Friday
Mar152019

Arsenal 3 Rennes 0: Rennes' tedious game plan flops

I had a good feeling Arsenal would turn this around, although seeing Mustafi on the team sheet did give me pause for thought. Fact is, had Sokratis not got sent off early in last week’s tie, this double-header would have been a cakewalk.

Last night, Rennes inexperience at this level was plain to see. Their manager, Julien Stéphan, got the tactics all wrong. His high press played into Arsenal’s hands, giving them the space to counter. Conceding such an early goal was unforgiveable from their perspective.  Yes, Aubameyang was offside for the second, but you always felt Arsenal had extra gears to shift into if necessary.

As a spectacle, the game was ruined by persistent play acting from both sides, but mostly instigated by Rennes who thought they could get the better of a seemingly inexperienced Latvian referee who wasn’t having any of it.

It soon became clear that there was a deliberate strategy by the French team to run down the clock until the last 10 minutes, when they might hope to prey on Arsenal nerves. To be fair, it wasn’t a bad approach considering Arsenal have a ticking time bomb in Mustafi, but Aubemayang buried Rennes’ dreams following another swift counter in the 72nd minute.

I still feel participation in the Europa League could damage Arsenal’s chances of a top four placing. Both Sevilla and Inter were eliminated last night, boosting the Gunners’ chances, but should the final be reached, we would have to cram 13 matches into 6 weeks of football.

Is this squad really equipped to cope with that volume of games? Especially considering Arsenal’s away form remains pretty atrocious - I get the feeling achieving that Champions League dream ticket won’t be as easy as people think. Still, it's a good test and will reveal more to Emery about his squad makeup.

--

Cech (6): Competent
Maitland-Niles (7): Involved in both opening goals and solid at RWB
Mustafi (4): Did his level best to wreck Arsenal’s chances
Koscielny (7): Performed well
Monreal (6): Solid
Kolasinac (7): Another assist and a terrific block to deny Sarr
Xhaka (6): Nondescript performance
Ramsey (6): Didn’t need to be at his best
Ozil (5): Only provided more evidence that getting rid will be beneficial
Aubameyang (7): Two tap ins and a couple of bad misses thrown in
Lacazette (6): Had another gear, if needed

Subs

Iwobi (6): His introduction got Arsenal on the front foot again
Mkhitaryan (6): Helped revitalise the performance
Torreira (-): Late introduction

—oo—  

Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.

Monday
Mar112019

Arsenal 2 Man Utd 0: Solskjaer’s luck runs out

Who’d have thunk it? Especially after seeing Emery’s team sheet, with Xhaka and Ramsey playing as holding midfielders – I feared the worst. What’s clever about Emery, however, is the attention he pays to fitness/psychology. He was clearly influenced by Utd’s midweek CL heroics, imagining they might be fatigued, if not complacent, and tested the theory by playing a super-attacking lineup that would come out firing and immediately put Utd on the back foot.

Having said that, you also need luck, and there’s no denying Arsenal had that. Utd hit the woodwork twice in the first half. In between, Xhaka hit a swerving shot that hoodwinked De Gea and made him look rather foolish. The goal gave Arsenal the belief they could do some more damage and I started to become convinced towards the end of the first half that this was where Solskjaer’s luck ran out – rather like when you’re playing Football Manager and realise the algorithm's on your side.

But let’s not forget, behind every big match victory is the one thing every big club needs, and it’s something Emery has given Arsenal in spades – a pair of balls. However panicky and prone to error Arsenal’s defence is, the players fought, scrapped and battled from the first minute to the last. Without that, no win.

The decisive moment came in the 69th minute when Lacazette was given a cheap penalty by Jonathan Moss. There was an argument for it, but let’s face it, if it’d been given against us we’d be fuming. Fair play to Aubameyang after last week’s fluff. Although it remains a risky strategy, he waited patiently for De Gea to move before passing the ball into the back of the net.

This was one of those games that had Emery lost he would have been lambasted for his line-up. Fans want everything both ways, but either way the Arsenal boss should be praised for his attacking intent and instilling a warrior-like mentality into his players.

The reaction to the midweek defeat to Rennes was overcooked, Arsenal had played very well up until they went down to 10 men. When Emery has a full squad available to him, we typically see improved performances. Arsenal’s late-December rocky spell coincided with a catalogue of defensive injuries, and it’s clear that for Emery to succeed in his ambition to attain a top four placing, he cannot afford a repeat.

With that in mind, Arsenal try to avenge their defeat to Rennes on Thursday, but I’m beginning to think going out of the competition might be a good thing. Cramming in tough Europa League double headers between away trips to Wolves, Everton and Watford is going to push this squad to the limit. Trying to juggle both could mean Arsenal end up with nothing.

--

Leno (8): Great to finally have a potentially match-winning keeper between the sticks
Maitland-Niles (7): Poor in an attacking sense but defended very well in the second half and, most importantly, kept that train-wreck Mustafi away from the first eleven
Sokratis (7): Led from the back and threw in a few last ditch tackles
Koscielny (7): Playing next to Sokratis enables him to concentrate on his own game
Monreal (7): Made some crucial defensive interceptions
Kolasinac (8): Attacked like a madman and his crossing was superb
Ramsey (7): Showed a defensive discipline I wasn’t expecting
Xhaka (8): Has improved tactically and is growing under Emery
Aubameyang (7): Pressed and tracked without much reward, but showed composure with the penalty  
Ozil (6): Started the game well, but faded
Lacazette (8): His work rate is immense, and it’s effective. Not a clinical striker, but gives so much to the team

Subs

Iwobi (6): Kept Utd on the back foot
Suarez (6): Would be nice to see him start a game, but hard to see how at the moment
Nketiah (-): Only had a few minutes

—oo—  

Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.

Friday
Mar082019

Rennes 3 Arsenal 1: Emery bungles Sokratis bungle

Arsenal’s Europa League future is already in jeopardy after a 3-1 defeat to Rennes at Roazhon Park. The Gunners scored early with a fluke Iwobi cross that slinked its way in off the far post. For the next 30 minutes, we looked the better team. Lively on the break, without creating much, Rennes tried to counter the counter, but Arsenal were pretty much in control for 35 minutes.

Unfortunately, the Gunner's proclivity for suicide forever hangs on the shoulder like mouldy dandruff. Despite being the most trustworthy of Arsenal’s back four, Sokratis managed to get himself a second yellow for shirt pulling – a turning point that played to all the worst instincts of a team with a weak mentality.

I don’t rate Rennes; they’re 10th in Ligue 1 for a reason. They have some fast, tricky players who usually make bad decisions, but give them 10 men to play against in a rocking stadium that would have been sold out three times over, and suddenly you’re up against a different beast.

A man down, most sides revert to two banks of four with a pacey striker up front, and Arsenal could have done that. Instead, Emery gambled and was punished for it.

However, if there was a touch of good fortune about Arsenal’s goal, they can consider themselves unlucky to concede two out of Renne’s three. Bourigeaud hit the wall with a free kick then slammed the rebound into the top corner from 30 yards, and Rennes later took the lead through a duff cross that flicked off Monreal into his own net.

Rennes third goal was particularly frustrating. Arsenal had managed to create some chances on the break, but Mkhitaryan looked completely out of place at RWB and Siliki shredded him for pace and whipped in an exceptional cross headed home by Sarr in the 88th minute.

Some might complain about Emery’s subs last night. There was some logic to them if he considered Arsenal could cope defensively and still do some damage, but that seemed highly unrealistic. Iwobi moved into the center but was failing to cover for Monreal who was being skinned, fine, Guendouzi was a fairly logical replacement. Replacing Aubameyang with Ramsey was a little odd, but then nothing was sticking to the Gabonese striker last night. However, playing Mkhitaryan at RWB considering all Renne’s danger was located on the flanks was a baffling decision.

While on the face of it the Gunners are still very much in this tie, the likelihood of self-immolation remains high. Without the suspended Lacazette and Sokratis, the defence is at the mercy of arch bungler Mustafi and Koscielny, who’s susceptible to sinking without trace without the Greek next to him. A pacey Rennes will need to be managed on the counter against an ageing back four that rarely keeps a clean sheet.

Meanwhile, Aubameyang needs to pull his finger out. He’s beginning to look extremely one-dimensional and a bad fit for Emery’s system. Not only has he missed a catalogue of sitters lately, but he lacks physicality and his link up play is awful. An upset could be on the cards, but looking at who’s left in the competition, I wouldn’t fancy Arsenal’s chances anyway.

--

Cech (7): Pretty solid for the most part. Helpless on all three goals
Mustafi (5): Twit
Sokratis (4): A man of his experience really should know better
Koscielny (5): Not particularly at fault but shows zero leadership in these situations
Monreal (6): Unfortunate with the own goal, but his lack of pace was starkly noticeable
Torreira (7): Had a good game
Xhaka (6): Can’t fault him for effort but needs to keep his mouth shut and focus on his game
Iwobi (6): Deserves to start most games now
Ozil (5): Some creativity, but missed a good chance and inability to press only invites pressure
Mkhitaryan (5): Struggled badly at RB, but not his fault
Aubameyang (3): A year in, we’re perhaps starting to see why Dortmund considered him expendable. Whether Arsenal can afford to lose him is another thing

Subs

Guendouzi (6): Good on the ball, but lack of positional awareness is palpable
Ramsey (5): Couldn’t affect the game
Kolasinac (5): See above

—oo—  

Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.

Saturday
Mar022019

Tottenham 1 Arsenal 1: Arsenal brilliance denied by own forwards

An excellent performance and a point against Spurs will, unfortunately, be tinged with regret following Aubameyang’s late penalty miss.

At first glance, 4-2-3-1 looked way too attacking, but as Emery’s master plan unfolded it started to make sense. He wanted defensive full backs, with Iwobi and Mkhitaryan tracking Spurs’ attacking wing backs to offer protection. He employed Guendouzi and Xhaka as holding midfielders, preferred over Torreira because both can hit that transitional pass.

With Spurs enabled possession, Arsenal would absorb pressure and hit them on the counter, and it worked like a dream. In the 16th minute, feeble defending by Sanchez enabled Lacazette to set Ramsey free on goal from Arsenal’s own half - the Welshman swallowed up the ground, rounded LLoris and scored with assurance.

Spurs increased the tempo, but Arsenal held firm, Leno keeping the Gunners on level terms following an outstanding double save.

Lamela replaced Wanyama at half-time as Spurs looked to break Arsenal’s resistance, yet a glaring Lacazette miss following a superb counter-attack seemed pivotal. And so it proved. On 74, a set piece free kick was hurled in the direction of Kane who was shoved in the back by that wanker Mustafi. Although Kane was initially offside, he dispatched the penalty calmly.

The last 16 saw a melee of petty fouls and counter-attacks by both sides. Then, in the 89th minute, as if to even up the officiating error that led to Spurs’ equaliser, Anthony Taylor gifted Aubameyang a penalty, and with it Arsenal the chance to steal all three points. Unfortunately, Aubameyang looked about as confident as a newborn fawn thrown to the wolves. His penalty matched his expression, lame, and easily saved by Lloris.

The drama wasn’t over, with Torreira red carded for a late/high tackle, but the final whistle blew soon after.

An even game and highly entertaining North London derby, Emery’s tactical master class was almost enough to beat the odds, but not quite. Ultimately, he was let down by two strikers who are top class but, let’s face it, not world class.

With one away win in eight, Arsenal will have to measurably improve on the road to make a fist of Champions League qualification. They need also need to start by beating Man Utd at home in a week’s time.

--

Leno (8): Always competent, but now starting to make the difference in decisive moments
Mustafi (4): Cunt
Sokratis (9): Outstanding performance. Had Kane in his back pocket
Koscielny (8): Usually drops a clanger in big games, not today
Monreal (8): Looked the player that was so consistent last season
Guendouzi (7): Shielded the defence well but started misplacing passes towards end of first half
Xhaka (7): Walked a tightrope at times, but was combative
Ramsey (7): Left fans a parting gift
Iwobi (8): Excellent tracking back and dangerous on the transition
Mkhitaryan (8): Probably his best all round game for the club
Lacazette (6): Set up Ramsey’s goal and held the ball up well, but missed two big chances

Subs

Torreira (5): No malice in red card, but right decision
Ozil (5): Couldn’t get into the game
Aubameyang (4): Scores plenty but also misses a lot of key chances

—oo—  

Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.

Thursday
Feb282019

Arsenal 5 Bournemouth 1: Arsenal in pole position for top 4 scrap

Following Arsenal’s demolition of Bournemouth last night, the club is in pole position to battle it out for Champions League qualification over the next 10 games.

It’s difficult to read too much into last night’s victory – Bournemouth are suffering an injury crisis amidst their worst run of away results in almost 100 years. While Arsenal can only beat whoever’s placed in front of them, you can’t say Bournemouth’s current fragility was not factored into their performance – it was particularly evident on the pitch, where they were scythed open with ludicrous ease.

Arsenal’s last 10 games will be tough, but Chelsea and Man Utd have it harder. Spurs could yet be dragged into the mire should Arsenal defeat them on Saturday, but that’s a big if. Recent opponents have not been strong and prior to the victory over Huddersfield, Arsenal were completely outclassed by City, Utd and Liverpool.

With that in mind, it’s hard to measure whether there has been demonstrable improvement of late, or whether confidence can lift the team to perform above and beyond expectations. Player for player, our squad is nowhere near as strong as Spurs or Man Utd – that’s a fact, so it’s more about whether Emery can overcome the odds through a mixture of tactical creativity/discipline and psychology.

Neither is Arsenal’s away record too hot. The home form is carrying the club, only five victories on the road does not bode well for trips to Wolves, Everton, Watford and Leicester – all sitting mid-to-upper level of the PL. Free from the shackles of European football’s detrimental effect, even Burnley are starting to look more like the team that finished 7th last season and were particularly difficult to beat.

Meanwhile, Arsenal remain vulnerable to injuries. Whilst in the Europa League, they don’t particularly have the quality/depth to squad rotate in a fashion conducive to an intense pressing game – not that there was much evidence of that last night. But, there is progress being made on multiple fronts and the remainder of the season will at least be more hopeful and exciting than last year’s travesty.

Next up Spurs. Emery’s substitutions were revealing. Leaving Ozil on for the full 90 implies he won’t start the North London derby, and neither should he despite being Arsenal’s best player last night.

--

Leno (6): Secure in goal
Jenkinson (6): Did okay, but his limitations are quite glaring
Sokratis (7): Vital he stays fit for the remainder of the season
Koscielny (7): Scored and defended well
Monreal (6): Looking a bit fitter/sharper
Kolasinac (6): Not as prominent, but decent performance
Torreira (7): Usual steady presence
Guendouzi (6): Dispossessed for Bournemouth’s goal. Was targeted, so needs to take fewer touches and be more decisive
Ozil (7): Played well but had it easy. These aren’t the games he should be judged
Mkhitaryan (7): Improved of late, providing valuable assists and goals
Aubameyang (6): Took his goal well but was average overall

Subs

Iwobi (6): Did well
Lacazette (7): Scored an excellent free kick
Suarez (6): Looked a little sharper

—oo—  

Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.