The Gunners notched their first away win this season, and made it two league wins on the trot in the process, but I think it will be fair to say the manner of the win raised more questions than it answered. Let’s get straight to it.
Cech’s distribution is abysmal – again
While it’s clear Emery wants us to play out from the back and therefore instructed the central defenders and our goalie to keep the passed low and short, it’s equally clear Cech is uncomfortable with such an approach.
He’s been put under pressure within a minute from the kick-off, and nearly had his Allison moment. Luckily for us the veteran keeper retained possession, but this wasn’t a one-off. Cech passed it straight to Harry Arter some 7 minutes later and continued to look a laboured ticking bomb, an accident waiting to happen, throughout the match.
To be fair our captain on the day wasn’t helped by Sokratis, who kept passing it back under pressure, however that’s also part of the problem. He isn’t good enough (or confident enough) to pass it through the lines, so instead of actually playing out what he does is put even more pressure on teammates.
Is it time to consider dropping both? Surely Leno would be a better fit than Cech re distribution? Surely Holding can’t do much worse than either Mustafi or Sokratis? That is definitely something for Emery to get his head around during the break and I hope he finds an answer when we visit Newcastle on September 15. If teams as below-par as West Ham and Cardiff caused us huge problems, I’m sure Benitez’ side is well capable of making our life hell.
However our defending is shoddy regardless
While clearly a new concept to grapple with, at least playing out from the back didn’t directly lead to any of the goals. What did was diabolical spacial awareness from Bellerin and Monreal. They combined for a quick and complete clusterfuck for the first.
Much has been made of Xhaka’s misplaced cross-field pass which was intercepted, however I was outraged by Bellerin’s insistence to tuck in to double up on some bloke instead of putting pressure on another bloke crossing the ball. Monreal then ensured the ball went in by failing to cover Camarasa.
Our fullbacks also bombed forward without much thought for the defence all too often. This compounded Mustafi’s and Sokratis’ misery, forcing them to cover the wide areas and neither is exactly fast. Xhaka and Guendouzi (and later Torreira) did their best to help out the centre-backs and, while I enjoyed a couple of cynical yellows, it takes the focus away from the real problem.
In short, I’m having serious misgivings we can ride our luck for long if we continue to defend this way. Can such gung-ho defensive style be a necessary evil? Perhaps Emery understands he won’t be able to fix our defence quickly, so just hopes to ride it out by overcompensating in attack? Your guess is as good as mine.
Personally, I’d still like to see a bit more defensive cohesion and I don’t think it’s impossible too. We’ve seen we can tighten up against Chelsea at the Bridge, no reason we can’t sacrifice a bit of impetus going forward to protect our back line.
Ozil starts – and fails to complete 90 minutes yet again
A lot of talk revolved around the German before the game. Reports of an alleged training ground bust-up with Emery and falling out of favour with the Spaniard as a consequence were rife, though I don’t think there was any reliable bit of research to back it up.
Ozil started the game to stifle the rumours, however he was quite a peripheral figure up to the point of being subbed off. In a team chock-full of attacking-minded players the German failed to impress, drifting out of the game for large periods.
I won’t be surprised to see him on the bench when we face Newcastle, to accommodate Mkhitaryan in the side. While I don’t think there’s any conflict between him and Emery, the Spaniard has shown he will drop ineffective players – and for now Ozil falls into that category.
Lacazette shines upon recall
Aubameyang had an indifferent start to his campaign it’s fair to say. He did finally score his first goal on the occasion, but was ultimately outshined by Lacazette, who looked sharp and fired-up. Once again the Frenchman was stationed centrally and Aubameyang shifted out wide.
Lacazette has shown a lot of promise since the start of the campaign. Despite failing to start any of the previous 3 league games, the Frenchman made an impact each time after coming on, notching an assist against West Ham, which saw him handed the starting spot.
He repaid the faith showing in him by the manager with another assist, as well as his first goal and an all-round impressive performance. I think Laca merits a place in the starting XI and if Emery really has no favourites, Alexandre will start come September 15.
The last word
Our win was far from convincing. It was actually heavily reminiscent of some matches under Arsene Wenger, where both sides are porous at the back, allowing for a thrilling contest for the neutrals and some validol-sponsored 90 for the fans.
My biggest worry remains our defense – and our keeper. I get it that Cech is an excellent shot stopper, I understand he’s good at crosses too – but surely the time has come to give Leno a go? After all we are not talking some rookie, I’m not suggesting we throw in an inexperienced lad – Leno has 300+ senior appearances to his name, and these didn’t come at Derby County or whatever.
We are very much in the “score one more than them” territory, however that can be called riding our luck. Rafa Benitez is a very astute manager tactically, he very nearly nicked points off City at the Etihad and I’m sure he’ll find a way to exploit our defensive frailties better than Pellegrini and Warnock.
However for now we can just relax for a bit and hope Emery will not sit on his hands during the Interlull, especially since quite a few our players will stay behind at Colney. We will have a chance to witness the results of his thought process on September 15.
Until then we can just enjoy the win.