So, we are under way in group A and, while it can hardly be called a flying start, at least we have a point to show for it. A lot of things I want to discuss with you, so I’ll get straight to them.
If you offered me a draw before the game, I would have taken it. Away to a very strong PSG team was always going to be tough. Despite some injury concerns, Emery was able to field a dangerous starting XI, the individual quality of Verratti, Matuidi, Di Maria and others shone through, and it did make a difference.
Taken out of context, it was a very welcome point and could prove valuable indeed later on. No complaints about the result from me.
Insipid, listless, unprepared, predictable – you name it, we had it. Especially during the first half. The mere fact it took us 77 minutes to register a shot on target speaks volumes about our performance on the day. The first shot which at least approached a threatening one was taken by Coquelin (!) deep into the second half.
The team didn’t look up for it at all. We have been played off the park for almost the entirety of the contest. It took us 42 seconds to concede and we still could have lost it in the minute 95, when Marquinhos headed wide following a corner. We used up all of our luck (and a little more) and, frankly, it’s a miracle we escaped with a point, a miracle our performance didn’t merit, and one which was almost entirely down to Cavani’s spectacular profligacy and Ospina’s brilliant goalkeeping skills.
We looked disjointed, without a clear idea of what we wanted to do and, indeed, the personnel for the execution of whatever plan we had in mind. Monreal was left continuously exposed against a physical Aurier, Bellerin looked only marginally better mainly because Maxwell sat back and Matuidi is not a winger, the centre of our defense was reminiscent of a Chinese takeaway and unfortunately our problems didn’t end there. Cazorla found it tough going escaping the organised pressing from PSG, Ozil was nowhere to be found, Oxlade had another mare, Coquelin was playing furthest up for some reason, while Alexis was woefully inefficient up front again. Only Iwobi could have been excused, had he not abandoned Monreal the way he did.
Our passing was off, we were exceptionally slow on the ball, allowing PSG to constantly (and rather effectively) press the men in possession and the situation wasn’t made any better by certain individuals having a downright atrocious game.
Big Dave saves the day
His selection raised a lot of eyebrows. I myself would have been less lenient to such a change, had it not come on the back of some questionable performances from Cech. As it is, I thought at the time Ospina deserved his chance
And the Colombian had a brilliant performance. Opta recorded just four shots on Arsenal’s target, but on top of three great saves from these 4 shots (Cavani, Aurier, Di Maria), Ospina also was quite brilliant parrying Di Maria’s corner, saving from Cavani’s one-on-one and preventing another by coming out of his goal.
We’ve been very harsh on Ospina for his mistake vs Olympiacos, but the truth is, it was one of the very few mistakes he made in our colours. Cech makes a lot of mistakes, but he also makes a lot of saves, hence he gets less stick. However, I still think Ospina has a much lower mistake threshold, and performances like the one yesterday remind us he is also a great goalkeeper on the day.
I’m pretty sure he’ll keep his place as the Champions League and the cup goalkeeper, but I’m also inclined to give him a chance in the league based on what I’ve seen yesterday. Simply put, it was a complete performance. Kudos to our goalie.
Alexis is NOT a striker
Once again we return to this point, and I sincerely hope it’s the last time. Yesterday Alexis demonstrated all the shortcomings in his game as a lone centre-forward. He dropped deeper in search for the ball, he drifted to the wings to play triangles, he played on second balls (indeed, it was how he scored). The Chilean did everything except the thing he should have done: served as a focal point by staying centrally.
Even after successful build-ups to our attacks, they broke down on the edge of the box, simply because there was no one inside it to finish the move. There was a glaring hole, where there should have been a striker. After handing Perez a full debut and talking up his centre-forward qualities, after giving Giroud a proper rest to presumably get him ready for the Champions League opener, it was all the more bizarre to see Wenger start Alexis upfront. As devoid of service as he has been, Alexis did very little to convince he could thrive with better service. Watching him repeatedly lose duels to Thiago Silva made me think of the physical Premier League centre-backs. It won’t get any easier there, so I think this experiment should be stopped.
Does Ozil need a rest?
Yesterday and against Southampton were probably the worst performances I’ve seen from our German maestro. Not only was he fairly anonymous, unable to influence the proceedings to tilt the scales in our favour, Mesut also spotted some woeful passing overall, and some pretty heavy touches in crucial moments.
Had we been talking about a player whose skill is less prodigious, I would have suggested a decline. As it is, I would suggest exhaustion. The German simply looks run into the ground and this has a bearing on his on-pitch actions.
So it was interesting to witness Arsene hauling off Mesut for Elneny. There could be two possible explanations the way I see it: either Arsene was solidifying the centre of the park to salvage at least a point, or he was actually interested in trying other options at 10, with the thought of giving Ozil a rest in the upcoming games to help the German get to his best form.
Truth be told, I would consider dropping Ozil for a while. Even without Wilshere we have plenty of options at 10: Iwobi, Cazorla and the returning Aaron Ramsey. Think Iwobi would benefit everyone concerned the best: Cazorla showed his ineffectiveness against deep defences vs Leicester, while Ramsey is not the sublime passer Ozil is. Something Iwobi isn’t too, obviously, but the Nigerian is creative and technical enough to carry the weight of a playmaker. Besides, such a move will allow Alex more attacking freedom with fewer defensive responsibilities, a win-win situation for both sides, given his apparent lack of defensive nous (at this stage) a modern winger needs.
As soon as the Frenchman entered the fray, our attacks started resembling, you know, attacks. He knitted the play together by providing the focal point we severely lacked all game, his introduction allowed Sanchez to operate in the Chilean usual manner and voila! We scored.
However, it looks like the Frenchman will be remembered for the red card, a red card he shouldn’t have been given. Ollie picked up the first booking for dissent, but Kassai handed him another for something Giroud didn’t do, namely: push Verratti. It is clearly visible here that Marquinhos was, indeed, the perpetrator. Giroud was provoked by Verratti and then pushed by Marquinhos, after which both PSG players starting screaming blue murder and appealing to the ref. Kassai bought into it, hilariously sending off Verratti along the way, but the main point here is that Giroud didn’t actually do anything wrong. It’s Verratti and Marquinhos who deserve bans for their behavior and I sincerely hope they’ll be given one apiece.
We got the draw we didn’t deserve, but only blind people and fools can be satisfied with the performance and ignore the general trend this season.
The trend being us playing shit football. Out of five games there was one I enjoyed: Watford at home. Even then only the 1st half was enjoyable, 2nd was the usual squeaky bum time. One half out of ten we managed to play beautiful football, the other nine have been boring, predictable and disjointed.
Something that can only be traced back to the manager, because the players at his disposal are very very good. We have an above-average group of players playing some really below-average football. Players who look unprepared for the opposition in 4 cases out of 5, and yesterday wasn’t that one time.
As the clock has been ticking down deep into second half, a thought pierced my mind: why do I even bother watching this? We don’t compete for major honors, we don’t get results the quality of the squad dictates, we don’t even play beautiful football anymore. What’s the point?
The scary thing is, I couldn’t find a satisfactory answer. Before, I could always fall back on the beautiful football at least. Now I can’t do even that. Watching Arsenal play has become a deeply depressing pastime. The rare moments of aesthetic pleasure are interrupted by hours upon hours of boring, uninspired, unstructured football.
Before the game there was an upsurge in affection towards Arsene Wenger, on the back of the interview, in which he stated he turned down offers from PSG, Bayern and Real to remain with Arsenal. And look, that’s great. I never doubted his passion, his loyalty, his love for the Club. I never said (and never will) that he doesn’t give his all. But cries of “offer a new contract to AW because he’s loyal” aren’t for me.
Arsenal, as a Club, is underachieving on the pitch, and has done so last season at least. Arsene seems to have lost his touch for getting the best out of players. And these aren’t youngsters we are talking about anymore (most of whom Arsene did a grand job with, by the way). These are experienced, talented footballers at the peak of their careers. Playing unimaginative, ineffective and unstructured football. Repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
I love Arsene Wenger as a man. I consider him a highly intelligent, well-mannered and, overall, classy person. However he isn’t paid all that money or offered new contracts because he defends his players or can speak 6 languages. He has a job he is paid to do, and he is currently underachieving, whatever the reasons might be. Hence all the talk about a contract extension is ridiculous, all the more so if there’s a grain of truth to it.
I’ll end it here. Back with a Hull preview, hopefully.