Seriously, how can Arsenal stop the self inflicted wounds?

Tactics session at London Colney

Granit Xhaka’s (mostly) unforced error against Burnley cost us two points and led to a sobering statistic.

If we had avoided blatant individual errors in our last four matches (including Burnley) apparently we would have secured 12 points from those games and risen to fifth in the table at the final whistle on Saturday.

Instead we got four points from those four games and continue to wallow in mid table.

Just think what a difference those eight points would make to our season, to our sense of happiness and to the mood around the club. They would be transformational, but the fact we don’t have them is entirely down to us, not to our opponents. It’s not that we have been outplayed in these four games.

Not everyone will agree, but I feel we are playing some good football and showing signs of progress. With the emergence of young stars like Saka, Smith Rowe and Tierney we can feel excited about the future, but not if we are going to continually sabotage our own best efforts.

We’re like a hunter who buys a new hunting rifle and all the camo gear, heads out into the woods and waits for hours in a carefully constructed hide until, finally, an elk walks into a clearing in the middle distance, perfectly in range and conveniently lit up by a shaft of sunlight.

The hunter carefully raises the gun to his shoulder, holds his breath, takes aim and starts to gently squeeze the trigger… then slips, falls ass over tip and shoots himself in the foot as the elk trots away laughing.

We have good equipment. Our preparation seems to be solid. We know what we want. But in too many games we get the FOOT-GUN-SHOOT moment.

I have written in the past about a self destructive gene that seems to have embedded itself in the Arsenal DNA some time towards the end of the Wenger era and that has never been eradicated.

How many times have we heard an Arsenal manager, after a disappointing result, say “we need to cut out these types of errors”? Whether it’s Wenger, Emery or, now Arteta, it has become a constant refrain with all the annoying familiarity of a bad advertising jingle.

So what do we do about it?

In the past I have wondered whether some players need to have a greater sense of fear (either of their manager tearing them a new one or of a team mate in the Tony Adams mould pinning them up against the wall of the dressing room after the game).

I have speculated that the team needs a specialist psychology coach to work on issues of concentration and confidence.

I realise I have generally avoided the most popular potential solution: get better players. I generally want to give our boys the benefit of the doubt. For example with Xhaka’s latest blunder, my thinking was “well, if the manager wants us to play out from the back at every opportunity, this sort of thing is going to happen once or twice a season. It happens to other teams that adopt this approach as well as to us.”

But, like an Egyptian crocodile, am I in denial?

Is it really as simple as the fact that we just need to ditch the players who, regardless of their good qualities, are prone to making horrendous blunders on a regular basis.

In our current squad the two most obvious candidates for the boot are Xhaka and Luiz. They are both experienced pros, they have both had many good performances for us and some exceptional ones, but they also play football with a ticking time bomb in their back pocket. You never know when it’s going to explode but you know that eventually it will.

However, although Luiz and Xhaka are the most visible culprits, it’s worth noting that many other players have cost us points this season through stupidity, including Leno, Ceballos, Pepe, Mari and probably others I’ve forgotten (or blanked from my traumatised mind).

So if the answer to our malaise is “better players” are we really looking at a massive clear-out? We have already parted ways with previous FOOT-GUN-SHOOT specialists like Mustafi and Kolasinac.

I can’t help feeling that there must be another solution. Is it tactics? Motivation? Coaching? Discipline? Confidence-building?

Why did previous Arsenal teams like the Wenger Invincibles or the George Graham title-winning teams of the 1989 and 1991 seem not to have this problem? (Or did they also make similar mistakes, but we just forget about them when we’re playing well enough that they don’t make the difference in games?).

Help me out.



10 Responses to Seriously, how can Arsenal stop the self inflicted wounds?

  1. Pete the Thirst says:

    You’re on the money Rocky: Discipline and professionalism.

    The players need to be left out of the side if they make major errors. They can’t just waltz back into the team without any consequences.

    Arteta’s options are limited, which may be forcing his arm, but surely Xhaka gets to practise sitting on the bench after that howler at Burnley? Elneny can play next to Partey.

  2. jjgsol says:

    Are you sure that the only reason why we did not beat Burnley was because of the Xhaka incident?

    The game lasts 90 minutes and that incident took, say, 10 seconds.

    So what about the missed chances, poor passes and defensive errors during the rest of the match?

    When a player shoots at the goal and hits the post, is he only unlucky or simply not good enough?

    When a player misses a good chance, is he unlucky, or not skilled enough and worthy of approbation?

    Surely, focusing on one error, as well as ignoring the involvement of others in the same incident (ie Leno for passing the ball to him when he was not in a good position to receive it) is rather blinkered and short-sighted.

    We did not win because we were unable to get the ball between the 2 posts often and accurately enough. That failing can hardly be placed at Xhaka’s door.

    Xhaka’s pass is just one small element in the whole picture.

  3. RC78 says:

    A) Errors leading to goal – 3 for us this season. Ranking 9th. Liverpool is first in this category with 10.

    B) Most Big chances created: 31. Ranking 13th. Man City is first with 60.

    C) Most Big chances missed: 26. Ranking 15th. Man City is first with 52.

    D) Most Goals scored: 35. Ranking 11th. Man City is first with 56.

    E) Least Goals conceded: 28. Ranking 5th. Man City is first with 19.

    F) Expected Goals: for: 37.5 (scored 35); against: 31.14 (conceded:28).

    All and all, it seems we deserve our ranking. There is nothing dramatic in our statistics:
    1. We only made 3 errors leading to goals;

    2. We are a below average team when it comes to creating chances but we score goals as we are expected to;

    3. We are a better than average team when it comes to defending records and we are protecting our goal better than expected.

    So it seems that jigsol is right. Our main area of improvement is on the attacking end and making sure we create more chances and score more goals while making sure that we keep on being one of the better teams on the defensive end.

    My hope, jigsol, is that Partey will inject that much needed drive from midfield. I also think that we do not need Odegaard and that if we are to let Odegaard and Ceballos go, we should definitely get a player to support and maybe even guide ESR in creating and scoring chances. There are some exciting players like Depay, Pelligrini, Grealish that could be interesting. Depay is free. I also think that a better RB will help us create more chances and defend better.

    Leno – RECRUIT, Holding, Gabs, Tierney – Partey, Xhaka – Saka, DEPAY, Auba – Laca


    Leno – RECRUIT, Holding, Gabs, Tierney – Partey, Xhaka – Saka, DEPAY, Martinelli – Auba

    What do you think Jigsol and others?

  4. RC78 says:

    Now, not relying on players like Luiz and Xhaka as much, may also be a good remedy too 😛

  5. RockyLives says:

    Thanks RC

    Only three errors leading to goals doesn’t sound right to me.

    Off the top of my head…

    Granit at the weekend.
    Ceballos back header v Man City
    Luiz trip and penalty v Wolves
    Cedric and Gabriel miscommunication against Villa
    Willian passing to a Villa player in the home match against them…

    Other penalties too I think.

  6. Pete the Thirst says:

    Lies. Damned Lies. And statistics. Was it Samuel Clemens said that? You can bend statistics any way you want.

    What constitutes a ‘big chance’? It’s subjective.

    Here’s the bottom line if Xhaka doesn’t kick the ball against Chris Wood we win 1-0 and get 3 points on Saturday.

    Does anybody recall 1-0 to The Arsenal?

  7. jjgsol says:

    So, let me get this straight.

    If Xhaka had not kicked the ball against Wood and it would not have been a goal, then the game would have stopped then and we would have won.

    Or, in the rest of the match, they may have scored and we may have scored.

    Whatever happened after that shot would not have happened had it not happened, so anything can have happened.

    Remember the film Sliding Doors?

    Maybe it is time to be realistic.

    In the same vein, do you really think that we will see that much of ESR now that Arteta has been able to sideline him?

    I doubt it. It will be Odegard all the way now, with the ball out to the wings for a myriad of crosses to no one in particular

  8. omgarsenal says:

    totally myopic article missing a number of very salient elements in what seems like a simple, fire them and get newer models paradigm:

    1) Leno showed totally indifference to the position he put Xhaka in.
    2) none of Xhaka’s teammates came closer to help him find a meaningful pass option(s).
    3) Leno had many clear and easy options i9ncluding a long throw to either fullback or midfielder or a strong boot downfield.

    In terms of whining, this post is so far off the mark that it literally brings tears to my eyes from laughing at its simplistic, blinkered misunderstanding. Arteta is well aware of the issues here. Wenger’s best team(s) often committed serious errors and some even cost us goals or points. Yes we do silly things that cost us points but watching the horrible officiating and misuse of VAR reminds me that, if these elements worked more fairly and justly, we would have won at least 11 out of 14 points we dropped. Lets look at this effect before we criticize our players next time!

  9. RC78 says:

    Hi Rocky – these are the premier league stats…their methodology may be biased…

    In any case, numbers tell a story or one side of the story.

    I also think that we actually had some decent performances but marred by fatal errors. As mentioned, I think that with 2 players and a fit Partey, we will be hard to beat next year and will challenge for titles.

  10. RockyLives says:

    New Post

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