Arsenal Win Inspires Title Charge

Yes, the headline is deliberately flippant.

But look at the facts:

  • Third in the league, only a point behind last year’s all-conquering champions.
  • Four points ahead of Teeteringham.
  • Six points ahead of Manchester United.
  • Only one defeat in eight games in the Premier League.
  • In the last two and half weeks we have played 6 games in all competitions, Won 5, Drawn 1, Lost 0; Goals for 17, Goals against 3.

On paper we’re in the title race, albeit a long way behind the long-haired lovers from Liverpool.

Yet it doesn’t feel like we’re anywhere close to being able to contemplate a serious tilt at the title and performances like yesterday’s against Bournemouth don’t help.

We can take satisfaction from getting our 1-0 win and three very valuable points, but life still is not a bowl of cherries. I’ll come on to possible reasons why later, but first a quick recap of the match.

Unai Emery’s team selection was fairly predictable. RC in his pre-match write up got 10 out of 11, missing only Ceballos, who was preferred to RC’s prediction of Torreira.

At the start of the day Bournemouth were only a point behind us in the league and we all know they can play a bit, so this was never likely to be a pushover.

That said, we started well with Saka looking particularly lively on the left flank, Ceballos pulling the strings in midfield, Guendouzi surging round the pitch like a remote controlled car on Christmas morning and even Pepe showing some silky skills.

The breakthrough came early, and not from any of the attackers. A corner from our right was adroitly pinged into the box by Pepe and found the curly coiffured bonce of our bouncy Brazilian centre back. He had a lot to do to direct the ball on target, but in it went. A first Arsenal goal for David Luiz and an assist for Pepe.

For the rest of the first half we were effortlessly in control, stroking the ball about easily and looking dangerous in attack, while Bournemouth offered little threat. We created multiple good situations but the final touch or pass was always slightly off and we were not able to build on our lead. As the minutes ticked into the 40s and it was still only 1-0 despite our dominance, I began to feel some familiar nerves twitching into life.

Sure enough Bournemouth came out a much more committed side after the break, presumably after a rocket from Eddie Howe. They harried us more effectively and slowly but surely became the dominant side.

As the second half wore on and our attacking thrust got blunter and blunter, an equaliser started to feel inevitable.

Some of the most perilous moments came directly from rare occasions when we were carving through Bournemouth and looking to threaten their goal, only for a piece of carelessness from one of our players to set them on the counter attack.

In the space of one period of just a couple of minutes Kolasinac, under no pressure whatsoever, passed the ball to a Bournemouth player who launched a break which almost resulted in a goal; then Guendouzi lost the ball carelessly and again, a few seconds later, we were lucky not to concede (although to Gwen’s credit it was he who made the gut-busting run and desperate tackle that saved a goal).

And that summed up our second half: sloppy. I don’t know if the conditions were difficult (the sun was shining, but had there been heavy rain earlier?), but every time we tried to do something positive it was spoiled by a wayward pass, a piece of bad control, getting carelessly caught in possession or even just tripping over our own feet.

When the whistle blew after five minutes of added time it was a huge relief.

So we had a win, but not one to send the faithful home feeling like the team is finding its rhythm and ready to push on with a serious top four challenge.

I thought our shape and system looked OK yesterday (certainly compared with some games, such as Watford or Man Utd), but – in the second half at least – there was a lack of concentration throughout the team, particularly in the attacking half.

Hopefully it was just a difficult day at the office and the sort of sustained focus we have seen in the cup games can quickly be integrated back into our league effort.

We happen to be on one of those runs (in the league) where the results are OK but the performances are worrying. From that position things can go in two directions: either the performances don’t improve and we don’t keep ‘getting away with it’ or things start to gel on the pitch and the results stay good. Take your pick.

I’ll end with some positives, beyond just getting the three points: for a start, the important thing is that we did not let Bournemouth get their goal and that was down to some committed defending, particularly from Chambers, but with Luiz and Sokratis also having some big defensive moments, while Leno was reliable as ever with his shot stopping.

Hopefully the clean sheet is indicative of a sharper defensive focus. The danger moments came from mistakes at the attacking end of the field leading to Bournemouth counters: they did not come from our defenders putting on clown shoes and red noses in our own defensive third as they have done too many times this season already.

Now we go into the international break on the back of a good run of results and with a struggling Sheffield United team waiting for us when league action resumes.

We are third in the league I said we are third in the league… (Doesn’t have quite the right ring to it, does it?).

Player Ratings

Leno    7

Didn’t have too many saves to make but was in the right place when called on. One interception of a dangerous low cross sticks in the memory as an instance of his excellent anticipation.

Chambers       8 (MoTM)

Chambers is on a very good run of form. Made some top tackles and interceptions in our box and helped link play well when going forward. Best of all, he always seems composed on the ball.

Sokratis           7

Didn’t do much wrong and made a couple of important tackles and headers.

Luiz      7.5

As per Sokratis, but with an extra half point for the goal.

Xhaka              5.5

I’m not as down on Xhaka as some, but much of this game passed him by (although he still had time to make some stupid tackles).

Ceballos          6.5

Good in the first half, faded in the second before being substituted.

Guendouzi       7

Typically energetic performance, but his play was littered with concentration lapses in the second half.

Pepe    6

You can almost smell the crowd willing him to turn it on. He showed some great dribbling skills at times, though usually with little end product. Not a bad a outing but this was not the game where he suddenly turns the corner. Nice cross for the goal.

Aubameyang  6.5

Struggled to make an impact, but it wasn’t really his fault. Most of our moves broke down before the ball reached him in dangerous positions.

Saka    7

Very bright in the first half but was another who faded after half time.

Subs

Martinelli        7

Looked lively and clearly uses the same batteries as Guendouzi.

Willock            6.5

Another encouraging outing for Willock, but by the time he came on our second half malaise was already too deeply embedded.

Torriera           6.5

A tidy 10 minutes or so from the Uruguayan.

RockyLives

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35 Responses to Arsenal Win Inspires Title Charge

  1. Chris Davies says:

    “Looked lively and clearly uses the same batteries as Guendouzi” – brilliant!

    Great feeling to go into the break on a high. Let’s hope it’s the performances that improve, with Tierney and Bellerin back in full swing

  2. Sue says:

    Kola was that bad, he didn’t get a rating 😜

  3. LB says:

    Always love a Rocky read, thanks very enjoyable.

  4. RA says:

    Bonjour Matelot,

    I did not see the game, Rocky, but your concise, amusing Post put the match into a sadly predictable context — and confirmed that it was a good game to miss.

    We have seen that, particularly with our younger players, we have a very good team in the Europa and the Caribou Cup, antlers and all, but when we ‘retreat’ to the EPL there is a change in tactics, and the free-wheeling, fast passing strategy of the Cups is abandoned, and with it goes the simple pleasure of watching a classy game.

    I like Embers, I like his passion and commitment, his amusing, indecipherable English and teeth baring gurning — but I am not convinced he is a quality coach capable of getting us into the top 4 at the end of the season.

  5. RA says:

    That was his twin Coka who played on Sunday, Sue.

  6. RC78 says:

    Kola had a good first 30 minutes and then…kindda drifted out of the game.

    Leno – 6.5
    Chambers – 8
    Luiz – 6.5
    Sok – 6
    Kola – 5.5
    Douzi – 7
    Xhaka – 6
    Ceba – 6.5
    Pepe – 6
    Auba – 6
    Saka – 6.5

    If we take a stock now at the EPL, it seems that:
    – Liverpool is continuing on this amazing run started last year and is now in a driving seat to win the Lague just after 8 games…
    – City struggling without their usual CBs
    – Leicester is rejuvenated with Rodgers and is playing in the same style of their title-winning year
    – Chelsea’s transfer ban has brought together an interesting and hungry crop of players so in the end, they may make it to the Top 4
    – Tottenham is not having a great 6 months in the EPL – I think there is a divide between the club and some players and the coach is suffering from it so if all goes well, they miss out on CL 🙂
    – Man Utd will stick with Ole because it s the sensible thing to do but they won’t improve much under him so I think that by Jan 2021, he ll be out but would have recruited talented young players, establishing the basis for a good team.
    – Everton is struggling somehow and West Ham is showing good promise – Haller was a great signing and Yarmolenko is coming back to form

    – Arsenal has
    -> yet to find the the right balance but it seems that Emery is more willing to put pressure on players by replacing them either in the first XI or during the game, no matter whom they are.
    -> Emery has also benefited from Ljunberg’s insight and is transitioning Saka nicely into the team while Willock and Nelson are also making a good push for first team action. Martinellis is playing well while Pepe still needs to find his feet but having seen him in L1, I can see that the guy is currently divided between cutting inside (which he did too much of vs Bournemouth) and staying close to the line – he s not feeling our game yet but as soon as he does, he s gonna be firing all cylinders.
    -> Chambers has come back from his loan as a very well rounded defensive player. Tierney, Holding had encouraging performances and Bellerin still needs game time while AMN is not doing enough to keep a spot in the first XI
    -> Auba is goal-scoring machine, we have to keep him fit for the whole season
    -> Saliba is doing well at Saint-Etienne and Nketiah at Leeds 🙂

    -> So the question for Emery now is “how does he get his team to be more incisive at both end of the pitch and more compact in the middle of the pich?”. Xhaka will always be a liability but he is the Captain although Guendouzi is now the one barking on the pitch. Sokratis is not having a bad season but he s not having a good one either so will he be ousted from the first XI once Holding comes? What about Torreira? Has he lost he place in the first XI and is Ceballos or is Willock better suited to take his spot? How will the team place once Lacazette come and does that mean Saka goes back on the bench?

    -> Still so many questions but at this stage and based on the games played only this season and players performances, you can say that Emery is going to stick with his 4321, the one he loved in Sevilla once Lacazette is back. You could foresee

    – the following first XI in his mind for EPL games: Leno – Chambers (until Bellerin is fully fit) , Holding, Luiz, Tierney – Guendouzi, Xhaka, Ceba – Pepe, Auba – Laca

    – the following XI for Cup games: Martinez – AMN, Mustafi, Sokratis, Kola – Torreira, Chambers, Willock – Saka, Nelson – Martinelli

  7. Malaysian gunner says:

    Really?Emery must improve the defence first.Arsenal could have lost to Bournemouth.
    Wolves beat Mc through the sucker punch. Arsenal have been
    victims many times to MU especiallythrough this. . Hopefully Arsenal ‘s defenc e can rise up and then challenge.
    I am hopeful the gunners can challenge for 3rd or 4th.
    Still along way to go.

  8. RC78 says:

    Arsenal tracking Donyell Malen and Willy Boly according to French media. Malen is a former Arsenal youth product

  9. RC78 says:

    Peaches – sent you another post for whenever you want to use it 🙂

  10. GoonerB says:

    Thanks Rocky

    As you say, we are getting the results but the performances are worrying. It feels very wrong not to feel enthused about our side and to have instead a slight feeling of trepidation when we currently sit 3rd after 8 games, and in those 8 games have been to Anfield, Old Trafford and entertained Spurs.

    However Spurs and Man Utd are not currently a yardstick we should be measuring ourselves by. A few mid to lower table teams have accentuated that point. Our one real test this season was at Anfield and we were pretty much blown away. Losing there is acceptable if you put in a good performance and show you are close to competing with them. We didn’t.

    My gut feeling is that if performances don’t improve the results will start to turn against us. Part of the reason I say this is that we had a similar purple patch of results last season, but weren’t improving performance wise, and it eventually came back to bite us. We all know how it ended despite that great run during the season. The question is are we different and better this year?

    Do we feel we have we progressed from last year? I don’t think so, not in terms of 1st team development and performance level, but we do look better in terms of our potential in player quality, our strength in depth, and our potential squad balance with the different types of players now featuring in the squad that weren’t featuring last season.

    These are the big positives, the potential of this squad. But having stated that we have improved in our potential to put out a more cohesive and balanced 1st 11, and achieve better performances, I feel we are yet to see that translated into reality. Bournemouth were the latest in a long line of teams that posted dangerous stats in shots on our goal.

    Two goals conceded in the 3 games against Watford, Frankfurt and Bournemouth. Does this represent greater defensive structure or is it really more of an anomaly how these teams didn’t put more goals past us?

    It would really seem our defenders and our keeper have had a blinder to keep the goals against so low. Is the main problem in this seeming constant assault on our goal with our defenders per-se? It seems to me that teams are just finding it too easy to get at our defence in the first place, and there is not much the back 4 can do about that. That happens before they are called into action.

    We actually have a collection of marvellous midfielders, but something still feels very wrong in them as a cohesive unit to provide that control, dominance, and to exhibit equally good defensive qualities as well as attacking threat. Something is not gelling.

    I only saw the highlights but once again when I watched the off the ball positioning and movement we looked incredibly easy to stroll past. Reflecting on them as a unit, rather than one individual, they were all guilty of poor positioning, poor protection and poor tracking of opposition midfielders all too often.

    As I have said before, you have to not so much follow the ball to see this, as to watch what happens with our players when the opposition seem to get at our defence quickly. Look at what their runners are doing, our positioning and then even the general body demeanour of our midfielders off the ball from the start to finish of the opposition attack.

    They are all quite guilty (Douzi included) of being caught the wrong side of runners and then trying to suddenly react when the danger is very real. Watch how much these players look around them to assess the danger in advance and take preemptive measures and you will see it is minimal. Most of them follow the ball only with little awareness of what is happening around them, often running back to our goal at too much of a leisurely pace, and then react in a kind of “oh shit” moment as an opposition player sprints past them.

    A team that has a striker that can receive it in front of our defenders with back to goal, momentarily hold the ball and then feed their quick reacting midfield runners, tends to get through us onto our defence far too easily and frequently. There is often a chasm of space to exploit between our back 4 and the 3 midfielders, who are quite often strung out along the same horizontal line rather than forming up in triangular formations.

    Those midfield runners then get the jump on our midfielders who mostly end up 1-2m out of position desperately trying to catch up. That 1-2m at this level is the equivalent of 25m in a Sunday league game between the Dog and Duck and the Queens Head.

    As I say, it feels wrong to have a somewhat negative feeling towards our side as they currently sit in 3rd above the Spuds, Utd and Chelsea, but I still feel we have somewhat been using most of our get out of jail free cards, and Emery has a lot of work to do to get this midfield balance right, or these positive results and 3 points, somewhat against the run of play, will likely dry up as they did last season.

  11. RC78 says:

    I fully agree with your assessment

  12. allezkev says:

    RC, I don’t really know that much about Boly, how would you describe him?

    I believe he’s 28 and is a Cote d’Ivoire International and very tall.

    How would Boly fit in next season if Holding and Saliba are earmarked as our first choice centre-back pairing?

    And I’d guess that Wolves would want a lot of dough for him…

    Very good post Rocky.

  13. GoonerB says:

    Sometimes AK when it comes to defensive players you just have to read their name and work out if they sound as hard as nails. Also if it is the kind of name that you can fit a middle name into like Ron “Chopper” Harris.

    Based on this I think Willy “the hatchet” Boly has a certain hard man ring to it so we should go for it….then again I thought anyone with the name Granit should be just that 🙂

  14. allezkev says:

    Hmm GB, that’s an interesting take, I never really thought about it that way if I’m honest… 🙂

  15. GoonerB says:

    All joking aside though AK the media stories (I know, I know) doing the rounds are that Emery wants Boly to “solve our defensive issues”…….but will he?

    I refer to my ( concise 🙂 ) comment above and that I currently feel it is not as much about the individual qualities of our current defenders but more how often they are exposed to having to defend (often desperately) from a lack of protection, and maybe to a degree control, in front of them.

    Will just chucking another big defender into the defence actually stop the opposition from getting at our defence in the first place? I don’t think so but would welcome a different view. Obviously the quality of the individual can make a difference. For instance I think we will be more solid once Tierney is playing regularly as I just think he understands how to defend better than Kola and we will be less exposed down that side (sorry Sue).

    How do we rate the quality of Luiz, Chambers, Holding, Socratis, Mustaffi. There are at least 3 good-uns in there before we also consider Saliba arriving and whether Mavropanous progresses or not. Will 1 more defender really make us better as a whole team in defending?

    I feel our defensive issues are more as a whole team and team structure with the big chink in the armour being in the central area just in front of the back 4. That is where the bigger money should be spent for me, in the defensive midfield position.

  16. RA says:

    Hi GB,

    And there I was thinking his accredited ‘middle” name was “Rolley”.

    Hi Kev,

    He was bought a year ago for £10m by Wolves, and they are allegedly likely to let him go for £20m.

    The name and Wolves’ being so keen to move him on for a nice little profit, does not make this cynic too convinced he would improve our defence.

    On the other hand — almost any CB recruit is likely to improve things. We could go;

    Rolly, Luiz, Chambers, Kos, Holding, Mustafi

    Then we would be good to go 1 – 2 – 6 – 2 cutting out the midfield? 🥺 (I think it’s called the one-legged pie eater)

  17. RC78 says:

    I think that if one CB joins us next summer, he will come as a starter and he will have to be in the leagues of Van Dijk, Ramos…Otherwise, there is absolutely no need as we already have Holding, Chambers, Luiz, Sokratis, Saliba, Mustafi, Mavropanos.

    Let us say that Mustafi leaves us and let us say that we loan out Mavropanos, we could only afford getting a new CB if Sokratis leaves too and if he leaves, I am OK with it but his replacement has to be a proven Top Notch Defender. Boly is not there yet…He is good but is he much better than Sokratis or Luiz, not sure…

    I was surprised by this rumor to be honest and the plan was anyways to have the following line up soon:

    Leno – Bellerin, Holding, Saliba, Tierney – Douzi, Torreira, Willock – Pepe, Auba – Laca

    So I agree we can get an upgrade on Saliba, Torreira and eventually Willock but then we d need to get Marquinhos, Brozovic, Milinko-Savic.

    Leno – Bellerin, Holding, Marquinhos, Tierney – Douzi, SMS, Brozovic – Pepe, Auba – Laca

    This would cost a fortune…

  18. allezkev says:

    I agree totally GB, a proper defensive midfielder is, or should be, the priority, but don’t ask me who?

  19. Sue says:

    Rocky.. I love how you say I’ll do a few words 😆Top notch though, 👍

    So Granit is a father.. congrats & all that (& I’m happy, very happy, to say it’s a girl! Phew!)

    Yes that game won’t live long in the memory, but all I wanted was 3 points, which is what we got, even if we did limp over the line! I really hope our performances improve after the break, what with Laca, Tierney, Bellerin & Holding returning to action (if not then, I give up!)
    Very excited about Tierney (It’s ok, GB, I agree with you, besides Kola was only ever for me to look at 😁.. nice one, RA!)
    We’re 3rd…and quite lucky to be, if I’m honest, but I’ll take it, it’s not like we conceded 10 in 2 is it?! 😜 6 games without conceding a penalty now I believe?! We’re on a roll 😀
    Now the break, I don’t fancy watching Kane and co, so luckily there’s darts on all this week 👍

  20. allezkev says:

    RC, as Raul said last summer, the club have to be smart in the market, it’s getting the next VVD when he’s, say, at Celtic, not when he’s at Southampton, as we’ve done with Guendouzi and hopefully Saliba.

    It’s a pity we didn’t get Rice before he signed a new contract at West Ham.

  21. allezkev says:

    Hi Red, tbh Conor Coady seems the best c/b at Wolves, but I’d have absolutely no idea what he would cost?

  22. RockyLives says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    Fancy missing out Kola in my ratings? 😳

    My only excuse is that I was still deeply hung over while writing…

    For the record I would have given him a 6.

    GoonerB – I absolutely agree with your pithy note (@12.56) that the key to our problems lies with the midfield. Sort out the MF and our defence will suddenly be more secure and our attacking will become more effective.

    I also agree it’s not about personnel (for the most part) but about finding the best blend and formation out of Xhaka, Gwen, Torreira, Willock, Ceba, AMN and even Ozil.

    As RC says in his equally pithy note @10.13 (and yes, I am taking the pith), there is a lot to be optimistic about when it comes to the quality within the team generally and particularly among the emerging young talent.

    There’s no question that Bellerin, Tierney and Holding will improve our defence, but they won’t make our problems go away until we have a fully functioning MF.

  23. fred1266 says:

    St Etienne beat Lyon and saliba played

  24. RockyLives says:

    GoonerB and Redders

    With your observations of how a player’s name can impact our perception of them (and possibly their perception of themselves) you are, of course, touching on the concept of the “nominative determinative.”

    This theory proposes that your destiny can be (at least partly) dictated by your name.

    Or, in more common parlance: “the clue’s in the name.”

    Real life examples of the nominative determinative include a ‘weather girl’ on BBC regional TV with the surname “Blizzard” and the Belgian professional footballer called “Mark De Man” (yes, he’s a defender… or at least a defensive midfielder). There’s even a tarantula specialist called Anne Webb.

    There aren’t many candidates for nom-det in the current Arsenal squad. It’s hard to think of Sokratis as an icon of philosophy and incisive thinking given some of his defensive blunders; I suppose Holding would be a classic example of nom-det if he was a defensive midfielder rather than a CB; Granit has already been mentioned and I dread to think of what would need to happen to poor Reiss Nelson to make him live up to his name (is there any room in the Premier League for a one-eyed, one-armed attacking midfielder?).

    Some years ago I took the idea of the nominative determinative one stage further and wrote an AA Post analysing footballers by anagrams of their names.

    To give you a taste of what emerged, Kevin Doyle turned into ‘Evil Donkey.’

    I rest my case.

  25. RA says:

    Rocky,

    Nominative determinism —- I love it.

    There have been the occasional professional people I have known with such names — now I cannot be sure if I did know them, or was it just a jokey lark about.

    Dr Eill Soo — Barrister.

    Umm — that’s it — 😩

    The converse of that determinism is that the 99.99% of us without such a name advantage are either in the wrong jobs, or are crap! Or both.

    The series of ‘player anagrams’ was that umm a series of Posts before you hot-tailed it to Canada. 😜

  26. RockyLives says:

    Redders,

    It was a long time ago. Can’t remember whether it was pre-Canada or after I was out there.

    ‘Evil Donkey’ is the only one I remember (although I’m pretty sure there was a very rude one about Wayne Rooney).

  27. RockyLives says:

    I went to school with a lad whose surname was “Outlaw.”

    If nominative determinism works he’ll be locked up in pokey now.

  28. Aaron says:

    Thank you hungover Rock and a sober GoonerB for your posts.

    The Arsenal nicked that one, and had it not been for the opposing player rounding Leno and squaring, as opposed to shooting, it would have been for all intensive purposes a draw, and 2 points lost. But, the reality is 3rd, a clean sheet, and some time to work on teamwork during the break.

    If results are all that matter then life is good as long as Auba keeps his shooting boots on-for now.

    We need to keep this in mind as you just know that the spuds and manure are hitting their inflection points soon.

    Not much more to be said other than what other’s have said, either we get better or the Arsenal regress to Emery’s lifetime coaching norm- which is $h*te futbol in league, but very good in cup ties.

  29. Aaron says:

    My apologies: RockyLives, and I have no excuses.

  30. RockyLives says:

    What are you apologizing for Aaron?

  31. RA says:

    Rocky Doodle Doo,

    Just got back from a Dr’s appointment — and as is the way of the world — following your comment about ND — on the screen before me, there was a call for a Mr Muchmore — and it was very apt, as the guy had a huge beer belly — clearly living up to the ND and having much more than anyone else. 😳

  32. RA says:

    Rocky,

    I think Aaron meant to apologise to GB, for referring to him as ‘sober GB’ — which is pretty insulting!! 😜

  33. RockyLives says:

    Redders
    😀

  34. RockyLives says:

    Redders

    Mr Muchmore is amusing. I did once know a medical doctor called Dr De’Ath (really).

  35. Rasp says:

    Morning all, apologies for my absence.

    Thanks for the match report Rocky, we’re a little lucky to be in the position we are as you say … we now need to capitalise on that good fortune and find the blend of players that can play with confidence, energy and creativity.

    Thanks to RC78 for today’s …

    … New post …

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