I feel weird writing about Arsenal this morning. Weird because I don’t know exactly how I feel. Often I will feel happiness, elation, anger, sadness, frustration, but today I feel a little bit of everything.
And that’s weird.
Ultimately I guess the emotion that overrides all is sadness because we once again lost at Stamford Bridge. You can’t get away from that inevitable fact. Yet there were some positives to be drawn. Taking positives from a defeat against a team that are supposed to be rivals feels, well, weird. But I’ll try to form some sort of coherent thinking in the cold light of this Sunday morning.
First up, the team selection from Emery, which was certainly a surprise and I wasn’t wholly convinced about. Out went Maitland-Niles, which was obvious given his injury, and in came Monreal. Absolutely fine with that. Out went Ramsey and in came Iwobi and given that Iwobi was good last year away from home against Chelski away I guess I could understand that, although I didn’t really like it.
But what surprised me was that Emery didn’t shuffle his pack in certain areas. I didn’t think Xhaka deserved a start and certainly his style of play didn’t feel like it worked in those first 20 minutes yesterday when we were pretty much overrun everywhere. I also couldn’t work out what Mkhi had done to justify a start and again for that first half he was pretty poor and in the second half he didn’t really offer much.
So the team selection left a few heads being scratched and those head scratching turned to fist clenching after a rotten start by Arsenal. It was the very worst of Arsenal we feared for this season. They didn’t control possession, they didn’t look like they could string more than three passes together, plus we had our ‘big’ players all completely MIA.
Defensively though it was a car crash. Bellerin getting caught high up the pitch for the first goal was poor, but just watch Sokratis lumbering back in the centre, which is almost too painful to watch. I don’t know who thought his signing was a good idea and I understand that it’s only two games, but couple these two matches with the pre season and I have a nasty feeling that in May next year we’ll all be wondering how we went in to a new season with Sokratis and Mustafi as our first choice centre halves.
The German was also farcical for the second goal too. I mean if we’re going to get done by long and hopeful punts up field, for a striker like Morata to turn Mustafi once or twice, then we might as well go home because teams will try that all season.
I look at our defence and it feels more and more like our attacking players are going to have to score three or four goals each week for us to get any points. They are a calamity. Unai is going to have to be a magician to get a tune out of those defenders because right now they are not fit for purpose.
So then, to the attack, which is where I feel all weird this morning. Weird because we created enough chances to get about seven goals yesterday. Yet we were found severely wanting at times and at the heart of that was Auba. He’s a class striker, got a superb eye for goal, yet yesterday he missed some sitters.
What is it about Stamford Bridge that the players seem to miss sitters each season though? This season it was Auba, Iwobi and Mkhitaryan that all blazed over from but a few yards. Last season Lacazette missed some guilt-edge chances. The season before last it was Giroud. And I believe – if memory serves me correctly, the season before that we had Santi blaze over from a cut back. It’s like there’s some kind of mental brain fart that happens at Stamford Bridge.
And that’s where more disappointment comes in because we should have won that yesterday. If Arsenal defend with half a brain then we pick up all three points against a Chelski team that looked almost as vulnerable as we did. We got in behind, we created space, chances, yet some of our top players fluffed their lines. And that is so frustrating.
That first half was mental, but what was great was that from two goals down the team fought back to level it up and there was some real spirit shown. That’s pleasing to see because it didn’t feel like there was that much fight in the team last season.
But the second half was weird for different reasons. Weird because it seems like we’d decided to sit and keep shape, not go for the jugular and take Chelski apart defensively. That second half feels like a missed opportunity because we seemed content with a 2-2 and because we can’t defend we ended up with nothing. Lacazette’s mistake in giving the ball away, then his lazy attempt at closing down Hazard cost us, but how Alonso was able to just jog into the box like that was poor.
And after that we never really looked like scaring Chelski. Which again is disappointing and frustrating.
I think Emery got his line up wrong and I probably would have started with Torreira rather than Xhaka and probably Ramsey rather than Mkhi, but once again at least we saw decisive substitutions. After a poor first half display Xhaka was hooked at halftime and on came Torreira. Then Ramsey for a pretty anonymous Özil – again – after about 65 minutes and then Laca too. It’s pleasing to see that Emery doesn’t want to mess about if something isn’t working, but there is part of me that wishes he could get it right from the start instead, it would cause us so much less consternation.
But I guess if he has a set of defenders that are all in the mould he wants them perhaps it would be different. None of those defenders are ‘his’ defenders and once again it only highlights just how much work is needed. You only have to look at how far Bellerin has regressed to see just how much Emery has his work cut out for him. Based on these first two games it wouldn’t be unreasonable at all to see Lichtsteiner come in for the Spaniard. I don’t think that’ll happen because at next weekend’s game we’re going to want more offensive fullbacks at home to West Ham than these first two games. Going forward Bellerin was good but his defending leaves a lot to be desired of and if he performs like that too many more times it wouldn’t surprise me to see Lichtsteiner be given the nod when the opposition is better.
But that’s probably another debate for another day. We are still adapting to the new system and that is evident on the first two games of the season. It was a hard start and we’ve got the two worst outcomes, which will put pressure on Emery for next week that he wouldn’t have had if we’d have won, but that’s why he’s manager of The Arsenal and not some second division team in Spain. He has to find answers and get things sorted and soon.