A not so happy Friday for most of us, the loss last night was hard to stomach. Olympiacos were not elite opposition and we’d already done the hard job in Greece, we really should have been able to drive that victory home and keep our Champions League hopes alive.
So where do we start on this one? For me, the key issue was fatigue. The players looked leggy and tired and that filtered into the stands. That was our 4th game in 11 days, which is a lot, but it’s something we knew about and unfortunately, we didn’t seem prepared for the realities of it.
The starting 11 should have been rotated. I understand that Arteta would have been critiqued whatever happened if a loss came out the back end, but I think he pushed the starting 11 too far in this one and the output was inviting for the Greeks.
That said, I don’t this was an effort issue. We weren’t witnessing players not giving a fuck, they just weren’t at the races physically. They still fought until the 2 minute of added-on time in extra time. The cost of fatigued players came in the form of a key injury to the freshly rejuvenated Mustafi. It’ll also now have a knock-on effect mentally. Tired legs after a soul-destroying loss will feel heavier.
The second criticism would have to centre around the subs. Ceballos for Torreira didn’t really do much for our attacking threat, LT just isn’t very good at penetrating the lines and when he’s pushing forward it takes him longer to get back. Joe Willock proved ineffectual when he joined the program, he’s just not there yet, he must be doing something incredible in training because we’re not really getting enough from him on the pitch.
The big one that we waited and waited for was the introduction of Gabriel through the middle. I really like Lacazette, he’s a good guy, offers great vibes in training, but he really, really struggles against powerhouse centre backs. Last night he was in the main totally neutralised by the Greeks hulking centre back pairing. I thought he’d turned the corner, that wasn’t clear last night. I thought the moment that summed up his season was a delicious fake from Ozil that fell to him in space, his shot blazed out of the stadium. 2 years ago he’s finding the net.
Arteta didn’t sub him until the second half of injury time. Now, I can see the idea here, the Greeks were fading badly, Gabriel is a hand-grenade on the pitch, and sure enough, he was, his nodded head in the box setup the Auba scissor kick. The game stays the same and it’s a celebrated substitute timed really well.
Football is a beast though, a Bernd Leno mistake started a domino effect of fuck ups that let them back in. Then, last gasp, Auba puts wide a chance he’d score 9 times out of 10.
Overall, we lost because of a lack of quality in the final third combined with customary defensive errors we’ve been making for 10 years (so, errr, everything). The attacking issues are of more concern. We had 19 shots and only found the target 4 times. This wasn’t a case of ‘well, we were reduced to poor quality chances’, this was bad misses (xG 1.5 (Ars) – 1 (Oly)).
two-legged xG map for Arsenal – Olympiakos
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— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) February 28, 2020
The Greeks gave us possession and we didn’t know how to use it. We really struggled with the deep block and we didn’t have the confidence to invite them on. We chased the second goal because we knew that’s what we had to do. Imagine if that game was reversed, do you think the Greeks would have played like? Doubtful. They’d have sat back, invited us to attack, then spring a counter-attack.
… but we have to move on.
The ghouls will be out for the new manager, that’s just par the course these days. If you only come out of your box for the losses, you have to ask yourself some serious questions. The path to a brighter future was never going to be perfect, the damage to this season was set in motion 18 months ago. You don’t undo the problems in two months. Also, find me a single manager in the world of football that would pick up this group of players in this moment and breeze the season. You wouldn’t. All managers make mistakes, it’s how you find out what your squad is made of, it’s how you learn where the limits are. We are barely 2.5 months into this new chapter.
What did we really learn from last night? There is still a lot of work to do on the defence. We are terrible from setpieces. There are still a lot of individual errors that you can’t afford at the highest level. There are some players that don’t look capable physically at this current moment. Bukayo Saka still looks the business, but even he had his bad moments last night as the panic set in. Next season, it’ll be a different mix. Saliba will join, we’ll probably buy a player like Upemacano, and if Mari is any good, he might be a fixture. We’ll also be looking at right back.
It is also very clear that our midfield needs work. We need better athletes. I think this has been an agenda item for years. We need to look towards power and pace. Players like Denis Zakaria and Wilfred Ndidi never seem to find their way towards Arsenal. Even Bruno Guimarães, a huge fave in the comments here, looked brilliant in the Champions League in the week. Arsenal need to go young and really make sure our midfield represents what the league looks like in 2020.
On the positives, the squad is still working for the cause. You couldn’t put that game down to a lack of effort. The players powered through the redzone in a game they were clearly finding very tough. I’m not here feeling disgusted, I’m just burned by the way things went down. The Auba chance at the end said it all about the new mindset, even if it didn’t come off.
Success is very rarely a straight line, if that’s what you were expecting from the new regime picking up this bag of shit season, then you were setting yourself up for a failure. This was always going to be a long preseason. There is plenty to do right now and there will be big changes in the summer as the squad is reshaped in the vision of someone that actually has a vision. The manager has found out that he pushed his squad too far last night, now he has to deal with the mess. In his press conference after he was very focused on the idea that he has to lift the players for Monday’s game against Brighton. That was our first loss of 2020, the next test is the character of the squad and the power of the managers leadership to get them back winning and making themselves a nuisance in the race for top 5.
A huge challenge, so let’s see where he goes. Onwards people, onwards. Podcast below and the prezzer from Arteta.