Nerves, fear, trepidation gripping both teams – robbed the watching public of a football match where expression is a required component of which gives a feeling that you are being entertained.
Fear of enjoying the experience of playing football took over two professional teams and reminded us that the stakes are really high in the Premier League. The attention, analysis post a big defeat is becoming all encompassing – the Anfield scars were visible in this game.
I will write about the game via a player by player ratings review as there will be many match reports flying around the airwaves today:
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY: 7.5/10
Wojciech is a keeper who does not compartmentalise his emotions.
If the team plays badly he can at times carry that emotion into his own performance. Keepers can sometimes separate themselves from the team but Woj is an Arsenal man who feels it more emotionally. Why he deserves immense credit is last night he epitomised the increased defensive focus and lifted his performance to gain us a point. Save from RVP will live long in the memory but fine lines – his pass to Mikel Arteta early was careless and could have made the night a disaster.
BACARY SAGNA: 6.5
Not troubled in defence, rightly criticised for playing too high v Liverpool and exposing his CB’s one on one and not being able to get back in to cover round. Against MUFC he was more selective but almost underused offensively by Rosicky who favours running inside rather than turning out and playing in Sagna. He was our outlet as Mata could not track him. His crossing execution has improved so much and on another day he would have had an assist.
PER MERTESACKER: 6.5
Improved focus and intensity from the BFG. Amazing how relaxed he started at Liverpool. He is our captain in all but name and maybe should be our captain. He led more and although RVP got in late for the header I could not fault his effort to get back and his focus/presence on crossing
LAURENT KOSCIELNY: 7
As with Per he was almost back to his A game. His clarity, pace sharp decision-making were back. He stopped playing offside and gambling once RVP scared him into playing properly when he messed up early. He looked so much better than any other centre-back on the pitch. When he is sharp mentally I have this feeling that he is almost impossible to get past. He had a great header that was cleared off the line. Close to being the hero. When on top form I would not want any other player in our defence.
KIERAN GIBBS: 6.5
Deserved his start over Nacho Monreal – he gives the fans and team mates just a 10% increase in confidence when he plays. In this game he was steady and part of the collective improved shape of the back four but I’m never quite convinced by his end product. I find myself hoping he will do something rather than expecting the right delivery or shot. But I will say he was there constantly and much more creative with the ball than I have seen for a while.
Back Five Summary – Much improved focus and a determination not to concede was obvious post Anfield. The match winners were in this group if the front end of the team showed more bravery and conviction. We look coached again.
TOMAS ROSICKY: 5
Sometimes a player becomes a hero when he does not play. At Anfield we lacked urgency and pace of pass. We lacked fight so almost every Arsenal fan wanted Rosicky to start. I found myself underwhelmed by his impact. His pass selection and accuracy was poor. Not sure right side works for him. He is better left or central. For me he should play in Arteta’s role if he wants to stay at Arsenal and do what Steven Gerrard is doing for Liverpool and play deeper. I look at players like Rosicky, Arteta and Mathieu Flamini and although I like them all for Arsenal to make the next step in its development two of those players need to be moved on to make room for the Ox and a signing.
MIKEL ARTETA: 5.5
When Arteta turned the wrong way and got pressed by RVP in the second minute the whole of the Arsenal loving world just froze. Surely not another bad start. It visibly shook him and he looked shaky in his passing for 15 minutes or so. But he did recover and I found my eyes moving away from him to other problems in the side. For those that follow me you know my thoughts on our central midfield. You only had to see how first Southampton then Liverpool targeted us there and sprung into a transition attack leaving our centre backs exposed one on one. For Arsenal to develop we need a huge signing to replace Arteta. He has given his all but should no longer be first pick in the bigger games. Flamini is a make do signing that gathers favour as he points a lot and is faster than Arteta.
But ask yourself honestly….we are Arsenal and we need a signing of a higher calibre.
JACK WILSHERE: 4.5
Jack – Pressed hard lost the ball 19 times
Night before the game I wrote a piece on our big game approach – http://www.gunnerstown.com/arsenal/2014/02/12/arsenal-golden-boy-jack-wilshere-should-stop-trying-to-be-a-big-man-leave-that-for-abou-diaby-or-the-new-patrick-vieira/#comment-10648
I sensed teams were targeting Jack’s lack of size/physicality deep, his tendency to get spiky and distracted and always want to take the fight to you. He becomes predictable in his reaction and MUFC noted this and pressed Jack to distraction. It’s not personal but the same characteristic that Jack has, his passion his fight, is exactly the weakness other teams are focussing on.
He lost possession 19 times v MUFC and with that statistic how can we play our game. Wengerball is built on playing through the thirds technically, on players who always turn away from danger and retain the ball and move it quickly out of the press. Memories of Cesc Fabregas bounding through my mind right now as he was the epitome of Arsene Wenger football. Jack wants to fight you and when heeds to go back to switching on that satellite and turn away from the fight and not run into it.
Attacking wise he is doing well and maybe a swap with the Ox and move Jack right and play Ox central will add composure power and legs centrally and use Jack ability to combine further forward. I am not writing him off, but like Aaron 18 months ago he has lost clarity of his game and Wenger needs to help him. He did win his battle with Tom Cleverley unlike vs Philippe Coutihno.
MESUT OZIL: 6.5
Twitter was confused last night his performance.
I think the football watching world is confused on Ozil. Is he a success, is he a failure, is he worth £42m, should he be doing more. Is it about assist and goals or is it about how ‘you feel’ when you watch him based on your own personal expectations.
What I saw last night was a player focussed on being better than he was v Liverpool. What was and is becoming clearer is when he improves we focus less on him and more on what the team misses to allow him to be better. Ozil moved the ball accurately – he created 6 chances on his own (@arsestats) so why are we not buzzing this morning after a win. It’s more apparent we are not giving Ozil the tools to really show his effectiveness. We lost two huge running assets in Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey. We had Theo play with Ozil v Sunderland away and it was awesome. We lost Theo to the stomach injury but we still had Aaron who benefited from Ozil’s last third pass selection and accuracy.
Ramsey and Theo – We miss your running
Until now we have not had to cope for any sustained period without both our run in behind runners simultaneously. I called loud for a speedy runner in January, Draxler is one but a loan like Cristian Tello would have closed the gap short term. Now we are managing this situation when we could have fixed it. It kills not only Ozil’s game but Giroud’s also. It could be an expensive error and now Arsenal will have to find a new balance.
SANTI CAZORLA: 8 – Man Of the Match
MOM – a medal for bravery and responsibility…
It’s easy to play when things are going well, it’s easy to show up vs Crystal Palace at home when they are sitting it and the game flows one way. It’s a lot harder to show up and play your normal game when everyone around you has gone into their collective shell. Santi just kept playing and working hard on and off the ball. He ended the game strong and produced some wonderful strikes on goal that on another day could have ended up goals. He was tenacious and brave. He kept showing and kept running in. Watching the game he offered hope of that ‘big game glory night win’ that we are all so impatient for.
I have made Santi my MOM for his technical bravery to just play and not show the mental fragility of Wenger teams past when we lose a game. The only way to move forward is to remember how good you are and execute.
OLIVIER GIROUD: 6.5
Giroud lacked a conviction in front of goal despite working so hard to get himself into great positions. At Old Trafford I felt he was bullied by Johnny Evans – Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling tried to do it again last night. Mark Clattenberg has a good game but could of protected him from the Vidic elbows into the back of OG’s head but I was impressed how he fought and bossed the MUFC stalwart. He always offered a target to play into sometimes with two men hanging off him he retained it so well. It’s not his fault that we have become predictable with no penetration.
As stated the manager should of seen this and reacted in January. Giroud was poor in front of goal which his such a shame as it continues the narrative that he cannot deliver in big moments, in big games. He is not the only Arsenal player with that flaw in their make-up but he is the most visible. For all the criticism he gets he is in all our first 11’s because deep down we know he has carried this team offensively and works so hard defensively. It’s not his fault he has not been supported with runners or a better option on the bench to give him the rest his work rate deserves.
Front Six Summary: We have lost our edge in possession and in the box. The last 3 minutes disturbed me the most as we were not brave enough to play. Wenger may not like big lumps who kick it away he may not like percentage football. I’m ok with that but he likes brave technical players who want the ball and take responsibility.
In those last minutes we hid and that is not his coaching philosophy. Wenger has to correct this.
I was not always a Ramsey fan but even during his darkest days he always wanted the ball, he never hid. We miss him and that part to his game as well as his running in beyond Giroud. I’m not sure how to fix this and create a balance we had previously as the profile of players needed are not on the books.
My only thought is we may have to get Podolski and Jack closer to Giroud as they seem our best options as Gnabry is too young.
Over to you Arsene – Liverpool have found their balance and look menacing.