Arsenal 1 Wolves 1: Next two months could be difficult

Was unable to watch this game, but not entirely surprised at the score line. Having witnessed the highlights and media at large, it reiterates what I’ve said all along about where Arsenal are right now. Basically, Emery is tactically sound and has definitely given Arsenal a semblance of physical resilience and motivation – although yesterday was an exception, but that can happen.

However, he has also ridden his luck quite frequently; Arsenal have more points than they deserve.

In my opinion, there is a limit to how much Emery can source from this squad and, to put my cards on the table, I don’t believe Arsenal have any chance of finishing fourth unless Spurs seriously deteriorate. Hopefully, I’m wrong, but I’m usually right.

Considering the players Emery has at his disposal, I think we’ve probably already seen the best Arsenal can produce this season. There is certainly room for improvement in specific players, but whether that will garner the required collective improvement to make the necessary difference is open to question. All the teams above us are far superior and that will be proved over the season.

Of course, fans want to aim the target a lot higher than 5th or 6th, but I don’t think Arsenal are good enough to be setting high targets. This season is all about Emery analysing the squad and, along with Sven Mislintat and Raul Sanllehi, making the right analysis in preparation for next season when they better understand the demands of PL football and the characteristics of the squad.

At this point, there is very little room for criticism of Emery, because the results have been mostly positive even if the performances haven’t. Neither can you expect the manager to always pick the players you want him to pick – there will always be differences of opinion on that front.

Personally, if there is a source of irritation, it’s the continual fielding of Mustafi and Xhaka. We’ve seen enough by now to know they’re both walking disasters and completely detrimental to the progress of the team. There are tenable reasons why both players are still starting games, but I won’t be pleased if either is near the squad next season.

Meanwhile, the legacy of that idiot Gazidis has been to dump Ozil and Mkhitaryan on the club on long-term contracts that collectively amount to an expenditure of around £470,000 a week. This has well and truly stuffed Arsenal and given the club very little room for manoeuvre in the transfer market.

That’s why Ramsey has to go, along with Welbeck and, no doubt, Koscielny. There’s no other way Arsenal can clear room for new players of any quality without the wage bill spiralling out of control and/or breaking the Premier League's Short Term Cost Control (STCC) wage cap - a factor that unknowledgable media pundits never seem to acknowledge.

The international break has come at a good time for Arsenal. The squad can regroup and analyse why there was a lack of intensity in yesterday’s match. But one thing’s for certain, with 11 games to come between now and the end of 2018, the quality and depth of the squad will be stretched to the limit and Emery will learn a lot more about his players.

I fear results won’t be great, but that’s not how we need to measure things. We need to analyse performances and whether the manager is making rational decisions. Boring I know, but not nearly as mind-numbingly boring as the previous incumbent’s annual failings.


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Arsenal 1 Liverpool 1: Desire earns a point

I have to say, I was really disappointed with the lineup. I can understand Ozil starting because to drop him would create a media shit storm and it’s tempting to field a player that can, if rarely, change a game in an instant, but Mkhitaryan? Didn’t get that - fielding both of them seemed completely counter-productive and against everything Emery is trying to achieve with the front press.

Having said that, desire, belief and work rate goes a long way and the players fought like dogs from the first minute to the last. Liverpool have better players in almost every position, so to come out of the game looking the more likely winners was a real achievement, even if Arsenal were yet again fortunate not to be punished for individual errors.

What really pleased me is that, by and large, Arsenal controlled the tempo of the game against a top side that’s even more dangerous without the ball, which has traditionally been Arsenal’s biggest weakness. Yet, for the most part, Arsenal coped well with Liverpool’s counter-attacking threat. The high line brought with it an element of risk that was almost Arsenal’s undoing, although the Gunners also employed long balls that could have caused equal problems to Liverpool were it not for Van Dijk’s masterful defending.

Whilst it’s not realistic to entirely negate sides of such quality, let’s face facts, Liverpool had a perfectly good goal disallowed in the first half and the clearer chances overall. For me, they edged the game in that respect, but Arsenal got a point because Emery has given this squad a new found belief and never-say-die attitude that was completely absent under Wenger.

Unfortunately, when the visitors took the lead in the 61st minute, it was a calamity. Bellerin was horribly out of position enabling Mane to get in behind, and Mustafi was too slow of thought and speed to cover. Leno made a complete hash of the cross pushing it towards the advancing Milner who was not tracked by Xhaka. That’s four players not doing their job properly – any one of them could have prevented that goal.

At a point in the game when Arsenal were on the ascendency, it seemed like the same old familiar failings, then I remembered that prior to the game I had noted the importance of at least staying in the match until the latter stages, if only to give Liverpool a reason to ask questions of themselves.

Thankfully, that proved to be the case. Iwobi was the catalyst for change, driving at Liverpool with belief and purpose. His scything, pinpoint pass into the heart of Liverpool’s defence reached Lacazette, who span away from goalkeeper Alisson, turned and fired a curler I hardly thought he was capable of beyond the keeper’s reach.

Being objective, I’d say a draw was a slightly fortuitous result, and it’s ironic that before the game I suggested Arsenal should play 4-4-2 with Welbeck, Ramsey and Iwobi on the pitch, which is pretty much what we ended up with prior to Arsenal leveling. Playing two up top certainly gave something for Van Dijk to worry about – prior to that he was almost impermeable.

However, I’m more than happy with the point and delighted with the team ethic, attitude and passion of a manager who roused the supporters and players in turn. This game was a big metric of Emery’s first three months in charge, and it proved to be insightful and, ultimately, very positive - even if I think he got the lineup wrong.


Leno (5): Mixed bag, made some important stops but faltered badly on crosses
Bellerin (6): His defensive positioning has to improve
Mustafi (6): Better than usual, but lacks leadership and struggled against Van Dijk
Holding (8): Delighted with his progress. Good on the ball and has a habit of being in the right place at the right time
Kolasinac (7): Better than expected
Torreira (8): Lung-busting performance. He’s a vital cog in the wheel now
Xhaka (7): Good game generally but jogged passively (again) as Milner drifted beyond him to score
Ozil (4): Will he ever turn up in a big game? Doubt it
Mhkitaryan (6): Always seems to be a second slower than everyone else on the pitch
Aubameyang (6): Started brightly, making good runs behind the full back, but faded
Lacazette (7): Struggled against a transformed Liverpool defence, but shone through in the end


Iwobi (7): Changed the game and disappointed Emery didn’t start him
Ramsey (5): Struggled to get into the tempo of the game
Welbeck (5): Feel he would have affected the game more than Mhkitaryan had he started


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Do Arsenal have any chance against Liverpool?

Sorry, but in my opinion, this is where the chickens come home to roost - and it could get ugly. Like many Gooners, I’ve been waiting with anticipation for this game, even if the result is largely irrelevant. Far more relevant is the team Emery puts out and how he sets the players up tactically. I’m looking for something different to 20 years of Wenger arrogantly ignoring the opposition.

As the results have proved, that strategy almost never works when you’re an inferior tactician with inferior players who have an inferior mentality.

While points on the board suggest Emery has transformed Arsenal, the performances haven’t suggested anything of the sort. That’s not to say there has not been substantial progress. Arsenal are playing the ball out of the back more comfortably, Emery’s substitutions and tactical rejigs have had genuine impact, and the players are fitter and way more motivated.

However, whilst that clearly counts for a lot, these factors alone are not going to save Arsenal tomorrow. The plain fact is, the defence is not salvageable. It’s the defence of a mid-table team because it comprises mid-table players. Not only has it been porous all season, but it’s not been punished as frequently as it should have.

As proved against Crystal Palace last weekend, not even an 11-match winning run has imbued the Arsenal defence with any confidence. That means there’s no hope with some of these players.

Emery is not stupid and will be fully cognizant of Arsenal’s weaknesses; it will therefore be fascinating to see how he counters Liverpool. He appears to be a pragmatic manager who will insist on playing a certain style against teams he believes Arsenal to be superior to, but now we'll find out what he does when Arsenal face sides they’re clearly inferior to.

I’m looking for a change of method and I’d like to see Emery switch to a 4-4-2 formation, lining up with Lichtsteiner, Sokratis, Holding and Maitland Niles. I’d have them sit deep and narrow – and not very adventurous. Allow Liverpool down the flanks, but don’t engage Mane and Salah or allow them inside. Easier said than done, but if you want to nullify players of that quality, you need to dictate their direction of travel.

Torreira and Ramsey would be my choice of defensive shield. Up top, I’d play Lacazette and Aubameyang as a pair, pressing from the front to prevent Liverpool building from the back. Wide midfielders Welbeck and Iwobi need to work the lines, but with a defensive mindset - protecting the full backs and solidifying the midfield.

In my opinion, Xhaka, Mkhitaryan and Ozil CANNOT start this match.

With a large dollop of good fortune and a well-executed plan, maybe Arsenal can get to 70 minutes with the score reasonably intact. At that point, there are players that can come off the bench who can, just maybe, change Liverpool’s psychology from offensive to defensive.

That’s my plan, but what’s Emery’s?


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Crystal Palace 2 Arsenal 2: Usual culprits deny 12th win

A game full of incident, suffice to say it followed the same pattern as most of Arsenal’s previous 12 with the Gunners starting far too passively. There seemed a big disconnect between Torreira and Guendouzi in central midfield and Arsenal’s front four – who were not pressing. This enabled Palace to build from the back as they set about attacking the flanks.

Indeed, with Zaha leading the charge, Palace played some good stuff and should have scored on several occasions. Aproaching the break and Arsenal were in dire need of some Emery magic, however, Mustafi destroyed the manager’s team talk by lunging in on Kouyate like an idiot and conceding a totally unnecessary penalty. 1-0 Palace.

Arsenal started the second half as they should the first, with Guendouzi and Torreira squeezing play by pressing much further up the pitch to support the front four. Arsenal had deserved nothing up to the 50th minute; regardless Xhaka smashed in a stunning free-kick to level. Five minutes later and Emery appeared to have performed another psychological miracle despite Aubameyang scoring at the far post from a cross that appeared to be flicked on via Lacazette’s hand.

I hate cheating and this left a sour taste in my mouth. Even though Lacazette’s shirt was being brazenly pulled, it felt like Arsenal had somehow managed to rob Palace in broad daylight.

Having got their noses in front, however, Arsenal rather disappointingly dropped off. By sitting on the lead, Arsenal invited Palace to regain control of the game and build pressure again, and it wasn’t long before the Gunner’s ropey defence started to creak – then fold. This time Xhaka was to blame, hanging out a leg for Zaha to fall over. He made the most of it, but you’d expect any player to go down like a sack of spuds under the same circumstances, so this was simply a case of naivety on Xhaka’s part.

At 2-2, Arsenal managed the remainder of the game, mostly through petty yet necessary fouls. Individual players may still make adolescent errors, but as a group the Gunners have certainly learned a few new tricks. When you care more about the result than individual glory, playing ugly reaps dividends – and this point was hideous.

It’s been shown this season that Arsenal are a completely different team when they take the initiative, but they’re not doing that. When the game is level, the players sink into attrition mode and play dull, safe, sideways passing. Something has to happen to light the blue touch paper - either conceding a goal or Emery getting into them at half-time.

While it’s still encouraging that Arsenal can clock up results despite there being vast room for improvement, Emery needs to immediately work on getting the players in the right frame of mind from the start of games. Other problems (defence/front press) are beyond him with this group of players.

One couldn’t help but think that had Zaha played for Arsenal yesterday, it would have been a cakewalk. There are misgivings about the player’s lack of consistency, but he may well be worth a punt this summer.


Leno (6): Did okay. Faced two penalties, both of which were well dispatched
Bellerin (6): No obvious errors, but was forced off at half time
Mustafi (4): The mistakes will never end
Holding (7): Unlike last week, showed maturity and calm
Xhaka (6): No surprise he struggled at left-back, but atoned with a stunning free kick
Torriera (7): Arsenal might have been overcome had it not be for his bulldog-like tenacity in midfield
Guendouzi (6): More of a fouler than a ball winner, but distributes well
Ozil (4): Diddums didn’t take too kindly to being substituted
Iwobi (5): Bounced off players too easily
Aubameyang: (6): Scored and put a shift in, but is useless at the high press
Lacazette (4): Never really got hold of the ball; bad back pass led to Palace second goal

Lichtsteiner (6): Slow and clumsy but knows every trick in the book
Welbeck (5): Some nice touches but to little effect
Ramsey (4): Didn’t get involved


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Arsenal 3 Leicester 1: Ozil reminds us he’s a player

It started like so many other games this season, Arsenal on the back foot, looking nervous and self-destructive. Leno made several good stops, Holding mysteriously got away with conceding a stonewall handball in the box and Claude Puel was handing Emery a bit of a tactical lesson.

His Leicester side switched to three at the back whenever they attacked, giving them width and an extra man in midfield with space to run into as Vardy and Iheanacho spun into the spaces vacated by Arsenal full backs Bellerin and Lichsteiner.

After 30 minutes, Arsenal were looking discombobulated and creatively bankrupt. Overrun in midfield, nothing was clicking into gear, and I, for one, was decrying the choice of Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Xhaka - none of whom were justifying their starting birth.

A minute later, Leicester scored a somewhat fortuitous but deserved goal when the rampant Chilwell’s cross was deflected past Leno via Bellerin’s outstretched foot. If anything, it did Arsenal a favour as they had little choice but to remove the handbrake and begin asserting themselves. Critically, the Gunners replied just before half-time with a neat exchange of passes between Ozil and Bellerin resulting in the German finishing with a sublime side-foot off the post.

Arsenal were fortunate to be on level terms, but had one thing in their favour. Unlike Wenger, Emery knows how to analyse a game and make the right tactical adjustments to turn the tables. The transformation was immediate, starting the second half with the same pace and energy as they’d finished the first, the Gunners started to control the game with quick, incisive passing and a higher work rate from the front. Iwobi switched sides to curb Chilwell’s attacking instincts, which worked a treat.

With Leicester creaking, Emery introduced Aubameyang for Mkhitaryan and Guendouzi for the fading Lichtsteiner; Xhaka filling in at left-back. Solidified in midfield, with a more immediate and mobile threat up front, the Gunners scored twice in three minutes. Ozil the architect of both goals, scything and bewildering Leicester’s defence with his passing and movement, the end product was enough to get any football fan, let alone Arsenal fan, off their feet.

Leicester wimpered before trying to mount a fight back, but the energetic Guendouzi was able to partner the crucial Torreira to strengthen the midfield and earn Arsenal a tenth straight win.

Another game of two halves, this is the sixth or seventh time this season that Arsenal have been level at the break and gone on to win the match. Obviously, there remains room for concern at how Arsenal are starting games, although it’s hard to pinpoint any one particular cause.

I’d say it’s a mixture of two things. Arsenal are not setting up right mentally, and possibly tactically. Despite the results, the players don’t seem to truly believe in themselves and are waiting to figure out the opposition first before imposing their game. Meanwhile, Emery is doing a remarkable job remedying these problems at half time but is not yet showing he can hoodwink opposition managers by taking advantage of the opposition’s weaknesses right off the bat.

Having said that, Leicester showed they are a decent side in the first half. Puel is a canny tactician and I always felt this game was a banana skin if Arsenal’s players were not fully focused. His comment on Vardy, who couldn’t finish the game, was a classic: "It's a stomach problem, yes. He couldn't digest the penalty decision!" He had every right to be furious.

Clearly, Arsenal are riding their luck at the moment and not being punished for their indiscretions, but let’s not forget that Emery’s not exactly working with world-class players here – you only have to look at the defence to see that.

This obviously needs to be rectified – and hopefully will in a year or two, but on the plus side Arsenal were a lot more comfortable playing the ball out from the back last night and overcame their inferiority complex yet again thanks to Emery’s wise words and tactical substitutions.

Regarding Ozil, this was a rare occasion of him pulling the team up by the scruff of its neck and guiding them to victory. Where that impetus came from is a mystery, as he was anonymous for the first 40 minutes. If he can have this sort of effect on games week in, week out (seems unlikely or he would have already), he may justify his place regardless of his inability to press. However, not only does he need to prove he can make that happen, particularly against the top sides, but there’s no way Ozil and Mhkitaryan can be indulged in the same line-up.


Leno (6): Made two big saves to keep Arsenal in the game, but also failed to clear a corner which was headed against the bar
Bellerin (7): Showed his worth with two controlled assists
Mustafi (6): Two decent games in a row. Remarkable
Holding (4): Lost his head at times, which nearly cost Arsenal dearly
Lichtsteiner (5): Did as well as can be expected considering he’s nearly 35 and was being played out of position
Torreira (7): Vacated space left by team mates. An unsung hero with his shadowing/tackling
Xhaka (3): Ghastly, error-prone performance
Iwobi (6): Not everything he did came off, but opened space by drawing players towards him with his movement
Mhkitaryan (4): Slightly higher work rate than Ozil, but it’s not effective and he clearly struggles with the pace and physicality of the PL
Ozil (8): Went missing for 40 minutes, but transformed his performance into one of his best for the club
Lacazette (5): Good work rate, but missed a sitter

Aubameyang (7): Two tap ins – there’s no doubt the man has a natural goalscoring instinct
Guendouzi (6): Shored things up in midfield
Ramsey (5): Been knocked down a peg or two; but would still play him ahead of the godawful Xhaka


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