So there it is, we finally lose a game again. Did we deserve to lose? I guess the answer is yes. Here are my eight observations:
- With Holding out for a long time and Mustafi and Sokratis both suspended, Unai was left with little to choose from for the centre of his defence. He picked three at the back – Lichtsteiner, Xhaka and Koz – and played Bels and Nacho on the wings next to central midfielders Torreira and Guendouzi. This makeshift ‘defence’ was all over the place and we got hit by three goals the old fashioned way: ball goes out to someone who could put in a cross, they manage to do so and we get simply beaten in the air. It is like being killed of by a wolf, a bear and then a leopard whilst walking the woods around Loch Lomond. Unai will be fuming to see his defence beaten so easily: why was nobody trying to avoid the crosses into the box? why were we so unable to deal with the crosses?
- The good thing was that Koz held out for 90 minutes and fought with all he got. He was rusty and struggled with reading the danger in time, but with such little aerial support for Licht and Xhaka, I am not going to blame him one little bit. Welcome back, Kozzer.
- We all knew it would be hard to beat the Saints at their home ground, with their new manager refreshing things and they having kind of nothing to lose. In such games, we HAVE TO start with the right focus, and intensity and when chances come our way we need to take them. I thought we started quite well but failed to score from a decent opportunity, and then we conceded the first goal once again. Auba, my friend, you have to step up the intensity in games like these. We need you to really want to beat the defender and keeper and get that ball behind the line by hook or by crook. Today I missed that desire in you and you really should have scored once at least.
- Unai is desperate to get Guendouzi into the double-DM pivot and regulars here know how much I dislike that combo. Okay, sacrificing Xhaka for a CB role was a necessity for Emery, but I reckon it cost us. We lost our defensive discipline in midfield and as a result it became embarrassingly easy for the Saints to put balls into the box. The big question is: why didn’t Emery play Elneny today – not even as a sub? I reckon that was a stubborn(?) mistake.
- The 3-4-3 formation leaves three big gaps in the team: behind both wing-backs and between the central midfielders and the three attackers – the hole area. In theory the ‘wingers’ – Iwobi and Mkhi in this game – have the freedom to play in the hole. But they also have to provide width and support the lone CF, and so the central midfielders – Torreira and Guendouzi – are enticed forwards into the hole area. That is what I do not like about this formation. There simply is no option to play Ozil in the hole and I reckon we are much poorer for it. The only way to make it work is to push up high and keep the opposition in their own half, so the central midfielders can link up with the ‘wingers’ and find a way through the opposition’s defence. But that comes with the risk of being extra vulnerable to counter-attacks and one of them – for their third goal – cost us at least a point. My big point is, IF we are to play 3-4-3 we really cannot afford to split up the Xhaka-Torreira partnership, and I would have played Elneny in the centre of the three at the back (next to Koz and Nacho, with AMN as our left wing back).
- The big plus of the game – other than another fine performance by Torreira and Kozzer playing a whopping 90 minutes – was that Mkhi scored a brace. As soon as he changed shirts he was a different player, so I hope he will keep this one as his lucky away shirt and keep scoring goals for us. In the 3-4-3 formation it is so important that all three up-front carry a serious goal threat. Iwobi misses this at the moment and Mkhi is a bit hit and miss, but at least today the Armenian found the net with quality (and luck). I think it is criminal not to play Ozil anymore, and I reckon Unai is taking big risks with this apparent change in first team selection policy.
- Leno did not have a good game. Okay he was left exposed by the makeshift defence but his decision making was not great and I reckon he should have done better for the third goal. I love his agility and quickness of thinking but I reckon Cech would have been the better option today with both all the changes in defence.
- My final comment is that Unai will learn from this game and it may well influence his January player purchases policy. With Holding out for a long time and both Sokratis and Mustafi not overly impressing as automatic first choices, I reckon Emery must look at a super-quality CB to steady the ship at the back. And if he wants to continue with 3-4-3, he will also need to look at getting a proper winger who can put away between 12-18 PL goals a season. But first we have to re-group and prepare for battle with the Spuddies this Wednesday.