Post Match Review
Three Things We Learned from Olympiakos 1 – 3 Arsenal
Arsenal are off to a flier in the next round of the Europa League. However, even though the score was an impressive 1-3 win over hosts Olympiakos, the win was anything but easy.
In typical Arsenal fashion, the Gunners contrived to be the masters of their own demise through a self-inflicted goal that made the tie much more frantic than it needed to be. We look back with a wistful eye and run through the Three Things We Learned.
Own Worst Enemy
Against Burnley this weekend, Arsenal managed to dominate a team they should have by all rights sufficiently dominated. Only down to a horrific mistake were Burnley able to force a draw. They weren’t even in the match, and even though they looked a little more confident after the goal Burnley weren’t a threat at all.
Fast Forward to last night and guess what, they did it again. Arsenal were completely dominating the hosts. The Gunners dominated the play with purposeful possession and chance creation. The fact that they hadn’t been up 3-0 by the end of the first half was a sign that things still need to be worked on in the shooting department.
Still, things were flowing and maybe they wouldn’t cock this up. But alas, no. This is Arsenal after all. Sure enough as spring turns to fall, Arsenal contrived to steal defeat from the jaws of victory.
Continuing to stick to Arteta’s preferred style of playing out of the back, Leno makes a pass into the recently brought on Ceballos. Ceballos, fluffs the ball at his feet as he looks to get a touch away from the nearby defender. The move results in a quick turnover. Not in itself a bad thing except for the fact that Leno had been pushed up and now was off his line.
Leno is able to get back but the attacker has too much time and space to take a shot and there is a lot of goal for him shoot at. Leno can get hand on it but because of his backward movement to get back on his line, his saving hand is behind him rather than attacking the ball and the ball goes in.
Forget who you want to blame, that’s irrelevant here. There are breakdowns like this by almost every player in the squad on a regular basis. It’s probably the most infuriating thing about Arsenal right now. They are not being outplayed by many teams, but they continually find ways to let teams stay in matches.
The psychological part of the game is something that can’t be managed. You either have it or you don’t. For the most part, it seems the assemblage of players don’t have the mental acuity to close out matches. They don’t have it within them to be consistent for an entire 90 minutes. And that is why they are in the position they are in the league.
There is still a lot to do with this squad. The goings out are still going to be monumental this summer and we just don’t know what the comings in will look like. But whatever the movement is, they simply have to get players with the right mental profile to play with a level of consistency to see out matches.
Until Arsenal can do that, or the players we currently have assembled can do it, then Arsenal are going to have many more matches that look like last night but with results similar to Sunday and possibly worse.
Improvement Being Seen
While Arsenal did do everything to throw this one away, let’s not overlook a fact that in terms of play, Arsenal were actually quite good.
Prior to the festive period and during that long run of loses and poor performances, the Gunners could never play a game with any fluidity or sense of purpose when on the ball.
Passing angles, support around the ball, movement and creativity were all things NOT associated with Arsenal. Then something happened. Whether it’s the introduction of the young hungry players, a switch to the 4-2-3-1 or just people just started to play, Arsenal started creating more.
In the league, Arsenal suddenly became one of the top 4 sides in the league with results from the festive period through now. And in Europe they looked very much like they did last night.
Arsenal’s attack was well balanced last night. It looked like we identified our left side as a way to get behind the Olympiakos back four. Tierney was clearly faster than anyone designated to defend him. But we weren’t making that the entire focal point of the attack. In terms of balance Arsenal was using the flanks with equal prominence
For much of the season pre-Boxing Day, Arsenal xG for hovered around 1.2 mark. Since then they are averaging around 1.6 (does not include Burnley or last night’s game). In terms of xG against, pre-Boxing Day we were hovering around 1.4 mark and since, around 1.0 to 1.2 mark.
Now we all agree that stats don’t tell everything. But with the context of the improved attacking impetus of Arsenal and the defensive structure put in place, the facts are starting to add up that under Mikel Arteta we’ve turned a corner.
As the manager would be quick to add, there is still a long road to go but looking at last night in terms of the intent and purpose of the attack, Arsenal certainly started looking like something of a side that could play with some flair on a regular basis.
No Rest for the Weary Saka
I can’t think of a single Arsenal fan that doesn’t love Bukayo Saka. His emergence has been a revelation and he keeps getting better and better. When he surprises you with one thing, he surprises you then with something completely different.
The problem is, his meteoric rise is leading perhaps to an over use of the lad. Its clear Arteta trusts him and depends on him but the last few games, his overall play is looking less crisp and his making errors. His turnovers sit at around 2.4 per game. The good thing is that he typically has the ball in a far advanced position so the impact is minimal on threats to the Arsenal goal.
It’s time for him to maybe get some time on the bench. Let him play as an impact sub for a match or two and let ESR or Pepe play for him. The worry I have is that overuse is likely to lead to more than just a few turnovers, it could lead to a longer-term injury.
Of course, players can be persuasive and tell the manager they are ready to go, but Arteta and his staff must have an eye towards the kid’s health.
People will lambast Dani Ceballos for his turnover that led to a goal, but can we at least appreciate that man knows how to celebrate a goal. Whether its at the FA Cup or the eventual winner that would secure last night’s win, the man’s celebrations are epic.