Now when a match begins first thing I look out for is defensive improvement from Arsenal. Perhaps ironic given our flaws under Arsene Wenger, whose defense was as rag-tag as it gets in the last few seasons.
With the Frenchman I guess I just gave up at some point. I realised Wenger was unlikely to sacrifice his attack-minded football principles for a little solidity at the back. It’s one of the reasons I admire Laurent Koscielny hugely: in a system which leaves defenders exposed, covering wide spaces, not only did Kos not fade away, he blossomed.
Another problem with Wenger was the football he’s thrown his defense under the bus for was not on display lately. We’ve become stale, predictable and impotent in the last two seasons. Throw in our defensive fragility and you get two deserved finishes outside the top 4.
However that little prelude aside, I was once again on the prowl for defensive improvement yesterday. These hopes were dashed pretty quickly as Calvert-Lewin raced into the penalty box in the first couple of minutes, to be denied by Petr Cech. It was the first of our shot-stopper’s excellent saves on the day.
If people were vying for Leno to start (me included) just last weekend, this time around Cech made a solid case for himself. We know he’s excellent on the line, his reflexes are where they were at Chelsea. Yesterday Cech added some simplicity to his game – hoofing it long when under pressure, minimising the risks.
Did it mean he played out less? Yes. Did it mean we have seen no passes directly to the opposition from him? Yes. Did it make the crowd less nervous? Yes. It also allowed the Gooners to admire what Cech brings to the team when not playing with his feet and it was telling how many called Petr MoM afterwards.
Football fans are fickle, you don’t need me to tell you that. They are, however, willing to be more patient with their team’s players for obvious reasons. And let’s be honest, you don’t have to make a huge effort to like Cech, so it’s much easier to be on his side than it is to bash him.
Cech ended up with 6 saves (some of them spectacular, Richarlison’s long-range effort and Keane’s point-blank header come to mind) and a well-earned first clean sheet. Hopefully he’ll notch some more before we face Liverpool in gameweek 11.
A disjointed attack?
It was easy to gape at our first-half display up front: despite Ozil, Ramsey, Auba and Laca all present, we ended up with just shot on target (from Monreal!) and three overall unless my memory is playing tricks on me. Ironically, none of the former three were playing in their optimal positions, with Ozil stationed on the right, Auba on the left and Ramsey at 10.
The Gunners stepped it up in the second half, overloading the left wing more than the right. The half-wing position is where the first goal came from: while a beautiful solo strike by Lacazette, it was notable he utilised the space between Everton’s right-back and centre-back to drill the ball home off the post.
It was interesting to hear Emery consider taking Lacazette off before that goal. In the end the Frenchman played the full 90, Aubameyang and Ramsey making way instead. I’m convinced Lacazette is in better form currently than his Gabonese counterpart, however we must remember left wing is really not Auba’s forte.
I’m more worried about Ramsey’s and Ozil’s peripheral impact on the game. Yes, Rambo ended up with two assists (one of these admittedly offside), however he was not really in it right until being hooked off, and the same goes for Ozil. I think Emery lamented not having Mkhitaryan at his disposal.
In the end it took us some individual brilliance from Laca and a fat slice of luck when Auba’s goal wasn’t ruled out for offside. Then again, Moss Dross failed to notice a blatant handball earlier, so something about things evening themselves out.
Sokratis injury a worry?
When Sokratis flew into the challenge on Walcott which earned him a yellow and then needed medical attention I was quite uneasy. Of the two centre-halves Sokratis is the level-headed presence in our defense. His recent performances have been encouraging too.
He stayed on for a bit, then Mustafi needed treatment too, so when the fourth official held up the board I was almost sure it was the German coming off. Instead Sokratis did, and afterwards Emery was unsure of the extent of his injury.
A midweek game in the cup against Brentford should give us a better indication, but the idea of losing Sokratis for a long period of time is unnerving. I’m a huge fan of Holding, who came on and did grand by the way, however we are already stretched at centre-half, having to make do without Koscielny and Mavropanos for now. Mustafi and Holding can literally be the only fit CBs for Brentford. Fingers crossed Sokratis will be alright for Watford.
The last word
Another win and the first clean sheet are hugely welcome, needless to say. We have now won 4 in a row in the league and added a Europa League win in there too.
However I’m still worried at quite how busy Cech is on a regular basis, and how slowly, even sloppily, we start our games. Newcastle away was turgid for the first 45, Everton yesterday was little better. It’s something Emery admits too:
“We want to control the game more in the first half, because we didn’t have the ball like we want. We conceded two or three important chances to Everton, but in the second half we spoke in the dressing room about stopping their attacking moments with better positioning on the pitch. Also, individually, each player helped to push more in the second half. I think we only conceded one chance from a free-kick which Petr Cech saved very well and there were no more.”
Well, not quite, Cech was still involved, especially after we let our foot off the gas after scoring the second. No doubt we posed more of a threat up front though.
And for now I’ll take it. We are far from perfect or convincing, but losses to City and Chelsea are still our only dropped points and we know how the game at Stamford could have gone either way.
We are learning on the job, but getting the points on board too. We are slowly improving too and clearly Emery is a good hands-on manager, happy and quick to adjust his team’s play during games.
I’ll drink to that. Enjoy the well-earned win and I’ll be back here for Watford.