Vitoria Guimaraes 1 – 1 Arsenal
Well that game was not a compliment to the eyes but an away draw in European football is not bad, the statisticians will tell you, and Mustafi – MOTM – had one of his better games. I am afraid that is as positive as it will get in this post.
In all European competitions we have won only 1 out of 8 away games in Portugal, and we knew from the return game that Vitoria are a well organised, hard to beat, typical Portuguese team. On top of that it rained the whole game and things at the club are not great: Xhaka has been dethroned and that will not only have upset him in the team, we dropped seven points in the last three PL games, and our manager and our football look stuck in a cul-de-sac of a cul-de-sac. All are also aware that we will face the high-flying Foxes on Saturday and that game may well turn out to be decisive for the continuation of Emery’s Arsenal career.
Whether it is yesterday’s game or any other game we played under Emery in recent times, our biggest problems are the balance in midfield, the lack of cohesion in our play, lack of added dimension (our football is stale) and inability to get the best out of our players. In fact, the way Emery has us play seems to make our individual players lose their groove and confidence. He puts 11 players on the pitch but it looks like only 9 are playing. We allowed 15 shots, one every six minutes, with four on target; despite 65% of possession Arsenal only managed 7 shots of which just one was on target.
Our midfield set-up does not protect the back nor does it support the attack, and it makes every midfielder in Emery’s team look poor and clueless. Arsenal under Wenger were the masters of midfield play for the best part of 20 years, so this is extra hard to swallow. Don’t believe one second that Xhaka was only saddened by the poor response by some of the Emirates’ ‘support’ when he was so ostentaniously subbed by the manager; the way Emery has the team play and how that makes him play and look also made him mad. And I am sure he is not the only one who feels (or felt) like that!
We had three willing attackers in Saka, Pepe and Martinelli but they were constantly outnumbered where it mattered. We played 3-4-3 so this should not have been the case, but both Tierney and AMN struggled to aid the attack and the central midfield duo of Willock and Ceballos had just too much space to cover and sat too deep. Everything we tried was via the wings and the Portuguese had this covered all day long. We had nobody manning the hole, in fact there was an empty yellow/blue triangle from the Portuguese box all the way to the midfield line for most of the game. We hardly put more than two passes together in the areas where we could hurt them, as we were not compact enough, not mobile enough and were basically clueless and plan-less.
Pepe, Saka and Martinelli looked frustrated despite trying hard to make things happen. Ceballos had to come very deep to get the game going and covered many miles before he had to come off with a hamstring injury (no surprise really). He could not get the team going in the way we were set up to combat the rugged opponents, and Emery’s subs made a bit of change but not enough to improve our poor football significantly. It was urine-poor for 90 minutes and I feel sorry for those loyal away supporters on that wet and insipid night of football that will have hurt the wallet hard.
The defence almost got their clean sheet but that game did not deserve a winner. Mustafi, who played the best passes on the night, scored a solid Championship sort of goal to get us ahead, but Vitoria hit back with some fine technical improvisation by Duarte de Silva who levelled things with a good scissor-kick that somehow eluded all our frantic defenders in the box.
We are close to going through to the next round and this game will be quickly forgotten. I reckon the same cannot be said about our pivotal encounter with the Foxes on Saturday. Sink or Swim.