Battlers or Bottlers? 2 points lost or 1 point gained?

I’ve been in a situation where I have not been able to watch the Arsenal play for almost two months, imagine that! I’ve been living off highlights – the next morning at work – and blog posts. My situation doesn’t seem to be on the verge of improving any time soon and considering it was to be a big game last night, I went ahead and splashed a bit of cash on a new laptop just so I could at least stream games!  Of course, I do use laptops for more than just that; but that was the driving motivator last night, just a couple of hours before kick-off!

Luckily the temporary accommodation my company has provided at least has good internet speed so the stream was quite smooth and it had to be for what a game it was!

This post will simply be what I feel are some talking points from the game, both in isolation i.e. just the game itself; and, going forward.  I’ll start with some individual players first before going onto the team.

The Control of Joel

For the last couple of months I’ve been constantly reading blogs and tweets praising Joel Campbell’s improving play and attitude.  I had only seen glimpses through highlights.  Last night verified the attitude aspect; especially from a defensive point of view.  However, it was his threat in the final third which made me sit up, literally; I sort of slouch on the couch.

Little bit exceptional control

Little bit exceptional control

The piece of ball control for assisting Ramsey’s goal was a sight, the pass even better.  His composure on the ball is very encouraging; the accuracy and weight of his pass are even more encouraging!  He showed this in the Cup tie versus Sunderland with that perfect pass for Bellerin in the build-up to the second goal.

What was more impressive were the few seconds before he threaded a smart ball for Theo which eventually lead to quite a miss from Olivier Giroud.  Campbell was so calm on the ball, did not panic, and waited to play the right pass.  I honestly thought he’d play it out wide to Bellerin but perhaps he wanted a more incisive option so he waited just a few more seconds and Theo arrived!  The self-control exhibited by the Costa Rican was admirable.  Again, accuracy and weight of the pass were spot on!

Dave Seager recently wrote, for Shoot! Magazine, on Campbell deserving to start games and his performance justified the notion once again.

Nacho Monreal

The Spaniard, I felt, was brilliant last night.  He barely let Ibe or Clyne get a sniff whenever it was 1v1 situation.  He also made some vital interceptions/clearances from relatively more central areas to support Koscielny.

It’s no surprise that Liverpool’s goals were all built-up from our right hand side; well, there can be an argument that ‘Pool’s left hand side has more talent or flair compared to its right hand side.  However, I think Nacho’s experience has played a big part in his stalwart performances this season.

The Theo Experiment

From what I know, Theo has started on the left for a few games now?  Well, it didn’t work last night because he’s not the wing type of player in my opinion.  Perhaps Wenger hoped for more collaboration between Giroud and the Englishman or anticipated more of what we saw happen once – Giroud drop deep and Walcott surge forward centrally; though he was caught offside on that occasion.

I’d like to see Theo central again; but, Giroud is in great form as well.  Tough call.

However, he does deserve some blame for the first goal that was conceded as it was he who was dispossessed when trying to dribble his way out of his own area.  Wasn’t following Twitter last night; was there hue and cry amongst Gooners when that happened?  You know, like how Ox would have been blamed to the heavens if he had done the same.

Theo breaking away, just shouldn't be done in your own third on your own sometimes!

Theo breaking away, just shouldn’t be done in your own third on your own sometimes!

Moving on.

Na Na Na Naaaa!

Not surprising he was given Man of the Match last night.  He put himself about throughout the whole game.  The second goal was wonderful and he did not shy away once from the physical battles during the 90 minutes.

Again, link-up and hold-up play was great to see.  I don’t know what else I can add about him to be honest!

Riding the Storm and Bouncing Back

Let’s not kid ourselves, and I don’t think any Gooner will deny this; the Gunners were pressed really well especially in that first half.  The Reds were continuously threatening and at good pace as well.

However, it’s not the first time when Arsenal has conceded a goal and by the run of play till that point I have wondered:

We’ve done bollocks so far, how are we going to get back into this?

Then, somehow, they shift a gear out of nowhere, string a few passes together combined with some movement and open the opposition up to either create chances or score.  In this case, it was to score.

It has to be a mental thing, like they put their mind to the task of attacking – I WILL pick a better pass, I WILL make sure I move into the right space to receive a pass, I WILL make an effort to maintain possession to build up play – and it’s not just one individual who backs their thoughts with actions but several players.  So, suddenly, when previously they were unable to pass and move; they are able to pass and move effectively because everyone seems to have shifted a mental gear.

The encouragement is that we came back twice from behind and actually took the lead.  In fact, we could have scored more.  It can be so easy to let your head down when the opposition has taken it to you and you eventually concede.  There seems to be just enough self-belief in this squad to not to let that get to them.

Nevertheless, if the encouragement was our knack to fight back, the discouragement was the nature of the goals.

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Tactics, Personnel, or Something Else?

Whenever the Gunners have adopted a more conservative or pragmatic approach, there’s been more structured defending from the midfield.  However, last night it didn’t seem as structured.  We afforded so much space in central areas in the final third on so many occasions.

Was it Liverpool’s ploy of stretching us by playing wide and then moving it quickly to the middle?  Or was it something else?  I’m not great tactician so I can’t place my finger on it.  Either way, I hope it’s a one-off.

The first goal was a product of, well, stupidity more than anything else.  I know Arsenal like to play out of the back but that’s usually done through passing it out of the back, not dribbling!  The second goal, as brilliant as Firmino’s finish was; it was from a central position around the box.

Our flanks were relatively well protected in our final third and this is where Liverpool adapted or modified their game in the second half when Benteke came on.  Going forward, the Reds weren’t as intense as they were in the first half so we were able to form a bit of a defensive structure in midfield; however, the Reds were content hitting balls in from deeper areas.

I saw some tweets this morning asking why Paulista wasn’t brought on when Benteke came on.  Others questioning why Arteta.

Big man in the box

Big man in the box

Benteke came on in the 66th minute; I think we handled him pretty well since then.  Was Arteta brought on to bring more calm on the ball and help us regain possession?  Or was it a defensive move?  I actually thought it to be the former because Liverpool was applying tremendous pressure and whenever we regained possession, we gave the ball away.  Klopp’s smart move was to bring on Caulker up front right after Arteta came on; give us two tall guys to worry about.

Where we failed, in my opinion, and we failed all night at this; was having our midfield play so deep that they were just a few yards ahead of our back four.  Liverpool kept on launching these long balls into the box from deep because we weren’t in a position to stop them from doing so.  That way, you’re inviting runners to run into the box without being tracked – like Joe Allen ran into the box.  You’ll see Ramsey reacting late in tracking him; so, another problem seemed to be that some midfielders were very deep whilst others weren’t – perhaps caught between do I defend deep or try to close them higher up the field? and then get caught in no man’s land.

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By the way, I misunderstood one tweet which seemed to blame Arteta for the goal and I watched the replay of that equalizer and Arteta had nothing to do with it!

It was very apparent after a certain point in the second half that defending and absorbing pressure was priority.  It’s worked in the last twelve months whenever we have adopted this approach, we just fell short last night.

Did Arsenal bottle it?  I can hardly call it that.

Let’s just hope, going forward, lessons are learned from this game.  Next up is Stoke, and it’s a very different Stoke to the rugby team we were accustomed to under Pulis.

Wenger, post-match, spoke of using last night’s frustration and disappointment as motivation for the next game and let’s hope we see that.  I think we all feel it’s two points lost, including Wenger; and I believe our form over the last twelve months especially defensively has raised our expectations to have seen that game out either without conceding or by scoring one more.  Would we have had the same expectation in 2014?

The Gunners have raised their game in the last twelve months and in turn, our expectations have been raised as well.

On a side note; I’ve probably sacrificed an oven or a washing machine for whenever I move into my new place for at least a month but there’s only so long I can stay away from watching the Arsenal!

Anyway, ’till next time!

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5 Responses to Battlers or Bottlers? 2 points lost or 1 point gained?

  1. DEW January 14, 2016 at 4:35 pm #

    It is not one day off Omar, Collective defending at mid field is arsenal problem for sometime now.

    Last night I would have played Chambers instead of Arteta. May be the experience of Arteta was what needed in the closing stages, I don’t know ….

    • Omar Hasan Khan January 14, 2016 at 9:52 pm #

      Hi Dew,

      Thanks for giving this a read. I agree about collective defending in midfield being an Arsenal problem but I honestly believed we saw massive improvement in 2015 in that regard. Or perhaps only more so against the bigger teams? City away, Chelsea in the CS, United at home, United in the Cup and so on.

      The Arteta decision was a bit of a surprise, I could see why he brought him on but it seemed like “defend-defend-defend” was our plan for the closing stages so, like you said, Chambers may have been a better option or like some fans suggested, even Gabriel!

  2. Geoff January 14, 2016 at 5:01 pm #

    On the last goal Mertesacker flinched,turned away from shot instead of giving his all to try & stop the shot,not the first time he’s done this

    • Dave Seager January 14, 2016 at 9:21 pm #

      Bayern away also

    • Omar Hasan Khan January 14, 2016 at 10:22 pm #

      Hi Geoff,

      I agree that it’s not the first time that Per has flinched but I don’t agree that those previous times were similar to this. He actually tries to close down Allen to stop him from taking a shot i.e. his priority was to stop Allen from taking a shot by getting to Benteke’s knock down first.

      He didn’t get there on time. Could he have thrown his body across goal – considering Allen’s distance from goal and Per’s positioning – and hope for the best? Maybe.

      I just think standing up to a shot is easier said than done, depends on several factors such as where a shot is being taken from and where the defender is standing; sometimes you’ll see them stand up, sometimes you’ll see them do a half turn which is sometimes referred to as a ‘flinch’.

      Unless defenders are rigorously trained to stand up to shots; a training in which defenders have to practice from being in their normal state of arms by the side and then suddenly hide them behind their back – so there’s no chance of handball – all within a very very short time frame, Per’s the last man I’d be pointing a finger to for that last goal.

      Of course, if such training takes place, then questions can be asked.

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