The glass is half full. But was very close to being empty. Thank you Cigarette and Aubameyang. Thank you Pepe and thank you Ceballos. Now fuck off Xhaka. And please remember to foul yourself on the way out.
This was better than last week. It had to be. We should have won the game but were, in some way, lucky to come away with a point. Illogical but true. As good as we started the game our balance was not right. And then we made stupid mistakes. First Sokratis and then our glorious captain. It was said in commentary that if you built a condensed highlight reel for Xhaka it could comprise that tackle on Son in the box. Reckless and unnecessary. We’ve seen this so often. Unfortunately, this confirms what we’ve always known – he’s not capable of changing. He does not learn. On so many occasions he was out of position, slow and gave away unnecessary fouls in dangerous positions. Yet, there were a number of great passes he made and link-up play. So, me thinks, the issue here is that we continue to play him in the wrong position. He’s not a defensive midfield player. I think we’ve determined that after watching him for nearly 4 years.
So, if last week was on Emery’s tactics – the infamous diamond – this week it was on his selection. His tactics were right but he chose the wrong people. He should have put Torreira at the base of the midfield rather than Xhaka. He should have started Ceballos. But none of that would have protected us from Soikratis trying to emulate Mustafa. Who knows why he felt the need to challenge for the ball on the half way line when Xhaka had already point out his need to mark his own man. That exposed our frail defense. And then the mistakes compounded themselves. Sokratis did not track back and Leno decided to bobble the ball into the path of Erickson. We’d dominated the opening period but had somehow found away to give up a goal.
Every time they broke on the counter-attack we were vulnerable. There was no midfield defensive cover. Xhaka can’t recover with his lack of speed and Torreira was too far out of the game on the right. Luckily, we have our front three who continued to threaten. Unluckily we also have Xhaka jumping into kamikaze tackles in the penalty box. This is an experienced international and captain. Does Mustafa tutor him during training sessions? It’s insane. And predictable. How many penalties has he conceded? Inbetween that, Leno made up for his amateur fumble with their first goal with a great save from Son. We have all that possession, but they had the chances.
Then finally, we started to create more chances. Guendouzi dominated the midfield and Aubameyang was dominating Sanchez. Kolinsac was not tested defensively but had so many openings on the left. He squandered most of them and failed to provide the right final ball. And often he was unwilling to take the space offered in front of him. But thankfully our front three continued to push. Pepe looks like the real deal. He’s got super quick feet and balance. He had a couple of chances, but we needed the excellence of Cigarette to receive an intelligent pass from Pepe to dance round Vertonghen and burst their net. That goal changed the game.
In the second half we finally dominated and had a better balance. Sp*rs were on the back foot. We created chances and missed most of them. The front three were linking up well and Sp*rs faded. But we could not score. Until Guendouzi played a sublimie ball behind their defense for a classic Aubameyang goal. By then we’d introduced the wonderful Ceballos. He was back to his Burnley best. Everything he touched was beautiful. He, along with Guendouzi, ran the game. Unfortunately, we had also brought on the useless Mickeytarrien. Between him and Kolinsac on the left we wasted so many chances and generally damaged any momentum we created. The two of them and Xhaka are the three clear deficiencies in this team. But how good is Ceballos? So much talent and energy. If only we could put Torreira in the base of the midfield with Guendouzi. It comes back to selection over tactics this week. When we get this right we’ll be fine.
In truth we should have won given the dominance of the second half. It was good to see the character and recovery of the team. Though if you can’t get motivated for a NLD then you really do have problems. So I’ll take a point I suppose. I just want us to learn some lessons. And it’s all about our midfield balance. We need Ceballos in the team and we have to replace both Xhaka and Kolinsac. But this will take time. We need Tierney to regain fitness. And we need Emery to trust either Torreira or Willock. Again, it’s not entirely fair to blame Xhaka when we play him out of position. But bonehead tackles are his responsibility.
Again, today just confirmed what we know. Our success is all about Emery. We have the goal scorers. We have the talent. It’s now down to him and how he chooses to harness it. I don’t expect us to challenge for the title but I do expect him to sort out the right balance of tactics and selection. We have to evolve to the point where we don’t have to bring on Mickeytarrien – he has to learn to trust Nelson or others. They will be our future. He has to solve this midfield issue. Maybe it will depend on reverting to a back three and then having two defensive players. But on the counter-attack today we could have leaked many more goals. It’s finding that balance. The balance that has eluded Arsenal for the last five years. Our attack continues to develop and improve. We now have one of the top three forward lines in the country. Pepe will surely score 10+ goals this year. Aubameyang and Cigarette continue to dominate our goal scoring. Guendouzi shines brightly – today he was the best midfield player on the pitch. It’s sorting out the final couple of selections that will dictate how far Emery can take this team. The squad (until the regular injuries start to accumulate) is now there and are now at his disposal.
A word on David Luiz. I was fine with him today. He was reasonably solid and cautious. He took no unnecessary risks. He was out of position once or twice. But generally we benefitted from his presence today. As irresponsible as he was last week, he was more dependable than Sokratis and Xhaka were today. Given time, DL will prove to be a good addition.
We are getting closer to figuring this out but it will take a little longer yet. And it will depend on how astute Emery is. Can we find the right make-up for our midfield. Otherwise it’s going to be a case of whether our front three can score enough goals to compensate for our unstable defense.
Now we’ll have to suffer through our first boring International break. Just as the season started to develop some momentum. Every year I say the same thing. I hate FIFA and I hate the NCAA. But FIFA more. Why we have to deal with these stupid breaks is beyond me. Just wait until the Qatar WC rolls round and trashes an entire season. In the meantime I think there are a couple more annoying breaks to come along before the end of the year. So no meaningful football for 2 weeks. At least the ashes will provide some diversion. And let’s hope we don’t pick up injuries and that Holding and Tierney can regain some fitness – along with Bellerin.
A final word on Nacho. Good-bye.
He was a great addition (again, funny that. AW could not recruit defenders so they say). He came as back up for Gibbs and ending up seeing him transferred off to a Championship team. Monreal could play left-back or center half. He gave us some excellent years; was part of our F.A Cup runs and was always reliable and steady. We’ll miss him. We should have retained him for todays game. And it’s a crime that we barely got £250K for him (to be paid in installments). We could trust Nacho which is more than you can say for Kolinsac. But he deserves to be retired out to Spain. Let’s hope we don’t miss him too much.