Arsenal Audit: January, 2017 - Part One
By Neil A. Fry, Arsenal Audit
Analysis of last month’s matches
In the December Arsenal Audit, 15 significant barriers to Monsieur Wenger’s winning the Premier League for the first time in 13 years were highlighted:
• August start of the season
• Coping without Santi Cazorla
• An enduring passivity over game-management, particularly against the newer breed of modern managers
• Record from half-time to the 70th minute – immediately after Monsieur Wenger’s half-time team talks
• Late and tactically-mediocre substitutions
• Insufficient rotation to keep players physically and mentally fresh,especially given the demands on players in operating the high press (contre-presser)
• Overcoming teams managed by Ronald Koeman
• Away matches against overtly physical teams/up North/managed by Allardyce and Pulis
• Overcoming teams managed by Mourinho
• The new breed of mangers that employ the high press, not least Guardiola, Klopp and Pochettino
• A terrible record against key Premier League rivals
• Overcoming Antonio Conte’s Chelsea’s points difference
• Balancing the competing demands of Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup fixtures coming in quick succession
• Late season implosions (2008, 2010 & 2011) when Arsenal do manage to mount a title challenge
Arsenal Audit’s sustained evidence-based scepticism of Arsenal’s title-winning prospects under Monsieur Wenger has been clear from its first audit, published in August 2011, to its long single audit of the 2004 to 2012 period and then more recently. As with the review of last season - the first for onlinegooner.com - it has questioned Monsieur Wenger’s kindly and prosaic tutelage in an ever more demanding elite level game. Nevertheless, Arsenal Audit has always been happy to acknowledge whatever positives can be found – it prefers them, as any Arsenal supporter should. As our intrepid Editor said of the Southampton match, “games like this can only be enjoyed.” This season, Arsenal’s more experienced and deeper squad and stronger spine was acknowledged, although this was under-utilised because of the insufficient rotation. This month was also to test the offensive improvement that had resulted from this season’s added pace and movement and the success of moving Alexis to be a (false) no. 9. The last day of the month’s Watford home match is held over to Part 2, which had been largely written on the evidence of the previous six matches. It was to prove a microcosm of the issue and the first half certainly could not be enjoyed by any Arsenal supporter.
Arsenal 2–0 Crystal Palace
After making two enforced changes for injury and illness (Kieran Gibbs and Mesut Özil) Monsieur Wenger rotated just one player, Francis Coquelin for Mohamed Elneny, just before he departed for the bi-annual Africa Cup of Nations. Lucas Perez was the beneficiary, playing on the right, with Theo Walcott still injured. There were no natural wide players to service his remaining beneficiary, Olivier Giroud, but again the full-backs got forward well. Surely, as at Basel, Lucas would profit more alongside Alexis when he is operating as a false 9 and inhabiting his vacant space? Aaron Ramsey was the fall guy as the 20-year-old Alex Iwobi was preferred in the 10 position the underperforming Welsh star so covets. Again, the youngster was good deputising for Mesut Özil and he scored his third goal for Arsenal with a close-your-eyes schoolboy header and Palace’s pub-team defending providing most of the game’s festive entertainment, which will last in the memory for the much-maligned Olivier Giroud’s widely-discussed scorpion kick.
The kick actually finished off an excellent team counter-attacking move – started by the much-scorned (by Arsenal Authentic! after his arrival) Lucas Perez and his customary Vardy-like work-rate and harrying. He won the ball with a sliding interception around 25 yards out in the central right channel which fell to Hector Bellerin who passed to Giroud, deep inside his own half. Giroud played the ball to Granit Xhaka with a lovely back-heel flick and Xhaka passed to Alex Iwobi who broke out of Arsenal’s half and found Alexis breaking down the inside-left channel. Alexis stopped, looked up, cut back and slightly misplaced a right-footed cross into the box just behind Giroud, who had galloped forward for the spectacular finish. The contrast between Perez’s tracking back and the end-product and Aaron Ramsey’s tracking back at the same juncture of the following match could not have been starker.
AFC Bournemouth 3–3 Arsenal
Two days later, Arsenal provided the neutrals, but not Arsenal supporters, with 96 minutes of considerably better festive fare. Just like the festive period last season, it was another bad trip to the south coast – but even more disastrous in terms of a title challenge. With the match coming just 50 hours after the previous final whistle, Monsieur Wenger complained of a “most uneven Christmas period”. Francis Coquelin replaced the out-to-Africa Mohamed Elneny, and Shkodran Mustafi returned from injury. Ramsey’s place in the pecking order was highlighted by Iwobi retaining the number 10 position and Ramsey bodged to the right. His very different approach to Lucas’s diligent tracking back and interception resulted in a very different sting in the tail. Hector Bellerin, in perhaps his poorest match of the season, had been sucked towards the ball and the other flank, and with the right flank completely exposed with Aaron Ramsey day-dreaming a very long way away, Bournemouth scored. Five minutes later, Granit Xhaka conceded a needless penalty by simultaneously bundling over and clipping the heels of his man who was in a harmless position. Bellerin was too easily bundled over himself and a shocking Arsenal were 3–0 down within the hour. Alexis scored after 70 minutes and there was hope. He ran straight into the net to collect the ball and force a quick restart. With two more injuries accrued, the tactical substation came on 63 minutes with Iwobi being replaced by Lucas Perez, who scored a superb second five minutes later. Both were assisted by Giroud who started again, and he scored the equaliser after 92:05 minutes.
Four minutes and maybe more injury time remained, with Bournemouth down to ten men. Giroud headed off to the left channel for an elaborate scorpion-themed frolic with Gabriel. Whilst his contribution to rescuing a point is clear, what the occasion really wanted was same the response as Alexis. The rest of the team had quickly retreated and those on the same flank - Perez, Monreal and Oxlade-Chamberlain (with the ball) - frantically gesticulated and managed to get him back for the restart. The time wasted could have lost one last attack. Monsieur Wenger concurred. He could understand why the striker wanted to celebrate, but said his focus should have been on attempting to win the match. "Yes, of course (I would've preferred for him to get the game restarted). Of course, I understand both because at 3-0 down in the head of the players the game is lost, but ideally you want the guys to take the ball and put it in the middle of the pitch." Following on from last month’s look at Alexis as a false number 9, Arsenal Audit examines the more traditional French nombre 9 in part two.
Preston North End 1–2 Arsenal
FA Cup rotation, beyond the goalkeepers, was largely dictated by injuries. Ainsley Maitland-Niles was offered little protection in his ongoing Bellerin-style redevelopment as a right back, and the pairings of Gabriel and Shkodran Mustafi and the enforced ‘2’ pairing of Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey didn’t gel. After an abject first half in terms of commitment and individual and collective defensive chaos, Arsenal were lucky to go in at half-time just 1–0 down and Monsieur Wenger’s remarkable record of never having gone out in the third round under threat. Last month, Arsenal Audit highlighted this season’s terrible statistical Premier League record from half-time to the 70th minute. There was to be no repeat this time and Aaron Ramsey scored his first goal of the season within a minute of the restart with an excellent shot from outside the penalty area. Once again, care of a lovely Lucas back-heel, Olivier Giroud (who started again and was Captain) came to the rescue late.
Aaron Ramsey, in the post-match Sky interview said “I’ve played in the Championship and I know how difficult every game is. They proved that in the first half and it took us by surprise. The level of commitment and effort, we didn’t match that.” Giroud concurred, “Surprised… yeah. I don’t know but they put a lot of intensity in the duels and the team was beaten physically.” As did Monsieur Wenger, “We were caught cold in the first half by the enthusiasm of Preston, and their quality as well”. WHY? It was the game of the season in what was surely the perfect tie for the 11th-in-the-Championship club who were the first FA Cup winners and first Invincibles.
Swansea City 0–4 Arsenal
Swansea City went into the match having won three of their last five matches against Arsenal, but were 19th in the Premier League and it was their new manager’s first match. Paul Clement would have been pleased with the first 35 minutes as, once again, the high press was turned on Arsenal to very good effect. But the fluency, pace, movement and coherence that had been so lacking reappeared, as Arsenal counter-attacked from midway inside their own half and the much-maligned Olivier Giroud scored for the ninth successive time starting. Arsenal came out after the break with real purpose again and twice Alex Iwobi elicited own goals, running the midfield with a returning Mesut Ozil feeling his way back in. Iwobi‘s strong run holding off his marker enabled the other Alex, a substitute for Giroud, who had been struggling with a minor injury even before his goal, to cross for Alexis to score. With Arsenal’s first Premier League double over Swansea secure, he was wisely rested along with Özil after 79 minutes. Monsieur Wenger’s cultural stereotyping cannot excuse Alexis’s much discussed poor reaction.
Arsenal 2–1 Burnley
The returning Francis Coquelin was wisely kept on the bench, in favour of the second ‘2’ Aaron Ramsey, in a match against Burnley whose woeful one draw and eight defeats away was a mirror image of their remarkable home form that had secured them a safe mid-table place. The decision to retain Gabriel and not the returning Hector Bellerin was rather less fathomable. Shkodran Mustafi took two elbows in the face and was denied a penalty, but headed in a Mesut Özil corner within minutes of the denial to put Arsenal in control …until ‘2’ Granit Xhaka clumsily lost control of the ball, and his head, and invited his second red card for Arsenal, his ninth in three seasons, and a four-match ban that may threaten his hard-won role as an automatic starter. Remarkably, Monsieur Wenger confessed that his £35m star defensive-midfield signing lacked the competencies to tackle properly and said he “would encourage him not to tackle … he's naturally not a great tackler and in his decision-making … it is more the way he tackles that is not convincing. He doesn't master the technique." A re-energised Burnley scored in the second minute of injury time care of the substitute ‘2’ Coquelin’s own miscontrol and clumsy challenge. Monsieur Wenger, in denial of a clear penalty, was also sent off, by the fourth official, and responded by man-handing him and refusing to retreat deep into the tunnel. Yet a stooping Captain Koscielny returned to haunt Burnley controversially late again after, from an offside position, he was kicked in the head. Alexis took the penalty kick, this time unopposed by his colleagues, and - in marked contrast to previous Arsenal efforts - coolly reprised his winning Panenka penalty from the 2015 Copa América Final. Arsenal’s remarkable record of late decisive goals this season continued – previously Southampton (win, Cazorla pen 90), Burnley (win, Koscielny 90), Ludogorets (win, Özil 88), Manchester United (draw, Giroud 89), WBA (win, Giroud 87), Bournemouth (Giroud 90), Preston (Giroud 89).
Southampton 0–5 Arsenal
Both teams were beset by injuries and made ten changes from their last Premier League match with further fixtures the following Tuesday. Whilst Holding, Maitland-Niles, and Reine-Adelaide started for Arsenal, Southampton had a much more youthful team, and of the largely reserve team that put Arsenal’s own reserves out of the EFL Cup, only five remained. Arsenal’s stellar performance could hardly have been more contrasting to the last Cup tie. Yet the midfield was so makeshift, Monsieur Wenger was forced to depart from his sacrosanct 4-2-3-1 and played a good old-fashioned 4-3-3, albeit the excellent Ainsley Maitland-Niles sat deeper in what seemed more like a 4-1-2-3. Jeff Reine-Adelaide, as in the last Cup tie, looked a little short of the requisite physicality for this level, but looked technically adept. The no-longer-so-youthful Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain put in a stellar performance in the centre, well and truly orchestrating events. Danny Welbeck looked like he had never been away and celebrated his first start of the season with two goals and Theo Walcott took the match-ball home. Lucas Perez also looked very much the Arsenal part again, and made his lack of Premier League starts - just two - all the more mystifying. Not as mystifying as bringing on Alexis after 65 minutes with Arsenal coasting at 3–0, with the match on Tuesday and the must-win (for anyone left with title pretensions) Chelsea away game on Saturday lunchtime. Insanely irrational, our intrepid Editor came up with the only fathomable explanation - a sweetener as contract negotiations remain ongoing. Sadly, it will take more than the local Sunday League approach of nearly always giving him a game and the Arsenal banner of his beloved dogs Atom and Humber.
In part two, we examine Arsenal’s offensive improvement, Olivier Giroud’s role and the Waford microcosm; we return to the British core and also look at rotation, game-management and tactical approaches before Arsenal’s title prospects were rendered all but mathematically over following the 4 February defeat.
Duelling lack of intensity:
Catching a surprise Championship cold:
7th February 2017 11:09:50
Comments 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.
Redshirtwhitesleeves 12:10pm 7th Feb 2017
How about this for an audit- we are up s*** creek without a paddle and everyone knows it except for those in power who either refuse to acknowledge the fact or for those who know it but are far too comfy and snug and making loadsamoney from keeping the old fool in charge. It effing stinks - Post No. 103705
Yes its Ron 12:43pm 7th Feb 2017
Stronger spine? Ive seen stronger spines in garden snails than there is at Arsenal. Edin Hazard showed you what he thought of the strong spine last week end. It meekly rolled over and its embarrassing. Sanchez is the best imagianry centre fwd we ve ever had and in my view is only any good provided hes playing v poor to average teams. Hes a make do CF and plugging a gap like so many players have at AFC this last 10 yrs. - Post No. 103707
GSPM 13:45pm 7th Feb 2017
Auditzzzzzzzz, wake me up when Wenger has gone. While our form is so predictable, I don't really see the need for audits. Most fans are ahead of the game and know exactly what Arsenal have achieved (or not) Best thing is to stop Audits, until Wenger leaves and there is something New to report, for now, you can copy & paste the last 10 seasons and the Audits will be the same.....Respect for taking the time to write them but are they really needed at this time ?? - Post No. 103709
TonyEvans 13:58pm 7th Feb 2017
With all due respect to the writer I really do not see the point of picking the bones out of individual matches. As GSPM says we all know the script after so many years of the same old mistakes being made and lessons never learned, and the 'audit' is hardly likely to tell us anything new. - Post No. 103710
Alsace 14:14pm 7th Feb 2017
I was watching Sky Sports News last night and they played Paul Merson's comment, of this time last year that this year would be a repeat of the last. Dare we hope that the media will this time have some spine and indeed vitriol of its own and drive him from office? Some hope. The supine acceptance of this man's continued reign amongst old pro's is very sad. At least Merson, Souness and Keane are saying it how it is. - Post No. 103711
Deighty 14:44pm 7th Feb 2017
We will finish 6th this season and the old fool will probably stay. If he does decide to do us all a favour and do a runner I will guarantee our board would have done no prep work into who will replace him, probably leaving it to OGL who will ensure his successor is a failure to feed his own ego. My club is a joke right now. By the way I do believe we have a squad of players that should be able to compete, we just need to get rid of the tosser leading them. - Post No. 103713
Yes its Ron 15:14pm 7th Feb 2017
Deighty - agree yr first point. I think Fergie did that with Moyes ie recommended a feckless flop so to paint his own time in a fantastic light. These ego maniacs do it all the time. I dont agree that a new top Coach would get a massively improved show from that squad. Its an average , lightweight and some what cowardly squad, but good for top 4 only at its best, thats why Kroenke keeps T.O.F .It meets his needs at an acceptable price to him. Alsace - agree mate. Those 3 arent the kind to bother if they lose a bit of good will from AFC by saying it as it is. A lot of hacks and journos are dependent on the Club for access and patronage so they play the neutral card, those 3 could nt give a f--k. The=yre not journos, just there to proffer a view. - Post No. 103714
Paulward 15:51pm 7th Feb 2017
Ron Dont agree our squads not good enough. Conte can take Chelsea from 10th to champions but couldn't have taken us from second to champions? Don't believe it for a second, our players are weak and inconsistent for one reason only: Wenger. - Post No. 103715
mbg 16:42pm 7th Feb 2017
An Analysis of last months matches ? what the fook for ? Another pointless and meaningless drawn out so called audit. wenger out now. - Post No. 103717
Paulward 17:53pm 7th Feb 2017
May aswell knock out February and March audits while we're at it , so here goes. Arsenal exit champions league at last 16 stage, Arsenal exit FA cup (quite possibly to Sutton, the worse result in our history), Arsenal lose at Anfield after a limp wristed no show. There you go, think that should just about cover it. - Post No. 103721
markymark 19:08pm 7th Feb 2017
This maybe the dumbest question of the decade but I'm presuming "Yes it's Ron" is Ron? I'm stuck with a boyband style name that may have worked 12 years ago but there you go. In a way the Arsenal audit does serve a purpose in that when we do finally change manager we can look back and shake our heads. A bit like looking back from GG to the horror othe early 80's and mid 70's. I'll say one thing a new manager will have his own ideas and players. Of course he'll have to work with what he's got but who's to say that Theo or Ox might be changed into pragmatic footballers? Certainly there's flair aplenty that won't be an issue it's backbone and you need around 4 minimum to go to war each game and prefarably 6-7 and the rest can be a bit fancy dan. Arsenal under a now forgotten Wenger and Chelsea probably had around 8 in the side. At the moment we could barely muster 2. That is the beginning and end of the issue in my opinion. - Post No. 103722
Kvltman 19:20pm 7th Feb 2017
Why not go further and simply do a season audit in August? No title. Top four finish. CL exit at round of 16. Limp exit in domestic cup. As soon as the pressure is off, finish season strongly to keep Wenger in a job. Repeat until the day the manager decides to leave (not anybody else). - Post No. 103723
Paulward 19:37pm 7th Feb 2017
The idea that you need a team full of physical players and that we don't win the league because we don't have them is a myth. Hazard , Fabregas,Moses, William to name but a few are not exactly hard men and look at Chelsea. Moreover I don't think Montreal, Xhaka , Coq or Gabriel are incapable of mixing it if required. We don't win because our manager is technically and motivationally deficient. - Post No. 103724
markymark 19:49pm 7th Feb 2017
Paulward - we are continually out muscled by Chelsea also rotational foul. United always turn up the physicality with us and we melt. Fabregas is a player who can mix it. Losing him was a major blow. Arsenal are seen as a soft touch. Even the press tactic on Arsenal is a symptom of this, we simply have no security ready to cynically mix it allowing our flair players to operate. Case in point Everton away. - Post No. 103725
Paulward 20:11pm 7th Feb 2017
Marky Possibley, but you can hardly look at someone nowadays without getting booked, so I don't really subscribe to the notion that we are being kicked off the park every week. We lost the Everton game for example through awful marking in the box, and not for the first time. If it's down to physicality then West Brom or Stoke would win the league every year - Post No. 103726
mbg 20:16pm 7th Feb 2017
PaulWard, that's all it takes, no need for a drawn out meaninless essay, he can copy that of you now too. wenger out. - Post No. 103727
mbg 20:32pm 7th Feb 2017
Kvltman, yes that would be much easier and save us all the aggro, but the problem is these AKB wengerite goonies who write these silly audits, circulars, and blogs etc, etc, actually still think every season is going to be different and things are going to change. It's not right laughing it really isn't. - Post No. 103728
Gaz 22:16pm 7th Feb 2017
I can't/won't micro analyse any game until Wenger leaves. His future is the only thing that matters to me right now and obviously I hope it's a real short one. - Post No. 103730
Arseneknewbest 23:11pm 7th Feb 2017
Markymark - As the rapidly diminishing akbs might say, be careful what you wish for. Markymark was much cooler when he was known as markymark and not Mark Wahlburg as is currently the case. Try a bit of east coast, vest-wearing, white boy gangsta-rap - house of pain seems a suitable model not least as a way of describing our plight at the moment. Time to get that old skool tracksuit and adidas shell toes out of the wardrobe mate. "Yes, it's ron" is definitely the "ron" of former times. A lot of people on here talk good sense about our club and ron/yes it's ron is uppermost among them thankfully. Peace out brothers - I'm off to put my beanie hat on and get the run DMC album out. - Post No. 103731
markymark 8:12am 8th Feb 2017
Arsenalknewbest - all too true, perhaps a revisit of 90's soft rap artists is due on bbc4 with tearful recollections of those involved. Bonzo served his purpose and Markymark will stay! Onto Arsenal matters, we've had Myles Palm-off run sensation pieces "Wenger will sign this week", or "Wenger has already signed!" I suspected at the time it was the old beat-off (sorry beatniks) journo tricks to build up hits on his site, he's dropped this story like a stone and I have no reason to change my view on it. The question I'd ask is, if we've got contract issues with players and we were on a really good run, why did they not then do a public announcement then. I actually believe him in that it is a decision for the end of the season. It's very nuanced though with shades of either Kevin being right, or it is entirely up to Wenger. For what it's worth I still go for Kevin's view simply because I've heard it as well. I'd also draw a parallel to any of us who leave a job where we have been on good terms for a number of years . It becomes a bit push / pull until an expectation builds up and then you start to realise they've planned for you not being there! - Post No. 103732
Yes its Ron 10:51am 8th Feb 2017
Hi Marky - its me mate - Ron. Have no fears. For some reason i couldn't get back on without changing the name a bit. - Post No. 103736
mbg 17:10pm 8th Feb 2017
Gaz, spot on simply nothing matters about this club any more results, winning, players, etc, etc, only getting rid of this past it arrogant old fraud, and if he does disgracefully sign another deal it will be the same, nothing will change it will continue, until he's finally gone.wenger out now. - Post No. 103757
16th February 2017
Online Ed: Wenger further away from Champions League glory than ever