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.
RAMSEY NEEDS TO PLAY MORE
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.
IWOBI’S IMPROVED FORM
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.
WHAT IS EMERY’S PLAN?
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.