition half.

Anam Hassan has talked extensively about how Wenger would ask his midfielders to push further up the pitch, in an attempt to discourage the opposition from pressing and instead pin them back. Needless to say, this was a high risk, high reward strategy. When it worked Arsenal’s best creative players where able to enjoy lots of the ball, but against stronger pressing opponents Arsenal would regularly come unstuck.

Emery’s play from the back (when using a back four, which he’s done for the majority of the season) is built around the two centre backs and two central midfielders. Probably the most distinctive feature of Emery’s time at Sevilla was his love for a solid double pivot. That trend has been continued at Arsenal. While Wenger liked a clear division of labour between his two central midfielders, often partnering a defensive minded player with a more attacking one like Aaron Ramsey, Emery likes his midfielders to share their buildup and defensive duties. Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi have been exclusively used in midfield in the Premier League and are all are comfortable acting as a single defensive midfielder. As such Arsenal will often rotate as to which midfielder drops in between the CBs during build up.

The counter to this use of the central midfielders is that the attacking midfielders are instructed to stay high and maintain the team’s shape, rather than dropping deep to help progress the ball themselves. Under Wenger it was common to see the likes of Mesut Özil, and other attacking midfielders, dropping deep, and a midfielder like Ramsey running forward into the vacated space. Such midfield rotations have become effectively extinct under Emery. While pass maps have significant limitations - mainly because they only show a player’s average touch position, not their off ball position - the Arsenal one against Liverpool nicely outlines a typical structure in Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1. There is a clear divide between the central midfielders and attacking midfielders and the fullbacks are getting on the ball in advanced areas.

Arsenal passmap v Liverpool.jpg

So far the results of this more meticulous build up play have been mixed. While Arsenal have scored plenty of goals, for most of the season they’ve had the majority of their success in brief spells of dominance, rather than as a constant threat. The odd beautiful goal and five minutes of brilliance has often been preluded with a period where the team has looked ponderous. In fact, one potential reason Arsenal have been so much better in second halves might be that it’s when they’ve released the handbrake, to borrow a Wengerism, and played with greater urgency and freedom that they’ve found their attacking grove.

There have been moments, however, where Arsenal have executed what we might begin to associate as trademark Emery Arsenal. If Wenger football was about getting into opposition territory as quickly as possible then perfect Emery football might be the opposite; a precise build up leading to a fast transition once the ball is played into one of the attackers. The fantastic team goals against Fulham and Leicester are examples, as is this move against Liverpool, where the goalkeeper, both centre backs and both central midfielders are involved.

Aggressive Pressing

Arsenal fans were understandably excited when Unai Emery promised protagonism with and without the ball, and a desire for intensity in pressing. But so far this season Arsenal haven’t show signs of being a particularly aggressive pressing side. This may be down to Emery not believing the squad were ready to successfully implement a very aggressive press, and that there were other issues that needed attention first. Or it could be that he knows what fans like to hear and wanted to start on the good side of Arsenal’s supporters, regardless of his plans for the team.

On Sunday, however, Arsenal put in their most aggressive, and most impressive, pressing performance of the season. That this correlated with Arsenal’s best start to a Premier League match under Emery is likely no coincidence.

Analysing or measuring a press is difficult, because what you’re attempting to analyse is the impact on the opposition rather than something purely to do with your own team, and it can be hard to separate your team’s influence from their own game plan. For example one such measure is the opposition pass accuracy, but when it comes to opponents like Cardiff, who almost always have a poor pass accuracy, it’s hard to argue Arsenal did something specifically that prevented them completing passes. The best measure is probably the number of opposition passes played per Arsenal defensive action (PPDA). This essentially gives you a value for the number of passes a team was able to put together before being engaged in a tackle, interception or foul. Against Tottenham Arsenal recorded their joint lowest PPDA of the season (5.43) meaning Tottenham were rarely able to string long passing sequences together before being engaged by Arsenal pressure.

Arsenal PPDA.png

At 72%, Tottenham also recorded the fifth lowest pass accuracy by any of Arsenal’s 14 opponents this season, and the lowest of anyone currently in the top half. Both Spurs CBs, and Eric Dier, recorded pass accuracies in the 60s, and were regularly forced into hitting harmless long balls up the field instead of building play from the back how they’d like.

Vertonghena and Dier passing.jpg

Regardless of the level of pressure it’s clear one of the hallmarks of Emery’s philosophy is a high work rate and intensity in his team’s play (Arsenal have regularly been at the forefront of most running stats this season). Sunday showed that, at the right moments, that philosophy can go one step further and be used to implement aggressive and successful pressing plans as well. It’s here where Arsenal can also benefit from the depths of their squad. Whether Emery planned to make a double substitution as early as half time is debatable, but it’s likely Iwobi and Mkhitaryan were went out in the first half with the knowledge they wouldn’t be playing the full 90 minutes, and could thus play above and beyond while they were on the pitch.

Could A Three At The Back Kill Two Birds With One Stone For Arsenal?

Much of the Arsenal discourse in the last couple of months has centred around the impact of Lucas Torreira, and how he’s helped make Arsenal a much more resilient and solid side. While the Uruguayan himself has played at a fine level since becoming a regular starter, the transformative nature of his arrival has perhaps been a bit overstated. Arsenal are still conceding chances. The 18 goals against in 14 matches isn’t itself a particularly good figure, and it could’ve been worse if not for some fine goalkeeping performances from Bernd Leno. The nature of these chances has also been of concern. Before the trip to Bournemouth Arsenal had faced the joint most counter attack shots in the division, along with West Ham and Manchester United. The match against Wolves before the international break showcased the worst of it. The visitors took the lead following a fast break on a turnover, and had multiple chances to add a second on transition.

Arsenal’s opponents have attacked down the middle less this season, 24% of the time compared to 27% last term, which suggests Arsenal’s double pivot might be doing a better job of blocking the middle of the pitch. But this has been counted with a more attacking use of the fullbacks. Arsenal have been particularly vulnerable down the left at times this season. They’ve tended to have a bias towards that side while attacking, mainly because the left footers Xhaka and Özil are more comfortable passing to their left and operating in those zones, which means the players on the left have to push further up the pitch. Given the defenders on the left - Xhaka and Monreal or Kolasinac - are not as athletic as the ones on the right - Bellerin and Torreira - this can be a problem. It’s also possible that, despite clearly not being the player he once was last season, Laurent Koscielny was still an improvement in defence over Sokratis and Rob Holding, and that the change in CB pairing has mitigated the improved defensive performance in Arsenal’s midfield.

Three at the back could help both this problems. Having three players allows the wing backs to get forward the way Emery likes, and allows an extra body to help defend the channels in transition. Additionally simply having three centre backs could also help to somewhat mitigate the fact they’re not of the highest individual level.

In the first 15 minutes at Bournemouth Arsenal seemed to be struggling with the system. Bournemouth attacked with a front four meaning Arsenal got pinned into a back five and struggled to get out with a lack of outlets. There also seemed to be an uncertainty amongst the back five about each others roles, what with Arsenal not having used the system since February. They were possibly fortunate that a marginal offside went their away in that period, but since then they have put in two of their best defensive displays this season. Against Bournemouth and Tottenham respectively, two of the best attacking sides in the league, Arsenal conceded just 0.5 and 0.25 expected goals against from open play.

In Attack

While three centre back formations naturally lead to a focus on the defensive structure and setup, they can also help create different attacking shapes. The most obvious being that, with two wing backs, there’s little need to true ‘wingers’, as seen against Bournemouth and the first half on Sunday, when Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were used in inside roles. This is where Wenger’s team benefited the most from the move to a back three. Mesut Özil, Alexis Sánchez and Aaron Ramsey were all able to be used in attacking positions behind the striker without sacrificing width or numbers defensively. Much has been made of Arsenal’s lack of genuine wingers, and while neither Hector Bellerin or Saed Kolasinac can take on players 1v1 the way a true wide forward could, they will at least maintain width and offer runs in behind.

On Sunday, Mauricio Pochettino opted for the midfield diamond that was so successful against Chelsea the week before, but this simply played into Arsenal's hands as the wing backs were afforded even more space. Bellerin was instrumental in Arsenal's possession play, completed the second most passes in the match and helped create the equaliser early in the second half. Kolasinac was the main creative force on the day, creating five chances. No one else from open play created more than two.

Kolasinac chances created.jpg

To start both fixtures, Emery opted for a clear 3-4-2-1, not a shape that will help get both Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in the side. However, as his substations at half time on Sunday showed, reversing the attack from a 2-1 shape to a 1-2 is simple enough, and playing two strikers doesn’t sacrifice width or midfield numbers as much in a back three. I think Emery probably prefers a 3-4-2-1 to a 3-4-1-2, because he can maintain the two midfielders and two attacking midfielders shape we saw against Liverpool. But the second half against Tottenham proved that he’s happy to go the other way if he believes it’s the best way forward.

In fact, Emery deserves praise for the significant versatility he has shown in recent weeks. After almost exclusively playing 4-2-3-1 all season, from the second half against Wolves onwards, Emery has tried at least three different shapes. While we were having debates on the merits of results vs performances, Emery has tinkered, first with personnel, then with shape, in the knowledge Arsenal had a much greater level they could go to. Such awareness, when it would’ve been easy to stick with the same lineups while the wins were still coming, is a good thing. Only time will tell if these changes will actually pay off in the long term, but the early signs are positive.

5 Things We Learned: Arsenal v Spurs

The first North London Derby of the Emery era was a pulsating affair as Arsenal came from behind to score three goals in the second half to clinch the win. The Gunners trade places on the table with Spurs to move to fourth place, level on points but ahead on goal difference.

The game had everything – beautiful goals, a cheating opposition who got what they deserved and even a touchline spat involving the players. Here are 5 things we observed in the 4-2 win against Spurs.

FIGHTING SPIRIT

When the team sheet was announced, many raised an eyebrow to the return of the back three and the omission of Mesut Ozil. All that was forgotten once the match started. Arsenal came out all guns blazing, swarming Spurs players high up the field and never giving them a moment to breathe.

Concerns about poor defenders were gone as everyone took up that responsibility from front to back. The front 3 set the tone well for the rest of the team as they never stopped running and created many turn overs to trouble the Spurs backline. Torreira’s hard running was inspiring and even Kolasinac was putting in a solid defensive shift. Spurs struggled to match Arsenal’s pace and Arsenal went ahead deservedly through a coolly taken penalty.

Torreira.jpg

Arsenal did drop their intensity midway through the first half which culminated with Spurs gaining a foothold in the game and scoring two (questionable) goals. I hope Emery shows this game during his post-match video analysis to remind the players of the importance of sustaining their focus and intensity. If they play at full potential, they might finally just be able to enter half time with the lead for the first time this season. No better time to start than against United on Wednesday night.

DUBIOUS SPURS GOALS

Arsenal let Spurs back into the game in the first half when they slowed down the game. This led to a few nervy moments when the Gunners’ backline reverted to the porous defence we’ve come to know this season.

However, there were elements of luck in each goal. Replays showed that Dier was marginally offside for the first goal though Leno could have done better to protect his near post. Son looked threatening on the counter but the supposed foul that gave away the penalty was actually a dive. Any contact by Holding on Son was minimal at best but the Korean winger made the most of it to deceive the ref.

TACTICAL PROTAGONIST

In his first interview, Emery spoke about being a “protagonist” and taking the initiative to win every game. Even by his standards, his two half time substitutions to bring on Ramsey and Lacazette seemed radical.

Iwobi and Mkhitaryan did a decent job in the first half, especially in the first 20 minutes, and I thought that they’d be given until the 60th minute to get Arsenal back into the game. They were also more natural playmakers than the two substitutes and I thought they could have created more for Aubameyang.

However, the substitutes did not disappoint. They added energy and helped the team press even harder to wrestle back momentum. Ramsey notched 2 assists (one from pressing Foyth on the half way line) and Lacazette scored the third goal to put Arsenal back in front.

Ramsey.jpg

Despite their lack of playmaking nous, their hard work to create turn overs was crucial in creating those chances – reminiscent of Jurgen Klopp explaining that the true playmaker in a high pressing system was the system itself.

SECOND HALF FLURRIES

Arsenal are now the “highest scoring second half team” in the league having scored the most goals (24) in the latter half of matches. This could be a testament to tactical changes and improved fitness that have helped the Gunners move up gears as the game progresses.

They still need to work on the first half performances but opponents now know that Arsenal will give them a tough game right until the end.

AUBAMEYANG STAKES HIS CLAIM

Surely Aubameyang has done enough to be the lead striker if he carries on playing with this intensity and keeps the goals coming. Usually quite peripheral in the physical battle, he joined up with his supporting attackers to harry the Spurs backline and led the line well.

His taking of the penalty showed that he was ready to take responsibility for the team but the highlight of the game was his Henry-esque finish for the equalizer. Aubameyang never scored a lot of goals outside the box during his Dortmund stint but he’s been given free rein to shoot from distance. His technique is brilliant – guiding the ball at pace into the corner of the net. World class.

And finally, an honourable mention for Lacazette who came on and had a job to do on the right. He didn’t complain or sulk being played out of position but fought hard for the team to win the ball and was selfless to create chances for Aubameyang. His hard work paid off when attempting to score from outside the box with his left foot as he gave Arsenal the lead for the second time in the game.

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

5 Things We Learned: Bournemouth v Arsenal

Arsenal returned to winning ways after the international break despite another unconvincing performance against a good Bournemouth team that started the game in 6th place. This game saw a fortuitous opening goal for the Arsenal, some bad defending and Emery’s tactical tweaks at play.

Here are 5 things we noticed in the 2-1 win over Bournemouth.

Emery’s respect for the opposition

Emery did his homework again and shook things up with a 3-4-3 formation. The three-man backline was meant to negate the Cherries’ swift attackers but it also affected the Gunners’ build up. For the first 20 minutes, Arsenal struggled to find the right angles to make their passes. Their main distributor, Xhaka, couldn’t find space in midfield to receive the ball and many of the defenders’ passes found the feet of opposition midfielders instead.

Emery _0.jpg

The omission of Mesut Ozil was also an admission of Emery’s focus on the opposition as he spoke about a need to add more “physicality and intensity” into their game. It’s very refreshing to hear this from the Arsenal boss as he’s not afraid to bench big players in service of the overall tactical plan.

More time needs to be spent on the training ground before the team can seamlessly switch between systems to counter the opposition but at least this keeps rivals guessing on our tailored approach.

Rebuilding the defence a must

The 3 central defenders had a mixed game and what we saw on the pitched showed that we need to invest quickly in a top central defender who can lead the backline. Holding had an okay game but Sokratis looked very rusty upon his return from injury. The Greek struggled with the pace of the game during most of the first half, as seen in his wrestling of the Bournemouth players.

Bellerin looked decent despite having very little opportunity to link with the right side of midfield. Mustafi did a Mustafi – he was solid for most of the game with his distribution and interceptions before giving away a dangerous free kick just outside the box during the last minute of injury time. I really want to like this guy but he seems to always have a big mistake in him even in games where he does 90% of his tasks right.

mustafi.jpg

And then we come to Kolasinac. Like Mustafi, I really want to see him succeed but his defensive work against the Cherries was horrible. A wing back’s defensive responsibilities are reduced with a three-man backline but this does not mean they are totally absolved of any defensive work. Kolasinac did not get the memo as he strolled back to defend and often left a gaping hole for the midfield to cover.

Unless his performances improve, a solid left back should be on the agenda in the upcoming summer.

Game management a work in progress

Arsenal did not deserve to take the lead but the least they could have done was play it safe and make it to the second half with the lead intact. Instead, they pushed too many players forward and Bournemouth scored on the counter in injury time.

Arsenal remain one of two teams to never have gone into the second half this season in the lead. Astonishing.

Credit to Emery, he made subtle changes in the second half to swing the game to Arsenal’s favour. He turned Kolasinac from a defensive liability and focused on his strengths. Kolasinac played mostly as a left winger and Emery channelled the flow of the game slightly to the left to compensate for this. Iwobi lurked in the inside left channel to make space for Kolasinac. Xhaka crept slightly to the left to cover and Holding occasionally played left back.

Ds3BdVIX4AA43A3.jpg

It worked. We scrapped through to score the winning goal that was created from a Kolasinac cross. The team played more conservatively to see out the game but we need this to be drilled from the first minute to ensure that the players are more conscious of the needs of the game.

Aubameyang – the league’s top goalscorer

I previously spoke about playing Aubameyang up top for this game and true enough, he got the gig (albeit by default thanks to Lacazette’s injury). If there’s one person who suffers from a lack of build up play, it’s Aubameyang. He requires his playmakers to create for him and the Arsenal team lacked fluency to provide chances for him regularly.

However, it’s a testament to his quality to constantly get into good positions to strike on goal. Aubameyang should have hit the target with a chance each in the first and second half but contrived to shoot high above the bar.

Ds3KhJlXQAAZNPw.jpg

It was an easy tap-in for the Gabon striker to make it 2-1 but not before making a stealthy diagonal run to evade his markers in the build up.

Mkhitaryan needs to sort out his form

On paper, the Armenian is one of the most creative and experienced players in the team. He can play across the attacking midfield areas and is relied on to be one of the Arsenal’s key players this season. But somehow, things are not clicking for him at the moment.

He miscontrolled the ball multiple times when a little composure would have helped him keep the ball better or produced a better shot and pass. This has been evident in the last few games that Mkhitaryan has played in.

Ds3KSymWoAIzUxx.jpg

He is playing way below his potential and Arsenal need him to be performing now. A hectic festive calendar awaits and Arsenal lack options in wide positions with Welbeck injured and Reiss Nelson out on loan.

With Mesut Ozil going through a similar malaise, Arsenal can’t afford to have their top playmakers (and earners) firing blanks in the winter.

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

5 Things We Learned: Arsenal v Wolves

A bad day at the office for the Arsenal.

November has traditionally been a poor period for results at Arsenal and the trend has seemed to seep into the Emery tenure. We’ve seen 3 games in November and they have all ended in draws. The first was a credible result against league contenders Liverpool. This was followed by a drab goalless match against a poor Sporting Lisbon side (with the caveat of the horrible Welbeck injury of course) and the shambles of a performance against Wolves.

We explore the 5 things from one of Arsenal’s worst performance yet under Unai Emery.

Arsenal need to re-calibrate their radar

The team was exceptionally sloppy with their passing. Save for Torreira, most of the outfield players did not find their teammates with their passes. Even Mustafi, whose one good trait is his distribution from deep, was seen pumping aimless long balls into the final third during the second half when he had 4 central midfielders ahead of him.

It is understandable when one player is off form but to see so many moves breakdown between most of the players, something was not right here. To use a popular automotive analogy, it wasn’t that the “hand break was on” but more like a performance sports car being filled with diesel that got it sputtering and gumming up the works.

arsenal.jpg

Our goal conceded was a result of that same sloppiness. Xhaka gave away the ball needlessly and Arsenal were killed on the counter. And don’t even get me started on Xhaka’s tracking of Cavaliero after losing the ball.

Wolves took advantage of Arsenal giving them possession by making 13 shots on the Arsenal goal with 5 of them on target. By comparison, Arsenal only had 10 shots on goal with 3 on target. The scoreline could have been worse if not for Bernd Leno.

Leno proves his worth

There were a few question marks on Leno when he first joined Arsenal. It didn’t look good on him when Cech started the season as first choice despite Leno’s big price tag and reputation as a ‘keeper who can play Emery’s technical style of football.

He’s slowly proved his worth in the last few weeks after replacing an injured Cech and has been solid if not spectacular for the Gunners. Leno made 4 crucial saves from Wolves’ dangerous counters, preventing an embarrassing scoreline at home for the Arsenal.

Diamond formation

Emery pulled off another tactical switch at half time, changing the formation to a 4-4-2 with a diamond shaped midfield. Guendouzi came on for Iwobi and the emphasis was on dominating the central areas and pushing the full backs higher.

I liked the idea and I think the formation helped Arsenal to a small extent by creating overloads around the half spaces to release our full backs for a cut back. However, tactics can only do so much if the players can’t perform fundamentals like simple passes.

guendouzi.jpg

The switch to the diamond formation to bring out more from the wing also looked like an indictment of a lack of wing play. I have been behind the idea of bringing in a more traditional winger to the team. A Douglas Costa/Willian type who takes on his man to break down defences who can mix it up when our quick pass and move style doesn’t work. Iwobi seems to be the only one closest to that type and Reiss Nelson can’t return fast enough.

Perhaps a January signing could be key with the next closest winger (and I say this quite loosely), Danny Welbeck, could be out for most of the season. If that signing doesn’t come, the diamond formation would be a decent alternative to get the best out of the team’s full backs.

Aubameyang as lead striker?

The switch to a diamond formation meant that we got to see a rare outing with both strikers up top. I would bet big that this won’t happen often unless we’re chasing a game.

As previously documented, attempts to shoehorn both strikers into the team haven’t been very successful. Aubameyang has looked like Thierry Henry in a Benjamin Button movie. An elite striker moved to the left wing who is slowly losing his confidence, sharpness and belief in himself.

Lacazette has also looked like he’s lost some of that sharpness which made him indispensable to the team. Passes and flicks ons were not coming off against Wolves but these were evident in the previous matches as well.

Laca Auba.jpg

Both players need to be played in their best position and it looks like Aubameyang could use some games up top. The next game is against Bournemouth away and a speedy goal poacher could do well to run in behind an expansive Eddie Howe team.

It’s not an easy decision to make for Emery. I totally understand why Lacazette is so important to his style of play. Does he refine Plan A and ensures that he can charge Lacazette’s batteries over the international break? Or does bank on Aubameyang who doesn’t contribute much to the build up play but can make his mark in the box.

Both strikers will affect how we play and move the ball. I reckon Emery might not want to change the style of play too much as the team is still learning his methods. He wants a rendition of “total football” which means the striker needs to be involved in the build up – suiting Lacazette’s skillset much more.

Silver linings

The international break comes at a good time for the team. Arsenal’s poor passing could be the result of mental fatigue rather than a physical one. I saw the team work hard but moves were just not coming off.

Paul has mentioned on the podcast that improvements in our play this season will not be linear and I believe this to be true. There will be times that the team will falter and the last game was an example of that. The players are learning new methods and there will be growing pains in any workplace when a team is getting used to a new management.

The good news is that Arsenal are still unbeaten in 16 games across all competitions. We have Koscielny and Mavrapanos coming back after the break who could make an appearance in the Europa League to shake off the cobwebs with the safety net of qualification.

Koscielny 2.jpg

Monreal should make a return too while we should hope that other key players like Aubameyang, Lacazette and Mkhitaryan can regain their form for a challenging end to 2018.





Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

5 Things We Learned: Arsenal v Leicester

A captain’s redemption, nutmegs and one touch football.

Project 24 is well and truly in motion as Arsenal gained their 21st points in the league, keeping pace with the league leaders while playing some scintillating football along the way. Not many would have predicted the levels of improvement made by the Gunners at this stage of Emery’s tenure but the signs do look good so far.

Monday night’s match against Leicester showed that while the team still has deficiencies, they have it in them to blow away any opponents by sheer firepower. Below are 5 observations from one of the best games of the season yet.

Ozil The Captain

My man of the match. I was surprised to hear that Ozil got the armband. I can’t say that he’s at the top of my list when it comes to being a “leader”. All too often, he does fade into the background when the going gets tough.

Monday night against Leicester, I was glad to be proven wrong. Once Arsenal chased the game after going a goal down, there was no turning back. Ozil led the way from this moment– starting moves from deep, pulling off body feints to go past defenders and dictating Arsenal’s best offensive moves.

He played in his preferred role behind the striker, the first time in a long time this season, and proved why he’s one of the best in the world in that position.

Ozil.jpg

Ozil scored the equalizer, but not before driving through the centre of the park with the ball and playing a one-two with Bellerin to receive the ball in the box. That nonchalant one touch finish to the bottom corner looked easy but don’t let that fool you. Not many have the composure and technical ability to stroke it so calmly into the bottom corner while running at pace.

The “pre-assist” for the second goal required military level radar capabilities to spot an overlapping Bellerin. And for the final goal, Ozil’s orchestration of the entire move was sublime. He started it by casually backheeling a layoff to Guendouzi before sprinting forward to demand for the ball from the flank. Somehow, he knew that Lacazette was behind him as he let the ball through his legs for the French striker to tee him off as he burst again into the box to receive the pass. The pièce de résistance was the composure to dink the ball past an onrushing Schmeichel with the outside of his left foot for Aubameyang to tap in.

Ozil’s vision, drive and technical ability was evident today for all to see. On the evidence of this match, it would be tough now for Emery to shunt him to the right wing.

Arsene Wenger spoke during the international break about how he was worried that with Ozil’s international retirement, he might lack new goals to work towards and it might stunt his drive to maintain a high standard of performance.

Perhaps, being one of the leaders of this Arsenal team could bring renewed focus and responsibility that would finally see him put in more performances like this.

A Case for Pierre

That’s 4 goals in 2 games as a substitute for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He may not have Lacazette’s aggression or hold up play but I’ve not seen such an elite penalty box poacher since Pippo Inzaghi and Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

If Aubameyang was an X-Man, he would definitely be Nightcrawler. He seemingly teleports into space and evades the eye of opposition defenders to pounce on simple tap ins.

auba 2.jpg

Lacazette has been crucial in keeping the game ticking, pressing defenders and also scoring decent goals for the team. But you can’t deny that Aubameyang is a pure striker who, with an in-form Ozil and co providing ammunition, can challenge for the golden boot.

It’s a tough call for Emery but also a good problem for the Arsenal coach. With the team now improving with their “automatisms” going forward, I’d like to see Aubameyang given a run of games to see what kind of impact he can make for Arsenal.

Iwobi, the Prince of Nutmegs

How things have changed for Iwobi. He seems to be one of the first names on the team sheet in recent games. He looks fitter, sharper and is one of the rare players in the team who can dribble and carry the ball forward. Against Leicester, he was voted to be the man of the match as he showed great drive and invention to push for a win.

he Nigerian international seems to also have developed a penchant for nutmegs and other freestyle skills on the pitch. Who is this guy and what have you done to the real Alex Iwobi?

In all seriousness, Iwobi fully deserves the plaudits coming to him. He’s been excellent and I hope he can keep up his standard of performance as he looks to secure that left wing position in the team.

Is Mustafi… Playing Well?

Mustafi is a mystery to me. He can be excellent in some games when his sliding tackles come off but miserable in another when he loses concentration and/or takes unnecessary risks that jeopardizes the defence.

In Sokratis’ absence, I have to say Mustafi has been relatively decent and he continued his solid performance against Leicester. He hasn’t been as rash in his decision making and has done the basics fairly well. Part of it, I’m sure, is down to the improved protection in front of him in the shape of Torreira. But Mustafi has been a 7/10 with his defending and has also been good playing the ball out of the back. I don’t recall the pacey Vardy getting a big chance on his side of the penalty box.

Shkodran-Mustafi-1035088.jpg

This may be his last season to prove to the fans and the management that he’s not a ticking time bomb at the back. Fortunately for him, he’s taking his opportunities to prove his worth in the absence of senior players such as Koscielny and Sokratis. More strong performances may give Emery a good headache when all the defenders return from injury (if we are so lucky).

Weak first halves vs strong game management

What is it with poor first halves and strong second half comebacks when it comes to Arsenal this season? The team has ridden their luck through this winning run, giving numerous chances and ceding the initiative to the opposition during most of the first half. Could it be due to Emery’s tinkering from game to game? Or perhaps his unfamiliarity with the opposition that has made it tough to prepare a tactical plan?

Whatever it is, Arsenal almost always come out all guns blazing in the second half and this game was no different. After going ahead, Arsenal’s game management was excellent – slowing down the game at will before switching gears to hit on the counter when an opening arises. Even the redeployment of Xhaka at left back didn’t seem to affect him, with enough cover to protect him on the rare occasion Arsenal lost possession.

emery.jpg

I’m liking how Arsenal has been more pro-active in managing the game instead of being stuck on “gung ho” setting no matter the situation. Arsenal hardly gave Leicester a sniff in the second half by controlling the game maturely.

This shows that Emery is very adept tactically and is capable of reacting to the opponent’s shape and plan. If only Emery could come up with a way for Arsenal to start strong too. Let’s hope that’s not too far in the horizon.


Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

Farewell Puma: An Arsenal Kit Retrospective

Hatta Aziz from BOOTHYPE.com Explores the Best and Worst Arsenal Kits From Puma

It’s official. The 2018/19 season will be Puma’s last as Arsenal’s kit manufacturer. The baton will be passed on to Adidas as announced by the Arsenal Twitter account. Puma have been producing Arsenal kits from the 2014/15 season and feedback from fans and ex-players have been mixed to say the least. That said, preferences can vary from fan to fan and views on the quality of recent kits have been as divisive as the “Wenger Out” debates.

Are you Puma In or Puma Out? Let’s look back at some of the good, bad and downright ugly offerings from the big cat.

The Good

Home – 2014/15

PUMA_launch_Arsenal_2014-15_Home_Kit_Podolski_Arteta_Ozil_Action_HR (1000 x 713).jpg

Puma rode on the wave of euphoria as the launch of their first kit came just after Arsenal won their first title in 9 years with the FA Cup. They launched a slick marketing campaign about the club’s history and a bright future with the club. The video ticked a lot of boxes and the home kit was pretty decent though it has to be said, Puma played it safe with the design. The skin tight “player’s version” also incorporated tech such as heat transfer tapes to reduce body heat. Pretty cool stuff overall. 

Away – 2014/15

PUMA_launch_Arsenal_2014-15_Away_Kit_Giroud_Landscape_HR (1000 x 719).jpg

Another decent jersey from Puma’s first season, the away top featured colours from the popular yellow/blue combination that have played a part of Arsenal’s rich history –the last gasp win over Liverpool in ’89 and the Invincibles season of 03/04 to name a few.

We won a second FA Cup in style in this jersey which seals its place as one of my favourites in recent years.

Home – 2015/16 

1533672.jpg

Puma’s sophomore year brought us this home jersey which saw them attempting to add in a little sartorial flair into their designs. The granddad collar was making its way back into fashion and Puma used that as an opportunity to add a little something to the home kit. The gold trims were a nice touch but Puma still kept it safe with the look.

Training Kit – 2015/16 

zp_566188321_SM_1944_15_418917_2700_0.jpg

One of my personal favourites was this training kit from the 2015/16 season. It looks modern and I was a fan of the stripes and dark blue area on the top left-hand corner of the shirt. That said, I wouldn’t recommend putting it on after a heavy meal as the top cuts a very slim fit especially around the mid-section. 

Training Kit – 2018/19

39082084_248773282444951_6724068655358803968_n.jpg

Fast forward to the Emery era and I’ve really taken to the training kits worn by the team this season. Perhaps it’s the excitement of a new regime, or maybe because I saw them wear it up close for a week while I covered them on tour in Singapore.

My personal favourite is the grey version which is predominantly worn by the players. Look closely and you’ll notice that the logos and trims across the sleeve has a slightly purplish, holographic shimmer to it.

Third Kit – 2018/19

ADF-Arsenal_Kit_Launch-14.jpg

A polarising one but I really like the mint/dark blue combination on the third kit. This was another attempt by Puma to sprinkle a bit of lifestyle in their sportswear and I really dig it. And if we’re going with adidas, expect more flamboyant colours and designs as they’re trying very hard to mix lifestyle into their football apparel too. 

The selection of this very jersey could be biased though, as they launched it in my hometown on the recent tour and also sold a limited edition print featuring popular icons in Singapore. Safe to say, I got myself a set.

arsenaljerseys-43.jpg

Stadium – 2018/19 

775193617SA053_Club_Atletic (1000 x 1252).jpg

The “Stadium kit” is usually only worn by the players on the sidelines but they’re easily the nicest of the bunch. It’s predominantly white in front but the back features a deep red colour with a metallic sheen to it. It’s plain, simple but very classy. Shame we won’t see too much of it over the course of the season.

Honourable mention: Home – 2018/19 

41182860_329899650909776_7992825420417395244_n.jpg

I hated this when I first saw it but I have warmed up to Puma’s last home jersey for the Arsenal. It’s got a nice modern cut and a deep shade of red on the torso built with a rather breathable material. 

I’m still on the fence regarding the stripes on the sleeves but overall, it’s not bad at all. 

Bad

Third Kit – 2014/15

PUMA_launch_Arsenal_2014-15_Cup_Kit_Rosicky_Landscape_HR (1000 x 705).jpg

While the aforementioned marketing campaign for Puma’s debut season had the home and away jerseys representing the glorious past, Puma ominously had this horrendous third kit represent the future. I blame Puma for cursing the club with this awful number. 

Predominantly clad in light and dark blue, they formed a sash formation on the shirt with lime green trims. The only good memory I had of this jersey was Danny Welbeck scoring the winner against United in the FA Cup and that’s as good as it gets.

Training Jersey – 2014/15

2014-15 training kit.JPG

Did someone design this using Paint on Windows 95? The less said about this, the better.

Third Kit – 2015/16

Arsenal4.jpg

I liked the extremely dark shade of blue forming the base of the design (or was it a lighter shade of black?) and the gold trims. But Puma decided to play mad scientist and throw in a little turquoise and white and mix it up in a strange sash design that just didn’t work.

Why couldn’t it just be plain black and gold, Puma? Why did you treat us to this abomination?

Goalkeeper’s Jersey – 2016/17 

image-11.jpeg

Did the printer run out of ink when they decided to sketch this design? The colour panel on the sleeve reminds me of a colour printer’s CMYK cartridge – a really odd design choice to make.

Away – 2017/18

17aw-pr-ts-football-arsenal-away-4.jpg

My eyes! The light blue top did not look right to me and not even the gradient effect could save this jersey from being one of the most underwhelming tops I have seen released for the Arsenal. There was also something about it which made it look cheap but I just can’t put my finger on it.

Just like our horrible away form during the course of the season, this jersey is one to forget.

Goodbye Puma, Hello Adidas

It’s been a mixed bag by Puma and I’m certainly looking forward to see what the 3 stripes can bring to the table (besides more money of course). Adidas has certainly upped the ante in the last few years with designs that blend elements of street culture, lifestyle and sportswear. 

This season alone, they’ve launched a light pink away jersey for United (their best seller), a mint top for Bayern not too dissimilar to our third kit and also some stellar kits from the recent World Cup.

Will we be getting back the “bruised banana”? I’m not too sure about it but I have a feeling I’ll be enjoying the ride a little more than I did with Puma. 

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.












5 Things We Learned: Fulham v Arsenal

pic1.jpg

The best team performance this season saw tactical tweaks and the B team staking a claim for a starting position.

That’s 9 wins on the bounce with 6 coming in the league. Arsenal also head into the international break just 2 points off leaders Manchester City. Not many Arsenal fans would have envisioned this scenario especially with the rocky performances that have come during this run.

The match against Fulham was one of Arsenal’s best so far under Emery and it had the hallmarks of a typical Emery team – tactical flexibility, energy and swift attacking play. Below are 5 things we learnt from the game that won Arsenal the game in style. 

1: Flexibility in formations

Many Arsenal fans have heard of Emery’s meticulous attention to detail with tactics and that was on show today. Midweek saw the team play a 3-4-3 formation to mixed effect but the team operated very astutely against the Cottagers. In attack, the shape resembled Emery’s preferred 4-2-3-1 with Lacazette up top in front of Welbeck, Iwobi and Mkhitaryan who took the supporting attack positions from left to right.

However, the team adopted a 4-4-2 shape when defending to counter Fulham’s 3 man backline. Lacazette patrolled the central areas with Welbeck lurking in a support striker role, covering the lateral space where Fulham looked to play the ball out and closed down passing channels. 

Embed from Getty Images 

The team’s seamless transition between the offensive and defensive shape was a positive, making Arsenal unpredictable and harder to play against. A big part of this is due to the 3 players in the attacking midfield positions. Which leads us to….

2: Welbeck, Iwobi, Mkhitaryan 

Arsenal’s performances have been a mixed bag this season. They have been able to blow opponents away due to raw firepower but they have struggled for fluency and cohesion. That is in part to the 3 players who usually support Lacazette. Aubameyang lends very little to the build up play on the left. Ramsey, in my opinion, is much better bursting from central midfield rather than dictating play as the no. 10. And Ozil on the right negates his impact on the ball and sees him drifting infield, leaving our right back with no defensive cover nor passing combination options.

The 3 who played in these positions against Fulham, though not poor players by any measure, may not be blessed with the same individual quality as the incumbent but are more flexible tactically and positionally. This has led to a better flow in attack – something we’ve seen in the cup games where they have played in.

Embed from Getty Images 

I was hoping to see Aubameyang start up front to run in behind Fulham’s backline as I expected the home team to push up to attack. Unfortunately, the Gabon forward was just coming back from a bug and it was Lacazette who started. Welbeck took his chance to cause problems for the backline as he regularly ran in behind the Fulham defence down the left. He further used his athleticism to great effect as an unorthodox target man on the left wing, laying down any long balls for the midfield to pounce on. It was this exact tactic that saw Welbeck assisting Lacazette with his second goal – cushioning Torreira’s clearance for the Frenchman to receive, spin around and strike from outside the box.

Iwobi’s resurgence has also been a major highlight of this season. Inventive, powerful and sharp in his play, he looks a different player from last year. His ability to carry the ball and dribble in tight spaces is a unique one in this Arsenal team who lack wingers and dribblers. He has added some trickery to his bow too with a nutmeg on a Fulham defender on the left channel. His vision and touch are rapidly improving, threading in a pass for an overlapping Monreal who cut back for Lacazette’s first goal. On the evidence of his performances, Iwobi has never been more confident and productive and he deserves to start more games for the Arsenal.

Mkhitaryan had a relatively quiet game but his place on the right did help Bellerin cover the right flank a little bit more than Ozil (though that’s not too hard to do) and provided some simple combination play to allow the right back to advance and attack.

The performances of these 3 is a conundrum for Emery. They do help the team play better but politically, it’s hard to justify dropping Aubameyang, Ramsey or Ozil due to their elevated profiles in the team. The manager head coach needs to channel his best man management abilities to balance the needs of the team and the players’ egos over the course of the season.

3: A luxury of forwards

I can’t recall the last time Arsenal had such a world class array of forwards. On this form, Lacazette is crucial to Arsenal’s build up play and he must be commended for regaining the forward role after being relegated to back-up for January record signing, Aubameyang. His 2 goals were clinical strikes of top technical quality. However, his all-round player was just as important and sometimes goes unnoticed. He pressed (and eventually fouled) Seri in the centre circle to stop a counter and played a key role in keeping the ball alive in the lead up to the Harlem Globetrotter-esque team goal for Ramsey. Lacazette is more than a great striker, he’s a fantastic team player.

I’ve waxed lyrical on Lacazette’s strengths in our post on the top 3 players in September and at this rate, he could prove to be one of the league’s top forwards and may even oust Giroud in the French national team. Elliot would be extremely pleased with that, I’m sure. #giroudhater

Personally, I would play Aubameyang against teams which hold a high line as his runs behind and movement in box are almost always timed to perfection. Combined with his electric pace and lethal finishing, there is almost no one better in world football who plays like this. He was instrumental in going behind the defence (albeit on the wide left) to cut back for Ramsey’s exquisite back heel goal. Aubameyang’s first goal showed predatory instincts to receive the ball from Bellerin and strike on the spin. The second goal was all about the aforementioned movement, pace and finishing we’ve come to know about him.

These 2 are excellent options for Emery who could (or perhaps, should?) take a horses for courses option when it comes to planning for the opposition. Either way, opposition defences should be terrified when facing Arsenal.

4: Defending wasn’t so bad, was it?

Arsenal has struggled all season to keep out goal scoring chances from the opposition but they seemed to have had a relatively comfortable performance against Fulham. Mitrovic was well marshalled by Mustafi (in other news, icicles are forming in hell), Holding looked confident and Leno had a relatively quiet day in goal. The full backs both contributed assists and were mainly solid.

 

A big part of this improvement has been the protection in midfield provided by the Torreira and Xhaka axis. Torrerira’s impersonation of the Tasmanian Devil allows Xhaka time to control the game with passes from deep and get into space when defending. It wasn’t just his robust tackling that caught the eye but the Uruguayan also displayed fantastic ability to win aerial challenges despite his diminutive size. When Guendouzi came on, Torreira was seen moving upfield in a box-to-box role and didn’t look out of place as he held the ball up well, passed efficiently and made some darting runs into the box. 

Could Torreira be the next Kante? 

5: Positivity, energy, good performance

It’s nice to see Arsenal play the type of football we’ve come to know of them with a touch of modern tactical flexibility. The players look genuinely happy to work for each other and even Lacazette and Aubameyang, rivals for the sole striker position, have a bromance that even rivals that of Ozil-Flamini. 

Embed from Getty Images

Emery needs to keep this positivity up which is key to Arsenal’s continued improvement. He’s made the subs feel like a big part of the process and Arsenal need the whole squad to be performing optimally to ensure the team ends the season with some silverware. Here’s to hoping for 10 straight wins after the international break.

Follow Hatta on twitter @chatwithhat

Top 3 Players of the Month: September

In this monthly series, Hatta explores the best 3 Arsenal players and their impact on the team. 

Unlike that popular song by Green Day, I don’t want to be woken up at the end of September as it’s been a productive month for Arsenal. 6 wins on the trot (4 in the league) has put some optimism back into the Gunners fanbase. The performances haven’t always backed up the results as it’s still a work in progress by Unai Emery and the team. 

Adding some order to that chaos were 3 players who have played the biggest roles in Arsenal’s success in September. 

Petr Cech

cech.jpg
 

Cech had an extremely rocky start to the season. The new manager’s reputation and highlights from pre-season suggested that he will implement a high pressing strategy which requires the keep to be good at his feet as a distributor and unorthodox playmaker. 

Many doubted that Cech would start the season as our No. 1 with big money signing, Bernd Leno, coming in with a reputation as a new-age sweeper keeper who was great with his feet. Cech is old school. His strengths are based around commanding the box and stopping shots and crosses – not playing the ball out with his feet. It comes as no surprise as his best days were at Chelsea, a team which, despite the carousel of managers through the years, have shown a decent defensive solidity and a penchant for a low block. Mourinho’s first stint there laid the foundations for their defensive strength.

Which is why it came as a major shock to many that he started the games against Manchester City and Chelsea. He struggled to be the first point of build-up, albeit against some of the best teams in the league. It could have been so easy to have been deflated by the whole experience but Cech kept his head up and continued pushing on. 

The opposition were not as good in September and that allowed Cech to be under less pressure on the ball. He still had some nervy moments with the ball at his feet but for the most part, he kept us in the game with crucial saves. The Arsenal defence and midfield are still struggling for shape and organization and it was only through the gloves of Cech that we got those wins in the league. Cech’s best performance was against Everton has he made countless saves to ensure Arsenal got their first clean sheet of the season.

Cech has proven through his career that he’s a consummate professional and this season may just be one of the best examples yet. He’s in the twilight of his playing career, tasked with something out of his comfort zone but he turns up at work every day looking to apply himself fully. It may not be perfect but that’s not on him.

At the end of last season, I thought he had at least 1 good year left in him at the top level. I’m glad he’s spending that year at Arsenal, contributing to keeping goals out and showing a fantastic attitude in adapting to new situations. A world class role model for any professional in any field.

Alexandre Lacazette

lacazette.jpg
 

Lacazette has had an indifferent start to his Arsenal career last season but seemed to have found his groove towards the end. This year, in Aubameyang, he’s had to contend with another elite striker, vying for his spot in the team. It seemed that his place was under threat when Aubameyang started the first couple of games in August but he showed his value by coming on to great effect in both the Manchester City and Chelsea games.

He provides a focal point for the team by holding the ball up diligently, aggressively harrying opposition defenders, linking up play with the attacking players and scoring goals. Everything you want in a modern centre forward. Emery saw this too and in September, he moved Aubameyang wide to allow Lacazette’s all round play to flourish.

Lacazette has scored 2 goals and registered 2 assists in September alone. One of his best performances came in the game against Cardiff where he laid off the ball for Aubameyang with an instinctive back heel for the assist and won the game with a powerful strike into the top corner from an acute angle.

It is testament to Lacazette’s quality that he’s usurped the club’s record signing to lead the attack and that he’s thrived despite his supporting cast of Ozil, Ramsey and Aubameyang struggling to find any form of fluency. He’s been carrying the attack and one can only imagine how devastating he will be with a more fluent midfield behind him.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos

sokratis.jpg
 

Eyebrows were raised when Sokratis was purchased from Borussia Dortmund for a transfer fee of just below £18m.  It’s not a small fee for a defender who just turned 30. The move also seemed like a lazy decision by Sven Mislintat, the Head of Recruitment who previously led Dortmund’s scouting department. Fans were expecting the next hidden gem, the next Kagawa. Instead, Sven called on his old club for a favour and Arsenal got a player who was marginalized in his last season at club that was struggling for consistency.

Upon his arrival, Sokratis spoke about his contribution as a senior player and leader but we saw very little of that in his first couple of games. The team looked disorganized and it would be fair to say that he was still learning about his teammates and was acclimatizing to the manager’s instructions. 

 Sokratis started the season looking average but his performances started improving from the game against Newcastle. He showed a good reading of the game and covered well for a Mustafi’s lapses in concentration. Sokratis also has had to curb his instinct to charge in for a tackle as he’s assumed a bit more of a role as an organizer alongside his defensive partner.

Some of that leadership was evident too when he berated Mustafi for his mistake in the game against Everton.

It’s been a shame that he got injured and missed the Watford game. Possibly, that was Emery playing it safe as we’ve got a long season ahead with only so many centre backs. I would like to see him paired with Holding, who seems a more competent defender than Mustafi, and is comfortable on the ball too. Arsenal need a leader in defence and Sokratis looks to be growing into that role.

Honorable mention: Lucas Torreira

torreira.jpg
 

The Uruguayan terrier would have made the list if he played more. The new signing has been slowly embedded into the team with substitute appearances but has shone in most of the matches he played in. He has since dislodged Guendouzi to form a solid partnership with Xhaka. Watch this space as I have a feeling he’ll be appearing on this list for many months to come.


Hatta is a Singapore based Gooner. A purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

Mesut Özil: Unai Emery’s conundrum

ozilemery1.jpg

This is part two of a three part series on Mesut Ozil by Oscar Wood.

Yesterday we took a detailed dive on Özil’s 2017/18 season.

An interesting aspect of Mesut Özil is that while opinions of him are vulnerable to extreme fluctuations, his performance levels, and the statistical output he produces, are usually strikingly consistent. Such is the quality and repeatability of his core technical and mental attributes - ball control, passing, movement, decision making, vision - he rarely has an outright bad game, where he performs those aforementioned skills poorly (one rare example was actually the opening day against Manchester City, where his final third passing was a letdown). The most common reason for Özil having a mediocre game is usually external; when he’s put in a position where he can’t utilise his strengths and his weaknesses are exposed more. Usually this is when Arsenal struggle to get control of games and he simply doesn’t see as much of the ball as he’d like. In other words, it’s the age old cliche about how he can’t grab a game by the scruff of the neck, unless it’s there for the taking.

This isn’t an issue for him over a sustained period of matches. Or at least, it hasn’t been so far in his career. Of course, like any player, he goes through physical ups and downs as well, meaning sometimes he has better months than others. But, whereas others like Aaron Ramsey and Henrikh Mkhitaryan may often have games where their touch and weight of pass is off, with Özil you usually know what you're going to get. Often his supposed up and down periods are simply down to the nature of assists. The finish is beyond your control and there’ll be periods where the other forwards run hot and periods where they run cold. 

All this makes his start to the season all the more alarming. The Arsenal fanbase and wider football world has had many moments of doubt surrounding the German before, but it’s rare that a period of Özil scepticism has been matched with a significant drop off in his statistical performance as well. Arsenal’s number 10 is currently underperforming in virtually every metric, with his creativity and overall passing numbers significantly worse than last season. 

While, as mentioned earlier, Özil’s statistics have tended to stay consistent over medium term periods, and we are still very early in the season, the fact Arsenal have a new coach has exasperated fears that Özil’s recent performances could be the start of a new long term trend. Arguably most striking is the drop off in overall involvement. While days can happen where a player fails to create moments of spark, a lack of involvement in possession indicates potential systemic issues. In the Premier League so far this season Özil has completed just 31.1 passes per 90 minutes, less than half of his career high figure in 17/18. To put things into perspective, in a typical game last season only Xhaka would play more passes. This season only Lacazette, Aubameyang and Cech are attempting fewer.

Arsenal passing 17:18 and 18:19.jpg

So what factors could be behind Özil’s poor performances this season, and in particular, his lack of involvement compared to previous years? The most obvious change has been in his starting position. Emery has started Özil on the right in four of his five starts. Wenger, of course, almost always used Özil in a primarily central role, with only occasional spells on the wing, such as early in 14/15 and during the European run last season. From his number 10 position Özil had plenty of attacking freedom and regularly ventured to the wings anyway, but he also had responsibility to move towards the centre circle and offer himself in possession when both central midfielders were on the ball. Just look at the areas and volume of his passing on Sunday compared to when Everton came to the Emirates in February.

Özil passing v Everton.jpg

Özil arguably hasn't been helped by Arsenal’s left side bias in recent matches. In their last three games the Gunners have found progressing the ball up the left side of the pitch a lot easier than building through the right. One reason for this may be Granit Xhaka. Xhaka has usually been the dominant presence in possession, and as a left footer he’s more comfortable patrolling the left side of the pitch and circulating the ball to that side. It’s notable that despite nominally starting on the right, a lot of Özil’s involvement against Everton still came on the left wing. 

Arsenal left side bias.jpg

In fact, Xhaka’s preference for left sided passing, and Özil’s positioning on the right has significantly disrupted their on pitch relationship. While Xhaka didn’t have his best individual season last year, one thing he did do well was give the ball to Özil. Xhaka to Özil was regularly one of Arsenal’s most prolific pass combinations. The holding midfielder is usually Arsenal’s highest volume passer, and thus a lot of Arsenal’s attacks go through him. With so many of his passes going to Özil, it’s not a surprise the then number 11 followed him as Arsenal’s second most frequent passer in 17/18.

This season that relationship has broken off. On Sunday only 7 of Xhaka’s 82 completed passes found Özil, just under 9%. In the same fixture last season, which Arsenal won 5-1, 17 of Xhaka’s 73 went to Özil, 23%. Equally important is the location of their combinations. On Sunday the few times Xhaka did find Özil was when Özil made rare venues to the left wing. There were only a couple in the central areas of the pitch, while in the fixture last season, the majority came in those spaces. Without that direct exchange with Xhaka, the ball has to go through different routes to get to Arsenal’s number ten, and it’s not a surprise he's seeing a lot less of the ball.  

Xhaka to Özil.jpg

It’s likely that a simple change of putting Özil back into the centre will not only prevent him from being isolated on one wing, but will also help Arsenal’s build up play and overall balance in possession. The central midfielders will have easier forward pass options, as Özil is more comfortable receiving in the number ten space than Ramsey is. If Aubameyang were to continue on the left, then getting Özil on the ball frequently in central areas could help him to operate as more of an outlet. The irony of Arsenal’s current left side bias is that while their best playmaker feels isolated on the right, their best outlet and poacher in the box is regularly involved in build up on the touchline, far from goal, and is often having to put crosses in for others when ideally he’d be the one getting on the end of moves. In these last few matches the rare times Özil has moved away from his position on the right have been some of the rare times Arsenal have looked potent going forward. His role in the build up to Aubameyang’s goal at Cardiff is an example. 

Bellerin Özil Mkhitaryan.jpg

Against Chelsea and West Ham, Mkhitaryan was used on the right, with Özil central for one and absent for the other. Bellerin and Mkhitaryan enjoyed their partnership, and Arsenal did a lot more attacking down that wing in those two games. As @ThatGooner alluded to in his thread, Mkhitaryan likes to make runs behind into the channels, which creates space and allows a run for the right back to try and pick out. While Özil can make those kind of runs, it’s more of a change up option for him. He usually likes to come short and drift inside, and Bellerin hasn’t been able to build the same sort of partnership with him during build up, which has contributed to Arsenal's left side bias. 

Occasionally it'll be suggested that Özil’s form last autumn was down to him playing for a new contract, and that after securing a huge wage increase, he’s reached a comfort level that is hindering his motivation. That is a possibility. But it’s also a malicious accusation to throw at an elite athlete who has worked hard his whole life on improving his craft. His Europa League performances last season also show there's still hunger there beneath his usual solemn demeanour. Given his play style, Özil should still have more years to give to Arsenal at something close to peak level. If Arsenal are to play their best attacking football, if the Unai Emery era is to become a success, or if Arsenal simply want to avoid financial disaster, it’s imperative Emery finds a way to get more out of Arsenal's highest earner, and most gifted footballer. 

The most obvious reason that Özil has been shafted wide is because of Emery’s preference for using Ramsey as the number ten. In part three we’ll look at the difficulties of accommodating both Özil and Ramsey in the same team. 

Oscar is on Twitter @Reunewal. Follow him there.

Mesut Özil: Beyond the Narrative

mesut arsenal.jpg

This is part one of a three part series on Mesut Ozil by Special Contributor Oscar Wood


It has not been a good few months for Mesut Özil. His 2017/18 season finished disappointingly on a team level, with Arsenal’s elimination at the hands of Atletico Madrid in the Europea League. He then became part of a political storm in Germany when he and Ilkay Gündoğan posed for a photograph with Turkish president Erdoğan. What should’ve been a forgotten matter by the time of the World Cup reared back into focus after Germany’s earliest elimination in 72 years. The lack of support for Özil within the board and the negative press that surrounded the player, which regularly bordered on the extreme and had particularly sinister connotations in relation to the player’s national heritage, cumulated in one of the more shocking international retirements of recent memory. To make matters worse, the Arsenal man has had a particularly poor start to the season, just when supporters are hoping for an uptick in fortunes for the club. 

With all the negative attention that has surrounded the German in recent weeks and months, it has been easy to overlook something else. Something that might not be as obvious at the moment, but something that is just as important, if not more so, than anything else currently being said or written about the player. Mesut Özil is still Arsenal’s best player. At the moment, with him taking home a healthy £350,000 a week from the club, and his last top draw performance coming many months ago, people might scorn at the idea Arsenal’s new number ten is worthy of such a billing. But rewind eight or nine months and the narrative surrounding Özil was entirely different. With the negative energy of Arsenal fans predominantly focused on Alexis Sánchez it was easier to see the positive aspects of Özil’s play. The good will was only be helped by the building rumours of a new contract extension that cumulated with his renewal at the beginning of February. The road since has been more rocky. The burden that comes with such a wage hike started to bear heavy almost immediately, and the team overall have had few successes since their star man signed on. 

That can make it easy to forget just how important Özil is to Arsenal, and how good his performances were as recently as last season. Indeed, his 2017/18 season has become more underrated with time, thanks to recency bias and a combination of on pitch factors that meant he didn’t get quite the amount of recognition he could’ve done. In the Premier League he put in many of his best performances for the Gunners, was one of the Europa League's standout players in its latter stages, and was a consistent performer whenever he got on the field at the Emirates stadium. 

At face value, Özil’s eight Premier League assists represent a mediocre return for someone of his reputation as a creator. However, when it came to creating chances from open play, it was one of Özil’s best ever seasons. The 2.99 key passes per 90 minutes he played from non-set piece situations was the highest figure he’s had in a Premier League season, beating his previous best of 2.80 from 2015/16. One of the criticisms of the key pass stat (some call it chances created, they’re the same thing), and this isn’t without valid reason, is that it doesn’t take into account the quality of the chances created. Any pass that leads to a shot is one key pass, whether it’s a big chance, or a shot from 30 yards. But Özil’s expected assists per 90 figure was 0.38, which was the same figure as Kevin De Bruyne’s, who was widely cited as the league’s outstanding midfielder and creator last term. It was also higher than Özil's own figures in 14/15 and 16/17 figures (there’s no data for his 13/14 season) abut down on his astonishing 0.52 in 15/16. One thing which hurts his overall creative numbers is the fact he took fewer set pieces in 17/18. In 17/18 he averaged 3.2 corner takes and 0.9 free kick takes per 90 minutes. In 15/16 those figures were 4.3 and 1.3 respectively. His 16/17 figures were similar (they were slightly lower before that, Cazorla used to take quite a few). In other words he was taking one and a half fewer set pieces per match last season. Xhaka got three assists directly from corners last season, whereas in 16/17 he got none. Had Özil taken all the extra corners Xhaka took last season, his overall assist tally may have looked better. There isn’t open play only xA data publicly available unfortunately. But a significant reason why Özil’s xA per 90 in 15/16 (0.52) was better than his 17/18 figure (0.38) would’ve been those extra set pieces he took. 

Özil key pass and xA.png

Özil’s impact doesn’t just come with the final ball, however. Last season he actually increased his already significant responsibility in Arsenal’s possession play, particularly during the part of the season when the Gunners operated with a back three. That formation left Arsenal with fewer ball playing midfielders, and Özil became a key facilitator for Aaron Ramsey to make his trademark forward runs and support the attack. In the Premier League he completed a career high 65.05 passes per 90 minutes and was one of the league's best when it came to progressing the ball up the pitch. At his peak during the season from October to the end of January, he would regularly start a passing move, keep up with the play, then lay off the final pass to finish the play, like in the clip below against Palace.

In the 2-2 draw against Chelsea, even Gary Neville was impressed by the way he took control of the match and dictated things for Arsenal. In that match he dominated possession in the final third. Özil was playing so many passes in dangerous areas of the pitch that he ended up playing 22 passes to Alexis, a remarkably high figure for a pass combinations between two forwards in a big game, which was bettered only by the 24 passes Xhaka played to Özil. 

Özil v Chelsea 2.jpg
Özil v Chelsea .jpg


What didn’t help Özil’s cause is the perception surrounding his absences from the team in 2018. A back injury ended his club season after Arsenal’s Europa League tie with Atletico Madrid and seemed to disrupt his World Cup. Özil isn’t the only player to miss games through injury and illness, but with him there is definitely an impression that, at best, he misses games too easily, and, at worst, has excuses for him entirely fabricated so he can enjoy extra time off. When he misses games there are more tinfoil hat appearances on the Twittersphere than there are for perhaps any other player. We have to ask ourselves whether such attitudes to his absences are really fair. After missing the West Ham game Unai Emery became the third manager in recent years to excuse Özil from a game because of illness. What is more likely; three different managers deciding to give him special treatment, or him simply having a below average immune system? 

On face value Özil missed 12 league games, which isn’t great. However the majority of these came from February onwards, when Arsenal’s priorities shifted from domestic competition to their European run. He played every Europa League knockout game bar the Östersunds home tie, and was a standout player in the competition (only in the Atletico away match did he fail to put in a high quality performance). In other words, there were essentially just five games Özil missed that were important to Arsenal’s season. In the Premier League and Europa league knockout stage, the important fixtures in Arsenal's season, Özil played the fourth most minutes for Arsenal, more than the likes of Lacazette, Monreal, Ramsey and Koscielny. Missing sporadic games here and there also looks bad because of the number of different no shows, but when almost all the absences are short the collective damage is minor. Missing three one off games through illness is certainly no worse than missing five weeks with a muscle strain. 

Arsenal minutes.png

Of course, not even Özil’s biggest detractors will argue he’s incapable of doing useful things on a football pitch. The debate has always been about whether the trade offs of giving such a narrowly defined player great responsibility are worth it. Do you gain more than you lose? Özil is best used centrally rather than wide, but he can neither defend like a true midfielder, nor score like a true second striker. These traits make him something that is surprisingly common in the Arsenal squad; a player with a few elite skills who needs a fairly confined role in order to prosper to his full capabilities (I think Aubameyang and Ramsey fall into this category as well, somewhat). 

Arsene Wenger clearly felt the positives of building around Özil outweighed the negatives and gave him significant freedom and responsibility to be an on pitch leader for Arsenal. Sometimes it paid off, sometimes it didn’t. Unai Emery has up till now used him in a more periphery role, which has so far failed to produce anything like Özil’s top form. But it has arguably hurt Arsenal’s overall attack as well. As of yet, the Gunners have been able to find consistent fluency without their number ten at the heartbeat of things. After a season of under appreciated heights in 2017/18, 

it would be a shame if Özil’s best performances were to become purely a thing of the past under Unai Emery. 

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the beginnings of Özil’s 2018/19 season, and why the German has so far struggled under Unai Emery.

Oscar is on Twitter @Reunewal. Follow him there.