It feels like ages since I last wrote, I actually had to check the link to my column to verify this feeling! It turns out I’m right, it’s been over a month since I last wrote about the Gunners although I recently wrote about what I have learned from Wenger on a personal level – a post you may be interested in if you enjoyed his recent interview with L’Equipe.
Anyway, since I last wrote on the Gunners, the team has seen the following results:
- Arsenal 3 – 0 Manchester United
- Watford 0 – 3 Arsenal
- Arsenal 2 – 0 Bayern Munich
- Arsenal 2 – 1 Everton
- Sheffield Wednesday 3 – 0 Arsenal
- Swansea 0 – 3 Arsenal
- Bayern Munich 5 – 1 Arsenal
- Arsenal 1 – 1 Tottenham
A lot has been said about each result, some positive, some negative. I’m not going to give thoughts on each game or mull over the League Cup exit and being on the brink of elimination from the Champions League.
Overall, I feel it’s been a relatively positive run over the last eight games so I’m going to highlight what I feel are some positive themes followed by some concerns.
How May I Assist You?
Of course, we have seen this line on countless memes featuring Mesut Ozil. However, it’s not the fact that he’s provided almost an assist every game this season that I see as the major positive, don’t get me wrong, that is still a major positive; but, it’s the variety in those assists both from an execution and a positional point of view. The latter, I feel, is a significant development from a holistic perspective.
Many a time over the years I’ve heard a commentator or a pundit say that such and such player has been given a ‘license to roam’ and funnily enough, I’ve never heard it for Ozil but that’s exactly what Ozil does! Maybe it’s because the way Arsenal play – a lot of interchange of positions and movement. Either way, in the last ten years or so, I don’t think I’ve seen any player in the Premiership roam as effectively as Ozil has done this season.
When I think of a Number 10, I usually think of the hole behind the striker and usually staying central. Sure, Ozil plays there, but how many times have we seen him pop up on either flank several times a game? Add to that, how many assists have we seen from him that have come from either side of the pitch? I have a feeling that his assists have a somewhat even distribution from a positional sense i.e. same amount from the right, left, and central areas of the pitch – this is me being very lazy and not opening up Squawka.com to verify this.
Ah fuck it, let’s do this!
There you go, almost an even distribution! For those of you trying to recall which assist came from the edge of the 6-yard box, it’s where he was taken down by the Watford defense or their ‘keeper which led to Alexis’ goal. Squawka has counted it as an assist, not sure if it’s officially recognized as an assist though. Funnily enough, Squawka also missed his assist for Joel Campbell’s goal versus Swansea!
Anyway, I wrote earlier that this is encouraging from a holistic perspective; by that I refer to the whole team. The team, especially the attack, now knows how to operate with Ozil and vice versa. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a phenomenon that has come about this season; but definitely more prominent in 2015 as a whole. Regardless, we’re reaping the dividends.
I have always maintained that there is only so much an individual can do in football; a player needs other elements around him to work as well.
I also mentioned the variety in Ozil’s assists; those are another example of the cohesion and understanding that seems to be finally coming to the fore in this team. We have seen the defence-splitting-over-the-top long ball, a glorious little chip from the edge of the box, grounded crosses from either side of the penalty area, and perfectly directed and weighted crosses from out wide that have all brought the Arsenal goals.
I have only focused on his assists; the holistic picture aforementioned also includes his overall contribution and involvement in games, I won’t elaborate on that right now but I think it’s fair to say that imagining a team sheet without his name on it is a situation we dare not imagine!
Lastly, the variety in his assists is an indication of the variety Arsenal has been able to bring in their play this season as well.
Plans A, B, AND C!
Remember those recent days when we moaned about not having a plan B? We were all pass, pass, pass, and pass! Arsenal had no other way of playing etc.
Suddenly, this season, in my opinion, Arsenal seem to have three styles of play ready to be deployed whenever depending on the game.
Plan A for this season seems to have become, or at least it was till injuries to certain personnel, a relatively more direct style of play with Theo up top. I wrote about this earlier here so I won’t repeat myself.
Plan B, of course, has Giroud as its focal point. It’s not only a throwback to the days when Giroud was the main man and we saw a lot of build-up accompanied with some neat flicks to players around him. However, he’s also that option in the box so we can whip crosses in as well. Giroud brings a different dynamic and when plan A doesn’t work, we can opt for this and we have this season.
Plan C is what we saw in the home victory versus Bayern, in the away victory versus City, and to some extent in the home victory versus United after obliterating them in the first twenty minutes or so. Sit back, absorb, and counter.
What I love about all three is that despite the difference in approach in all three, the Gunners still manage to execute those plans playing their beautiful football. Passing and movement still form the heartbeat of how Arsenal plays.
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When the Going Gets Tough
This is one of those times I wish there was some research on this, or maybe there is and I have no idea it’s out there, but I can only speak from personal experience which doesn’t really count as much because I never played at professional level!
There have been several games this season where the Gunners have been quite poor in the first half and survived it as well, then turn up in the second half and either salvage a point or get a result. People always assume that the manager’s half time team talk must have done wonders because our personnel and usually tactics don’t really seem to change too much after half time!
When I used to play for my university, there used to be games where I or the whole team would be atrocious in the first half. We didn’t have a coach or a manager, so we would discuss amongst ourselves; to be honest I don’t think we really ever implemented anything we discussed but we would play better in the second half. It’s difficult to explain but basically, it used to feel that the first half was like testing unknown waters and you just felt a lot more comfortable on the pitch in the second half. Suddenly the opposition didn’t seem quicker, suddenly you were covering more ground quicker, suddenly you were just a lot more confident on the ball and passing it better.
I wonder if that was the case for Calum Chambers versus Liverpool. Deep down inside I had a hunch he would perform a lot better in the second half in that game because of that theory. Of course, I can’t validate it.
Anyway, I’m digressing, my point is, Arsenal has found a way – barring Bayern and Sheffield Wednesday – to either overturn a poor first half showing, break down a stubborn team, or grind out a result when they haven’t been good overall. Whatever the reasons may be for this resilience, I hope it continues through the season whenever the going gets tough!
No Santi, No Party
Central midfield sans Cazorla is a concern at the moment because both Ramsey and Wilshere are out injured. Who knows if Ox may be asked to fill in for short periods of time till those two come back; but, we have no one else who can do what Santi does in the middle of the park. This was very evident in the game versus Sheffield Wednesday; though I have to say that Beilik looked impressive for the few minutes he got.
Dave Seager wrote about the importance of our central midfield pair in terms of making the rest of the team tick and I completely agree with him [good post by the way, gives perspective to the whole ‘Santi doesn’t score enough’ notion]. The concern is what we do if Santi isn’t available. Our performance versus Spurs wasn’t the best, we never really settled on the ball and I feel that was partly down to Santi’s absence – he was sort of absent whilst being on the pitch as well due to his sickness! So, this is definitely a concern.
The Defence Rests
Literally, that’s what our defence needs! To be fair, our back line has not been awful this season but because they’ve been so good, little blips become a concern.
The communication gap that led to Lewandoski’s opener in Munich and Kane’s goal at the Emirates are such blips that have me worried. In fact, I don’t even know if those were communication gaps or a result of some other instructions for Koscielny/Gabriel.
For example, at the home game versus Bayern, several times we saw Monreal thwart Muller just by sticking with him even if the wide man was making diagonal runs behind the defence – Monreal could have risked playing him offside but he stuck to the man to ensure that a pass would not be played to him. I wonder if Gabriel was asked to stick to Lewandoski the same way or Koscielny to Kane; and both had a moment of indecision which led to a delayed stepping up with the rest of the back four?
Hector and Nacho I can’t complain about at all. Debuchy has been alright, I believe he’s improved each game but still not at the level before his lengthy lay off.
Anyway, our back line isn’t a major concern; as much as I avoid knee-jerk reactions, I have a feeling that my concerns to these blips are knee-jerk!
One More Injury
We have finally hit the depths of our depth. We really are one more injury away from an unfavorable situation. Of course, all those wanting signings for depth are having a field day but considering we have 10 players out, and still manage to put out a competitive 11; if that’s not depth then I’m not sure what else you can term it as!
Fans want almost like to like replacements for each position and on paper that makes sense; you want similar level quality as replacements. Fans also assume that those substitutes will be satisfied with bench roles or will be playing at optimal level with little match practice. So, I haven’t been cursing our squad depth till now. The only position where we really are short, in my opinion, is Cazorla’s. Though, Arteta just may be able to do a job in that role too. I’ll admit, Flamini has performed better than I expected this season whenever he’s been called upon.
However, one more injury in our attack just may make winning matches a bit more difficult. We struggled creatively versus Spurs; our best chances came from set pieces or balls into the box.
So, let’s keep our fingers crossed!
Wrapping it Up
The international break could not have come at a better time. I really hope some players will be back after the break. Every game is a must-win, I like the fact that we’re sitting at the top and only behind on goal difference. I’d like to see that continue and hopefully City will slip up at some point or even better would be to stay neck-to-neck with them till we play them, beat them, and go three points clear!
Idealistic? I know!
Anyway, here’s to continuing winning ways, the Ox finding form, Ozil assisting, Theo returning with his scoring boots, and cohesion!