Ed’s note – This piece was submitted last Friday before the match against Burnley…
I am sure that you will forgive me for saying this, but like London buses, at the time of writing this blog we get no defeats for 22 games then two come along at once. This is not the start to the Christmas schedule that anyone would have wanted but hey ho! The manner of the losses do not give great cause for concern save in one regard. Where the hell was Mesut Ozil? Our iconic world class midfielder has been either non existent on the field or not fit off it, to not have even travelled to lend support is really not good enough for our highest ever paid player at Arsenal. His mind appears to be elsewhere at times. When Mesut is fit and playing regularly then the words of the Carlsberg advert spring to mind. “Probably the best midfielder in the world”
I had alluded to Unai Emery’s style of play in an earlier blog. The playing out from the back is intended to maintain possession and reduce the chances of the transition from defence to midfield to attack breaking down. Whilst we have the quality of players to deliver this technical strategy, we currently lack the implementation skills. Sadly at all too often the midfielder will then resort to a long ball or the defender will switch the direction of play too slowly. Yet the positives of this method when the Gunners employ this style well are fewer backward passes. Opponents have reacted by assuming a pressing formation, it is then down to the technical ability and confidence or lack thereof of the receiving player.
Our keeper Bernd Leno is also used as a sweeper when the back line is caught too high up the field. This is ok but this formation falls down as when illustrated against Tottenham in the League Cup, the pace of the attacking opponents is quick enough to exploit a rapid aerial ball over the top. Under those pressures, our back line of players appear poorly positioned and severely lacking in anticipation, as well as lacking the ability to retreat at pace. Confidence will grow as this method is used as the default. Up the pitch the failure to make more use of possession in the final third is also harming our prospects of winning tight games. Against good sides there simply isn’t the luxury to miss chances and still stay in the game.
Finally the influence of injuries cannot be ignored, as we have not yet had the opportunity to play with a settled back formation since the exit of Mustafi and the recent return of skipper Koscielny. Our troubles have increased since the injury to Hector Bellerin. Yet the youngsters have contributed well in the shape of Maitland-Niles. Without wanting to be too critical, Iwobi needs to concentrate more upon the defensive aspects of his game. Clearly he is a very talented player going forward, but he needs to deliver more when we do not have possession. A question then, is whether Unai Emery is falling into the trap of being predictable by leaving Lacazette out and Aubameyang isolated? Aaron Ramsey can provide an extra attacking option but again we really do need more inspiration in midfield. This is where the loss of Ozil is hurting us so much.
Is there cause for concern? Not really, as this is work in progress and if you had asked me if I would be happy for Arsenal to be in the top six at Christmas at the start of the season, I would have snapped your hand off. Time is on our side and there might well be the fortune of the Europa League trophy on offer. What this last run of unbeaten games has shown us is that fortune favours the brave, but just how disciplined and focused can our players be when truly under the cosh? Well, we have just about held our own against the top four sides so all we have to do is keep the faith Gooners, as the best is yet to come! If we can spend sensibly in the transfer windows and perhaps bolster our defence then who knows what next will be on offer?