After a week in which many teams have European football there’s often a tendency for the games to be a little flat. We used to see it back in the day of the Champions League attendance we had.
Perhaps that could be labelled at a few teams at the top of the division this weekend, but with so many rested for our home game against Sporting in midweek, I’m trying to reconcile how and why we got such a lacklustre performance from The Arsenal against Wolves.
Leno, Bellerin, Kolasinac, Mustafi, Torreira, Xhaka, Özil, Lacazette and Aubameyang all didn’t start against the Portuguese in midweek, so why such a display that looked like a fatigued team?
Where was the intensity of that Liverpool match only a week ago?
We just didn’t get it. The passing was laboured, there was none of the same drive that we had against the scousers, we looked like the slightly unsure collective of players that have got people worried this season.
And we got what is now worryingly becoming the ‘norm’ in that first half. Another goalless one. The difference this time was that Wolves actually capitalised on another error from Xhaka and punished us for not mopping up. This is a part of Xhaka’s game that feels maddening and either he’s the most unlucky player on the planet (because it feels like every time he makes a mistake the opponents score) or he needs to not receive the ball in positions where a breakdown will invariably see us go behind.
And from thereon in it was a slog of a game. Wolves wasted time – as you’d expect and the referees never punish this despite how obvious it becomes – but that wasn’t the reason we didn’t put them to the sword. We have the players to beat a very well organised Wolves team but here’s where it went wrong; a mixture of some really really poor offensive performers, coupled with a very well organised Wolves team.
And they are organised. I was quietly impressed with their set up. They made blocks, throwing their bodies in front of everything, they won tackles, they broke with pace and they looked sharper than we were too. They got their noses in front and executed a game plan that worked because it frustrated us all day.
And you could see it in some of the Arsenal players. On numerous occasions an Arsenal player had the ball at his feet and held his arms outstretched asking for a pass. But Wolves were compact and difficult to break down and that’s when you want your very highly paid players to step up and show how good they are.
But we didn’t get that. Özil floated around all day but epitomised the rest of the team, never really looking like he would find an incisive ball and was duly hauled off. Auba was fairly anonymous in the first half and so was Lacazette in the second. It was a really off day for the strikers but the worrying thing for me is that this has happened quite a bit now.
I’d love to be able to say that we’re creating enough chances in attack but we simply aren’t and that’s the biggest worry. Results like yesterday are also what happens when you don’t approach a Premier League game with intensity. We looked so lethargic in everything yesterday and it was so frustrating to watch as a fan.
There were some pretty dreadful performances all over too. Kolasinac for one had an absolute shocker. He barely won any headers, left acres of space on his side for Wolves to exploit, have the ball away time and time again, it was an utter horror show.
Mustafi too was pretty bad. His long range passing was really winding me up yesterday but he was also back to his ‘go to ground’ worst and I wonder whether we’ll see the return of Sokratis when the international break is back.
Two players who did excel, however, were our two summer signings. Torreira was brilliant all game with his usual tenacity and drive and it was brilliant to see him both snap into tackles, but also become an outlet in the midfield for every player looking to retain possession. But even the little Uruguayan genius was outshone by Bernd Leno, who made a host of saves and effectively won us the point with some of his last ditch ‘keeping.
And when you are talking up the last ditch goalkeeping heroics you know that there are problems. And we have big problems at the back because we give away so many chances it is quite frankly a shambles. Even after Mkhi’s fortuitous goal had dragged us level, Wolves still had a couple of chances including hitting the bar and you just wonder how long it’ll be before this undefeated run comes to an end because throughout it we’ve hardly looked like a team with such swagger that we can’t imagine how anyone is going to stop us. Far from it.
What I will say though is the response from the Arsenal fans was brilliant. After we went behind there was loads of cheering on of the team and even when it didn’t look like happening in the second half yesterday the fans were doing their part. What we need with games like yesterday is the players to do their bit and it didn’t really feel like we got that from all of them yesterday.
It’s a draw that sees us three points from the Totts and four points from Chelski. It’s by no means insurmountable but on a weekend when a home match to a mid table team could put you within a point of third and fourth, you need to be taking those opportunities because the way the league is shaping up this season, the teams lower down the leagues aren’t causing upsets.
It’s not the end of the world, we still haven’t lost in a fair old time and as Unai will point out the ‘process’ is still ongoing, but we do need to see less performances like that and more like Liverpool the week before if we’re going to feel like we stand a chance of getting in to the Champions League.
Catch you tomorrow friends.