Here it is 2 matches into the fledgling season and well, we’re all pretty much right back where we were at the end of last. Any sense of optimism that may have creeped is gone and has been replaced with acceptance of a pre-determined fate. That’s what you get when you lose 1-0 to Stoke.
Let’s look back, as painfully as it is to three things we learned from Stoke v Arsenal.
The Loss Lays Solely at Wenger’s Feet
If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know that I tend to be an equal distributor of blame for Arsenal’s woes. If players are to blame, they should be called out on it. If it’s the owner and club hierarchy and. . . if it’s the bleedin’ manager, he gets called out too.
To me this loss falls squarely on the feet of the manager and it has to do primarily with the set up of his side going in to this match.
As expected, Arsene persisted with his 3-4-3 shape. Nothing too dramatic there but it wasn’t the system he was employing as much as it was the people he put into the system. Out of the back 3, only one of them was true a center back – Mustafi. He who just came back from a long layoff and a short pre-season.
For his other 2 in the 3 at the back he chose Monreal for the central position and Kolasinac at the left. Now, alone these players in their natural left full back position are on their day some of the most solid players available. In fact, Kolasinac with his ball handling skills, strength and awareness belongs in this squad but as a wing back not as part of the back 3.
Monreal for all his skill, isn’t a central defender. He’s solid as a defender but this isn’t his role. Add to this the fact that he played Bellerin as a left wing back and Ox as a right wing back and simply put, too many people were played out of position to create any semblance of consistency of play or cohesion.
After that his sub decisions left me scratching his head. None more so than taking Xhaka off. Iwobi takes his spot and the team shifts to a 4-2-3-1. Why not right? It got us the win last week (the shift in formation that is.) But two things happened.
First, taking off Xhaka forced Ramsey to sit and stay deeper, taking away one of more effective attacking options on the day. For much of the first half and up until the substitution, Stoke did not and could not pick up the runs that Ramsey was making. Forcing Ramsey to stay deeper took that away.
Secondly, let’s talk about Iwobi. He is a talented youngster but he played too passive. He wasn’t effective moving off the ball looking for space. Instead I counted 3-4 different times where he was
in front of the player with the ball and just held his position rather than move into space. A couple of those times was when he was framed by two defenders on either side. This “safe” play blunted our attack.
Finally, we knew Stoke was going to sit back. In the first half we seemed prepared for this. As we got them deeper in their zone, we started making outside runs and had midfielders looking for it with nice looping balls over the top. Quite a few times we got back only to have Butland make a stellar save.
Stoke goes up 1-0 right at the start of the second half. Now, they haven’t offered much of an attacking threat and we should be calm and stick with what has been working but we don’t we abandon that movement behind the line and look for passes through the middle which plays into a congested defensive unit’s hands. Why Wenger didn’t have his team just continue with what was working is beyond me. But it essentially took away our attack – for the most part.
Wenger made this worst by his post match comments criticizing his defenders. Well, all I can say is that he’s the one who set them up and as manager your job is to set them up for success. You did not do that in this match and this loss is clearly on you.
Özil will not be Özil Until We Have A CM who Can Get Him the Ball
I am not afraid to admit it but I am and have always been a Mesut Özil fan and I was stung the day he went to Real Madrid versus us. I was also ecstatic that he came here.
Now he is not without blame, he doesn’t defend. Well, he does and sometimes it comes off (rarely) other times he can’t be arsed. But even without that he is a player every team would love to have provided they have a player behind him who allows him to play his game.
Since his arrival in England he has been maligned for being too sanguine. There isn’t one aspect of his game that hasn’t been criticized. His creative presence and ability goes largely ignored by English punditry who persist with the view that if you aren’t “putting in a shift” you aren’t worth it.
Fact is we have not been playing to Özil’s strength. We’ve forced him to alter his game and it has had an effect on him.
When Özil is at his best, he is drifting between the opposition midfield and defensive line, looking to exploit the space, pull out wide and attack inside with a moment of skill. Or he gets the ball in that space and breaks down the opposition with wonder pass that finds a forward moving into the box with a shot or cross.
The problem is we aren’t allowing him to do this. Without a true CM in the squad who can get him the ball he suffers. He has to come back deeper to get the ball and then is forced to dribble past a defender. Now, he has enough skill that he might get past, but for the most part the play breaks down when he comes deep because he’s not playing to his strengths.
Before Santi Cazorla went off injured last season, Özil looked like he was set for another standout season. Because Cazorla was that link that Özil desperately craves so that he can do what he does best.
If we’re not willing to find a replacement for Cazorla and are going to persist in forcing Özil deeper, we might as well cash in on him so he can ply his trade – correctly – elsewhere.
The Ref Was Awful
I never get into the ref affected the outcome of the game arguments. Because if you are depending on the ref to insure you get a result you are missing the many other opportunities the ref didn’t have an impact and the team missed its chances.
However, Marriner was just atrocious – as was his line judge.
Lacazette should be sitting on 2 goals. The flick from Giroud was made with Lacazette’s body clearly in an onside position. The goal itself was sweet and should’ve stood.
Let’s also not forget the at least two penalty shouts that could’ve been called, the most obvious being the take down of Bellerin in the box.
My personal feeling to this was that Marriner effected the match he called last week with a red card. I got the feeling he didn’t want to make calls and therefore kept silent. But by trying to avoid effecting the match he does quite the opposite and has a hand in it’s outcome.
The standard of refereeing in the Premier League continues to drop and Marriner’s performance is another perfect example of how bad it is.