Good gosh we have many items to cover today. Arsenal didn’t exactly cruise to a victory away from home against Cardiff, but we did rack up 3 delightful points on a day where Spurs lost to Watford. That was a huge positive, in a year where we’d only managed a solitary away win against Huddersfield.
Outside that, there were a lot of problems for Unai Emery when there shouldn’t have been. His starting 11 brought Mesut Ozil back into the fold out on the right, he persisted with Ramsey as a clunky #10 and he gave the fans the dream duo of Lacazette and Aubameyang up front with the Gabonese taking up duties wide left. Unfortunately, the addiction of starting Xhaka in midfield took hold again, with the Swiss taking up the double pivot with Guendouzi.
We started off strongly, our transitions through defence and midfield looked a little better than usual, but once again, we put far too much pressure on Petr Cech early on and he couldn’t cope. He made some erratic passes, capped with an awful moment when he tried to play the ball centrally through Harry Arter, forgetting to give his pass lift. The Irish international pounced on the blunder but blazed over.
Our possession gave us two early corners, the first was a smart front post move where Lacazette laid off to Ramsey who was coming in on the edge of the box, the shot was snuffed out well and the rebound was turned over by Mustafi. The German landed his second chance 11 minutes in, Xhaka finding his surging run, the header bulleted into the top corner. A really well-worked goal, Emery true to his word that he’d work on set-pieces.
Cardiff, a team that scored 69 goals last season were seriously lacking in confidence. Arsenal conceded 5 or so chances in the first half that were by no means a result of good defending. We were all over the place. The defence is painfully susceptible to almost anything. Long balls over the top, clever balls in behind, random crosses that somehow turn into chances. I don’t know how to calculate xG, but Cardiff were worth a lot more than they produced. I’d go as far to say they created better chances than us, outside the rasping shot that Lacazette hit the post with.
Our luck couldn’t ride out the first half, Xhaka, under no pressure at all, tried to spray a left footed cross-field ball 25 yards, when the simpler options was Guendouzi 10 yards away. The calamitous pass was intercepted. Our midfield pivot put next to no pressure on the attack, the ball was moved out wide left, Bellerin was slow to react, the cross made it into the box, our centre backs all missed it, Camarasa took his chance and fizzed his strike past Cech.
Real shoddy in-game management. I was watching a video doing the rounds from Pep G, he was explaining that he liked his full-backs to tuck inside because it shortens the length of pass. He believes that allows the ball to travel up the pitch quicker, and it reduces the risks associated with long passes. That sort of pass shouldn’t be happening when a player is under no pressure.
The second half brought a little bit more joy to our play. Mesut Ozil found his way into the game a little more, floating inside more often, with the hope of dictating play, whilst offering up our strikers more in the way of creativity. The German started the move for our second, finding Lacazette through the middle, the ball was played off deftly to Auba who was given all the space in the world to curl a 23-yard strike into the far corner. Thierry-esque.
Cardiff fought back again. Lacazette harshly adjudged to have fouled Arter about 30 yards from our box, I mean, the guy outright took a dive, it was embarrassing, I thought salt of the earth players didn’t play that game? The resultant setpiece was flighted into the back post, Rambo was swamped by Morrison who nodded the ball into the danger area where Ward was on hand to finish up.
A really sloppy goal to concede. The absolute basics of Sunday league are that if you’re marking a man way bigger than you, you fucking scream until someone of a similar size takes over. As a keeper myself, if you see that a small person is marking a big person, you shout at your defence until it’s rectified. It’s not like Morrison hadn’t been causing us major headaches before then. Monreal was in noman’s land when he should have been tracking Ward for his uncontested header. Really, really, soft. Our in game intelligence is still sub-par.
The manager decided to shake up midfield and bring on Lucas Torriera for Guendouzi. The decision was a masterstroke, because sad to say, a midfielder doing his actual job for 20 minutes earned him man of the match in my eyes. He can move the ball through the lines with ease, he clears danger and he gets stuck in. He was instrumental for our final goal, finding Lacazette with an incisive 10-yard pass through the right, Lacazette didn’t waste it, detonating his shot like an ICBM rocket at the keepers inside post. Woooah. What a strike.
There was still time for high jinx, Granit Xhaka had a moment that looked akin to an epiletic fit on the edge of the box, giving Cardiff another dangerous freekick. Lucky for us, we saw the game out and protected those 3 very important points.
I don’t know what’s going on at StatDNA, I don’t understand what mysterious data points they’re looking at and I don’t understand how the insights they’re drawing can be so powerful that the coach can justify starting a player who gives away more major chances per game than any midfeilder I’ve ever watched at Arsenal.
The man is utterly awful. He has no in-game management, he’s slow, he switches off and he has consistently gifted goals to the opposition since he joined us. What does he have to do to be dropped? What will we miss without him? Not like he’s ever not playing, so we don’t really have a reference point to highlight over here. It’s quite unbelieveable.
Also, it’s hard to see how Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey can co-exist in the same setup. The manager either moves Aaron into the double pivot with Lucas Torriera, with Mesut in the #10 role, or, he drops one of them. Ramsey does not look comfortbale as our lead creator, he doesn’t have the refined passing repertoire of Ozil. However, the German doesn’t have the industry or the desire to do the role that is needed of him. Also, I hate to say it, but I missed having Mikhi out wide. He offers us a lot down that right, without him, Bellerin was utterly impotent today. Emery really does have a conundrum, the system he’s playing at the moment needs him to make costly decisions for the good of the play.
Maybe we need to move to a 4-2-2-2 type approach? I mean, it kind of looked like we were playing that way at certain points in the second half yesterday. The only way Ozil could be effective was when he floated inside to dictate play.
I really don’t know how the manager rectifies the problems he has in defence. I think Sokratis is starting to look like a good defender, but his leadership skills aren’t shining at the moment. I genuinely think there’s a psychological issue at hand with the way Emery wants them to play. None of the players are comfortable playing out of the back. Cech immediately puts frazzled nerves into the danger zone because he’s not built to play like Cesc Fabregas.
On top of that, the way Emery has decided to start the ball moving is a lot less intense than I’d have hoped. We give teams the time they need to regroup and gun for us. That’s fine when you’re rocking £200m worth of defensive talent, but when you have our players trying to deal with the pressure, it doesn’t work. We don’t transition the ball fast enough, and quite often, even when we do break through midfield, we lose the ball because our midfield is being tightly pressed. I think the manager is going to have to give the defence a stronger foundation, and that might mean dropping Cech for a keeper who is comfortable with the ball at his feet. Alternatively, maybe the manager has to be more flexible about the way the defence plays.
They’re the golfing equivalent of someone who has come out of a lesson with 56 things to think about… their whole game totally collapses because they forget the basics in pursuit of the next level. Trouble for Emery is our defence didn’t have the basics right last season. So it’s a lot of learning to do on the job.
Overall, I’m happy with the three points, hopefully, the players can download what did work and continue to refine the bits that didn’t in training this week.
Next up, Newcastle away from home. I can’t fucking stand the Geordies. Let’s hope next Saturday is a good one for the greatest fans on earth.
See you in the comments.