There are number of mysteries following on from Arsenal’s defeat against Southampton and they will be discussed later.
Meanwhile, the fallout from Arsenal’s 22-match unbeaten run being over has been a little unpredictable. I read online that some Arsenal fans are blaming Xhaka, but not Leno for the defeat. That strikes me as strange, Xhaka was playing out of position and putting the team first. While the Swiss has had a roller-coaster season, he has always followed the coach’s instructions, which is pleasing to see.
Leno, likewise, fits into Arsenal’s new style of play, which involves keeping possession at the back for possession’s sake. While I believe possession is nine tenths of the law in football and outside, it is important to do something constructive when you have the ball. This Arsenal team have been guilty of being impotent in the attacking third, with Aubamayang missing three chances of note against Southampton.
However, given the amount of possession Arsenal had, they should be carving out far more chances than that. It was disappointing to see the Gunners pass sideways and backwards more often than the late, great Ray Wilkins of yesteryear.
Crab football has its merits, but it’s not necessarily winning football. To win, you need an incisive passer in midfield and Arsenal lacked that against Southampton.
Guendouzi has it in his locker to deliver the killer pass, but he was preoccupied defensively, as Southampton threatened to run Arsenal ragged in midfield. It makes you consider how important Xhaka is, as the Arsenal midfield looks more solid when he’s in that position. However, it also makes me think that the midfield’s effectiveness relies somewhat on the defence behind them.
Against Southampton, it was extremely makeshift and almost random. Why employ Xhaka as a left-sided centre back, when he has recent experience of playing as a left wing back? In my opinion, despite conceding a penalty, Xhaka did well as a left wing back, when employed there.
Nacho Monreal has clocked up quite a few minutes as a centre back, so he would have been my choice alongside a rusty Koscielny, who seemed targeted by the Saints for some roughhouse treatment. The sinners from the south coast were mostly getting away with their physical approach, which went unpunished by the referee. At one point, the ref even gave a foul against Bellerin, despite the right wing back tumbling in the opposition box after nutmegging an opposition defender. I’m not sure I would have given a penalty, but it did seem like obstruction. If that’s not obstruction then what is? It seems like indirect free kicks are a dying breed, a bit like the semi-colon, as I don’t remember the last time I saw one awarded. The defender is always allowed to ‘marshall’ the ball out, if it’s going out of play. In other words, he’s allowed to block the player, while not attempting to play the ball. In other words, it’s a case of an unofficial legalised obstruction.
Despite the poor performance of the referee, Arsenal’s defeat was caused in no small part by Leno’s failure to stay on his line. As my dad always says: ‘If a goalkeeper comes out for the ball, he has to get it.’ Well, Leno miscalculated and Arsenal paid for it.
I’m not suggesting Leno should be dropped for a bad day at the office, but it’s no good fans pretending that it wasn’t a mistake: it was a huge error.
The same can be said about Emery’s line-up. Many the fans would have gone for a traditional back four, given the lack of centre backs to choose from. Arsenal could have had a backline of: Bellerin, Lichtsteiner, Koscielny and Monreal. That surely would work better than a back three of: Lichtsteiner, Koscielny and Xhaka. Personally, I would have considered leaving Lichtsteiner out, as he has not impressed me much with his distribution, despite his physical and mental toughness. That’s why I would have lined up with Monreal in central defence instead.
Another mistake Emery made was starting with Iwobi. The Nigerian wideman has improved under the new boss: he’s gone from not-good-enough to still-not-good-enough. That may seem harsh, but Iwobi would not be snapped up by a top four Premier League team.
Strangely, Arsenal legend Paul Merson said the same about Torreira, but I totally disagree. To me, the Uruguayan is one of the most effective central midfielders in the Premier League. He’s recently added goals to his game and what I’ve always loved is his tenacity and how he plays the simple pass quickly. If more Arsenal player has moved the ball around faster, the result at St Mary’s could have been so different.
Instead, Arsenal looked languid. That’s not surprising given the rustiness of Monreal, who set up Mikhitaryan for the first goal, and Koscielny. On the back of that goal, many claim Mikhitaryan was one of the positives in the defeat. I beg to differ as I don’t really know what function he has in the team. He’s neither destroyer or creator, so what does he offer? Luckily for him, against Southampton he chipped in with a brace, although one took a wicked deflection.
Another talking point was Lacazette. Why is he always on the bench nowadays? My guess is he has an injury and Emery is trying to protect him from damaging himself still further.
One of the biggest mysteries of all was why was Ramsey not introduced? The Welshman is in form and although his future lies away from the club, he played with his heart on his sleeve against Spurs and made a difference. Was Emery saving Ramsey for the forthcoming quarter final against Arsenal’s hated rivals? We shall see on Wednesday.
I would suspect that Mesut Ozil will be absent from the above fixture. Although he played against Southampton, it is hard to imagine a more anonymous performance. It was almost as if Ozil was wearing an invisibility cloak, which shows that even in a bad day he sti has a certain amount of wizardry about him.
One thing is sure, Arsenal can win games without Ozil and they can lose with him in the line-up, as was proven once again. My prediction is Ozil will be on his way in January.
Meanwhile, the fans will soon forget Emery’s dire team selection should the Gunners defeat Spurs in midweek. Emery will want to win a trophy in his first season and the Premier League title is a mission impossible this time around. Should Emery get it right against Arsenal’s rivals, at least the supporters will have double the bragging rights and a semi-final to look forward to. That’s the bigger picture and a short-term setback is no big deal in the greater scheme of things.