When the final whistle blew on Monday, I experienced a mixed bag of emotions: disappointed we couldn’t hold on, angry at being completely overplayed in midfield, glad we escaped the game without injuries. However my overriding emotion was that of relief.
I was emotionally drained by full-time. Truth be told, I was emotionally drained after 30 minutes, but you get the idea. My nervous system is now officially a wreck and I feel like I’ve aged a couple of years after that game.
I imagine this game was thoroughly enjoyable for the casual observer, while BT, Sky or whoever aired the game in England probably experienced an orgasimic sense of joy, close to the one Klopp experienced when he found out his team can score goals. Joy of a big TV company realising what a great advert this game can make.
However as an Arsenal fan, I mostly derived pleasure from individual performances rather than our collective display. Let’s start with these performances and the overall bits I liked from the game.
No, Brendan, not this kind of character. Go away.
Once in a while you get these crazy end-to-end games that are exceptionally fun to watch (unless you aren’t emotionally invested in the success of one of the teams). Think it stems from the performance of the players on the day, plus, possibly, from the managers getting their tactics wrong.
However, we pulled off a second come-back inside 4 days and nearly won this game too. In fact, we’ve come from behind twice and it speaks a lot about our desire and “never say die” attitude.
We were under the kosh for the first 20-30 minutes, it was clear we weren’t coping with Liverpool’s pressure and the goals (however lucky for Liverpool they might have been) were still the direct result of this pressure paying dividends. But the players didn’t give up, didn’t throw in the towel. They responded almost immediately every time we went behind. It will be hard for them to take a draw because of that, however fair it seemed in the overall context.
Simply put, Giroud was outstanding on Wednesday. Yes, he also produced the miss of the season, but two goals and the overall display offset that. A million times.
His passing numbers were low, but then: a) his passing numbers are always low b) Arsenal’s passing accuracy as a team on the day was a meagre 71% – the lowest we had in a league game this season.
The best bit was his aerial prowess and the ability to lay the ball off for his teammates after plucking it out of the air. He only won 3 duels in the air out of 7, but one of these was crucial in the build-up to the first goal. Ollie, most literally, risked life and limb going for that ball and required lengthy treatment after clashing heads with Sakho – but he got the job done.
As for Giroud’s goals, well, the first was his usual showcasing of his trademark diagonal run to the near post with a neat finish to follow, but the second was a thing of beauty. Giroud took one touch to bring a deflected pass under control and then turned and smashed the ball powerfully into the corner, leaving Toure on the floor.
CLASSIC FOOTBALL SHIRTS
I felt for the Frenchman in the end as much as for anyone else: Giroud showed grit to return after injury, he scored the equaliser and the near-winner, while also chipping in with a healthy defensive contribution, recovering the ball 6 times (twice in our half) and completing 4 tackles out of 7 attempted (though only one in our half).
Giroud was Man of the Match, hands down, however his impressive performance (recognised by even the Telegraph), raises a more important issue, namely: he can’t make way for Theo at centre-forward once Alexis returns. His contribution this season has been stellar and he deserves to keep his place in the starting XI.
The same can be said about Joel Campbell. The Costa-Rican had another brilliant outing, in stark contrast to Oxlade and Theo. He provided another assist, was pivotal in Giroud scoring the 3rd goal of the game and his industrious display speaks of a player whose talent is blossoming as a result of high confidence levels.
As I’ve already said, he is a player who brings balance to the side, We are going to need such players for the run-in. Alexis is explosive, but also erratic, Theo rarely makes an even contribution for the duration of the game (although this is partly related to him playing on the left, I suspect), while to Ramsey I’ll get in a bit.
So like Ollie up top, Campbell should keep his place based on what he showed this season.
Ramsey and Flamini
It’s fair to say this partnership hasn’t really clicked. I’ll get back to how I think the problem can be addressed anon, for now I’ll just talk why this partnership cost us the game. In my opinion, naturally. Feel free to disagree in the comment section below.
My first impression was that Flamini was awful, however, it turned out he wasn’t or, at least, the reasons for his under-par performance were less obvious.
In short, Flamini had an impeccable defensive performance, his passing aside. Here are his numbers:
- 9 ball recoveries (7 in our half, one inside the box)
- 3/3 tackles (2 inside the box)
- 2 interceptions (near halfway)
- 7/7 clearances
- 3/3 aerial duels (2 of these near the centre circle)
- 3 blocked shots (2 inside our box)
- 1 turnover, no unsuccessful touches
- No mistakes leading to shots/goals
So I dug deeper and came the following conclusion: Flamini’s downfall was a) his positioning (his heat map shows he mostly took up positions near our box – hilariously, even Kos played higher than Flamini) b) being let down by Ramsey.
And so that brings me to the second part of this two-fold problem: Aaron Ramsey. On the previous point I made – his average position was actually fine, where it should be, it’s just that Flamini played much deeper, creating a big gap in doing so.
The problem is, Ramsey was too erratic, turning the ball over 5 (!) times and playing almost like a forward. I don’t mean his position here – I mean his style of play. If I’m allowed to quote 7amkickoff here:
“The problem is that Ramsey plays like a forward and not like a box-to-box midfielder. He doesn’t pass as well as Cazorla and he doesn’t dribble as well. He doesn’t create for teammates and instead needs teammates to create for him. He also turns the ball over like a forward, shoots like a forward, and while he does tackle a lot he can’t make up for the loss of Coquelin in that regard because he doesn’t win significantly more tackles than Cazorla did.”
Here we are. Yes, Ramsey was positionally fine from first glance (Tim puts that into question in the “By the Numbers” section I linked you to above. Though I think he was talking more about the overall problem, not yesterday). he chipped in with tackles, blocks and stuff, he scored and assisted, yet his other shortcomings were exposed.
Something has to give in our midfield. Yesterday’s loss was as much down to Liverpool’s pressing as it was to our midfield balance. We were overrun and outplayed, while our inability to keep hold of the ball after going in front meant we would have been incredibly lucky to stay in front. We weren’t lucky.
Unfortunately, though we did finally announce Elneny’s signing (the Egyptian may even be available for selection vs Stoke). I doubt he’ll get thrown at the deep and or asked to do what Cazorla did by playing alongside Flamini. That means Ramsey will continue to start games centrally at until one of Wilshere/Cazorla return. Which won’t happen for another month at least.
This means we can only address the other part of the problem – Flamini. And I think that’s exactly what we need to do. We need to put someone more positionally disciplined than Ramsey (MUCH more), who will also be able to distribute the ball from deep (making up for Santi’s absence). Basically, we need a younger Mikel Arteta, because the current one clearly isn’t ready to play every three days.
Whether this man is Elneny (I hope) or Chambers doesn’t really matter. What matters is getting our balance in midfield right and that’s not going to happen with Flamini and Ramsey starting games together.
This draw, however disappointing it is, isn’t the end of the world. City also dropped points (at home to Everton), while Spurs lost (to Leicester, admittedly). It means we are level with Ranieri’s men on points, but maintain a 3-point gap to City and a 7-point one to Spurs.
Our next game takes place in just 2 days and our draw at Anfield means we now have to win at Britannia Stadium. That’s why I sincerely hope we’ll have registered Elneny and got back Alexis and Rosicky by then. However, it’s how Arsene approaches his midfield problem that may just decide the outcome.
Back with a preview