Unbelievable. Unforgivable. Unforgettable. Ridiculous. Last week we turned around a 2-0 deficit and this week we returned the favour. But this time against the bottom team in the league. A team that we had throughly beaten in the first half. And we were beating in the second half. But then Sokratis gifted them the easiest goal they could ask for. From domination we went to looking like a team that was lucky to leave there with a point.
And for this in I blame Emery. Again, his tactics were wrong. The diamond does not help our defense. We gave up – as we did against Liverpool – the wide areas. We were exposed there the entire game. And we did not provide cover for our defense. Ceballos is wasted out left. And Guendouzi looked lost our right. And Xhaka is always lost. On the counter-attack we were always exposed. It helps when you play Watford not Liverpool. And it helps when you have Aubameyang. Two great goals. The first one was a pure strikers goal while the second one was a classic Arsenal goal teed up by Ozil. From them on it was plain sailing.
There were signs though of the usual Kamakazi play out from our goal kicks. Twice we were caught out. We are so predictable with this. We’re playing the ball to Guenzouzi when he has two players around him. And then he feels the need to take extra touches. And then losses it. What a joke. This is schoolboy football. But it’s coming from the manager. Sure do it when it’s there – when the space is available. But to force it like this is idiotic. It smacks of a team without common sense. A team that is told to do one thing and can’t adapt or exercise game management. Instead they had the worst team in the league a life-line. It completely changed the momentum of the game. It brought the crowd into the game. And put us under pressure.
So Emery takes off one of our best players; leaves Ozil on the pitch and brings on Willock. Then Nelson. And lastly Torreira. How does that make sense? Then Nelson proceeds to play further up the pitch than Ceballos. We now have four forwards. And so, inevitably, we get caught on the counter-attack and David Luiz gives us a penalty. I won’t blame him for this. But I will blame Emery. Why play this set up? Why don’t revert to a 4-4-2. Protect the lead man! But no, we get sucker punched. By the worst team in the league.
How is Emery managing this team? How is he adapting the tactics intra-game? Wenger got blamed for being inflexible; for not having a plan B. And what did we see today? The same shape the entire game. And that shape does not work for us. Ozil, apart from the glorious pass for the second goal, was barely in the game. Pepe was frustrating. He can’t seem to score and drifts out of the game too much. He’s touch is not quite there and there is little link up play with Maitland-Niles. And Maitland-Niles also gifted the ball away in dangerous areas. Along with Guendouzi they both played multiple cross field balls in our 1/3rd of the pitch. I think Ceballos tried this once as well. Against a real team (like Liverpool) we will get murdered.
So now I’m beginning to worry. Not about our position in the league – I never thought we’d end up in the top 4. But about our ability to progress and develop as a team. We’ve now got the majority of the players we needed and got rid of the ones we did not want. It’s hard to complain about a team with Aubameyang, Pepe, Ceballos, Torreira etc. So now it’s down to how we use them. And it’s down to our tactics. Again, today, Emery got it wrong. He should have changed the balance of the team – especially after we let in that first goal. But before that he need to provide a beter shield in front of the defense. But he’s got Torreira on the bench and Guendouzi out right. Watch the last 30 minutes of that game. Xhaka struggled to keep up and stay with any runners. We were exposed too often and yet Emery persists with him. Even when Torreira was brought on he looked like a ghost of the player from last year. In a diamond I don’t think either he or Guendouzi know where to play.
This is a game we absolutely should have won. Even for a 6th place team you have to win against a team as weak as Watford. But instead we decided to give them mouth to mouth resuscitation. Unforgivable. And I doubt Emery learned anything new from this. He’s got the players so it’s now down to him to use them. How can you waste the goals of Aubameyang like this? When is he going to install a backbone in this team? No-one can blame Wenger now. Or Bould. Emery owns this defense and midfield. It’s unbelievable that we can throw away the win at Watford.
We were so open and exposed that Watford could rightly claim they should have won the game. They are most probably in their dressing room lamenting dropping 2 points. Whereas we had them dead to rights at 0-2. How does a team like Arsenal – so early in the season – throw away these two points? Because the balance of the team is wrong, the manager has the wrong shape and the team religiously commits to passing the ball out from our goal kicks. There were times when the ball went out for a corner and I felt less worried than when the ball went out for our own goal-kick. What is the point in doing the same thing over and over again from our goal-kicks. It’s a high risk strategy for very little return. There were three times we turned it over right outside our own box (and the one they scored from). Why not at least vary your approach. We have become so predictable. It’s as though it’s a point of pride that we need to prove to other teams we’re good enough to play it out from the back. And yet we’re clearly not. Sure Liverpool or Man City have the right to do this. We don’t. And we don’t seem to have the awareness to know when something is not working and then adapt. That is the most worrying part.
Today was as frustrating and depressing as I can remember since we threw it all away in Baku. All the early season good will went out of the window today. This was a truly crap Watford team. It was a team that had no way to earn a point. We had the game under complete control. So instead we handed them every opportunity. We were casual. We weren’t professional. We are sloppy. And then we were the team that looked at risk. How can this be? Where is the leadership in this team.
Where is the progress and development? Emery seems intent on trying the same thing over an over again each time expecting a different outcome. For the one or two times it might come off there will be 10 times when it does not. We seem intent to do the wrong thing in the wrong situation. Maitland-Niles was needlessly put under pressure when he receives the ball in a tight situation. Guendouzi on multiple times ran into the same issue. Why not spray the ball out wide. Stretch the pitch rather than be so predictable.
For all the energy and belief that comes from a 2-0 comeback in the NLD today was crushing to any belief that we have a plan to progress. And this lies with Emery. First, why would you play Ozil? Play Ceballos in the floating position and put Torreria in midfield. And play a holding pair of Xhaka and Torreira. Or Guendouzi and Torreira and leave Xhaka on the bench. Start Willock and don’t bring on Nelson to play in a diamond because he’ll get caught upfield. Immediately before their second goal both him and Torreira were caught upfield. You’re 2-1 away from home with 10 minutes or so left. Why is there no game management? This was classic Wenger. But I thought this was supposed to change. That we would exercise some judgement. What has Emery done differently to address our long-term, known by the entire world defensive deficiencies? The players have changed but everything else is unchanged. There is not a single player that’s the same in this defense from the last year of Wenger and yet the problems remain the same. Because it’s about coaching and tactics.
All I’ve asked for is progress and development. As in previous years, there are shit teams competing for the 3rd and 4th place. There is every opportunity to take one of these spots. Except that we have shown – as we did last year – that we don’t have the mental fortitude nor the appetite to grab the required points. We are unable to defend. We have defenders. But we can’t defend as a team and we show no signs of learning how to.
So, Coach Emery, what’s the plan now?