It’s unusual to open a blog with a song, but this morning this one is going around in my head and it seems particularly apt.
I still love you, oh, I still love you
Only slightly, only slightly less than I used to, my love
To be fair, there was at least some variation in that we continued our fun experiment of playing a back three almost devoid of central defenders. With Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, Rob Holding and Calum Chambers to choose from, Arsene Wenger plumped for Mustafi, Monreal and Kolasinac, flanked by Bellerin on the left and Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right.
Now, I like Monreal, and I think he works very well in a back three, but not as the anchor man in that system. We bought Kolasinac to add power and physicality to our left but instead played a right back, who should have been on the right, in that position, with Mertesacker on the bench and Holding, off the back of one dodgy game, left out of the squad altogether. You wonder what that will do to his confidence.
Amazingly, having picked what was essentially a mismatched, hotchpotch
, ramshackle back three, Arsene Wenger then bemoaned their lack of cohesion post-game
You need to improve the connections with the players but I was not convinced by our central defence today.
Crazy idea, but how about playing some actual central defenders in central defence and see if that makes things any better? As it was, the defence wasn’t entirely culpable for what turned out to be the winner, but its shortcomings were most definitely exposed, and the story of the game felt oh so familiar. Arsenal spurning chances to score, yet concede a thoroughly avoidable, feeble goal then spend the rest of the game huffing and puffing and failing to blow the house down.
The goal itself came when Granit Xhaka, whose radar seemed off all day, made a mess of a short pass in midfield allowing Stoke to break. Monreal’s hesitation was critical when the ball was slipped through to Jese and the former Real Madrid man made no mistake with a close range finish. Like last week against Leicester the problems were primarily of our own making, but this time there was to be no dramatic rescue.
In that Leicester game the manager’s substitutions worked brilliantly with Ramsey and then Giroud scoring the goals we needed, but yesterday they basically made things worse. I understand introducing Giroud, but I’m not sure Kolasinac was the man to take off. I would have preferred to see him move to left back as we settled into a back four, with Bellerin shifted back over to the right where he belongs leaving Oxlade-Chamberlain to make way.
Whatever about the efficacy of that move, it’s hard to understand exactly what the thinking behind the Iwobi and Walcott changes were about, beyond shoehorning as many attacking players onto the pitch as possible. When you’re chasing a game like this, against a team like Stoke who are sitting as deep as they did and packing their area, the qualities Walcott in particular possesses are basically useless and he barely had a kick when he came on.
And while I think Xhaka had a poor day by his standards, when you bring on Giroud you need players who can provide him the kind of service he needs, and taking the Swiss international off robbed us of one of the key proponents of that. The Frenchman had one chance, late on from a Monreal cross, and that was it.
In some ways it was illustrative of our day in general. The initial team selection was wrong, you just can’t play that many players out of position and hope to be cohesive as a team, and the substitutions – rather than changing the dynamic of the game – made us worse at a time when we were playing well enough to believe a goal wasn’t out of the question.
Indeed, we scored one, Lacazette’s effort was ruled out for offside – wrongly in my opinion – yet the manager’s response to that was to take off the man who had blasted the ball into the top corner, showcasing his finishing skills while others around him fluffed their lines when chances did present themselves. His decisions from start to finish were baffling, and ultimately costly.
I think it’s fair to point out that as well as the disallowed effort we should have had a penalty in the first half. I thought the two handballs were purely accidental, and would have been unhappy if we’d been penalised for those, but the one where Bellerin is clearly taken out by the defender is a shocking oversight by Andre Marriner, and in close games such decisions can be pivotal. That would certainly have changed the trajectory of the game, but at the same time it doesn’t excuse our own shortcomings.
Afterwards, Arsene Wenger bemoaned the offside decision, calling it ‘100% onside’, but said the result was of our making:
In football, when you don’t win, you can only look at yourself. Other teams might take points here that we have dropped today. Today I would say that we can look at ourselves and we are 100 per cent guilty on the goal we conceded.
The line about other team stands-out because he’s absolutely right. Stoke were pretty poor all round, far from the relentless threat they have been to us in the past, but they took their big chance and we failed to make the most of our domination of the ball. We had 77.3% possession, yet still managed to lose.
This is a team that badly needs some balance, because without it we’re going to struggle. It’s impossible to play football the way you want to with so many players in unfamiliar positions, and it wouldn’t surprise me very much if Arsene Wenger ditched the three at the back in the not too distant future. I mean, he could make it better by playing centre-halves there, and with Koscielny back next week we’ve got more chance of doing that, but I’m not sure he’s ever been truly convinced by it.
One of the other things that struck me yesterday was how deep Mesut Ozil was playing, dropping back to try and make things happen, and at times he and Xhaka were almost under each other’s feet. They’re both capable of picking a pass, but when they’re that close together they seemed to cancel each other out at times. I maintain this team is in need of a central midfield player who can help glue all our distinct parts together, because right now that area of the pitch as still not functioning the way it should.
So, our first tricky away game of the season and we come unstuck. If we need to get back on that horse straight away then a trip to Anfield next weekend should do nicely, but unless we sort out this team from a positional point of view, it’s hard to see how we’re going to avoid the same kind of result.
More on this tomorrow in the Arsecast Extra, in the meantime have a good Sunday.
The post Stoke 1-0 Arsenal: Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before
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