It is tough to be a Gooner at times like these. One moment we play heavenly football: Reading and Newcastle United away; only to fall back into mundane, clueless performances the week after.
It was important to win this game tonight, and dropping two points could turn out to be very costly in five months time. We did not deserve the three points against Wigan – a similarly poor performance as today against Southampton – and today we did not deserve more than a point either. In fact, some will argue we were lucky to get a point, given the fact that our goal was a Southampton own goal.
It is hard to put the finger on what our team was missing tonight.
Firstly, I thought our midfield did not play close enough to Southampton’s box most of the game. The problem with 4-3-3 is that our midfield is often stretched vertically rather than playing close together as more of a horizontal unit. Arteta often wants to sit deep, Cazorla needs to support the attackers and Wilshere has to cover the huge space between them: as a result the midfield is often stretched and therefore not cohesive enough. I am not a big fan of this at all.
Usually Wenger gets the midfielders to play closer together and push the oppositions higher up the pitch in the second half of games – after a good team talk at the break, so it seems. But this time, we did not improve as significantly in the second half as we did against Wigan and Newcastle United recently.
As our midfield was not capable of playing closer to our attackers, the latter looked isolated and ineffective. Theo and Pod got very little service, but Ox at least worked hard to create something for the others.
Secondly, and infuriatingly, the team lacked once again the required telepathic relationships; the automatisms of finding each other, and anticipating each other’s moves when passing the ball, were sadly missing today. So many passes went astray tonight with the intended recipient and/or the passer of the ball looking frustrated and misunderstood. At this stage, this should not be happening anymore, and I wonder whether the recent switch from Giroud to Theo up-front has a lot to do with it.
In our 4-3-3 formation, it makes a big difference whether we play Theo or Giroud in the centre of attack, and as a team we seem to be struggling in adjusting to the new ‘main man’. That’s why I reckon we would be better off to change to 4-4-2 now, and play both Giroud and Theo up-front together (and play with a more cohesive midfield behind them).
Thirdly, we lacked leadership tonight. We need somebody to hold this team together and to direct/conduct its style of football, and ensure our focus is never lost throughout the game. I have said it so many times, but TV is not that person. Jack is trying so hard to fill this void, as he has all the potential to become a (future) leader, and he seems to feel that something is not there, but the senior players have to stand up now and show stronger leadership.
Fourthly, some of our key players are struggling with their form at the moment. From one game to another, Pod is either wonderful or invisible; and poor old Sagna is struggling with a huge loss of confidence/form at the moment which might have cost us two points today.
On top of that, we still are not able to cross the ball effectively into the box. Other than Wilshere from set pieces, Arsenal are nowhere near consistent enough with their deliveries into the box, and that really is not good enough. What is the use of playing with wing-backs if they cannot cross the ball into the box properly?
Tonight’s result was disappointing, but I am not totally surprised. We are still a team in transition and more work needs to be done in terms of getting this team to click and be more consistent from one game to the next.
Let’s hope we will see a huge improvement against Swansea this weekend.
Written by: Total Arsenal.