In what will go down as an entertaining and frustrating goalless draw, Arsenal have now fired five blanks in six attempts at the Emirates, they were kept in the game by a world class Petr Cech performance, and must spend a fortune to compete for the league – is certainly the gist of what the papers are saying. It is not strictly speaking true, though.
Well, the bit about Cech is true.
But in the 8th minute, Aaron Ramsey latched on to a sumptuous through ball and scored the games opening goal, only for it to wrongly be ruled out for offside. If that goal goes counts, the game becomes much more open and I think we might have been in for a relatively high scoring game.
Whilst a lot of the post match analysis has been criticism levelled at Arsenal, I think Liverpool deserve a great deal of credit. They were well organised, stuck to a game plan, and their midfield three of Milner, Lucas and Can did a very good job of breaking up the play and stopping supply to Giroud (and Walcott later in the game), while the defence marked the strikers out of the game.
How do you combat this?
Liverpool’s approach was very well executed and similar to West Hams visit to the Emirates a couple of weeks ago. It is frustrating for Arsenal fans that lessons don’t seem to have been learnt.
I am certainly no where near qualified enough to offer AW advice, but if the existence of Piers Morgan has taught me anything it is that even the biggest moron’s can offer advice to someone who has revolutionised the game. And so, in that spirit, here are my two cents.
I would like to have seen Arsenals wide men sticking closer to Giroud to put the Liverpool centre backs under a bit more pressure and try and force them into a mistake. A big part of Girouds game is the flick on or one touch lay off from a ball played into his feet. We didn’t see nearly enough of this on Monday night, and it is an area where Giroud and Wilshere in particular link up nicely. By pulling the wide men in tighter, you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice the teams width either. In fact, why not take a leaf out of Liverpool of last seasons book and play 3 at the back at spells in the game? Having a holding midfielder as versatile as Coquelin, and a back four who have played in multiple positions, your holding midfielder can easily drop back into CB to make either a back three while the fullbacks are forward or a makeshift back four with one fullback going forward at a time. The defence and deep lying midfielder’s need to be well drilled to make his work.
Much of Arsenals attacking play went down Alexis Sanchez’ left flank, but it was dealt with relatively easily by Clyne. Sanchez has not had a full pre season because of his exploits with Chile this summer and he still looks rusty, meanwhile Arsenal have a Oxlaide-Chamberlain chomping on the bit, but stuck on the bench. The Ox was in great form in pre season, and looked like the only player capable of making things happen against West Ham. I think to have dropped him for another player, albeit Alexis Sanchez, who is not match sharp, sends out entirely the wrong message to the squad. No players position should be safe, and Sanchez should want to train harder (if that’s possible) and up his game in order to win his place back, while AOC will be looking over his shoulder to keep his place in the team.
Arsenal have had inexperience ruthlessly exposed several times over recent years, Bellerin’s torrid time at the hands of Swansea winger Montero last season springs to mind. On Liverpools left side of defence was the relatively inexperienced Joe Gomez, who arrived from Charlton last season and now finds himself holding down a starting spot at Liverpool. Rather than channelling attacks down Liverpools right hand side at Nathaniel Clyne, Arsenal should have had any of Sanchez/Chamberlain/Walcott backed up by Bellerin running at Gomez and trying to force him into a mistake. I don’t want to take anything away from Gomez who looks like a very exciting player, but he was relatively comfortable all evening and Arsenal should have tested a relative unkown more.
Ozil was slated again for a perceived lack of effort. The people who are saying this cant have been at the game, he made a number of lung busting runs back to the Arsenal box and he looked for spells of the first half like he was the only Arsenal player trying to make something happen. The problem is that there was very little movement ahead of him to pick out, and his channels to the front players were crowded out by Liverpool’s midfielder’s and CB’s. To again slate Ozil for a lack of effort is just lazy, and I would encourage anyone who disagrees with me to watch him live and actually pay attention to what he is doing. Any forward would love to play ahead of Ozil, even Steve Claridge!
Finally, a lot of people are crying out for a new marquee signing for Arsenal before the transfer window closes, and the match against Liverpool kicked off to the backdrop of Benzema’s declaration that he will be staying at Real Madrid. I think that Arsene would love to sign a massive game changing player in the coming days, and he has demonstrated in the last few transfer windows that he has no problem splashing the cash when necessary, but what is the point of spending upwards of 40m on a player who is not going to improve the team? Benzema’s stats at free scoring Real Madrid where he plays almost every game as centre forward, are very similar to Girouds at Arsenal. On paper at least, there is quite a strong argument to be made that Benzema is not an upgrade on Giroud. Cavani has also been touted as a potential target, of course I would like that transfer to happen, but after Falcao’s move last season I think it represents risky business.
The holding midfield position is a more complicated. I love a defensive minded midfielder, it is one of the many positions I used to play, and it is certainly where I had the most fun. I think Coquelin is immense, but he is prone to flashes of inexperience, as we saw against Palace. I would love to have seen Kondogbia, that ship has sailed and there aren’t many DM’s out there to improve on Coquelin in my opinion. Any addition would be to add some experience in the more complicated match situations and, arguably, Arsenal have that already in Arteta who can still cut it against most (but not all) PL teams.
Arsenal have hit very impressive runs of form in the last two seasons, only to be let down by a slump. If they can start a similar run this weekend at Newcastle, they will soon close the gap at the top. Their Premier League challenge can still happen regardless of squad additions, unity, belief, flexibility and hard work are what they need.