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.