Arsenal suffered the first loss of the season at home against Chelsea. It was a good reality check and many questions will be asked. I did not catch the second half. This post will focus on the wider perspective of things and not over analyze minute issues.
Losing the Midfield Battle
This is why we lost. Forget the missed chances, forget the soft set pieces we let in. All that began to matter in the end because we lost the midfield battle. Outclassed, outshone, name it.
From the get go, Chelsea’s 3 forward midfielders wrecked complete havoc against the Arsenal midfield. We were beaten in 50-50s. They were quicker and their passing a lot crispier. Our passes were finding no one or reaching players that were almost immediately closed down. There are games where you can tell how things will go at the start. Against City and Spurs both at home last season, you could tell a victory was on its way because of that added spring that propelled the team ahead. This time Chelsea had that extra yard.
When we got the ball, we had very few options because Cazorla had to track back to aid a midfield that was trodden over. All we had was Gervinho, Ramsey and Poldi to aim at, flanked by six taller Chelsea players.
When we got the ball, we had very few options because Cazorla had to track back to aid a midfield that was trodden over. All we had was Gervinho, Ramsey and Poldi to aim at, flanked by six taller Chelsea players. When four Chelsea attacking players can wreck havoc against six Arsenal defensive players – the writing is on the wall. Even Gervinho had to track all the way back once from CF to RB to cover defensively.
Some will point at that Diaby had his usual injury (the guy has unequal leg lengths so this is going to come again and again). But let’s put things straight, we lost Diaby before the goal was conceded and if we can’t play without him then that raises huge questions about depth. Ramsey took Diaby’s spot which rightly would have been the way it would be if Diaby was injured before the game. Yes, it broke the flow but the midfield was already overrun before that.
When you lose the midfield battle you usually don’t win. If you do, you win ugly. We did none of both and the defeat was thoroughly deserved.
Defense: Conceding Set Pieces
Arsenal has conceded 4 goals in the EPL, the first a clanger from WS1, the second a corner from City and then two from freekicks against Chelsea. In a sense, things have improved because we usually concede from counter attacks. Set pieces have to be worked on and I’m sure Bould is on it.
After the City match, many fans were praising Kosc when he should have been crucified for his defensive performance. I tweeted immediately after the final whistle, drop Kosc and bring TV+Per back. Against Liverpool, I wrote why Per was important for our defense and a reason for the clean sheets. Wenger decided to bring both Kosc and TV today and it went poorly for us because we suddenly have two centre backs that are inferior in positioning and reading the game as compared to Per. Early in the first half, TV charged right to Chelsea’s box and when he lost the ball, he stood there. That is the problem, Per had that sense of defensive responsibility that Kosc and TV often neglect especially when we are 0-1 down.
Per had that sense of defensive responsibility that Kosc and TV often neglect especially when we are 0-1 down.
I expected Per to be reinstated after this match but it was a poor choice of Wenger and it showed a misunderstanding of the defensive game. Against City, our midfield was over run at times but Per saved our backs against quick and tricky players earning Sky’s MOTM. Wenger’s old liking for speed over everything else is rearing its ugly head.
There is a psychological element in the defensive game, teams that know there is a rock at the back will think twice before speeding forward. They will also delay a little for backup to arrive. These precious seconds give the defense time to reorganize and adapt. When you have Kosc and TV bursting forward, Chelsea didn’t need a second invitation to push through.
Tatics: Attacking Play
Sometimes our attacking play puzzles me, We put a front line of Gervinho supported by Ramsey (then Ox), Podolski and Cazorla. They are all relatively short but fast. Yet, time and time again long looping balls were sent in their direction. The reason was simple. As mentioned earlier, we had no other option after losing the midfield battle. These long balls were more hopeful than purposeful.
If Wenger wants to play a false 9 and fast forwards that mix things up and push the ball around, he needs a midfield that can hold their own. We lined 3 midfielders against Chelsea’s 5 playing a 4-2-1-3 against Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1. Defensively, it was 4-3-3 against a 4-5-1. It is easy to tell why we lost the midfield battle, technical ability aside, we did not have the bodies to outnumber them and our attack was blunted.
Our wingers were not cutting back in enough to help control the midfield, they hung out wide and were sent long high balls that they couldn’t win. This is a Wenger error in tactical judgement.
Our wingers were not cutting back in enough to help control the midfield, they hung out wide and were sent long high balls that they couldn’t win. This is a Wenger error in tactical judgement. Chelsea fare badly against teams that clog the midfield. That was how teams beat us in the past. If we had played a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1 we would have better retention of the ball. Heck, even a 4-3-3 would work if the Poldi and Ramsey/Ox were told to congest the middle rather than hang out wide when defending.
In my pre season post, I was hoping just for that. But nope, we stuck to a lean midfield with too much space between center and the wings and paid dearly. Passes got cut out easily, wingers were isolated, you get the point. Unfortunately, knowing Wenger, that’s not going to change. The weight will be on the AML and AMR to instinctively fall back when the midfield is having trouble holding its lines. They didn’t do that today.
Our right wing was effective today. CJ had a good game and Ox connected well with him. That was how the equalizer came. It was a combination of a good cross and a Chelsea mistake to be honest. A low cross into a box of 5 Chelsea players that somehow 3 Blues missed it and Gervinho was given time and space to turn and fire. It was a gift we didn’t take full advantage of. Instead we handed Chelsea two in return.
It sucks to lose but Arsenal fans have stuck long enough with this club to know this is hardly a bad start. We’ve completed difficult games this month. Liverpool (A), Montpelier (A), City (A) and Chelsea (H). Our only breathing spots were Southampton (H) and Coventry (H). The Chelsea loss is a black mark because it was at home but the rest of the results were good ones. In sum, September yielded 4 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss.
September yielded 4 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss.
You don’t judge a season on a game. We beat City comprehensively last season and they went on a winning steak after that and won the league. What is important is how the team responds to this defeat. It is good that the defeat stings the team and its fans. Disappointment must be followed by the desire to improve. Tactical mistakes must be sorted by AW. The later is what I am personally worried about.
I am under no illusions that this team is not yet capable to win the title. Some were getting carried away and will now be in throes of sadness. I expect a strong challenge for second or third as I did in the pre season post. Chelsea has been the only standout performing team this season and they underlined their credentials today. Utd continues to have a soft center and an injury laden defense but have had decisions going for them. City is the only club that has performed below expectations but they have a tremendous amount of depth and you will expect them to be back performing in time.
The team has to recover and learn how to fix midfield issues against a technically superior opponent. Chelsea’s attacking midfield probably is the best in the league while City’s the most balanced. We still have to face them twice and there will be superior Champions League opponents.
Set pieces have to be worked hard on. The issue I see is that we defend poorly on set pieces because we are poor in attacking set pieces ourselves. Two poor sides practicing against each other don’t usually yield results. This is a matter for Bould and Banfield.
Diaby is out for three weeks. Wilshere is nearly back but we can’t risk him that early plus he is only 19. It is Ramsey’s, Coquelin’s or Frimpong’s turn to stand up and be counted. If they fall short, then the lack of depth will be exposed. Wenger has great faith in the options he has in the center, it’s now a good time to judge that faith.
Dropping points against Chelsea, City and United can be understood but if we can’t finish mid table teams off, then we’re back to square one.
The most important bit is to win the next game. Shrug off a bad day and keep pushing. October yields Olympiacos, West Ham United, Norwich, Schalke 04, QPR and Reading. No disrespect to these teams but if Arsenal wants to challenge, they have to pick up full points from all of them. Dropping points against Chelsea, City and United can be understood but if we can’t finish mid table teams off, then we’re back to square one.
Onwards and upwards. Even in defeat, you look forward and work to change your fortunes. Not fall in a heap and feel sorry for yourself.
No ratings this week. I only caught the first half. In the first half, only Gibbs, CJ and Ox performed well. Cazorla did a pretty good job dropping deep and Gervinho scored but the rest were poor especially our center backs.