After the first 45, many fans at the Emirates were probably looking for something to throw at their manager. Bottom-of-the-Bundesliga FC Cologne were leading by 1-0, and looked much more like the team that has won 3 trophies in the last 4 years.
After what must have been a halftime talk that would have made Winston Churchill cry, plus a substitution, Arsenal sprang to life and netted three goals to earn three points.
Keep reading for three thoughts on Arsenal 3-1 Cologne, and find out who made Man of the Match!
Worrying Win for Wenger’s Men
The Back Three Isn’t Working
Plain and simple.
No matter the trio that our man Arsene has sent out to protect the net, the team looks disjointed defensively. While today Holding, Mertesacker and Monreal played fairly well, especially in the second half, that was the exception and not the rule.
Aside from the defensive deficiencies, the system also seems to stifle the attack. Getting out-scored 1-0 by FC Cologne (no disrespect intended) is not a good sign for a team that wants to win the Premier League.
On the opening day of the League season Wenger had to revert to a back four to get a late win against Leicester. At Anfield he tried the trick again to attempt an unlikely comeback, but the defeat was inevitable by then.
Now, in the opening fixture of the Europa League, Arsenal again had to ‘revert’ to a back four in order to take the points. There is a pattern here.
A team can either play a system that works for their players, or it can get players that work for its system.
As of now Stan Kroenke is not willing to put the money on the table to buy a whole new squad. So, the options for on-field tactics are relatively limited, at least as a back three system goes.
Arsenal don’t have a strong, physical defensive midfielder that is required to give cover to the defense. The closest thing they do have is Francis Coquelin, who was given a whopping two substitute appearances before picking up an injury.
The back three Wenger wants to use requires a DM to sit deeply and cover while his midfield partner joins the attack. It also thrives with a defender who is great with the ball at their feet, like David Luiz.
Shkodran Mustafi is a good passer of the ball who is also comfortable doing so, but hasn’t been given the chance to. Mertesacker was placed in the heart of the back line today, and Monreal there for parts of the early season.
The Gunners in places don’t have the personnel to play the 3-4-2-1, and in others don’t start the right player.
Speaking of Team Selection…
Some of the players outside the back three also didn’t benefit from Wenger’s tactics. Ainsley Maitland-Niles looked almost lost for parts of the first half today.
Then, when he was moved back to a much more familiar position in midfield, he only goes and makes a terrific run through the Cologne defense. He isn’t a LWB, and to the best of my knowledge hasn’t played there for the U23 team either.
Alex Iwobi certainly wasn’t to blame for the Cologne goal, but such an attacking-minded player sitting in the heart of midfield doesn’t do a team much good defending. However, despite my criticisms, this wasn’t Wenger strangest XI this season.
Hector Bellerin got familiar with the LWB position earlier this year, while Monreal, while capable in the role, looks to have been converted into a full-time CB.
The former doesn’t belong on the left flank, while if the latter never plays there it will be down to a combination of Sead Kolasinac when he is fit and just whoever Wenger has available when he isn’t.
Let’s just all hope that the days of Aaron Ramsey playing on the wing are finished.
Alexis Sanchez & Rob Holding
The Chilean scored what is probably the goal of the season so far for Arsenal today. However, aside from that moment of brilliance, Alexis looked frustrated, irritated and just plain sad.
I’m not suggesting the team necessarily should have sold when offered good money, but hopefully his attitude will change. Poor morale not only dampens the player’s performance but also of those around him.
Arsenal just can’t afford for the dressing room to descend into the doldrums.
As far as the Englishman goes, he looks different. At the end of last season, and to an extent the early part of the year, he looked like a young Tony Adams. Not so much so far this campaign.
Like much of the team in the first 45, Holding just passed the ball back and forth looking short of ideas. When he did step up to try and start a move he was quickly caught in possession.
Overall, in the few times the player has played this year he has been a liability. Hopefully, Holding isn’t unsettled and is just going through a slump.
While his modest price tag last summer means that if he isn’t the caliber player Arsenal need, they wouldn’t lose out too much, that would leave the team with one less option at CB.
Man of the Match
I’ll give the MotM to Sead Kolasinac.
The Serbian may have usurped Alexis Sanchez as the number one fan favorite when he leveled the score in the Community Shield, but he definitely turned things around for Arsenal today.
His goal seemed typical of his work ethic and strength, as he more or less rocketed it past a diving Timo Horn. His passing and movement was almost immaculate, and he even got the fans singing again.
It was a classic game of two halves; the underdogs FC Cologne came out viciously in the first half and made Arsenal look like amateurs, then when the Gunners ‘reverted’ to the back four their passing became free and easy, and the goals came quickly and beautifully.
Arsene Wenger has some things to sort out tactically, but a switch back to 4-2-3-1 looks in order. Then again, we’ve been saying that since the Leicester match!
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