Arsenal V Chelsea London Derby Part 1 aka Match Day 2

Arsenal v Chelsea has been a fun match for years.  More fun if you are a Chelsea fan but fun regardless.  The ManCity match largely felt sloppy on both sides.  I felt like Arsenal didn’t have a cohesive feel to their play but City was also choppy.  This match felt like neither team had an identity.  I fell in love with Arsenal’s beautiful passing combinations and understood that those beautiful passing sequences at times left them open at the back.  Like most Arsenal fans I felt Wenger’s time was up.  Either the dressing room no longer listened or maybe the game had moved to a place that no longer suits his style.  Match Day 1 against the reigning champion I largely felt okay to not be played off the pitch.  Match Day 2 was on the road to a to cross-town rival, a team that finished better than Arsenal last year, but like Arsenal a team with a new manager trying to find themselves on the pitch.  

  • Arsenal and a high defensive line haven’t been the best cohorts historically for my liking.  
    • Most recently it was Per Mertesacker getting caught out for pace over and over
    • Presently, we are seeing Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Shkodran Mustafi stretched for pace.  
  • The high defensive line is paired with a short-passing game from the back that hasn’t really developed to this point. 
    •  Cech looks uncomfortable but so does the backline.  Having options left and right about 10 yards from the goal gives Cech two quick outlets. Chelsea kept pushing their striker and wings up to put immediate pressure on the ball.  Cech had to get the ball moving quickly and as soon as he passed it the recipient was under pressure too.  
    • Bellerin feels like he’s still finding his legs in this current role.  Bellerin has loads of athletic ability, namely pace.  Receiving the ball so deep on the field might eventually work out well.  Right now he doesn’t appear to be comfortable.  Bellerin also doesn’t appear to have a clear line of communication developed with his right-sided partner.  Henrikh Mkhitaryan might also still be learning/developing his role within this system.  The communication between the two players helped lead into the first two Chelsea goals very clearly with more on that to come.   It must be said on the last second chance Giroud had Bellerin busted his ass to get back and put in a challenge.  Watch that in the highlights.  Guendouzi gives up on the play as if to almost say you got me Giroud you got me.  Bellerin doesn’t give up even though he’s been on the field the entire match.  Bellerin is 10+ yards further up the pitch than Guendouzi too.  How Hazard doesn’t put that away himself is questionable and has to be chalked up to a World Cup hangover.  Giroud missing is classic Giroud.  The one he should bag gets stopped but the next three he shouldn’t have a sniff on are converted with ease.  
    • Nacho seems fine.  Nacho might not be the best footballer, the best athlete or the best fit in any one position.  When Nacho is deployed he plays.  From having watched Nacho for the past few years my sense is that he is really smart and can adapt to the game around him.  Ask Nacho to play a high line, and he’ll be vocally leading it.  Ask Nacho to play a CB and he’ll be fighting with the opposition’s tallest players.  Slide Nacho into a spot and he’ll do his damnedest to adapt.  When Nacho is beaten it is typically due to being outplayed not being out-positioned or being in the wrong spot.  In this match, Nacho largely dealt with his charges.  Chelsea appeared to be deliberately moving the focus of the attack to the other side of the pitch.  Don’t forget that if Nacho doesn’t make that interception the first goal doesn’t happen. 
    • Sok looked good to me in the last match.  This match Cech, Sok, and Mustafi didn’t seem synced.  The third goal was a series of stupid plays that ended in Cech getting 5-holed.  I largely felt like the communication and interplay between the three improved as the match progressed and then they hit a wall just before that 3rd goal.  Arsenal was already out of subs at that point in time with only Lichtsteiner on the bench defensively it would’ve been more of a formation change than fresh legs in that rear triangle.  
  • I have more questions about the midfield after the match than before the match.  
    • The initial line-up of Xhaka-Guendouzi-Iwobi-Ozil-Mkhitaryan morphed into Torreira-Guendouzi-Lacazetter/Aubameyang-Ramsey-Mkhitaryan
    • 35 minutes in I was thinking we might see Mkhitaryan slide into a bench role before too long.  I don’t love his interplay with Bellerin, largely due to his apparent apathy to defensive work.  Then he’s directly involved in both goals.  Like I said last week I’m still feeling him out as a player.  In the attacking third, he’s brilliant.  Can Emery find a system, pairing or positioning to minimize his weaknesses?  Or can he simply be coached into a stronger role within the team?  Its apparent to me that there is something there and he should be used.  His partners within the midfield also need to help paper over his weaknesses.  
    • Guendouzi has looked pretty stellar for a 19-year old.  Even more than Torreira, Guendouzi may be playing Xhaka off the pitch.  If Torreira is to be the anchor of the midfield Guendouzi appears to be the water-carrier at present.  Relying on a 19-year-old guy who hasn’t played in the Premier League before feels like it might come back to bite the team in the long-run.  Even if the midfield gets turned over to the kids in Torreira and Guendouzi they still have Ramsey/Xhaka/Elneny available.  
    • Lacazette coming on in the 2nd half isn’t how I feel he’s best used.  I love the idea of fresh legs coming on and stretching the opposition.  I think I’d rather see Laca and Auba starting together.  If they aren’t paired up top I’d like to see them able to swap the lone striker role.  Iwobi looked fine, got on the sheet and gave way to fresh legs.  I do like having Laca as the scoring threat off the bench more than I’d like Iwobi.  I also like having a hard-working winger on the left side than the Ozil/Mkhi thing from the City match.  
    • Ozil feels underused.  There wasn’t enough possession to really maximize his tools.  I didn’t mind his game I just don’t see this formation being able to maximize his potential.  Then again I don’t see any formation that has questions at the back as a formation to maximize Ozil.  Ozil needs to be able to be looking forward, finding space, runs, and weaknesses to exploit.  Tracking back isn’t his strength so playing him into a role where he needs to win balls limits his potential and sucks the life out of the attack.  If he converts that chance in the first 20 minutes it’s a different game.  I think this chance was every bit as bad as Auba’s miss.  Ozil just sliced it wide of the frame.  Auba blasted it over.  There were so many near misses.  This one from the guy that has so much pressure on him from the coach requesting more defense to the weekly wages that it just would’ve been nice to have.  
    • Xhaka can’t really be to blame for the early goals.  The first goal goes to the formation questions.  Dual midfield pivots and a high-line with defenders napping on the first goal.  The shot Barkley put over the bar (its in the highlight package below) shows the space that is still between the holding midfielders and the defenders.  On the second goal, Xhaka is higher than Guendouzi and has drifted left of him.  Mustafi clearly needs to deal with that play differently from cutting Morata off from the ball or just winning the tackle.  Cech guessing wrong didn’t help either.  The yellow card seemed to be more of a statement of intent that Arsenal wasn’t rolling over.  It was a rough place on the field to need that much steel but it didn’t feel horrific. Honestly, I’d be more interested in seeing Xhaka allowed more space slightly higher up the pitch in more of the role of a true number 8 instead of a number 6.  It feels like two number 8s are being played as 6s to fit Ozil the number 10 on the pitch while still having two wingers.  I’d rather see more of a diamond in the midfield.  Give up the width if you have too and play two strikers.  
    • Torreira didn’t sell me on being a straight-away starter.  Torreira got beat for the game-winner.  There were a handful of plays where he wasn’t in the correct hole.  He was marking Hazard for a chunk of his time on the pitch.  This felt more of a case where having the two number 6s actually lead to more confusion as to who was the last line of defense in the midfield, who needed to step-up or back.  I really think putting a single pivot into the formation will clear up the confusion.  It will also allow for tighter marking.  On the game-winner, Torreira lets him man slip by and I only assume this is because he thinks his man is drifting far-post and will be picked up by Guendouzi.  This type of error should be resolved with more repetitions within the system or by clarifying roles.  
    • Ramsey needs the entire length of a match to put his stamp on it.  Coming on for 20 or so minutes, in the end, doesn’t seem to be a strength.  Maybe the plan was to salt away the draw.  I can see that as making sense.  If that was the plan I’d rather have seen Elneny come on to pair for Torreira with Guendouzi moving up the pitch.  This again would lead me to think there should be more of a presence centrally within the midfield.  38% of the possession is paltry.  Jorginho/Kante/Barkley won the day clearly.  There is so much talent in the midfield that Emery needs to sort this out in the next two to three fixtures to get a hold on possession to feed the attack.
    • Iwobi worked hard.  Helped create the first goal.  Converted the second goal.  Quieted the right-side of the Chelsea attack Azpilicueta/Kante/Pedro but in doing so didn’t put extended pressure on the opposition.  The guy is involved in two goals and yet I was left wanting more.  I think I’ve just never been sold on his touch or possession skills.  Having said all of this he put in a good shift and shouldn’t be overlooked unless the formation shifts to improve the midfield or to include Laca in the attack.  
    • Lacazette as the super-sub only made sense if Lacazette isn’t starting.  I’d rather see him making runs, rotating with Auba from the left-wing position for the entire match.  There was space to be had by cutting in from that left wing.  Laca brings pace and a willingness to get into the area.  He wasn’t given the time to really be a threat in my eyes.  The possession wasn’t there either.  I’d rather see him and Auba up-top together.  Sigh
    • Aubameyang missed a goal.  Let’s get over it.  Next time he’ll probably convert.  Auba needs more service.  All strikers need service.  Playing two 10s in the midfield and not getting Auba service possibly means two 10s doesn’t make for a great midfield.  Auba, Mkhi, Ozil, Laca, and Ramsey are all attacking pieces that Emery inheritable with the job.  I didn’t watch a ton of PSG the last few years but sorting out the attacking talent there wasn’t an overnight situation.  I know that from watching Cavani longingly from a afar.  
  • The goals all sucked to give up.  The first goal Mkhi and Bellerin aren’t talking and Mkhi gets caught out long.  Then the whole defense is scrambling.  The second goal showed some great individual effort by Morata but again Iwobi is closing on the ball before it was played long but instead of forcing it in he lets it go wide.  Then Sok wasn’t crashing back to support Mustafi.  Mustafi doesn’t stand Morata up and maybe that’s fine because maybe Morata really is as good as his transfer fee.  Cech probably needs to rush out.  Later in the match, he does this a few times.  Maybe he just was slow to see this one, maybe he was thinking about Bobby Convey or maybe he thought yeah the really good central defender in front of me isn’t going to give this ball up easily.  The third goal Laca is trying to find a release valve.  The midfielders are too far back, he shouldn’t have passed it back.  It was a bad back-pass.  Then Hazard takes it easily.  Pressure is half-hearted on the ball.  Clearly, Arsenal was worried about it being played into Giroud’s head and the quick ball into feet caught the defense in an unimaginative state.  
  • Two losses from two matches.  Emery isn’t getting fired but he needs to be questioned.  Were these the best formations to trot out against these opponents?  Is this the set-up that gets the most out of the team?  I’m not presently sold.  After the Man City match, I just felt it was sloppy.  I never felt like the team was compact or tight in this match either.  I didn’t know Emery’s previous teams well enough to know his real individual style.  At PSG he had all-time greats.  I didn’t really take much from those teams.  I want to see a new identity emerge.  Sloppy isn’t what I was looking for.  There is clearly talent in this roster.  My expectations from these two fixtures had been to not look bad and the high-side was a single point.  I’m not sounding the alarm.  I just want to see progress in the next match.  I want the guys to seem like they know what they are doing collectively.  I don’t want to question the set-up or the on-field communication.  All of the teams in the Premier League have at least one talented player on the roster.  While there isn’t one guy I can say is going to open Arsenal up regardless they’ll have to watch Javier Hernadez’s pace if he plays and the physical presence that Marko Arnautovic brings to the pitch.  Jack Wilshire making his return to the Emirates should be fun.  Man, won’t it annoy the fans if Jack and company control possession this weekend?  Let’s hope this is a case of the attack finding its wings because the midfield is able to help loft it up to where it belongs.  I really hope there is no conversation about the high-line and the quick passing game from the back after this match.  

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