Arsenal 2 – 2 Spuddies in a nutshell:
- A game of two halves, as so often under Emery;
- Great fight back and spirit from the boys;
- Great support from the home crowd;
- Tactically all over the place but full of NLD passion and commitment;
- Hate the former, absolutely love the latter;
- I remain unconvinced by Emery’s tactical ability and use of our fabulous resources.
Eight observations from a frantic, cup-final-kind-of-a-game that felt both like a win and a loss after the final whistle:
- Whilst we sat back against Pool and invited their pressure with hope to beat them on the break, against the Spuds at home Emery wanted to attack relentlessly from the start. The result was a tornado of a game with a restlessness that never subsided. It was brave to play the PALs from the start; a shame, though, Emery did not dare to add a proper nr10 to that lethal trio. Ozil started on the bench and never came off it. Instead, we played with a flat midfield-three in which everyone seemed to be allowed to play anywhere they liked, and, especially, anyhow they liked. With Emery, Arsenal have a very busty/sexy top, a lose/wobbly core of a midriff and some fine legs that are nevertheless left to fend for themselves. The Spuddies like to absorb pressure and play on the break and they punished us severely for some limpid defending; with 2-0 up they almost made it to the break, and Pochettino must have thought ‘how easy is this?!’; his tactics were the superior ones during the first half.
- This style of midriff-less football does not suit the likes of Xhaka and Torreira at all. The last gasp defending and getting back in some sort of position is a nightmare for them, and I can well imagine they do not like how Emery is setting up the team and his ‘tactical’ instructions. Xhaka DID make a bad mistake and all the Xhaka-haters will see their one-dimensional views confirmed. They will not have seen how he recovered in the second half and how some of the best passes came from his foot. The Xhaka-hatred will not go away after that avoidable penalty give-away, and he will have to cut out fast such mistakes, but with 1.7 key passes per game he remains very important for us (and no doubt will remain the first on the team sheet for Emery).
- The second half was much better as Arsenal pushed the Spuds more in their own half and left far less space behind the attackers for them to play the ball out from a turnover. The midfield played much more disciplined and our attackers got much better service. I was pleased that Emery did not make any changes at half time but decided to talk to his players instead, much helped of course by Laca’s late first-half goal – without that it could have been totally different half time tactics and offerings to the Gods by the wizard from the Basque country. The final part of the second half was something else, though, and, as much as I liked our desire to win the game at all costs, the space we gave away for the Spuds to win it instead was just mind-blowing and an attack on my vital organs.
- MOTM by a mile was our First Warrior of last season, Laca. He single-handedly saved us from a thumping by scoring a great, Messi-esque goal just at the right time. What a fine control of the ball and powerful finish with his left foot. I also liked David Luiz positioning and organisation of his often unprotected defence, and I thought the full backs had a very effective game. A special mention should also go out to Guendouzi who was allowed to move all over the pitch in Emery’s approach and therefore looked often good. He made some good interceptions and blocks and of course he produced a fine assist for Auba that he finished exquisitely. At just 0.5 key passes per game (13th in the Arsenal team league for key passes), Guendouzi has a long way to go, but he now has his first assist of the season and hopefully many more will come.
- Big point is, though, that Emery kept Ozil on the bench and yet the game screamed out for him. I really don’t get what is going on with the Spaniard: wanting lots and lots of passion and drive is great but football is still a game in need for calm and intelligence – for silver-serving the PALs. Guendouzi is doing relatively well for his age but we have the king of assists and key passes rotting away on the bench (if he is actually picked to warm it).
- Leno needs to get those wrists sorted so he can push away further the low shots fired at him. The first goal, despite bad defending by a number of our players, was avoidable with a stronger push out by our nr1 goalkeeper. But it must be said, he also kept us in the game with a couple of fine flying saves and a strong personality in and around the box.
- What a baptism of fire for Pepe this home-NLD was and how well did he do?! I absolutely loved his drive and involvement and it is really great that he produced his first assist. He just has to find a little bit more composure before he pulls the trigger. As an attacking trio the PALs will have to get used to each other, though, and I am not sure whether playing all three of them is the best option for us. We should note that our attackers managed to get just under a third of our shots on goal whereas the Spuddies had two third of their shots on goal. But Pepe was not intimidated and took full part in this topsy-turvy derby game (is that a tautology?), and that goes a long way.
- Finally, a few quick and dirty observations. Kola replaced the sadly missed Nacho and he did a good job. Mkhi was brought on and clearly was rusty and had issues with his first touch, but he still added a bit of intelligence to our potent attacking threat. Is Nelson – a half time Emery ‘sacrifice’ v Burnley – totally out of favour now? In my view, Reiss could have made the difference at the end of the game as the Spuds were weak on their right side and we were breaching their defence quite well there. A winger with close ball control was missing though and Nelson could have made the Spuds pay for it. Ceballos brought more energy and a bit more intelligence too, but I do worry about his risky ‘keep hold of the ball for too long’ style of play that leaves us vulnerable to turnovers. Clearly, Emery also rates his fellow Spaniard higher than the king of the key pass which baffles me beyond belief.