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.


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. 


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. 


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.


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 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. 


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.


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.


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 You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

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.

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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.


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.


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.


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.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.

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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 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.


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.


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.

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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.

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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 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 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.

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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.


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.


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 You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

5 Things We Learned: Fulham v Arsenal


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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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

Mesut Özil: Beyond the Narrative

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.