Arsenal creativity found wanting again
Arsenal took a defeat away at the Etihad in the first game back after the international break. There are no two ways about it, the result was disappointing, but probably not the disaster performance many are trying to paint.
Our truth right now is very similar to what it was last season under Mikel Arteta. We are well organized, we are resolute, and we’re tough to beat. We are… good at defending. Arteta wants to build a side based on strong foundations. He’s not far off cracking that code. Before yesterday, under Arteta, we were top 4 for total points since he took over. This is our best start in the league for 7 years.
… we are, however, a little bit shit going forward.
It doesn’t really seem to matter what combination the manager uses, we’re one dimensional. Arteta tried Willian in a false 9 role yesterday and it wasn’t very effective. Our front three weren’t really given much to work from. We tend to deliver one type of move and it’s not that hard to defend against. I think it’s fair to say that we attack with the handbrake on.
The hope was that we’d get runners in behind City’s centre backs yesterday like Leicester did but it didn’t really happen. We lacked ball speed when passing. Our attacking moves seemed almost over-rehearsed. We didn’t possess that extra 5% that comes with confidence. You don’t feel that we have the extra gear to kill a game when there’s blood in the water.
That might be a little unfair. We did have some good chances but we fluffed our lines. Bukayo Saka, having another excellent game, forced a brilliant shouldered save from Ederson. Nicolas Pepe didn’t do well with two pretty sound chances for headers. The opportunities were few and far between, but we really should be doing better with the pace and pedigree we have in the side.
I think Pepe will look back and be disappointed with how he played. He was very meek again. His passivity is infuriating to watch and his pressing is very hit or miss. Quite often, it looks like he’d prefer to be fouled than fight and beat a man. Willian also didn’t seem at the races, not what I was hoping for after dropping such a huge amount on his contract, he looks less settled than Gabriel.
There has to be a way around it. I’d be excited about ESR if he could stay fit for longer than 6 minutes. Having someone that can run with the ball and play in the pockets is what’s needed, but it’s quite a reach to think he’s bailing us out this season. Saka is great out on the left, I’m sure he could play through the middle, but you’d be teaching someone on the job which would require a steep learning curve. It is always tempting to think that Mesut Ozil is saving you here… but be real, our dismal away record isn’t going to be solved by someone that has bottled tough away games for 5 years at Arsenal. Wenger used to let him have days off. If you can’t commit behind the scenes, what makes anyone think he’ll do it on the pitch in a game like yesterday?
I think my biggest worry is that we sold the wrong keeper. The mistake we made for the goal was a catalogue of errors, I don’t doubt that. Bellerin and Luiz both have to do better in that situation. However, I find it difficult to look past Leno palming a shot like that right back into the feet of Sterling. This is now a pattern. He repeated the same thing about 10 minutes later. Emi Martinez was very much a catcher and he mostly palmed shots away from danger. The keeping coaches need to get on top of this issue because it’s starting to look like a tactical opportunity to shoot from distance against him.
Outside the goal, our defence was pretty good. David Luiz was originally dropped, then had to be called upon when Rob Holding tweaked his hamstring in the warm-up. It seemed like he was sulking a little bit. He’s a player that you can’t really drop because he takes it badly. I think this will become apparent as he transitions behind younger models this season. Also… stop indulging the garbage freekicks. He’s not a specialist.
It’s still early days in the so-called process. You can’t fix everything at the same time. We’re solid defensively, it is an objective fact that we did not get battered like we usually do in away games. That is a massive shift forward regardless of how offended your sensibilities are. It is an objective fact that we were still in that game right until the death. It is objective fact that when we were battered by them in June, we conceded 20 shots and yesterday and didn’t hit the target ourselves… yesterday, we limited them to 5 shots on target from 13 attempts. We had 11 attempts and 3 on target.
This is a process and things take time. Let’s see what a difference Thomas Partey will make to our midfield. Let’s see what happens when Willian settles and Saka grows in confidence and experience.
Things will get better. I want to get over the novelty of Arsenal being a competitive team, because we can’t be celebrating failure like this past January. We want to be the best, there’s no glory in losing, Arteta has to learn from these games and push the team forward… because this attacking conundrum has to be addressed with the players we have.
Onwards and upwards… we have a month to fix these problems against two more top teams. Let’s see what the coaching staff can do to make good on this result.