Perhaps it is because I am currently away on a little bit of a mini break holiday with friends, which is clouding my judgement on last night’s performance, but believe it or not I take some comfort in the win that we got last night against West Ham. The best teams ‘win ugly’ and yesterday’s performance couldn’t really have gotten more uglier than what we all watched from Arsenal.
It might also be the words “Draw FC” that are also ringing in my head because it does feel as if this was a game last season that we’d have picked up just the solitary point against a West Ham team much better than they were last weekend against Newcastle. They seemed to have more organisation about them, but they were also able to counter us when there was a turnover of possession and in Bowen and Antonio they have two players rapid enough to sucker punch us.
But that makes it sound like we spent all of the game camped on the edge of their box when in reality the game was far from that in terms of an overall narrative. Yes we had more possession and yes, we got the first goal relatively early, but we failed to build any sort of momentum and although West Ham scored their goal right on the halftime whistle, the truth is that they fully deserved to be level at the break. You can even argue that on full time they might have deserved all three points, because they created more attempts and just like under Unai Emery, we really failed to create a vast number of efforts on goal ourselves.
This is something Mikel has to figure out though. I saw a stat on Sky Sports this morning that places us 16th in the league since the beginning of last season in terms of shots taken. That’s not what you want to see from a side with Champions League aspirations. We can all see that defensively we’re better – although Leno coming for a few crosses didn’t fill me with too much comfort and ease – but we need to up our output in terms of the attacking end of the team. We all got a little excited with Willian’s performance last weekend against Fulham, but he wasn’t amazing yesterday and was very quiet, as was Aubameyang. Lacazette got his goal but he too was on the periphery at times and whilst Xhaka seemed to attention pt plenty of balls into the channels or space in which there should have been runners, we saw what happens when the zones that he distributes to were snuffed out by West Ham’s defenders.
Our defenders weren’t exactly great either and what we saw yesterday was just how much we miss proper centre halves. I thought Gabriel did ok but Holding and Kolasinac either side of him were really poor. The fact that Arteta said afterwards that Tierney is ok and that he just didn’t feel 100% in the warm up is a relief because the difference between him and Sead is marked. The Bosnian is more flat footed, he gets turned easily and it was he and Holding who didn’t cover themselves in any glory whatsoever with West Ham’s goal. The easiest way to snuff out chances created against you is to stop them at source and that source was out wide on the left hand side. Kolasinac was slow to react and he didn’t close down his man, then when the ball does come in to the box Holding allows Antonio to get in behind him and we concede. It’s pretty basic stuff but those two are pretty basic defenders and whilst Mikel might have said to Holding that he isn’t going anywhere this window, I’d be hoping that this was just camera talk because when other players return from injury there’s no way he should be in the first XI.
But that’s where I have to temper my ire to be honest, because we do all need to realise that we are an injury-ravaged side at the moment in terms of our defence. Holding will surely slot behind Saliba, Luiz, Mustafi and Mari when they are fit, which means he is fifth choice sub when we start to get these players back. It’s the same with Kolasinac, because clearly Arteta prefers Ainsley, Saka and Tierney in that left back/left wing-back position, whilst the left centre back position he came in because we don’t have the numbers. We need players to return to up the technical capability of our back line but that will be rectified with time so I’m less concerned with that as I am our ability to create more chances.
We’ve got a host of difficult games coming up now and it was important for us to pick up maximum points in whatever we we could. We’ve done that and now Arteta needs to think about how he manages rotation with Leicester away this coming week, followed by Liverpool away in the league at the weekend. I suspect it will be mass change for the Leicester game and I’m fine with that, but we need to get more creativity from this team somehow. Who knows, perhaps one or two players will be able to give Mikel some form of a selection headache by performing well in the Carabao Cup?
That’s it from me for today. Have a good one and I’ll catch you tomorrow.
Ooh, a quick ‘PS’ and shout out for the winning goal at the death. Lovely to see the two having a scrap at Fulham in the warm up yesterday combining to get us the winner. Problems in the dressing room? Nah.