I’m still replaying that defeat from Sunday night in my head. The predictability of it is driving me insane. Dominate possession, not taking first half chances, VAR ruling out a perfectly good goal and then sucker-punched by Jamie Vardy as the game reached it’s closing quarter of the match. It’s maddening when history repeats itself and that always seems to happen to us with certain fixtures. A bit like this weekend where I think we all know that having not beaten United at Old Trafford in 14 years, the chances of us getting anything there are slim. It doesn’t matter that there aren’t any fans, that Ole is a bit of a fortunate fraud (fortunate in the talent he has at his disposal), it doesn’t matter that the law of averages says we should pick up at least one win against the big six away from home. We all know what’s coming and no doubt it will involve a dubious United penalty and us getting shafted somehow.
Like I said; history repeating itself.
But back to the frustration of the game at the weekend, which is still lingering around in my mind. Usually I can get over this sort of stuff quite quickly. For the Liverpool and City away defeats I was able to compartmentalise those. They were put in a bit of a mental ‘box’ that was chucked into the back of the archives in my mind. The two best teams in the league for the last two seasons and we got narrowly beat twice. Whatever. But Leicester just did what small teams do. They sat deep, realised the lack of threat we pose, rode their luck and sprung a trap. That’s what makes it so frustrating and with quotes emerging yesterday where Mikel has cited fatigue as one of the reasons for the drop in the second half.
Sorry, not have that, I’m afraid. Aubameyang was poor but he only played a 20 minute cameo in midweek against Rapid Vienna. Saka and Lacazette got a bulk of minutes in Austria, but if you’re going to blame fatigue for the clear drop in intensity in the second half, then you have to look at yourself and your decision making to play those players in the Europa League in the first place. Why not rest Saka in midweek so he was fresh on Sunday? Why did Lacazette get 84 minutes against Paid followed by 90 against Leicester? Given how much he stunk the place out in Vienna I’d have told Eddie to do his thing against the Foxes. Yet instead we had Lacazette waddling about the place again.
Fatigue can be an issue in March or April, but not when the season is still so young, so I’m not having it Mikel. The fact of the matter is that we are suffering from a lack of risk taking and that is why we’re having to watch sterile possession-based football that doesn’t go anywhere like that second half on Sunday evening. Risk taking is what makes football matches. Players making forward runs like Hector was doing in the first half, players spotting those runs and making progressive passing through lines of opposition players, that is what wins you football matches. But at the moment we have too many players who are playing too safe in the final third.
We look good when we build from the back. You can see the structure, how we want to move the ball around an opposition press, but it is like all of the good work in training in finding those spaces and players moving into positions to receive the ball, disappears as soon as we get over the halfway line. Risk takers. That’s what we need in our team and that’s what we don’t have right now.
Who can fit that bill though? Who feels like a risk taker in the team? I’ve got a few thoughts which I’ve listed below. What do you think though?
He got into a great position for our winning goal against Dundalk and a couple of times he was in behind on Sunday evening. I think he’s a guy who will make those runs but we’re going to need Arteta to give him that freedom to move up the pitch more regularly. And with him up the pitch I also think it gives him the opportunity to release…
People are asking questions and certainly after a season in the country and team it is time we saw more from Pepe. But he spent so much of last season isolated and already we’ve seen the odd game where the same has happened. He is good on the ball and has assists and a goal to his name already this season. He has a good finish on him but he needs players with him so he can interchange possession; the old ‘give and go’ type stuff. If we do more of that then he will feel more obliged to run at defenders and to take more risks. That’s what we need to see more of.
This guy is a predator and will make runs if he’s given the opportunity. He may have gone off the boil lately but when you’re being asked to play wide right or you just aren’t confident enough that there are enough players behind you who will spot your run, you’re going to stop making it. That’s the real challenge we have and it’s why Luiz was singled out this weekend, because he was making those forward passes when others weren’t.
He will take risks but they will come from deep and be in the shape of longer diagonals. We need to see variation like this but on Sunday it was him and nobody else.
Just getting started but he showed a desire to move the ball progressively against Rapid Vienna. We need to see more of that and the initial signs are positive.
Always willing to drive at defenders, although he wasn’t at his best on Sunday. But this is the problem; who else could Arteta have put in to the team that could have delivered what Saka delivers? It’s frustrating to say but we’re out of options.
Those are the players I’ve picked and perhaps I could have gone with Ceballos, but this weekend just gone was such a poor performance from him that I decided to leave him out. Then you’ve got the likes of Willian, who has offered little since Fulham. Lacazette is workmanlike but I don’t see any creativity from him in the form of risk taking. Nelson isn’t really given a chance and neither has Willock this season, so that feels like it’s a moot point to mention them.
I guess you could argue that Tierney is but again, I didn’t think he was taking as many risks on Sunday, although I think he has been good since the restart last season.
But my ultimate point is about those players making runs and also feeding passes into risky situations are few and far between in our team. I think for us to be a successful team we need a minimum of eight players who can do that. You probably need about ten in your whole squad to deal with rotation and multiple competitions. I’ve listed six above. And that’s for the whole squad. It just isn’t good enough and it is something Arteta needs to solve. Fast. Because otherwise we’ll find ourselves in another season of mid-table mediocrity by the time we hit Christmas.
Catch you guys tomorrow.