Any results against your rival less than a win is often tough to swallow. It’s made worse when that result feels as though it came as the hands of self-inflicted damage. This recipe made for a dismal day as Arsenal walked into Tottenham Hotspur stadium for the first time and left in an infuriating fashion.
As much as it hurts to say this, Arsenal fell victim to their own mistakes in a game that scripted along as though written by Mourinho himself. Having 63% possession with some dangerous chances not taken. Letting Spurs off the hook a few times, while conceding 15 shots, 9 shots on goal, 15 chances created on 37% possession for Tottenham is about how Jose wants to play and the flow of the game catered to it.
Spurs started fast and forced Arsenal to be sloppy. They were gifted a goal by Arsenal’s poor defense when Kolasinac handed the ball to Son with an open path to run in on goal. Spurs produced half chances and dangers with the ball, while frustrating any Arsenal attack, and in the end got their goal on a set piece. Arsenal aren’t the first team to fall victim to Mourinho in this fashion, the guy has made a career of it, but that wont make the bitter taste in your mouth go away any sooner.
A picture perfect goal from the Gunners, immediately undone by their own incompetency. To have Xhaka press and pounce on an opportunity to clatter into a tackle and win the ball right to the feet of Lacazette who smashed a rocket into the net is every coaches dream when they ask their team to press. To have Kolasinac hand it away under two minutes later? The type of situation that will keep Arteta up the next few nights with nightmares of what he could have done differently, in anything.
It’s a tough game to find many positives in and feels like the icing on Arsenal’s disaster of a season, cake, but here are a few thoughts and takeaways from yesterday’s north London derby.
There is a million different directions for this thought to run in, almost all of them negative. But after that display, my thoughts about Arsenal’s backline and the defense feels spread out in about a million directions.
Sloppy with the ball, sloppy without the ball. Individual errors, team defending errors. As good of a job as Arteta has done at times during his short tenure in making the lives of the defense simple and protecting them from opposition attackers and, frankly, themselves – there is always the threat of them being undone by their own mistakes. Maybe, it’s best to go through each of the three defenders to discuss what happened against Spurs.
While the 3-4-3 formation has resulted in some early forms of success for Arsenal, one of the major concerns has been the left center back role of Kolasinac. To his credit, he has acquitted himself well at times on the defensive end – look no further than his role in helping to shut down Adama Traore – but his capabilities on the ball have seemed suspect at best.
He is a bit clumsy on the ball, indecisive at times, loose with his passing, and it felt like his role in the side may be a bit of a ticking time bomb. On Sunday, it went off. Putting himself and others into all kinds of trouble, the decisions to play the ball into space rather than feet repeatedly led to giveaways and dangerous opportunities for the Tottenham. It’s part of why Spurs only needed 37% of the ball to work 15 shots and created chances.
Sead’s role in the first goal is, of course, absolutely criminal. The time and space he had to make a decision and move the ball along, the miscommunication between him and Luiz that saw him play the ball into the space, and the resulting goal is enough to make you question whether he should be the first selection there anymore. Should Arteta continue with the 3-4-3 formation, we may see him turn to a Tierney-Saka combination rather than Sead-Tierney. A mistake always felt just around the corner with him on the ball with his limited passing abilities and more central positioning, but this mistake will have left your jaw on the floor and hands over your face.
The work that Arteta and Skodran have put in to bring Mustafi’s level of play up a consistent level has been impressive at times. He has played a run of games relatively error free, been a leader on the field, and played a significant role in the bolstering of Arsenal’s defense. Even if that success has come with more protection and the less of an ask to make solo tackles and plays, Mustafi has made them consistently.
It was a breath of fresh air in comparison to the Mustafi of just a few months previous. One that wasn’t positioned correctly, went to ground too easily, was too far off opposition attackers that that had the ball at their feet, and was a focal point of opponents game plan. Run at and press Mustafi into making an error. Against Spurs, Arsenal fans witnessed a bit of the old Mustafi. He was rash into challenges and skipped past with ease, he was sliding around the field and poor times, and forced into attempting to make last ditch tackles or blocks that weren’t coming off.
Was it bad enough to have undone the small but significant trust he had built with fans? To each their own. I would say not quite yet, but eyes will be on him to make amends against Liverpool – a tough challenge. His stats look impressive, his eye-test looked worrisome. He is clearly a player that thrives off confidence to make the right decision. That confidence is shaken at the moment and he needs to bounce back.
David Luiz may have felt a bit like a passenger along for the rollercoaster ride that I imagine playing between Mustafi and Kolasinac is, but thats part of the problem. Our defender whose claim is staked as our most experienced player, didn’t exert himself on the game or in taking control of the backline when they needed him the most. Was it a bad game for Luiz? No, but it certainly was not a good one. A moment to step up as a leader and help reign in his two compatriots, in order to settle things down, came and went. Missed.
In the end, all three leave you understanding why Arsenal are in desperate need of reform at the back. Their combination worked for a bit, but in the end we are reminded of just how easy they can all be undone.
Set pieces have been an issue for Arsenal all year. In fact, with yesterday’s second goal concession off Tottenham’s 81st minute corner kick, Arsenal have conceded 45% of their goals this year on set pieces. Thats 20 goals for opposition on a set piece play. Alarming. This puts them in the same tier as relegation-bound Norwich and relegation-threatened Aston Villa. Hardly the company they want to keep.
Whether this is about the need for adding height and true ball winners into the mix, altering the way they deal with marks and clearing their lines, or likely the combination of both, Arteta has a lot of work to bring down that percentage to even a reasonable number. Many teams have come up agianst the Gunners this year and built set pieces into their game plan. Content to win corners and aiming to draw fouls in dangerous situation is a reliable way to put pressure on Arsenal and it has caused a lot of struggle and led to Arsenal’s poor results.
With another game in the books, we have another example of the inconsistency in Arsenal’s ability to create chances for 90 minutes. Against Norwich we saw it for 90 minutes, against Wolverhampton it was a more defensive game, against Leicester it was for 30-45 minutes, and yesterday it sporadic and inconsistent – especially for how much of the ball they had.
Dani Ceballos had good moments, Xhaka had good moments, the wings of Tierney and Bellerin looked dangerous at times in the first half, Pepe had moments where he was tucked inside centrally and dangerous – but none of it was frequent enough and the chances weren’t statistically that dangerous. With a .8xG, according to FBref, Arsenal got about what they deserved. Of course, Lacazettes thunderstruck goal does not do much to boost xG, even if it does go in, but a .8xG shows the lack of quality in which Arsenal are creating in their chances.
It’s been a consistent issue with Arsenal’s midfield and attack this year and it comes from being an incomplete side. Would a more complete attacking midfielder change this? Possibly, but with the need to protect the backline that is missing pieces, carry the ball through the middle of the pitch with no obvious ball carrier, and a clear cut identity of how they work good chances, Arsenal are more than one player away from solving this issue.
There are enough issues to keep everyone at the club up at night and this game wont have made things easier. Slipping behind struggling, rivals Tottenham, ending any slim chances of qualifying for Europe through the league, the feeling of taking one step forward, two steps back — it leaves a pit in your stomach.
There were some aspects of the game that could be isolated as positive learning steps, but with a result like this, manufactured the way it was, against a team like Tottenham there are just too many negatives that need to be addressed first.
In summary: A world-class strike, undone by schoolboy defending errors and individual mistakes. Arsenal 2019/20 season.
Chin up Gunners. There is a long ways to go and likely a few more days like today on the horizon before the promise-land is reached.