The Gunners slumped to yet another defeat away from the Emirates on Friday at Watford. The first half was relatively uneventful, with both teams deeming defense more important for the first 45.
Per Mertsacker broke the deadlock with a headed goal (from a set piece nonetheless!) to take his team into the half with a lead. A soft penalty duly converted by Troy Deeney, as well as a last-gasp rebound goal, means that the Vicarage Road faithful will go home happy.
Now, let’s being the inquest!
Soft Penalty, Soft Response
Hector Bellerin only made minimal contact in the box to give away the penalty kick. The Spaniard’s knee collided with that of Richarlison, Watford’s new wonder-boy, to send the Brazilian down, but on further inspection it was a very similar challenge to the one between Danny Welbeck and Jose Holebas, when no foul was called.
Despite this being an easy scapegoat for the dropped points (although it was level after Deeney’s conversion), it really should only have been a blip on the radar on the way to a road win.
Just seconds earlier, Mesut Ozil squandered the best chance of the entire match for the Gunners. Iwobi laced the ball between the Watford defense, and the German did very well to stay on-side.
All our little creative midfielder had to do was beat the keeper. To be fair, it is easy for a layman to say something like ‘all he had to do was beat the keeper’, but how many times has Ozil danced around multiple defenders in addition to the goalie, and scored?
His delightful goal to win the game at Ludogorets springs to mind.
Let’s add that to the chance just after Welbeck made way for Ozil, when the German sent Iwobi in on goal. The young Nigerian’s shot was not terribly troublesome for Gomes, but it was a good chance nonetheless.
Then, of course, after the penalty but before the winner, Arsenal tore into the Watford box, but Xhaka’s decision to lay the ball off, and Monreal getting it stuck under his feet, meant that opportunity went unfulfilled also.
So, even discounting those last two chances, the Gunners really should have at least come away with a point. The penalty was soft, but so was the team’s defending and morale in the last 45.
Mesut Ozil Means Goals
It is a bit silly to blame defensive frailty on an attacking player, but the correlation between Mesut Ozil playing and Arsenal conceding is very strong.
He has featured in 6 matches so far this year, two as a sub and four starts, in the Premier League. In those four starts, the team has given up 9 goals and scored 7, with the little German picking up 0 assists thus far.
His two substitute appearances came today, versus Watford, and against West Bromwich Albion. Ozil came on in the 83rd minute against Tony Pulis‘ side, after all the scoring was finished, and in the 60th minute today, with the team 1-0 up.
I’m not going to try and say today’s loss is entirely down to the fact Mesut Ozil came on the field, but if we add his appearance today to the stats above, the correlation grows stronger. In the league this year, the team has conceded 11 goals with Ozil on the pitch, while scoring only 7.
So, from those six games, Arsenal have taken 6 points for an average of only one point per game with Ozil on the field.
To compare, in the two games in which Ozil did not feature, the team kept two clean sheets; one against Brighton and one at the home of the defending champions, Chelsea.
In the time that Ozil has spent on the bench or in recovery, the team has scored 5 goals while conceding 0.
Perhaps it is down to how the team reacts when Mesut Ozil in on the field, much like in the mid-2000s when Thierry Henry played. With a player with so much talent playing, the other guys may feel obliged to give him the ball no matter what.
Or perhaps it really is sheer coincidence, but the correlation is still very strong. +5 goal differential without Ozil, versus a -4 goal differential with him is very difficult to ignore.
Our man Arsene seems to get a lot of heat for his subs. Today was perhaps indicative of his past behavior when it comes to substitutes.
Alexandre Lacazette was playing very well, exploiting the fact that the Watford defense is slow but physical. So, when the team looked short on creative ideas, it came as a bit of a shock to see Olivier Giroud coming off the bench.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to give the opposition a different look, but surely Wenger knew that deploying a physical attacker would be a great match-up for the opposition.
It is also a bit curious that he brought on Mesut Ozil when the team was 1-0 up. Yes, Welbeck picked up a knock, but since the Lacazette-off, Giroud-on substitution seems set in stone for now, perhaps it would have made more sense to bring Olivier on at that time, instead of Ozil?
Given the information from the section above, it really seems strange, even though the little German is one of our best play-makers. That would also have kept two strikers on the field, allowing Lacazette to run off of Giroud, and perhaps create some room for one of his electric shots.
Also, the Holding for Koscielny change isn’t particularly controversial, however in retrospect it may have been better to bring Wilshere on instead.
At that time the team was level 1-1 against ‘inferior’ (no offense Watford!) opposition, when the team really should go for a win, not a draw. Elneny could have dropped into the back three, allowing the creative spirit of Jack Wilshere to influence the team in the dying embers of the match.
All in all, this is another very difficult result to swallow. Some think the issue is the formation, some think the team spirit and some think the Manager is to blame.
Whatever the true cause, every Gooner must be very worried already about this season. If something doesn’t change, and fast, this will be another year when Arsenal don’t reach the coveted top-four.