premier league

5 Things We Learned: Huddersfield v Arsenal

If there ever was a game that best describes how it’s been like to watch Arsenal this season, this 2-1 win against Huddersfield might just be the poster boy for how 2018/19 has felt like. While results have mostly been improved under Unai Emery, they have been a grind and not often pleasant to watch.

Here are 5 things we noticed as Arsenal ground out a win against the relegation strugglers.

A Conservative Formation?

Did we really need to play three central defenders against a team that has scored just 13 goals all season? I get that a 3-4-3 formation could also be an offensive setup with the full backs bombing forward and the central defenders stepping in to midfield to start the play. The performance showed otherwise.

Defence has never been Arsenal’s strong point this season so I would have preferred the team lean towards their superior attack against the weakest team in the league. Despite the injuries, we could still have lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Lacazette up top with Iwobi, Mhkitaryan and Maitland-Niles behind him. Torreira and Guendouzi could anchor the midfield while we stick to a back four.

The midfield duo was also swamped by the three men in patrolling Huddersfield’s central area. The home team’s side used their numerical advantage and high tempo passing to keep possession and pile on the pressure on Arsenal. 


The Gunners only mastered an average of 45% possession the entire game and were inferior with their attempts on goal too. All this against the league’s bottom side. If we are to be “protagonists” as Emery first described his style, we need to find a style that has the team dominating the games.

Poor Individual Performance in Defence

The irony about the defensive setup was that our defenders has a poor game bar Koscielny and a moderately passable Monreal. 

One of Mustafi’s strong points (there aren’t many) is his ability to play out of the back but he only completed 75% of his passes – a poor rate for a centre back. His tackles and clearances were also half hearted and often ended with the ball returning to the opposition in a dangerous area.

And then we have the wing backs. Both of them created the goals but stuttered in other areas of their game.


I was amazed at how technically competent Maitland-Niles was, especially when he had the ball at feet. His cross for the goal was excellent too. However, his lapses in concentration caused Arsenal to lose possession deep in our half with stray passes that wouldn’t look out of place in a Sunday League game.

Kolasinac was no better, clocking in a measly 55% pass completion rate. This system was built around getting the wide players involved and a big part of the team’s poor control of the game was due to the wing backs’ poor decisions with the ball.

The Return of the Single Striker

It feels like quite a while since we played with a lone striker up top. With Aubemeyang’s illness and Mhkitaryan’s return, Emery was able to redeploy a tactic he favoured earlier in the season – getting two interior attacking midfielders to support the lead striker. 

This tactic worked a treat, especially in the first half. For Huddersfield’s defensive midfield screen, Jonathan Hogg, it was like playing a game of whack-a-mole. Whenever he looked to clamp down on Iwobi, Mhkitaryan popped up on his other side to receive the ball, and vice versa. Both attacking midfielders dominated the half spaces and created a lot of good opportunities on the counter attack. Players like Suarez and Ramsey would also do well in this dual no. 10 role and fill in as we head into the business end of the season. Besides being an effective tactic, this formation also allows Emery to rest one striker on the bench as the games pile up with matches in the Europa League.

Mhki You’re So Fine

The Armenian had a decent run out considering that this was his first competitive game since his 2 month injury lay off and it wasn’t a surprise that he tired towards the end. His performances and productivity haven’t always matched his ginormous wages but his style is crucial to how Emery wants his midfielders to play.

Emery likes all-rounders in the middle of the part and Mkhitaryan ticks a lot of boxes. He works hard, links up play and is capable of sticking to the manager’s tactical plan. It’s quite telling too that Emery pursued Denis Suarez, a player who seems to be in a similar mould. 

There are a lot of reasons for Arsenal’s indifferent form the last couple of months but I feel some of that would have been mitigated with a player like Mhki who could knit the play in the final third. 

Iwobi Didn’t Deserve The Jeers

I don’t understand fans who would jeer our own players in the stadium. Sure, we gripe about them from time to time (this column is such an example) but booing them in person won’t help them improve. 

By and large, Iwobi didn’t have that bad a game at all. He scored a slightly fortuitous goal and could have scored a couple more if not for poor finishing and an offside call. Maybe he’s being targeted because we’re comparing him to other players in his age group like Martial and Mbappe.


The truth is, he’s not them but he’s an Arsenal player who’s been with us since he was 8. He’s Arsenal through and through and deserves our support to make it good. Comparisons aren’t healthy and the only benchmark he can set is to do better than last season. For the most part, I believe Iwobi’s showed that he’s a better player this season. He’s still developing at the age of 22 and perhaps, through no fault of his own, has been overplayed by the manager.

With Suarez bedding in, Mhkitaryan coming back from injury and Ramsey being phased out, expect to see more of Iwobi whether fans like it or not. The only way he can improve if he gets our support.

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: 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.

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.


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.

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.


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.