Morning folks. Happy Tuesday and all that jazz. I’m working from home today – benefits of a flexible company – and I’ve decided that I need a bit of fresh air in the morning. Only the fresh air of London isn’t actually that fresh, plus it’s pretty cold, so all-in-all it’s not as great an idea as I had originally thought. If only my workplace did mid-winter breaks where we could all disappear off to Dubai for 5 – 7 days…
Which is a tenuous link to what is happening at The Arsenal right now, as the players will shortly be assembling to head off to warmer climes to do a bit of bonding, work on structure and hopefully, give Arteta an even better opportunity to suss out how to get this balance right between defence and attack. I mean, it can’t surely be that difficult, can it? After all, plenty of teams manage it and we have in the past too, right? Defence and attack aren’t ‘yin’ and ‘yang’, one doesn’t balance the other one out, so the only question is how we get back to being a better offensive force. And that’s the conundrum Arteta has to work out.
And it doesn’t mean making sacrifices in defence. I’ve seen plenty of people hinting that we’ve perhaps suffered a little bit going forward because of the desire to shore up the defence but I just don’t buy that analysis. That’s because we weren’t really that good going forward earlier in the season, yet we still had a pretty shoddy defence. We’ve struggled for goals all season and that’s partially why we’ve had so many draws. We’ve conceded silly goals and we haven’t been finishing teams off. If you think about the psychology of a football game, the difference between a one goal lead and a two goal lead can be massive. If you go one up, then get a second and don’t concede quickly after, then it does affect your opponent. A team 2-0 up with ten minutes to go very rarely loses a football match. But we haven’t been dealing those psychological blows to our opponents. Think Sheffield United at home, or Chelski at home, or Crystal Palace away. All of these games we had periods of dominance in which the second goal possibly kills off the game. Instead we failed to capitalise and dropped points. This is what’s killing us from a points perspective.
At the beginning of the season we all said that our defence was a bit of a car crash. I think a lot of us thought that. But what we lacked for in defensive stability, we thought we’d make up for in offensive firepower, but the big names just haven’t performed this season for us. I mean Ozil, Lacazette and possibly you’d even say Pepe (although he gets the ‘new league’ adaptation excuse to avoid more blame) have all been so so poor in their end product and delivery. Ozil and Lacazette’s numbers are horrendous from an end product point of view. With 13 Premier League games left players like Ozil and Lacazette should be on double figures for assists and goals respectively. The former has one assist all season and the latter has just six goals. It simply isn’t good enough and this warm weather training that Arteta is taking the team on needs to involve some hard truths and some proper thought into whether these two players deserve inclusion in the first XI.
What I keep forgetting is that Arteta played with Ozil too. So Arteta will remember what Ozil will have been like when he was at his peak at Arsenal. They played together for three years and that will still be fresh in his mind, so I can’t believe that Arteta watches this version of Ozil and is confident that he’s at his former peak.
So in my mind it feels like both Ozil and Lacazette are on borrowed time in terms of consistent inclusion in the first team. The challenge Arteta has is who replaces them if he does bench them. For me it is easier to find a replacement in Aubameyang. The guy wants to play centrally, he’s delivering for us and has done ever since he arrived, plus he’s already taking up those central positions anyway with his style of play. That’s why I don’t see the move to shift him centrally would cause any problems. You could move Auba central and then have quick, rapid, runners either side of him to pull apart defences. But in that central creative attacking midfielder position we have some question marks. Ceballos isn’t fancied by Arteta and he’s already said he doesn’t think Ceballos is a number 10. We’ve seen some impressive cameos from Willock lately and whilst the temptation could be to see him slot in for Ozil, he’s still relatively young and give us as many average or poor games as he does good ones. But right now that feels like a higher chance of success than playing Ozil each week.
Perhaps Maitland-Niles or GUendouzi could play in that position, with Torreira and Xhaka behind? It sounds like it might work on paper, but I’m not sure either can do it as a long term solution. Guendouzi has a decent passing range, has shown he can pick a pass, but his positioning has been questionable this season. Maitland-Niles just hasn’t played there and so would be a massive gamble in my opinion. So we’re left still scratching our heads. Arteta has to find a solution for at least this season, but that area of the pitch needs to be addressed in the summer.
For now we have to make do though, so my main hope is that a bit more time together as a collective can bring about the secret to unlocking us as both a better defensive unit, but also going forward as well.