Three Talking Points from Arsenal 0 – 1 Leicester City
Arsenal fell to its first defeat at home in 11 league matches as Leicester walked out of the Emirates with all 3 points. It was result that seemed as inevitable as the lack of production Arsenal produced in the bulk of this match.
When Jamie Vardy entered the fray around the 60th minute with Arsenal failing to break down the Foxes low block, every Arsenal supporter whispered what we all knew, he would score the winner. And he did.
For the Gunners, the loss kept them out of reach of the top 4 in the early chasing and saw their opponents climb into 4th. It also served as a stark reminder that Arsenal are still very much a work in progress.
We look back at what we learned from yesterday’s Premier League loss.
Arteta Shouldn’t Avoid Criticism
In many eyes, Mikel Arteta still is without a doubt the right man for this job and the right man to get Arsenal back to challenging for top 4 and top honors. But he is also very much a man still less than a year into his first managerial job. He will get many things right, but he is also going to get some things wrong.
Patience is not a virtue many football fans are blessed with. Arsenal fans, after the disastrous Emery reign may have less patience than most right now.
Having patience and trusting that things will get worked out, does not mean that Arteta’s managerial decisions cannot be met with a critical eye. He has been more right than wrong, but there are some questions that should be asked.
The biggest issue is doing something about the glaring deficiencies in creating chances in the final third. For the first twenty minutes of the match Arsenal looked like they would finally use their superior possession to some effect as they kept Leicester locked in their end of the pitch for much of that time. However, as the half progressed and they failed to convert any chances, it became evident that Arsenal were devoid of any ideas on how to break down the low block and the chances started to dry up.
Arteta is clear that he understands the need for creativity in the squad, but he has not really done much to address it. Sure, the squad is still significantly unbalanced, and the players are not available to him that needs to play the way he wants to.
Before anyone makes this about Mesut Özil, I personally feel Arteta’s stance is the correct one. If he goes back on the decision to exclude him, then he undermines his desire to establish control over players who ran the roost prior to his arrival. No, in that case he must stick by his guns on the Özil situation.
That does not mean he cannot look for other solutions. Move Dani up in front of Partey and Xhaka and let him make those passes into the final third. Drop Lacazette in favor of Auba up top in front of that and see about putting pressure on the back line with balls behind the line.
If Ceballos is not performing, then why not include Emile Smith-Rowe in the squad and try him as a 10. The club kept the English midfielder for a reason and yet there is little evidence he is going to be used.
Again, Arteta has done more right than wrong. There are tangible signs of progress even from the waning days of Wenger’s time at Arsenal. They are conceding less goals, their structure is sound and individual mistakes are becoming less frequent then they previously were. We’re better on the road and generally we’re competitive.
It is hard to ask people to be patient, especially when things have seemed broken for so long. But patience is going to be needed. The problems at Arsenal are deep seeded and winning an FA Cup will not hide that. It took Liverpool 4-5 years to get to the point they are at now. We’re just about 9 months into the new era and well it is far too early to make any broad judgements like I saw in the wake of the match – specifically those who think Arteta has done nothing of note so far.
Arsenal Are Still Cursed With an Unbalanced Squad
It is quite clear that the persistent use of Lacazette centrally is a move designed to try and exert some value from a player who we paid a premium for and unfortunately cannot offload. Having him and Aubameyang on the pitch together seldom seems to work. Right now, it seems to not be working at the detriment of Arsenal’s attack.
Tim Stillman (@stillberto) said it best – if this were City or Chelsea Lacazette and Pepe too, would like to have been sent out on loans and money spent to replace them. Unfortunately for Arsenal we are not blessed with an oligarch or oil money so we can’t just throw away like that.
As such it means that Arsenal are stuck with players that are not effective in the system and style of play Arteta would prefer to use. And that results in utilizing three attackers who when on the pitch together, clearly do not gel, and for now, we are stuck with them
Lacazette Not Helping Himself
It seems that we are battering a man who right now leads the team in scoring. Well, even though there is some truth to that and even though his early goal was wrongly called offsides, the French forward was frustratingly ineffective.
He ended the night with a 6.56 player rating (whoscore.com) and managed 2 total shots and possession percentage of 1.3% with 32 touches. He managed to win only 2 aerial duels and was dispossessed twice.
In terms of his press it was slow and often his lack of ability to apply effective pressure on the Leicester back line quick enough allowed them to play out and move the ball into the middle and final third. Which became a bigger issue for Arsenal second half in the second half with the introduction of Jamie Vardy.
His touch was lead last night and multiple times it let him down especially as he looked to 1 time the ball to someone . He posed little threat in the box as he spent most of the night outside of it.
Sadly, for the reasons cited in the previous section of this piece, he’s likely a player we’ll continue to see until Arteta finds a solution for our creative issues and balance.