So, our winning streak came to an end yesterday. While it was obvious this would happen at some point, and I fully realize we don’t get to pick and choose, dropping points at home to a team 17th in the table is hardly ideal.
In the preview I talked a bit about how important it is to win points here and now, before November kicks in. November is always a low point for Wenger teams, and by “low point” I mean “1.6 point per game on average in the last 20 years”. Besides, this time around we face Spurs, United and PSG on top of lesser teams like Bournemouth and Ludogorets. And we are perfectly capable of shooting ourselves in the foot even against the latter two.
I don’t want to sound too gloomy, maybe this is the year Arsenal turn their fortunes around and storm through November like … errr … storms are bad things. And I’m bad with metaphors. Anyway, there’s no reason for our standards to slip just because a certain month is on the calendar, however the calibre of opponents we face worries me.
As does the fact we dropped points ahead of these clashes. I’d be amazed if we beat both Spurs and United, hence our draw vs Boro is unlikely to go unnoticed in the long run. It is what it, however. I guess I should stop fiddling my thumbs and try to analyze what happened and why it happened.
Not incisive enough
That’s my main gripe today. Despite spades of possession (75%), we somehow managed 2 fewer shots than Boro, and only one more on target. Frankly, I’d be lying if I said their chances were in any way inferior to ours, because they weren’t.
Indeed, Aitor Karanka’s men had four big chances to our one. Cech saved three of those (Traore’s shot from one-on-one, Negredo’s effort from the rebound, Gaston’s point-blank header), with number four irrelevant (it was the one where Negredo failed to control the ball following Gaston’s free-kick). Our only chance? Alexis’ shot from the free-kick.
It is not good enough, and Arsene knows that:
“We had a lot of the ball, in the modern game it’s maybe not enough to win the games. We had 75 per cent possession but we didn’t have our usual pace in the combination or enough sharpness in our movement.
“We lacked a bit of creativity today and then you can have a draw or even lose the game.”
The Perfect gift fr a Gonner this Chritsmas
And the problem? Quite simple: we had four attacking players instead of five. Elneny, who slotted in for Cazorla, did so only on paper. He created only one chance for a teammate, himself took one shot (a spectacular long-range effort, but wide) and played even deeper than Coquelin.
Elneny is a good player. He is a sound passer (95% completion), he is energetic, he is always open for a pass. He doesn’t shy away from defensive work. But, if I’m to borrow Tim Stillman’s phrase:
“The Egyptian risks falling into the ‘jack of all trades and master of none’ category. While he rarely wastes the ball, he is possibly too conservative. The Egyptian can keep a midfield ticking over, but does not stamp his personality onto a game as his competitors for a central berth can. You would be happy to hand him your house keys, but you would not back him to pick a lock or break a door down. He is pretty much the ideal squad player, which is great for Arsenal, but maybe less so for Elneny personally.”
Or, to use a simpler phrase from Twitter:
“Elneny is a strange player. Literally does nothing wrong, but then he doesn’t seem to do anything at all.” – (@GoonerGordo)
I’m not blaming Elneny for the draw, by the way. He is who he is. His style may well evolve with time, but everyone knew what we would get with him, and we got exactly that.
The problem is that our midfield chose an awfully inconvenient time for a break. Xhaka’s suspended, Ramsey is *still* recovering, Cazorla got a kick on Wednesday, while Jack Wilshere is on loan. I do feel justified including Wilshere here, because I have opposed the decision to let him go from the off.
Could Arsene have done something different? The answer is “yes”, but playing Iwobi or Ox or even Ozil in the deeper role would have shattered Elneny’s confidence. Besides, Elneny is only natural central midfielder out of these four. However as I’ve said, he’s not good enough against a low block, and that impacted the result.
The last word
Funnily enough, the draw sees us go top of the league, at least till City plays their game. Spurs dropped points away to Bournemouth, while Liverpool’s narrow win over West Brom means Klopp’s men trail us on goal difference. Chelsea, provided they beat United, will still be behind by a point.
But like I said, the problem is the not-too-distant future. Games vs Spurs and United are looming large, and both teams will be hell-bent to beat us. 6 points looks a big ask from those two games, albeit it doesn’t mean I don’t think we can get them.
However Arsene really needs to sit down and think about our midfield this coming week. I’m not really fussed about the EFL cup, during which the manager is likely to stick with yesterday’s pivot, but unless at least one of Ramsey/Cazorla doesn’t recover for the Sunderland game, Wenger needs to decide how to juggle his pack.
I’ll leave it here. Have as nice a Sunday as possible, and fingers crossed results go our way today.