Monday, August 22, 2016

A Clean Sheet But No Cutting Edge

Posted on 
After conceding four last week to Liverpool, a clean sheet away to the Champions was incredibly welcome. The defending from the Gunners was solid, composed and effective against the pacy Leicester City front-line with the returning Laurent Koscielny putting in a superb showing. Apart from a couple of hairy moments when referee Mark Clattenburg had a few decisions to make, Jamie Vardy struggled to find much space in behind to cause Arsenal problems, and Nacho Monreal kept Riyad Mahrez quiet. Following the speculation of those two players potentially joining Arsenal over the summer, it was a big relief to not have them make the difference at the King Power on Saturday.
But even though Vardy and Mahrez didn’t score against the Gunners, they were still a reminder of the holes that are still in the Gunners’ squad. Arsenal fans, unsurprisingly, vocalized their disapproval at Arsene Wenger’s transfer dealings this summer as Arsenal put in an insipid attacking display. Until Mesut Ozil entered the fray for his first appearance of the season, there was no fluidity to Arsenal’s moves forward. The Gunners ran out of ideas as soon as they reached the penalty area and those who began the game in the three attacking positions could barely find each other in the final third and create opportunities.
Theo Walcott continued to frustrate. As usual, there were miscontrolled balls and a lack of confidence around the penalty area from the Englishman, who couldn’t build on a goal-scoring start to the season against Liverpool. He seems to panic when around the penalty area and doesn’t seem to have any sort of understanding with Alexis when the Chilean plays in the center of the front three.
That Alexis kept drifting out wide to try and get the ball and get involved in the game hinted at a lack of confidence in those players meant to be creating opportunities for him. Arsene Wenger is right to say that Alexis has the attributes to be a dynamic center-forward, but when in that position, he is a lot more reliant on others feeding him, and being more disciplined to stay at the head of Arsenal’s attack. The experiment of playing him as a fully-fledged front man hasn’t worked in the two games so far this season and, while it might turn into something good given time, the opening matches of the season aren’t when you should be experimenting. It is just another example of it looking like Arsenal were unprepared going into the season.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the other man to start in the front three, and while there were glimpses of excellence, the most of the game just passed Oxlade-Chamberlain by. He looked uncomfortable out on the left flank and for him to develop into the player most fans hope and believe he can be, it is a waste playing him out on that side.
Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud made their first appearances after their exertions in Euro 2016. The manager is right to be cautious with them because of pre-season fitness, with Aaron Ramsey’s hamstring injury against Liverpool serving as proof of that, but both the German and the Frenchman have to be straight back into the starting line-up from next week. Ozil immediately gave Arsenal some fluidity going forward and engaged Alexis Sanchez more in the game by giving him the ball in central positions. From just those 20 minutes, I already fear that an injury to Ozil this season would seriously damage Arsenal’s chances of putting together a decent campaign.
It was the sort of attacking performance that makes a mockery of Arsene Wenger’s argument of only wanting to sign players that will improve the quality of the squad. That is a transfer policy that I wholeheartedly agree with, but you can’t defend not signing players by saying that there is no-one better when there is clearly a staggering amount of room for improvement. Based on that performance at Leicester, you can’t tell me that there isn’t a player available to sign who would be an improvement on Walcott or on Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Yet again, Arsenal enter the final knockings of the transfer window with deals needing to be done if they are to have a good season. Transfer signings aren’t the only way to improve the team, but this Arsenal team is crying out for some fresh impetus. The attacking performance on Saturday was stale and needs freshening up. Arsene can bemoan the market and make excuses about quality until he’s blue in the face, but the performances of his team this season have not backed up the reasoning he’s given for not signing a defender or, primarily, a center-forward.

----------
Sam Limbert is a regular contributor to Arsenal Review USA and can be found blogging and podcasting at TheBigDiag.com.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Post-Leicester: Baby Steps

It may not cost £55 mil but let us assure you, it's still worth every pence it doesn't cost: get the new free podcast episode from iTunes, the raw RSS feed or our archive.

…but who are we kidding, "baby steps?" Arsenal needed a massive leap when it came to their outfield chemistry and transfer policy, and unfortunately the second week of the new Premiership season gave them neither as they drew nil-nil to Leicester (has anyone told you they're last season's champions?!) and added just as many players to their roster. We'll discuss/debate/pull our hair out over what monstrosity could possibly be beneath the iceberg tip that is Arsenal's transfer embargo plus debate non-existent Theo Walcott stats and whether or not we really give a rip about Rob Holding's potential, plus offer up the easiest prize trivia contest ever…

Also, here's your reminder that we have an Arsenal Review USA Sunday Podcast League (Fantasy Premier League) that you can join using the code 243927-84019. Go ahead and email us the name of the team you enter into the league at invincibles@arsenalreviewusa.com if you want to get in the hat for some prizes at the end of the season.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A bad dose of new-season reality as the same mistakes are repeated

Posted on 
Even though Arsenal fought back to gain an element of respectability in losing 3-4 to Liverpool on the opening day of the season, it shouldn’t mask what was a disastrous period of play after half-time as the Gunners’ lack of experience at the back cost them dearly.
Most of the time, I will always defend Arsene Wenger. I understand his reluctance in the transfer market because of the inflated fees being thrown around at the moment, but there really is no good reason as to why we were in a position of having to start Calum Chambers and Rob Holding together on the first day of the season. A more experienced centre-back should have been being considered at the start of the window, before Per Mertesacker picked up a long-term injury, but after that happened, urgency should have been shown to get someone in. It was already known that Laurent Koscielny would be missing against Liverpool as well, so there really is no good reason as to why Arsenal were left with the situation they were in against Jurgen Klopp’s team.
Having been pegged back to 1-1 just before half-time, Arsenal just folded after the restart. The lack of a leader in the center of the pitch was so obvious as the Gunners didn’t react well enough to Coutinho’s equalizer. There wasn’t much Arsenal could have done about the free-kick from the Brazilian, but they let it affect them too much. Without someone like Mertesacker, Koscielny or Cazorla in the center of the field to pull the team together, they melted down and suddenly found themselves 4-1 down.
It is to Arsenal’s credit that they didn’t throw in the towel and they made a fist of a comeback, but it was always a big ask to get back level in a mess of their own making.
Of the three players Arsene Wenger introduced off the bench, I was surprised that all three didn’t make the starting XI itself, as Oxlade-Chamberlain immediately posed questions to a shaky Liverpool defence, and Santi Cazorla and Granit Xhaka gave slightly more control in a frantic midfield. Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny had good moments in the game but in the key part of the game, they went missing. With such an inexperienced center-back pairing, the holding midfielders should have offered them more protection.
In the center of the pitch, I was staggered that Santi Cazorla didn’t start the game because of the control he can exert over a game. Apart from Mesut Ozil, he is the one player in the squad that can almost single-handedly control the tempo of a game. As the Gunners panicked at the start of the second half, Cazorla could have been the go-to man to just regain some composure as Liverpool began to overrun the midfield. His ability to take the ball from the back four and relieve the pressure on them by getting them out of tight situations was badly missed in that period of the game before he came on.
Even though he scored an excellent goal in the first half, the match also epitomized fans’ frustrations with Theo Walcott. He wins a penalty, great. He has a poor penalty saved. He scored a goal, superb. He trips over the ball in the penalty area when we’re fighting for an equalizer. It’s hard to get my head round how inconsistent he is, not just during different weeks or months of the season, but during individual minutes of the same match. Oxlade-Chamberlain offered much more than him when he entered the field in the second half, and one of the best attackers in pre-season, Joel Campbell, wasn’t even on the bench.
One of the many daft things about the defeat is that that particular starting XI are highly unlikely to line up for the club again this season. Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil’s chances of being thrust back into first-team action have been done no harm by the way the team played without them. I think one or two new players will come in, with the defeat only hastening the need for that to happen. Plus both Alex Iwobi and Aaron Ramsey limped off, so enforced changes will be needed next week. It just seems bizarre to start the season with a line-up that will only last one game, and it points to poor planning. The injuries in pre-season were unfortunate, but everything else wasn’t a surprise and could have been planned for. It just feels like Arsenal weren’t ready.
Arsenal can recover from this opening day debacle, as they did a few season ago when a calamitous game against Aston Villa was followed by a run of good form and the signing of Mesut Ozil. Hopefully the experience from that situation will help the Gunners to knuckle down and know that they can turn this around. But it just seems strange that Arsenal have allowed themselves to get in the position of having to fight back from an opening day defeat when everything that went wrong could have been predicted and efforts made to stop Arsenal not being ready.
It shouldn’t be the case that it needs a bad defeat to spark Arsene Wenger into action in the transfer market, but bad early defeats in 2011 and 2013 did result in players being brought in later than they should have been when the signs were there that there were holes in the squad prior to the season starting. As I’ve said previously on this blog, I do have sympathy for Wenger in this crazy inflated transfer market, but when the team has suffered in the opening matches in previous years, the manager should have been doing everything possible to stop that from happening again. Waiting for the market itself to open up isn’t a good enough reason to get business done, if the team needs urgent reinforcement before the opening day, Wenger should have forced the market himself by doing deals.
So the same issues remain and Arsenal are making the same mistakes as they’ve have done at the start of previous seasons. It’s good to be back.

----------

Sam Limbert is a regular contributor to Arsenal Review USA and can be found blogging and podcasting at TheBigDiag.com.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Post-Liverpool: Makeshift, Makeshift Arsenal

Atone for your last three months spent not adequately preparing for the new season by downloading the latest episode via iTunes, the raw RSS feed or our archive.

Arsenal start off in a way in which we really hope they don't mean to continue as they lose another home opener, this time to Jurgen Klopp's rampant Liverpool side. Our man in the ground -- Sam Limbert of The Big Diag -- will give us his on-hand account of Arsenal's inexperienced center back duo, plus help us debate the questionable merit of waiting to purchase so late in the transfer window and pick over the few positives of Arsenal's three goal offense...

...and while you're waiting for Arsenal to not buy anyone, you may as well join our Arsenal Review USA Sunday Podcast League (Fantasy Premier League) using the code 243927-84019. Go ahead and email us the name of the team you enter into the league at invincibles@arsenalreviewusa.com if you want to get in the hat for some prizes at the end of the season.