Arsenal Audit: December 2016 – Part 1
By Neil A. Fry, Arsenal Audit
Analysis of last month’s matches
As we reach the year-end and look back on the season so far, with the New Year’s Day match marking the Premier League season half-way point, we can happily acknowledge signs of progress - a more experienced and deeper squad and stronger spine; new signing Shkodran Mustafi has added pace to the central defence and there has often been more offensive pace and movement; Monsieur Wenger has adopted modern pressing tactics, the contre-presser, and his patience after moving Alexis to a (false) no 9 position has been well rewarded (which will be examined in Part Two), with the deposed Olivier Giroud providing a more than useful Plan B, usually from the bench. Nevertheless, after Arsenal’s typically poor November return, Arsenal Audit questioned - for far from the first time since 2004 - both the players’ mental strength and Monsieur Wenger’s ability to truly compete in an ever-evolving game. With a new breed of younger elite-level managers now attracted to key rivals, Arsenal’s manager seems as far as ever from getting beyond the comfort zone of a top-four Champions League qualification finish and actually win the Premier League again. Five significant barriers were highlighted – August’s start of the season; November; coping without Santi Cazorla; Monsieur Wenger’s enduring passivity over game management, and substitutions.
As usual, Part One revisits the matches to tidy up loose ends and flag up some prevailing themes for further analysis in Part Two. These include examining several further barriers Monsieur Wenger may need to overcome if he is to look back over the season with genuine satisfaction when he ponders his future reign in the Spring. The articles were submitted for publication before the Bournemouth match.
West Ham United 1–5 Arsenal
Francis Coquelin was paired with Granit Xhaka again for the first time since the draw against Tottenham Hotspur ushered in Arsenal’s traditional November woes. His interception high up the pitch put Alexis Alejandro Sánchez Sánchez through to set up a Mesut Özil tap in before the false-9 scored a top-quality hat-trick. The last seemed inspired by his co-conspirator’s winner at Ludogorets, and another a novel and outrageous dummy before he slotted the ball home. Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continued in the wide positions and the latter added a quick riposte to eventual, after long teases, substitute Andy Carroll’s goal. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s well-hit curling shot from more than 20 yards provided further evidence that Monsieur Wenger’s bizarre prohibition of long shots has been well and truly jettisoned. Along with Ignacio "Nacho" Monreal Eraso on the other flank, he got forward well but both wasted several good positions with poor crosses. Our intrepid Editor made the very good point that there is less of a target without Olivier Giroud (not that Kevin was necessarily clamouring for his return).
FC Basel 1–4 Arsenal
In the last five years, the Swiss champions downed Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool in their last three Champions League home matches against Premier League clubs. The loss of players didn’t help their chances of a repeat and former midfielders Granit Xhaka started and Mohamed Naser Elsayed (Elneny) came on as subs as Monsieur Wenger rotated to very good effect. Not for the first time, the six changes came once Alexis and Mesut Özil retained their central roles. With Francis Coquelin suspended, Xhaka was joined by Aaron Ramsey as the ‘2’ who had a steady diligent but unspectacular game succeeding in 54/60 passes, three out of four tackles and eight ball recoveries. The much more influential Xhaka had a pass ratio of 104/111. In marked contrast to Notorious November, Arsenal were fast out of the blocks and pressed well, and two players took full advantage. An excellent Kieran Gibbs continued to press his starting claims and had a hand in three goals. All of them were scored by a very effective fox in the box, Lucas Pérez Martínez, who was moved wide (right) but happily inhabited his natural space created by Alexis’s false-9 movement. Alex Iwobi, having been publicly outed by Monsieur Wenger, Mourhino-style, over his finishing, scored the other with a tap-in care of Mesut Özil putting the ball on a silver salver. The tie was effectively over when Lucas scored his hat-trick goal two minutes after half-time, yet Monsieur waited until the 70th and 73rd minutes to give mainstays Alexis and Mesut Özil much needed rests and ensure they avoided injury.
Having surrendered control of the group, the 10% chance Monsieur Wenger suggested Arsenal had of topping it duly eventuated, and he could proclaim his conscience clear. Others would disagree. It was the first time Arsenal had gone through the group stage unbeaten since their great run to the 2006 Final and the first time they had topped their qualifying group since the 2011-12 season. Then they still went out in Round 16 having lost 4–0 to AC Milan in the first leg (before a trademark near-fightback in the second leg). Arsenal’s reward for first place this time is an even trickier tie - Bayern Munich. There was an element of reward; second place would have drawn Barcelona. Nevertheless, having only just regained top spot from the Bundesliga’s Leicester, RB Leipzig, Bayern aren’t quite the force they were since Carlo Ancelotti took over from Pep Guardiola. Perhaps playing the first leg away may suit Arsenal more than at home, where they have been guilty of a tactical naivety and been picked off later in the match after overcommitting. Nevertheless, Arsenal would need to up their game markedly from the two legs against Paris Saint German, and a number of other woeful European performances over the last few seasons, to have any hope.
Arsenal 3–1 Stoke City
Following the very successful midweek rotation, Monsieur Wenger, true to form, reverted to the West Ham match starting line-up. With his Champions League suspension out the way, Francis Coquelin was reunited with Granit Xhaka as the ‘2’ and, with Santiago Cazorla González out long term, many hoped Monsieur Wenger was warming to the idea of their being the best option – for most matches, certainly Arsenal Audit hoped so. Hector Bellerin returned from injury promptly, replacing the injured Skhodran Mustafi after just 25 minutes and Gabriel Armando de Abreu moved to his natural position. A typical Hector run down the right ended with a perfect cross for Theo Walcott to slot home clinically at the near post for his tenth goal of the season. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain floated a longish ball in and Mesut Özil lobbed a header in over the caught-in-no-man’s-land goalkeeper. Alex Iwobi, emboldened by his midweek goal, finished superbly and provided Arsenal’s Premier League record sixth goal of the season from a substitute. At last Arsenal, if only for a day, accepted an invitation to go top of the Premier League.
Bucking the consensus, Monsieur Wenger thought the decision to award Stoke a penalty after Granit Xhaka’s elbow made contact with Joe Allen was wrong. The worry was that, in the cold light of day, he might reconsider and, in the light of Xhaka’s historic disciplinary record, have further doubts about him. Thankfully, Xhaka was to retain his place midweek and by the final match of the month ‘Coq-Xhaka’ had been the ‘2’ for five successive Premier League matches.
Everton 2–1 Arsenal
Everton, after a bright start to the season under new manager Ronald Koeman, were on a poor run. Arsenal started well, pressed well, and Alexis (with help from Ashley Williams) scored from a free kick outside the box after high presses from Xhaka and then Coquelin, who drew the foul. Arsenal were in control and the Goodison Park crowd quiet. For once this season, the usually diligent Theo Walcott tracked back too late to stop the cross going in and the other full-back headed in unopposed a minute before half-time. In another unfortunate echo of last season, Arsenal had failed to see out the end of a half they were in control of, and the second half was very different. Everton were more physical and went longer, Arsenal’s press evaporated again. Both Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain had quiet matches but weren’t replaced until 71 minutes. But, again, Arsenal were exposed at the back and conceded late in the half. Arsenal were outmuscled up North and starkly exposed. Winter had come. Up North, down South, over the water, and, whether the manager of Everton, Southampton, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven or AZ Alkmaar, Ronald Koeman has a remarkable record against Monsieur Wenger. In 12 matches the Arsenal manager has managed to mastermind just two wins (4-1 v. Alkmaar and 1-0 v. Southampton) and three
Manchester City 2–1 Arsenal
Back on 18 January 2015, Arsenal won 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium. To Arsenal Audit’s great surprise, Monsieur Wenger, having apparently bowed to the concerns of his players, had travelled north with a clear tactical game plan to neutralise the opposition - defend together as a team and strike on the counter-attack. The ‘Coqzorla 2’ was born with Mesut Özil and Theo Walcott staying on the bench.
Hitherto, Monsieur Wenger’s philosophy had been to concentrate on Arsenal‘s own game rather than trouble himself with what the opposition might do – despite often disastrous consequences. Arsenal diligently maintained two deep defensive lines to deny Manchester City space and displayed resolute commitment to beat the in-form Premier League Champions who had won ninr and drawn three of their previous dozen games.
After Pep Guardiola‘s good start with his new club, Manchester City’s home form had seriously waned and the affable and urbane, but hard to please, manager had received much criticism from pundits for his characteristic raft of tactical tinkerings. Added to which, four key players - Kompany, Aguero, Fernandinho and Gundogan -were missing. Monsieur Wenger had a clear tactical plan similar to last time - two lines of 4 and 5 sitting deep inside Arsenal’s half denying the home team space. This time, Alexis was alone up front, not Olivier Giroud. The contre-presser was largely set aside and Petr Čech also seemed to have been instructed to kick long, normally an anathema to the manager. Arsenal Audit’s concern was that with only an occasional press and long goalkeeping kicks the much-maligned Frenchman may be have been more suited as a pressure-releasing outlet and possibly more (a role that also may have been useful at PSG). Just like the Everton match, Arsenal had the best of the first half and were largely in control. This time the lead - care of two lovely soft touches and a good fourth-minute finish from Theo Walcott - wasn’t surrendered just before half-time. It was surrendered just afterwards. During his half-time pep talk. Guardiola tactically readjusted and moved their biggest remaining star player, Kevin De Bruyne, to a central position alongside Silva, and Sterling and Sane were moved to their more natural-footed wings. He explained “we played more without a striker, more like two number 10s to play behind Francis Coquelin and Granit Xhaka, to make the movements outside and inside.” Monsieur Wenger’s response came 20 minutes after the restart - a like-for-like swapping of the two Alex’s (Iwobi with Oxlade-Chamberlain). Super-sub Olivier Giroud was made to wait another ten minutes. Monsieur Wenger’s old flush had been quickly busted once he revealed his hand and he had no tactical answer to his highly-regarded adversary. Arsenal had, in eight days, gone from top to trailing the leaders, Chelsea, by nine points.
Arsenal 1–0 West Bromwich Albion
Monsieur Wenger stuck with much the same team that had lost the last two. Olivier Giroud replaced the newly-injured Theo Walcott and, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain still injured, that ironically meant that, inverting our Editor’s point, Arsenal now had a target man up front but no winger to put the crosses in! In their absence, full-backs Hector Bellerin and the rightfully-recalled Kieran Gibbs got forward well – with the latter excellent (until he went off injured after 70 minutes). Perhaps he may be more suited to the high pressing game? Granit Xhaka, regularly shooting from distance, and Francis Coquelin returned to operating higher up the pitch. West Bromwich Albion were set up with effectively six at the back and a line of three in front. Tony Pulis - in his trademark cap, white trainers and tracksuit - showed that even old dogs can prowl the technical area barking orders. There was plenty of forward movement from Arsenal, but just one first-half shot on target. Monsieur Wenger, elegantly Lanvin-suited, largely confined himself to his Citroen seat, flailing his arms in frustration.
With as-ever admirable honestly, the arsenal.com commentators informed supporters that the 45 to 70-minute period was one in which Arsenal often struggled. There was, however, much more urgency right from the restart and Arsenal had ten more shots on target; eleven was the most of their Premier League season. But Foster played like Forster in goal and continued to frustrate Arsenal. Whereas the website Le Grove has almost become dedicated to the denigration of Francis Coquelin, Arsenal Audit very much believes in his attributes and what he brings to the table. Nevertheless, was there really the need for two holding midfielders in games where much inferior opposition came with the inevitable game plan of parking the bus? The first tactical substitution was Lucas Perez for Alex Iwobi after 70 minutes and last season’s plan B was activated after 75 minutes, as Coquelin was replaced with the more offensively creative Aaron Ramsey, who had two good chances, but again failed to score. Olivier Giroud saved Arsenal again with a fine looping header after out-muscling the defender when a much more influential Mesul Özil floated in a perfect cross. A desperately-needed win was cemented with Arsenal’s last clean sheet since 13 matches ago, in October, against Reading in the EFL Cup.
In Part Two, tomorrow, Arsenal Audit examines the varying contributions of the contractually-uncertain star signings Alexis and Özil; squad rotation; game management; Arsenal’s record against key rivals; and, finally, their seemingly fading Premier League prospects.
10th January 2017
User Comment and Reaction
User comments on this article are now closed. If you want to continue the debate, why not do so on the Gooner Forum.
Deighty 15:50pm 10th Jan 2017
Oh why don't you just f_[< off with these belated pathetic match reports - Post No. 102578
jeff wright 16:30pm 10th Jan 2017
Ozil was stating the obvious when he said that AFC ( otherwise now known as Arsene Wenger Football Club) should be aiming higher than just a top 4 finish every season. Nothing more needs saying really - so why the circulars >? Let's just stick to trying to get that anomaly sorted and leave out the regurgitation of old match reports dressed up rather clumsily to try and make it appear that Monsieur Wenger is actually better than what he actually is. Neil if you think that Mustafaruckwithsomeone has improved our defence then you obviously need a visit to SpecSavers . He is awful and so is Granite both ,along with Lucas, were a waste of money by Wengo.By the way the 'pressing game' is not a modern tactical aproach AC Milan and others employed the pressing game donkeys years ago . Wenger really should give it a swerve he is tactically braindead and never has been able to work out how to play tika taka. Or Cludeo either he's good at Monopoly though he always keeps a get of jail card up his sleeve he often needs one to help him out. Tbh I couldn't see any sign of any pressing against Preston and in reality it was just their poor finishing that saved Wengo from another embarrassing defeat.However, I see it all as just being a postponement of the inevitable it will happen as sure as night follows day and tock follows tick. Wenger a modern pressing game manager ! Blimey you couldn't make it up. - Post No. 102580
Mark 17:06pm 10th Jan 2017
I personally dont mind if Ozil and Wenger leave with eachother. I like Ozil but I dont like Players or Managers who put leverage on the Club. Let them both go and start afresh under Simeone come mid May. - Post No. 102581
Mad Monk 17:07pm 10th Jan 2017
bba or whoever you are not sure what you're on about ??? Less of the 'son' though you're not my dad and regardless of how we may disagree on Arsenal thing's don't ever go there again! - Post No. 102582
bba 19:07pm 10th Jan 2017
Just asking if you are "bloggs" . BELL end has lots of aka's. You sure you've not got one son. - Post No. 102584
mbg 19:08pm 10th Jan 2017
Yet another long drawn out bore fest (just like you messiah's interviews)I doubt if anyone has even read it bar the first para on something we already know about and are aware off (and having long forgotten) having been long reported on by professionals, no doubt copied and pasted from such, and there's a part 2 ? Don't give up the day job. We want wenger out. - Post No. 102585
Bonzo 19:30pm 10th Jan 2017
BBA : 1:) alright son, alright son, I give it out arrght son, I'll have yer ears. Son, yer takin liberties! 2:) Yer think yer big man yer full o' pish,away an bile yer heid! 3:) Shee't blud yer messing in d' wrong enz bro. And that was BBA's guide to how to be Keyboard hardened warrior. Next week BBA will mainly be inspecting his scrotum for worrying signs of deflation. Thank you and good night. - Post No. 102586
mbg 20:02pm 10th Jan 2017
jj, your dead right mate, old Teflon weng always seems to have a get out of jail card doesn't he, and a knack of producing it at the right moment/moments stretching back seasons, (how many times has it saved his arse) at the minute it's the carthorse trotting to his rescue waving it, just as the warder is about to slam the cell door shut. wenger and Ozil out. - Post No. 102587
bba 20:08pm 10th Jan 2017
And big, brave, bell end bonzo will tell the world how he ducked, yep, ducked out of the time for change part 2 demo. Black scarf movement anyone???? Laugh ?????? Nearly spilt ma Jameson's whiskey over the floor. - Post No. 102588
Arseneknewbest 21:15pm 10th Jan 2017
'Kin 'ell. Things are bad enough in gooner world with bournemouth, preston, sir jamoeba of the leeking helmet and the chihuahua without inflicting another of these tedious "audits" upon us. We get it mate, you carefully cut out so-called reports from the tabloids for a month and then regurgitate it on here with no insight nor originality. Ger-fecking-roan....where's that cyanide tablet? - Post No. 102589
Bonzo 21:31pm 10th Jan 2017
BBA - see your winning friends and influencing people see post 102582. Your personality really is the most effective contraceptive. - Post No. 102590
bba 22:30pm 10th Jan 2017
Bell end. Post of the year is 102330. That's 102330. And you know it. I'm waiting. - Post No. 102591
Arseneknewbest 23:03pm 10th Jan 2017
Shut it Jamoebbaleekie, you old ponce. You've no right to demand anything of anyone on here thicko. You'd be better off spending your time learning about what Arsenal were like before your chihuahua headed mate wrecked everything. Either do that or try to make amends for being so horrible to your own kids. - Post No. 102592
mbg 23:14pm 10th Jan 2017
We can happily acknowledge signs of progress, (anyone who believes that will believe anything and we know plenty who do)just signs ? no definite progress ? and who's we ? and would that be in the last week ? month ? year ? or the last 11 years ? I remember hearing something very similar (no surprise there)from the same wengerite bulls***e/spin department eight or nine years/seasons ago and every season since, and we're still hearing it from AKB wengerite apologists, when the truth being told we've made no progress whatsoever under this old clueless excuse for a manager, in fact the truth is under that time we've actually regressed under him and become a laughing stock. You couldn't make it up, but we know those who do. wenger out now. - Post No. 102593
Bonzo 23:38pm 10th Jan 2017
BBA - you've been outed by the sites guvnors as Jamee, not just by me and by the detective work of our good friend ArseneKnewBest. A classic troll you hop on some point like the little whittle toothed PUG you are, a nice fit for Jamee's (Jasmine to his friends) handbag. You are one and the same. Admit it. Meanwhile awright son, you messin sunshine! Oh it's just like the old times with Old man Colesey . Yer bleedin mug aren't yer... Jesus ! Ps: think Colesey is doing a stretch for ripping off his fellow pensioners hence don't hear from him anymore. - Post No. 102594
Bard 8:51am 11th Jan 2017
Neil, these audits are really 'a statement of the bleeding obvious' punctuated by the odd opinion. Whilst this site occasionally gets hijacked bv Jamerson and his countless alter egos for the most part the contributors know their stuff. You need to up your game a bit to get taken more seriously and initiate a debate. - Post No. 102595
bba 8:51am 11th Jan 2017
Still waiting - Post No. 102596
Arseneknewbest 9:43am 11th Jan 2017
Hey Jamoebbaleekie - Were you that group of sex workers performing golden showers on each other in Trump's Russian hotel room? No wonder your suffolk swamp caravan is rusty if that's the kind of thing you "all" get up to. Jamee=bba=leekieman=wobby = the 1 and thnkfully only remaining akb on this site. Turn the light off when you leave, you bigoted bas. - Post No. 102598
jjetplane 11:39am 11th Jan 2017
The Gospel according to WobbleeJameeLeekieBba. So quaint having a caravan for a wacky fundamentalist chapel of hee fire/I beg you to burn .... The Crazy world of Arsene Wengo. - Post No. 102602
Bonzo 13:35pm 11th Jan 2017
JameeBBA - what you waiting for? Arsene to win the title? Or hang about win the Champions League? - Post No. 102606
Bonzo 13:45pm 11th Jan 2017
The AKB Guide: Jamee - the Donald Trump of Arsene supporters. A religious nutter who's God conveniently goes along with all his dodgy behaviours. Jamee is now estranged from his family and children. His role is to act as slave master of BBA and Leek. Purports to support Arsenal but is apparently retiring from the club in 2017 BBA - The yapping PUG occasionally released from Jamee's handbag. Continually demanding WOBs create potentially violent protest. Yet strangely reluctant to mention any protest or action he has taken part in (none) similarly can (handle) himself from the safety of his bedroom. Currently and foreseeably living with his mum. Leek the Squeak - surprised some with his tales of standing on the North bank watching George Graham's Arsenal. Squeak writes like a 5 year old so the above assumption should be questioned. Loves Arsene in a sexual way. May have some form of frontal lobe disorder as continually repeats Wenger must stay. Lives with his mum. Amos - missing feared cyber dead. The AKB chief accountant. Liked nothing better than waffling on about Arsenals financial structure. Reportedly now supports Aldi supermarkets as the return on investment figures made him wet his pants. Lives in Harpenden with wife (also an accountant) no children (to expensive) Reverend Brian Badarse - missing feared cyber dead. A Quisling obsessive, and supporter, marcher, protester (see BBA contrast). The Rev B'darse seemed to go through political upheaval, rejecting left wing causes and instead moving extreme right possibly similar to Horst Mahler ex Bader Meinhof gang. Reportedly living in Utah with the Aryan nation. Coleseyboy - missing feared cyber dead. Not actually a boy as he's aged 72. Apparently an ex footballer. Accused everyone of being a MUG. Unfortunately Colesey believed that single OAP's often with large savings pots were the ultimate MUGS and operated a door knocking campaign charging £10,000 to replace roof tiles. Luckily he was caught and now resides In Wandsworth prison. Westie - missing feared cyber dead. Arsenals surprise 3-0 win against Chelsea and a bastard who charged him £10,000 to replace roof tiles has wiped out Westie's gambling pile. The only Arsenal supporter who weeps when we win. Westie is now sadly potless. - Post No. 102607
mbg 18:22pm 11th Jan 2017
Bonzo, thanks for that, lol, cracker. - Post No. 102622
15th January 2017
Online Ed: Arsenal win comfortably at Swansea