This is a game we will win next year. And this is also a game we would have lost last year. Maybe that is the ultimate sign of progress and evolution. As remarkable as we were against Leicester and as fluent as we were against Fulham, today we were workman like and slightly dull. But, it’s how you eke out points when you’re not on your game that shows the character of the team. The spine itself is a different issue.
Today we gave them a lead and then threw ours away. Too many players were not clicking today. Cigarette missed his chance and was generally off his game. In fact, their second goal came from his poor decision and poor passing. Ozil was very quiet. Ob1 reverted back to a performance plucked from his repertoire from the last few years. Mustafa was his normal reckless self. Ramsey, when he came on, was too slow on the ball and missed his golden opportunity for us to steal all three points.
It was important that we did not throw away all three points. While we might not have deserved to win – we lacked creativity today – we did not deserve to lose either. Both their goals came from the spot. The first one started with Lend ineffectively punching the ball away from the corner and to be followed by Bellerin being a little weak in the tackle to be followed up by the reliably reckless Mustafa jumping in to generate the penalty. Then in the second half, rather than remaining calm on the ball we lost it in their penalty area and then proceeded to let Zaha attack Xhaka in our box; only one winner there even if the contact was minimal.
There were periods today, as they piled on the pressure once we went ahead, that we started to revert to the team of last year. We were weak on the ball, lost important second balls, gave the ball back to them too quickly and started to give away too many free kicks. But there were also periods during the game when we seemed more balanced and more stable than any performance from last year. Generally speaking, we were composed at the back with the two deep lying midfields controlling the distribution. It was a shame that by the second half we’d not longer got our regular fullbacks on the pitch; that impacted our penetration. Today though, we found it hard to break them down and they goalie – like ours – had few meaningful saves to make.
Guendozi and Torreira was a brave choice. I know it was forced by our absence of a recognized left back. Throughout the game Torreira was outstanding; easily our best player. Guendouzi still remains a roar talent. Whereas Torreira reads the game impeccably and is patient Guendouzi tends to force the play and finds himself running, with the ball, into crowded areas of the pitch. And, as the game wore on, he tends to make more mistakes with both his tackles and passing. In another year his game will blossom but for now, against the “big 5” he will be a vulnerability for us.
Whereas in prior games Emery has made the perfect substitutions today was the time when I think he got it entirely wrong. Though Ozil was not at his lofty standards of the last few games once you remove him you remove our ability to score. So when they tied the score it was always unlikely we’d get that extra goal. Instead he should have withdrawn Ob1; today was a throwback performance. He’s decisions were poor and his ball retention was even worse. But the fact that it’s taken this many game before I could return to my favourite scapegoat means I’ll be tolerant. And the choices on the bench are limited. When Ramsey came on to Augbamyang he was largely anonymous – though he went out to right side. This move by Emery was confusing given than it was Lichtenbergsteiner who was getting ripped apart from Zaha. The reason why Ob1 was in the starting 11 was that he provides better defensive cover. To replace Ob1 with Ramsey at that stage of the game just exposed LichtensteinBerger to more risk – especially with the booking. Ironically it was down the other side that we gave them their 2nd.
So, finally, 9 games into the season, I get to rag on my favourite two wankers – Mustafa and Ob1. I would go after Xhaka but he’s not exactly a trained full back and he did score a stunning first goal. At some point Kosclieny will come back into the team, or even, Sokratis. At this juncture, it should be Mustafa that makes way. Holding today was the more composed and solid center half. These games are allowing him to progress and develop. I don’t see that occurring with Mustafa. Unfortunately, I can see why Ob1 starts before Mikytarrien because our Armenian does just does not know how to defend. He has exposed Bellerin far too often.
Today felt like we were teetering on a full reversion to the old AW years. The fact that we didn’t is something to be happy about. We started the game with a balanced team but ended it lacking composure. In the last 10 minutes we lost our defensive shape, and, as in previous years, overcommitted on attack. Given that we are not blessed with the fastest center-halfs and that Bellerin was off the pitch we were naïve in how to protect our lead. I trust though Emery learned more lessons today. He can build a team round Torreira, Cigarette and Ozil. But, in the next year he has to replace Mustafa and Ob1. Ramsey will be gone but we need better options off the bench on both wings.
To be in fourth position is ahead of expectations. There is visible progress at Arsenal. Emery can take credit for that. The fact that we’ve played the bottom half of the EPL has certainly helped. But then, in prior years, we would have found ways to lose to any number of these teams we’ve beaten. We should have won today but not having the winning streak hanging over us is a relief. That would have been a distraction. There are a number of weaknesses that remain in this team that will be tough to rectify with this personnel.
Our bright spots though are radiant. That third goal against Leicester will live on for many years to go alongside that one against Norwich. As long as the team does not head down that same path I’ll be happy. But that won’t happen with Torreira – he is the real deal. I’m just not sure about Guendouzi. But I am sure about Ob1 L. And Mustafa.
Next up is the interesting question of Cech. When does he get a chance to return to the team? Does Lend deserve to retain his place? The control and balance on playing out from defense has been far more controlled in the last few games. Is this due to him or the fact that the defense is adjusting to this new mode? Or are we required by European regulation to retain a minimum number of Nazis in our team? When Brexit comes are we required to return our Nazis? These days with no English players in our team we might be better off moving from Highbury to Hoffenheim.
At least now we get a run of games without any moronic international breaks. The return of our full backs will be welcome. We’ve missed Monreal and we do need Bellerin back. If not for the Mighty Blackpool then the Wolves game. We still have a favourable sequence of games ahead of us. This should further allow us time to adjust to the new tactics and provide Emery more time to assess how best to tinker with this team.
This far into the season we’re ahead of where I thought we’d be. There is a feel good factor that has returned to the club. There is some poetry in our play. And the position in the table, while flattering, helps provide the right momentum for the club. Though we still need more time to assess and judge Emery I think we can conclude that we have not hired David Moyes. Nor LVG. We seemed to have dodged the Man U syndrome. And that’s nothing to sneer at. That was always a real fear. It helped though that AW left behind a team that had missed out on the CL for two years; that had lowered expectations for Emery. There was clearly no quick fix. But, early into Emery’s reign, even after a somewhat dull and deflating result today, we are moving forward. We are progressing. There still remain flashbacks to our recent painful past. Last year we would have lost this game even if though tried to today. But overall, we are pointing in the right direction for once and the football is enjoyable again (if not quite so today). Now let’s keep the games coming so we can figure out how far we can go. It won’t be to the top of the mountain, that’s for sure. But then when you start so far down there is always plenty of room left to grow into. So, strap on the oxygen mask and enjoy the journey. FInally, some optimisim on a dour day.