The game just wrapped up and the Gunners got their first win in over a week, holding on to the 1-0 lead that Mesut Ozil’s wonder strike earned them. Overall, the performance was good again, but this time the team actually got the result they wanted. Unlike against both West Ham and Southampton their free-flowing attacking game paid dividends, although it was not perfect. The team took their foot off the gas late in the day and lost their concentration a few times. This was a familiar feeling win, although not in a good way.
A Familiar Feeling Win Over Newcastle
As I discussed earlier in the week, the stats suggest that the Gunners play better against “lesser” opponents using a back four rather than a back three. Through 18 games last season, using four at the back, the team was on 37 points (11W 4D 3L) compared to 33 points this year (10W 3D 5L).
Additionally, the team has scored fewer goals (31) this season than twelve months ago (39), but have not enjoyed any sort of improvement at the back, conceding more goals (20) to this point than last year (19).
Now, it would appear, Wenger has decided to revert to four at the back, giving his team an extra man further up the field to, hopefully, get a few more goals. My guess is he will keep the back three in his back pocket to use against the big clubs, as the formation has yielded (marginally) better results against the Big Six.
With any formation change comes with it selection problems.
Today, our man Arsene decided to let the impressive Ainsley Maitland-Niles continue at LB while Nacho Monreal was allowed to keep his place as a CB. I think this was down to two reasons; AMN needs game time to continue improving, and Kolasinac’s performances have been declining.
Meanwhile, Monreal has been, arguably, our best defender. He is never going to dominate a game in the air or with his physicality, but his intelligence and movement allows Nacho to do his job effectively. I do want Chambers and Holding to get more chances, but with Mustafi out, Monreal is a good choice in a CB pairing.
Up front, the only change from Wednesday is the inclusion of Alex Lacazette at the expense of Olivier Giroud. The latter is better in the air and has more physicality, but stats are hard to argue with, and the former is the team leader in goals scored.
Overall, I personally can’t find much to complain about. Having three left-footed players in the center of midfield isn’t ideal, but with Ramsey out and facing a team that was always going to defend first, I just don’t know what Wenger could do differently.
Yes, Coquelin or Elneny could have come in, but they are DMs first and foremost, and the team didn’t need added defense.
What a good first half from our boys. Newcastle were having trouble even getting a foot on the ball, let alone chances to go ahead, which has been the recent defect of Arsenal. They were confident without getting cocky and took care not to concede (another) easy scoring chance.
Compared to Wednesday, the team also did well to give their play more width, something that hurt them midweek. There were no more natural wide players in the team, however the likes of Sanchez, Iwobi, AMN and Bellerin took more care to stretch the opposition defense.
The goal is a good way to illustrate this point. With the ball at Wilshere’s feet in the middle of the park, Iwobi stays wide to give him a passing option in space, instead of forcing his way inside to further crowd the box.
The Nigerian then stayed wide with a view to cross the ball. Newcastle, it’s worth noting, should have done better to close him down, but at the end of the day, you have to take the chances presented to you.
From this position, Iwobi is able to make a dangerous low cross which could have found Lacazette, Ozil or Alexis. From there, Sanchez shoots, Newcastle tries to clear, and Ozil volleys the ball perfectly.
As magnificent as the finish was, it would have never happened if Iwobi had cut inside, as he did many times versus West Ham. There was plenty of attacking play to get excited about, and it felt as though the game may have already been over.
After the Half
Arsenal lost their concentration about halfway through the second half, and despite creating chance after chance, they lacked the clinical edge that Wenger was talking about the other day.
Early in the half the best chances went to the Gunners. For example, the shot from Alexis that deflected for a corner. Or the attempted chip from Lacazette that didn’t come close. There is also the poor cross by the same French striker after combining well with Bellerin. That’s not even counting Wilshere’s shot that went straight at the keeper.
Honestly, it should have been at least 2-0 and could have been as much as 4 or 5-0.
Then, with the minutes ticking away and Newcastle, despite a dearth of chances, was still in the game. The final minutes were really nervy, as Ayoze Perez seemed to have ball-collecting magnets stuffed in his boots, or maybe the Arsenal defense just lost their heads.
We were almost forced into a few professional fouls, and the defense felt a bit exposed by the many long balls sent forward from the Toon. I guess you could read that as defensive solidity for the Gunners, as they held firm in the end, but you could also easily read that as a defensive lapse for our boys.
The Last Word
I can’t count how many times fans have said this after a win, but here it goes, “they got the points, but they sure made it hard on themselves.”
All in all, this result is probably indicative as to why we’re fighting for fourth and not for first. Arsenal could, and maybe should, have killed the game off before halftime. Even if their best chances came later in the match.
To be champions, a team must be ruthless, much like the Invincibles, or Guardiola’s various teams through his career. The Gunners were a bit closer to toothless than ruthless on the day.
On other days, a fan could argue that the reason for our boys’ frailties are in the formation or perhaps the conditions, or even the officiating. Today, however the formation was fine, the conditions okay and the officiating mediocre (which is better than usual, I assure you).
Today the problem was with mentality. Arsene Wenger and his men will have to come out stronger than this against better teams, or else risk becoming even more peripheral as far as a Premier League season goes.
But, again, a win is a win, so be happy, at least for today.
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