Gunner Thoughts

SOU – ARS: Standouts and Worries

Standouts and worries from a frustrating match with Southampton.

Usually this blog format of mine comes out the day after a Premier League match. Makes sense given its a reflection on the match. But honestly, I couldn’t. Wisely or not, I found myself pretty riled up and bitter about the match when I sat down to write my usual list of content pieces and talking points I might consider covering between Monday and Thursday’s match with PSV Eindhoven.

How can an Arsenal fan not be irfuriated? Lyanco delivering two close fisted little punches on Jesus. The ending with Nketiah. Even the push in the corner of the box on Ben White is a call that is probably more of a 60/40 called foul. The defender is nowhere near getting across and making the tackle, it’s just a barge. Saka was reffed weirdly that first half and kicked and hacked out of the game. I don’t think his run into the box is always called a penalty, but I don’t think it’s an outright bookable dive either.

Blehhhh! Irritating, and only made more irritating because Arsenal STILL had the chances to take the result out of the refs hands and didn’t.

If you want to read my full thoughts, feel free to check out The Irritating, the Infuriating, and the Ugly.

As I mention in yesterday’s blog. The positive? Even on a bad day Arsenal left an away match with a point.

The negative? The streak of incomplete performances continues and it certainly felt like two dropped points.

But Arsenal now get to decide how much this sets them back or propels them forward. It may be the wake up call they needed to start to convert these chances or the sign of these close matches tipping into dangerous, point-dropping territory.

Thursday versus PSV Eindhoven is another chance to go again but first Standouts and Worries from away at Southampton.


Granit Xhaka

In a match with few players from Arsenal tipping from okay performances into standout performances, Xhaka continues to standout for putting together what has become the best start to a season in his entire career. Be it the new role within this Arsenal side catering to him as a player more fittingly or the reduced responsibility he has to be everything and everywhere, Xhaka now stands out as a true difference maker and top performer in most his Arsenal matches this season.

Versus Southampton, he seemed to want to will his team to success, especially in the opening minutes. We not only are seeing a Granit Xhaka that is in and around dangerous moments, we are seeing a Xhaka that is digging into his bag and pulling out flicks and tricks. Personally, I cannot remember a Xhaka feeling himself as much as the Xhaka we are currently viewing, and in a side that is dependent on young players stepping up, it’s nice to see one of the staple veterans share the burden of creative creation.

Xhaka was Arsenal’s best player on the day as he created 3 chances, worked 2 shots, and arrived on the scene with splendid timing to absolutely bury Ben White’s cross for Arsenal’s goal. He added to that: 2 clearances, 6 recoveries, and 17 passes into the final third with his 72 touches.

Granit has tallied 3 goals and 3 assists this year, already more than most seasons in his career, but it’s the change in his contribution to fit Arsenal’s need that continues to standout most clearly. Another impressive performance from the Swiss man that seems to be getting better in his 30’s.

Ben White

I think it’s time to add Ben White to one of the these lists. Maybe this says more about the incomplete performance of Arsenal than I want it to, but White seems to have spent the season right outside this list in most matches. In almost no matches has he been a poor performer or worry, yet he seems to fly under the radar in his impact. However, versus Southampton, we caught clear signs of a player expanding their role as a fullback and grasping their responsibility completely.

In this Arsenal setup, the fullbacks are clearly assigned to an inverted role that cleans up anything that is cleared by the opposition and helps retain possession, but the next step for White was seizing those opportunities to overlap Saka and get in behind, down the right wing. As the season has progressed we continue to see him gain that confidence and understanding and Southampton was a match where his overlapping abilities were timely and clearly on display, none more obvious than the overlap that would lead to Arsenal’s goal.

White created 2 chances, got the assist, made 7 recoveries, had 14 passes into the final third, and defensively contributed a black 2 clearance, and a pair of duel wins. He may not be entirely faultless on a goal concession that starts in his area, but when he was brought off the field, Arsenal’s levels dropped noticeably. Now Arsenal need to plug this level of contributions into an side that’s really humming and see how dangerous he can help that right side be.


Chance conversion and Jesus

When a striker isn’t firing, and a team isn’t converting, the worry seems to go hand in hand. It’s only been 5 matches since Jesus’ last goal contribution but in the four matches since then, Arsenal have created 11 big chances and converted only 2 of them.

Are people getting a little ahead of themselves and making a mountain of a molehill out of Jesus’ performances? Perhaps, and the upcoming matches may shed light on this. After all, Jesus was very good at the little things that helped Arsenal get their win against Liverpool earlier this month even without a direct contribution. It showed us he has the ability to help Arsenal produce goals without his name on the sheet, but Arsenal have looked flat in the attack lately and failed to steer many efforts on frame yet again. It was another occasion in which Arsenal produced under 15 efforts (12) and this time only managed to get 3 on frame.

From the very beginning, it felt like an important game to find a way to get Jesus firing, but instead he stood as an embodiment of Arsenal’s attacking frustrations. He failed to bury any of his four shots, including one effort he will have felt he should have put past Bazunu. As the game wore on, he seemed to come deeper and deeper to get on the ball, and things just weren’t clicking for the Brazilian.

Arsenal will be desperate to see him recapture his form soon. Everyone saw what a season of subpar striker play does to this side last year, and Jesus had been a phenomenal answer in the early stages. Runs of form like this happen, but getting him back on the scoresheet will be crucial as the Gunners look to end their run toward the World Cup with a bang.

Energy Crisis?

A hard aspect of the match to capture concretely — I suppose there is distance traveled metrics somewhere — but really this is simply an observation with the eye: Arsenal have looked flat.

Everyone fell in love this summer with a high-flying side that was splitting open the opposition with intricate moves and high-octane energy. It was five-plus attackers in every movement, all looking to devastate the man across from them. For the most part, we have seen that continue in early stages of the season, but not lately.

Is it a sign of fatigue brought on by the onslaught of 9 matches in October? It’s hard to say that hasn’t taken any toll, I think it would on most teams, but as Arsenal look to take the next step in Champions League play, this is a fixture quantity they have to learn to adjust to. Many will point to Arteta and say he has to alter his plans and help his side succeed, and he does, but there is definitely a give and take to this. As Arsenal head toward Thursday, and an opportunity to clinch their way through as group winners in the Europa League, it’s hard to see a world in which Arteta overhauls the starting lineup with complete rotation. It’s likely we see some differences between the XI for PSV last Thursday and this one, but overall, players are likely to be asked to exert themselves for this Europa League match and Nottingham Forest fixture at the weekend.

It’s a decision that could pay off in the long run for Arsenal and Arteta, but fans will be sitting uncomfortably if they watch another pair of low energy performances to end the month.

Low Impact Subs

Final worry that came from Southampton revolves around Arsenal’s substitutions. Not the substitutions themselves, although I do think it was a mistake to remove Martinelli and White who had been two of Arsenal’s more dangerous players up to that point, but the impact and energy the subs brought.

Rather than injecting life back into the team, Vieira and Nketiah especially, seemed to simply assimilate into the team and meet them at their level. While Tierney provided a bit of spark, and maybe made a statement that he really should be the go to left back if Zinchenko isn’t available (or maybe even if he is), not a lot changed about Arsenal after their changes.

In a season that is going to come with lots of fixture congestions, especially in the second half of the season, post-World Cup, Arsenal need to be able to rely on their substitutes to provide impact on matches beyond just reduced minutes for starters. Already this season we have seen what a fresh and vibrant Nketiah can do off the bench, he was great versus Palace in the season opener, but in a tight match with all the opportunity on the line, they really didn’t bring it.

Is it an Arteta timing thing, a player thing, a team fatigue energy thing? Maybe all three, but it was certainly frustrating and worrisome to see such little impact from Arsenal’s depth.

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