Before the game I genuinely thought we would see the Gunners respond to last week’s injustice at the Emirates. The rested during midweek squad started fully, with just one, rather predictable, exception: Mertesacker for Mustafi. It’s a change a championed myself to a degree in my preview, though it still came second after switching to a back four.
I take it back. Drop Mertesacker. Never play him again in the league. No, seriously. The German is retiring at the end of the season. Play him in Europa League, opposition allowing, or in cup games. In the league we have a fight on our hands, and Per doesn’t seem up for it.
We could have been three behind in six minutes. Imagine conceding three goals to a team which scored 15 in 16 games, a team without even a proper striker until last game week. We could have easily done that against that one striker.
Charlie Austin put away his first and, mercifully, only goal, on the 2nd minute already. He then was played through only for his shot to be well saved by Cech, before crashing another strike off the post after the offside was given. The offside which wasn’t, by the way.
The common denominator for all three? Per Mertesacker. Our experienced defender got roasted for pace for the former two scenarios, and was too slow to spring an offside trap for the latter. The German seemed terrified, and absolutely unable to deal with Charlie Austin’s pace, and the striker wasn’t even the fastest player on the pitch, he wasn’t by a landslide.
Taking back control
We have somewhat recovered from Southampton’s early siege, and took back the ball to try and come up with some threat of our own. Key word here is “try”. We looked lethargic and absolutely off the pace. One dimensional, out of ideas how to overcome Southampton’s organised resistance.
The best chance of the first half actually happened from our corner, when a fast breakaway allowed Sanchez, Lacazette and Ozil to get into acres of space, only to squander this brilliant opportunity to equalise. I don’t want to take anything away from Hojberg’s recovery tackle on Lacazette, but 3-vs-1 we should have done better.
Apart from that we only had one decent shot, from Aaron Ramsey, well-saved by Forster, but actually looked closer to conceding than scoring. Redmond’s pace, coupled with Tadic’ inventiveness and Austin’s poacher instincts could have easily seen us punished. Especially in conjunction with sloppy play from Xhaka and Bellerin.
Second half and Alexis Sanchez
It was more of the same. We had a bright spell in the first 10-15 minutes, but then reverted to looking vulnerable on the break and slow in possession.
Both Xhaka and Mertesacker were hauled off on the hour (not in that order), and on the 72nd in came Olivier Giroud, replacing Lacazette. That change was surprising to me to say the least. Alexis Sanchez was looking a far better candidate to be subbed off.
Someone counted Alexis Sanchez losing the ball 32 times today. I counted 27, and that includes misplaced passes. The number may be higher because WhoScored has Alexis at 0 dribbles – but I’m not sure whether it’s 0 attempted or 0 completed.
Either way, Alexis looked dreadful. He only had one shot (free-kick, well-saved by Forster) and that was it. He did have 3 key passes though – more than anyone at Arsenal (Ozil had none!) – and the eventual assist for Giroud, but that was about the only good thing he did. To the naked eye it just looked like the Chilean lost the ball every time he got it.
At this point Wenger should seriously consider dropping his star. Alexis Sanchez is devastating when on form – he is a liability off it. He plays on his own, not as a part of a team’s fabric, which can be forgiven when the Chilean contributes in the final third. Right now he doesn’t, so I’d rather see Welbeck given a run.
Ramsey and Xhaka
It feels like this partnership has played its last game for the foreseeable future. With Ramsey it’s rather straightforward – the Welshman pulled his hamstring in the latter stages of the game. I’ll be surprised to see him play again this calendar year.
With Xhaka … Well, he’s been woeful. He is not a player for the final third, which is alright, not everyone in the team of eleven is, but his sloppiness in less advanced positions has been a worry since the very first game of the season.
The Swiss has become careless with his passing, too many of which end to a fast break from our opponents, and he is not a good defender when forced to face his own goal. He is slow to track back and he can compound the issue by making a recovery slide tackle look worse than it was.
When taken together, Ramsey’s and Xhaka’s problems spell “Wilshere”. It is almost beyond doubt the Englishman will finally have a run in the side starting on Wednesday, the only question is who is going to accompany him in the centre. I’d put my money on Francis Coquelin to provide defensive security with Jack playing the “Ramsey” role. Xhaka’s ass should firmly be on the bench in the near future. Even if Ramsey returns prematurely.
Koscielny and Bellerin
Our de-facto skipper had another sub-par performance it’s safe to say. Laurent too, like Xhaka, was involved in some careless passing, but what worries me more is the Frenchman’s recovery pace.
It seems to have dwindled greatly. It might just be a sign of fatigue, so I would definitely rest him this Wednesday. Hopefully Mustafi returns to assume one of the central spots, and hopefully Wenger reverts to a back four and fields Monreal alongside Mustafi. The Frenchman might even recall we have certain young English centre-backs left to kick heels in London yesterday!
Jokes aside, back four or no back four, with Mertesacker’s awful performance and Koscielny’s ongoing Achilles problems, Wenger should really start to actively involve Chambers and Holding. Both are the future of this position at Arsenal, both have shown they can be quite good indeed, and we will need both next season for sure.
As for Hector Bellerin, one thing stuck out to me: how one-footed he is. Even more, Bellerin appears to be plain average when it comes to passing. His dribbling allows the Spaniard to get out of squeaky situations, but he cannot always rely on that. Yesterday it was painfully obvious how uncomfortable Bellerin is with his left as he was forced, time and again, to go back or square the ball with better passing options up front.
The situation is such we have no competition at right-back, not that I’m advocating dropping the Spaniard too. But it is something worth pointing out for me, and worth working on for him.
The last word
Before watching the Merseyside and the Manchester derbies I would have said a draw against Southampton is unacceptable. “We can’t really afford to drop any more points, it will seriously hamper our top four chances.”, was my reasoning. Now, however…
Today’s results mean we are just a point behind 4th-placed Liverpool and 3 behind Chelsea. We are also just a point better off than Tottenham and Burnley, true, however we are still hanging in there. Which is not bad all things considered.
However it quite obvious we got away with a bad performance yesterday, courtesy of a late header from Olivier Giroud. Hilariously enough, not long into the second half, as the crowd starting chanting his name, I tweeted this:
I welcome that change though. Giroud deserves a lot of respect, if not love. What I'm saying is that he won't necessarily help if thrown on
— Alex (@The_Tsar_Cannon) December 10, 2017
And then Ollie came on and scored the equaliser, equalling Ole Gunnar Solskaer’s record off the bench for one club – a record of 17 goals. When asked about Giroud’s playing time in the presser, Wenger said this:
“He will start more games. I believe as well it’s always the same when you have many good players, some of them cannot play. The question you get is always why does the guy who is good not play? Because if you take him on you have another guy who is good who will not play, it is as simple as that.”
Seeing as Lacazette is continually taken off, I assume Alex does not still have the endurance to play full games at the same level. So I think we will see the two Frenchmen rotated during the busy Christmas schedule.
That’ll be it from me for now. Hopefully back here to cover West Ham, but in case I’ll be busy – see you for the weekend game.