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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.