Well, that was a bit better, wasn’t it? The Gunners, back on home turf, finally managed to get their hands on three points, despite a somewhat underwhelming performance. In the end a moment of sheer brilliance from Mesut Ozil separated the two sides, however that doesn’t mean the game was devoid of other interesting bits and bobs.
Let’s get down to those, shall we?
The back four
While our restrained, and, to a certain extent, wasteful, performance in attack made us look sit through a squeaky bum time, the defensive effort over the last two games shouldn’t be ignored.
Sure, we faced West Ham and Newcastle, teams hardly renowned for their goal threat (both rank in the lower half of the table in key metrics. As well as the table itself!), it appears the switch to a back four made us defensively more solid.
Over the last two games we managed to concede very few shots on target (indeed, the fewest in the league – just two); allowed no big chances (again, best in the league), and, unsurprisingly, have the lowest expected “Goals Conceded”. Both game we kept clean sheets in too, albeit Chicharito’s shot still gives me nightmares. Interestingly, it didn’t count as a big chance.
Now, of course it’s a team effort, and playing a Christmas tree formation should give your back four better protection, but interestingly, I found that none of Xhaka, Wilshere or Iwobi, racked up particularly noteworthy defensive numbers.
I’m more than a bit at odds with Wenger playing the same back four, for more reasons than one, however it has paid off so far, so my hat is doffed to our French manager. This, by the way, leads us to…
Just when I thought the days of spelling Szczesny or Oxlade-Chamberlain were oven, Maitland-Niles moved into the first team picture.
On a more serious note, however, our youngster had an exceptional game. He was energetic and inventive in the left-back position, and came very close to scoring after a mazy run. After the game Arsene Wenger was full of praise for AMN:
“I believe he is the future. He can play left back, right back, central midfield. Of the three positions, maybe the least natural for him is left back, but he adapts very quickly and is a good defender. He has that sense of one against one, he is very strong, he is very quick, he has very quick recovery runs when he comes back. He has some aspects to learn: experience and he has to work on his heading. But overall, what he has done in the last three days is positive.”
Positive indeed. I can give you his numbers, but those aren’t particularly impressive. Not because he hasn’t done well, but because he just wasn’t under much of a kosh. He dealt with everything thrown his way, I especially liked AMN’s physicality, but he wasn’t tested every minute of every game.
I can’t help but wonder where it leaves Kolasinac. The Bosnian’s arse has been firmly glued to the bench those last two games, and frankly AMN has done enough to be kept in the side. There is a slight hitch of Liverpool coming up though, with the prospect of AMN going up against the most in-form player in the league – Salah. Perhaps Wenger would be better off protecting the youngster from a possible “Chambers vs Montero” scenario? Not that I’m filled with hope Kolasinac or Monreal have what it takes to completely shut out Salah. Monreal was skinned against Pool lately, Kolasinac’s defensive awareness is actually his weak spot. Tricky.
There have been calls to play AMN in his more natural position of a defensive midfielder, and I wonder whether this idea has merit. Xhaka has been in dreadful form lately, misplacing passes to put us under pressure, and I’ve an advocate of dropping him for quite some time. We’ll see what Wenger cooks up against Pool.
The magic of Ozil
After a quite dreadful performance vs Southampton, it’s fair to say Mesut Ozil made up for it in the last two games. His involvement in our attacking schemes has been huge, on top of the wonder goal the German scored.
Ozil leads the league by some distance in lots of metrics demonstrating his involvement in the attacking play: touches inside the opponents’ ⅓, pass completion, chances created etc. That is quite a feat if you look at what Man City’s midfield is doing, especially the ease with which they tore Spurs apart. And still Mesut Ozil is the best creator in the league, by a landslide.
Sure, he is not as prolific in terms of goals this season as Sterling or Sane, he is not as good at the actual assists as KdB or Silva (which is down to his partners in crime really), but he is still a creative machine. He churns out chances at the best rate in the league, at 22 minutes (if you discard four players who, combined, completed only 86 minutes this season).
It is becoming clear as day the German is essential to us. We need to keep him much more than we need to keep Alexis Sanchez, a sentence I would have laughed at at the end of last season. Yet here we are.
The last word
It was important for us to just win, and we got the job done. It allowed us to move up to fourth. A temporary arrangement if Liverpool wins today, but either way there is not much in it. Something we knew before.
We should have Theo Walcott and Shkodran Mustafi back for the midweek cup clash vs West Ham, and hopefully this allows some of our regulars to get a rest. First of all I have Koscielny in mind, the Frenchman (can I call him an Arsenal legend already?) looked laboured and heavy-legged once again, but fought on stoically.
Jack Wilshere should be rested too, given he completed two 90s in three days. Some thought should be given to allowing breathing space to Monreal, Bellerin and Xhaka. I’m sure Wenger will rotate heavily this time around though.
All in all, while our attacking verve wasn’t quite there yet (we’ll have to rediscover it for the Liverpool game), for the third time in a week we produced a mature performance, this time grinding out a win and successfully hanging on to our slender lead. That’ll do for now.
Back with you soon. Have a good one.