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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.