I’m still trying to work out how I feel about yesterday’s defeat to Chelski on our own patch. I mean, obviously I’m annoyed, but it feels like it’s tempered somewhat with some of the situations that occurred during the match. Last night I lay in bed and at one point I was both pissed off at our failure to see out what would have been a massive three points and confidence-building win, but then at the same time I found myself appreciating the mitigating circumstances.
Lie the team selection yesterday. Chelski are probably one of the best four or five teams in the country. They’re missing Alonso and Pulisic, both of whom aren’t really guaranteed starters, and that’s it. So it was almost a full-strength Chelski team. Then you look at our side, who by the end of the game were minus Bellerin, Tierney, Sokratis, Chambers, Kolasinac, Ceballos, Martinelli, Holding and even Granit Xhaka if you believe what Arteta said after the game. That’s nine players out, many of whom you’d say would have an impact on the first team in some way or another. So the mitigating circumstances are that we had a team decimated by injuries and yet but for a goalkeeping howler from Leno and some silly midfield (Guendouzi) and defensive (Mustafi) play, we might have picked up a hard-fought win.
And it would have been ‘hard fought’ because the team looked so much better structurally than we’ve seen all season. We were compact without the ball, we frustrated Chelski at times and the fact they had to change their formation midway through the first half was testimony to that good work. If only we’d have managed to get ourselves a couple of goals up however, because at one-nil you just know with our defence something would go wrong. We are the masters of individual errors and so this week it was Bernd Leno who had a rush to the head and completely missed a punch, giving Jorginho the opportunity to tap the ball into an empty net. It was a horror show from one of our best players this season but the fact he’s been so good will give him some credit in the bank amongst Arsenal fans and you could see that by the reaction of the fans on social media when he posted something after the game.
So that’s really frustrating, but not as frustrating as the fact that the man who scored Chelski’s equaliser should not have been on the pitch. In the second half, already on a yellow, I still struggle to see how pulling back Guendouzi’s shirt cannot result in a second yellow card for the Chelski midfielder and without him on the pitch they’d have possibly not gone on to make the equaliser and win the game. When you’re down to ten men in these types of games there’s statistically only one winner and so had the referee Craig Pawson been consistent in his approach – which saw Maitland-Niles booked about five minutes later for pulling the shirt back – then Chelski would have not one this game. I am convinced in that. So once again we’ve fallen foul of refereeing decisions and once again we are left scratching our heads as to why VAR has not been properly applied. I mean, for Christ’s sake, even Frank Lampard admitted it could have been a second yellow and we all know how partisan every single manager is.
So there’s reason to be aggrieved and I guess ultimately it doesn’t matter too much, because we are not playing for anything in the Premier League other than some form of momentum and goodwill. We are out of the top four race and the Europa League is starting to look difficult right now. People are saying that they wouldn’t mind us out of it but FFP rules would smash us into touch if we didn’t get the £40million we receive from playing in the Europa League, so let’s not pretend that being out of the competition will see us suddenly be able to focus on domestic football and an assault on getting back into the top four. Attracting overseas footballer with no European football ain’t easy. But that’s a conversation for another day. Back to yesterday’s game, in which I thought the way we were set up was sound, the intensity in the first half was good and then in the second half we dropped the intensity and sat back deeper, but we really limited Chelski to barely any efforts on our goal. They basically relied on individual mistakes to win that game and that is both simultaneously maddening and heartening, because I’m in no doubt that some of these players won’t be near the first team this time next year and right now I think I’m ok with that.
A few words on some individual performances. I thought Aubameyang, Ozil and Torreira were superb yesterday. Our top scorer got our goal (no surprise there), but he also covered so much ground, supported Saka and covered for him on numerous occasions. He’s not a left winger but he did his defensive duty superbly and he’s a definite plus side in terms of responding to the new managers instructions. As is Mesut Ozil, who once again dictated the game and although he faded in the second half, straight away you can see that Arteta is having an impact on him. He’s finding pockets of space, he’s creating opportunities for the team and for the rest of this season, that can only be a good thing.
The return to form of Torreira – finally playing in a more natural position to him – is also something that is worth noting and once again he was superb yesterday. In just two games we are starting to see how chronically underperforming as a result of poor management these players were under Emery, so the hope for the rest of the season is that Arteta continues to get more out of these players because we won’t be as unlucky as we were yesterday all season long if we play like that.
I also thought Reiss Nelson had his best game of the season too. He gave Chelski plenty of problems down the right hand side and whilst people are looking at Pepe and wondering why he isn’t playing more, the performance of Nelson yesterday showed that actually it could be based on form if we get more like this from the youngster.
However, there are also some performances that left a little to be desired of, albeit just a couple. Lacazette was terrible yesterday. His form is on the floor and he so badly needs a goal, but if he continues to want an age on the ball that goal will never come. His passing and finishing was off against Bournemouth and yesterday it was the same. personally I’d be looking at Nelson and Pepe flanking Aubameyang against United but we’ll just have to see how the injuries and fatigue is when Arteta and the Arsenal medical team give an update today or tomorrow.
I’d also love to see Guendouzi be given some lessons in positional discipline, because look where he is for Chelski’s break away, standing on the edge of the opposition box with his arms outstretched, moaning to Mustafi/Luiz to close down. Close down in the final third?? What are you on mate?!? That’s YOUR job as the midfielder and you failed. You can see why Arteta might want another central midfielder. Guendouzi has potential but his fast-tracking as a regular has come too soon and it has cost us in a number fo games because of the space left in our midfield. We need defenders, yes, but we need somebody ahead of him in the pecking order with the engine and positional sense to know where a central midfielder should be when the ball turns over.
Anyway, let’s not end this on a low note, because there were many positives to take from the game. We do need some of our injured players back though. And back soon, because the squad is looking a little threadbare it has to be said.
Catch you all tomorrow.