The first two games of the season for Arsenal are already history but their echo will be long present at the Emirates. Starting the campaign off with two defeats is more than disappointing and to add a little more drama to it, it doesn’t seem that there are any changes in the way the team plays now and the way it played last season.
After a crazy game with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge with a lot of ups and downs, we made sure that some players should be benched, and others need their chance to prove they deserve a starting XI spot.
I must be honest that both teams were disastrous at the back and that’s what led to the final 3:2. The only thing that made the difference for Chelsea to win was Eden Hazard (who came in as a substitution). This time I think that’s a bit to blame it on Unai Emery. I don’t want to go too hard on him because I know he needs time to fix this team, but there are few examples how a different line-up would’ve helped better against The Blues if only he counted on the players that performed well in the first game of the season.
The thing that everyone noticed is that Granit Xhaka is not helping a lot either to the defensive line nor the front line. His performance is somehow mediocre and lots of the Arsenal’s supporters are wondering why Emery prefers him than Lucas Torreira.
Torreira is known for his ability to bring the possession back and that’s a thing that Xhaka fails to do. The sharpness that the Uruguayan can add to the team’s performance and his breaking up play is much preferred than the unconvincing defensive duels that Xhaka offers. Last season he averaged 2.8 tackles per 90 minutes, 2 interceptions and 1.3 fouls for Sampdoria and despite that he enjoys mixing it physically – he committed fewer fouls than the Swiss international.
In both situations, Xhaka wanted to make Silva and Sterling commit a foul. Despite that, he ended up losing the defensive duel and laying on the ground. Don’t get me wrong, it is good that he has that in mind, but most of the times it won’t work out and his mediocre performance would cost the team a dangerous counter-attack which could end up with a goal.
Also, when under pressure, his decision-making is not brilliant. Like against Chelsea, he just couldn’t deal with the pressing duel against Morata, decided to make a not perfectly measured pass to Mkhitaryan and gave up the possession.
As it happened against Chelsea, the manager swapped Xhaka for Torreira and that was a breath of fresh air for the team. Yes, he is partly guilty for leaving Alonso unmarked which led to the winning goal, but his defensive efforts are a way more effective than the Xhaka’s ones. Granit not only performed badly enough to deserve the lowest player rate, he performed badly enough to be benched after only 45 minutes of play. And the question is not ¨Why only 45 minutes? ¨ but ¨Why a whole 45 minutes? ¨
Torreira has better decision making and is regularly trying to get the ball back. He tackles, makes interceptions and goes 1 vs. 1 – as we could see in this picture. He didn’t hesitate and tackled Eden Hazard to stop the counter-attack.
Despite the defeat, Aaron Ramsey performed pretty well in the first fixture against Manchester City. He played on his potential and showed that his creativity level can go from 1 to 10 in seconds. His efforts broke through the mediocrity in Arsenal’s performance and gave it a little bit of edginess. I honestly couldn’t believe he is not in the starting line-up and the only explanation for me is the talks related to his contract. Otherwise, I am about to blame it on Emery.
After coming in as a substitute against Chelsea Ramsey immediately showed his ability to get the most out of a situation. In here he managed to free himself of the pressing duel with Kovacic and made a one-touch pass to Mikhi. In the seconds off the ball, he positioned himself perfectly on the edge of the box and received the ball back to make a shot towards the goal.
In here he showed great vision, dribbling and decision making despite the enormous pressure put on him.
And another perfect offensive duel, making Laporte looking like a fool. After that, he continued towards the box to dribble past Fernandinho and make a cross.
Another huge problem in the defensive line is the absence of Hector Bellerin. And yes, I know that he played a full 90 minutes against Chelsea. But the fact that many of the conceded goals came from the left side, shows that most of the time (or at least when the team is in trouble) he is absent of his position and is busy with some other endeavours.
He sometimes has his moments of perfection up front, but when it comes to defending (which we should not forget is his main responsibility as a right-back) he is a pain in the arse. He looks too scared to go 1 vs. 1 and that’s the reason for both goals the team conceded against Manchester City. He couldn’t get back the possession of the ball and that resulted in Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling scoring.
Somebody is not learning from their mistakes. The two similar situations that resulted in Arsenal conceding more goals.
So, the salvation of this problem may be Stephan Lichtsteiner. Even if it is only to help Bellerin realise his spot is not reserved for him and he should put more effort to deserve it. But the Swiss international can actually help with more stability and experience. He has more stable defensive abilities and is a one to go on the right flank too. It’s harder to pass through him and he prefers keeping his position safe rather than doing anything in the front lines. And that’s why he is there. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with swapping Bellerin for him or at least playing him when things go wrong (which won’t be a real salvation).
There is a way to be more effective in the front lines – using both Aubameyang and Lacazette in the starting line-up. That is something that the fans are hoping for, remembering how they paired during the pre-season.
As we could perfectly see during the game against Chelsea Auba was experiencing a hard time to find the goal and missed completely clear opportunities. He wasn’t focused enough and his runs weren’t always well timed. He often finds himself alone with no option for a pass in front of the goal and he feels pressured to shoot – most of the times off target. Lacazette came in as a sub in both games and seemed like he might be the missing piece of the puzzle. Against The Citizens, there was a huge difference when they paired in the second half and as we realized during the International Champions Cup they get on really well. And the better news is that they both love to play next to each other. So I have no answer why Laca stays benched.
I promised myself that I won’t focus at Mesut Ozil’s performance because that deserves a lot deeper analysis, but I could not miss mentioning that it was difficult to realise that he was playing in both games. No ideas, no efforts, just presence. And I don’t feel it is fear to the other players to keep him in the starting XI despite the ghost-like performance. And to finish with a positive one – I find the youngster Reiss Nilson as a great support to the front lines. The guy showed great vision lately and could be a great addition to the squad.