Playing devil’s advocate I think a draw away at Leeds playing almost half the game a man down would not be so bad had it had not come on the back of that previous game with Villa, and if Spuds were not in such good form.
This all adds to the angst but we are still only seven points away. A win at Villa and a draw against Leicester, which should have been quite achievable, would see us only three behind the leaders having already played at Anfield, the Etihad and Old Trafford. Small margins eh.
I was happy to see us move to a back four because the team needs this. Despite what the weekend threw up we still need that move to a back four for us to progress, and we shouldn’t make a knee jerk reaction away from it after one game against tricky opposition with much of it played with 10 men. We are kind of entering another transition phase.
Our defence and work off the ball has improved immeasurably but now we need to find the flair and increased goal threat to go with it. Arteta hasn’t got every call right to date and has maybe misjudged when to make the changes in the transition, but the most successful managers have had tough periods when their credentials have been called into question, and I still massively believe he will move us on.
Don’t forget that he inherited a massively dysfunctional squad with little confidence and no identity. You can’t correct every aspect of the side in one hit from there, and he is likely doing the right thing by making us tougher to beat as a first port of call, even if not that pretty on the eye at present.
I still feel that we need a four pronged goal threat to really kick on. That comes from the No 9, the No 10 and the two wing forwards. Again I will say that I feel that the two wing forwards need to be, for the most part, inverted wide players to increase our goal threat, in other words a left footer on the right and vice versa to the left. Add a number 10 who can create and score in front of two DM’s and you have a potent attack while still retaining defensive solidity.
Regarding Leeds, most teams that come up into the EPL from the championship need to adapt from a more functional way of playing to a style with more guile and quality. Not so Biesla’s Leeds who were already being groomed as an EPL side even while battling their way out of the championship. They arrived already playing like an EPL quality side and have proven to be tough opposition for other bigger clubs as well before this weekend.
I took a few things away from this game:
Firstly how much better and more comfortable Auba is when getting on the ball in deeper areas rather than holding the high central line where he sees less of the ball.
His game is not best suited to holding the ball up with back to goal with defenders on his back and with fewer touches on the ball. He is far better suited to getting on the ball more in deeper areas and receiving the ball going through on goal. I think the attacking left wing forward position is the right one for him and we just need to get the rest of the forward line formation right to get him firing.
This means he needs the right No 9 to cover that work up top and act as a link player with him. Do we have that player in Laca or Eddie? Not sure. The most ideal type of striker would be a Lewandowski type. Laca isn’t as bad as many believe and he kind of does a bit of a Firmino job for us up top, operating as the foil even if not scoring himself. Eddie has that eye for goal so should also get a big look in. Putting Auba up top is not the answer to our issues and he should play off one of the other two mentioned.
Secondly we need to get Saka playing higher up the pitch. That goal scoring opportunity wasn’t as easy as it seemed. The ball already took him wide narrowing down his angle past the keeper, and really the keeper did well rather than Saka doing badly.
However, the ability of Saka to get through on goal should mean we look to get him playing a role that allows him to do this more often. The 4-2-3-1 is right but I think Mikel still needs to find his best combinations in this formation and maybe Saka should be considered for the number 10 role, or be in competition with Pepe as the inverted right side attacker.
Pepe could, however, still become a big player for us and needs to be handled well after his fall from grace, but Saka should fill in that position in his absence in the EPL games.
So I think the biggest questions are who plays No 9 and who plays the attacking CM / No 10 role, with the biggest question being on the No 10 / ACM role.
In reality I would like to see Auba, Saka and Pepe line up from left to right behind either Laca or Eddie with Partey + one other sitting behind.