Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Arsenal Struggled Against a Deep Defence Again - TheBigDiag.com

Arsenal’s reformulated front four has mostly destroyed all that it has come up against this season. The movement has been fluid, the passing has been crisp and there has usually been runners in behind the defence to create chances. The only exception has been against teams who have sat deep and flooded the midfield, and Arsenal have struggled to find a way through. 
Against Burnley, it took the arm of Koscielny to score the only goal against an organised defensive team. On Saturday against Middlesbrough, Arsenal couldn’t find a breakthrough as it finished 0-0. While it was admirable and made for an exciting game against Ludogorets, the opposition on that night were naive and left Arsenal plenty of space to carve out opportunities, but Middlesbrough learnt from that performance from the Bulgarians and shut down the Gunners’ attacking game. 
The inability to break down deep defenses has been the only real concern about using Alexis as a central striker. When there is space in the game, he can pull defenders around and if he isn’t running beyond the defense, Theo Walcott or Mesut Ozil usually are. But when a team eliminates the space between the defense and the midfield, and in behind the defense, the Chilean often goes wondering deeper to get involved in the game, meaning Arsenal then lack a focal point to distract the defenders.
In general, Arsenal haven’t missed Olivier Giroud this season. But against Burnley, and against Middlesbrough on Saturday, the lack of a plan B was obvious. When Arsenal started crossing into the box later in the game, it was easy for the Middlesbrough defenders to head the ball away. Alexis has a great leap, but isn’t the physical presence that causes a bit of chaos when a cross comes. The extra flicks and knock downs create different possibilities as he occupies defenders in these sort of games, creating the space for others. 
It is why talk of Giroud’s Arsenal career coming to an end because of Alexis playing as a center-forward, or of the Frenchman no longer being important, is somewhat misguided. He remains an excellent player and offers Arsenal a completely different dimension to anyone else in the squad. On Saturday, Lucas Perez came on and Arsenal did shift slightly to a 4-4-2 with Lucas playing alongside Alexis, but his style of play is still reliant on having a bit of running space and working between the lines of midfield and defense.
Along with Giroud, Arsenal also badly missed Santi Cazorla. Mohamed Elneny replaced the Spaniard because of a slight injury, and while Elneny didn’t play badly and has been unlucky to not have more game time this season, he isn’t Santi Cazorla. In similar games where Arsenal dominate possession, two more defensive-minded midfielders aren’t needed, so someone with the guile and quality of Cazorla would have been ideal to help create chances in such a tight game. 
It was obvious last season how important Cazorla is to Arsenal’s midfield. When he was out last year, the Gunners’ season stuttered badly. Hopefully the slight knock that kept him out of the game on Saturday isn’t serious as Arsene Wenger will need him fit for the bigger games in November.
With Cazorla and Giroud available, the Gunners may well have found a way past Middlesbrough, but it is something for Arsene Wenger to think about. The more teams see the Gunners unable to get through a side playing deep, the more they will have to face opposition teams who deploy that style. 
Had it not been for some excellent stops from Petr Cech, Middlesbrough’s disciplined and dogged display would have brought them three points. Adama Traore was dangerous on the break and could have snatched a goal or two but for the big Czech keeper.
The draw is disappointing as a win would have opened up a two-point lead at the top of the table, but the results this weekend across the division show that this title race is going to be very tight. Plenty of teams will drop unexpected points this season, so Arsenal have to resolve issues against deep, defensive teams as, even though the phrase ‘there’s no easy games’ is a bad cliché, it does ring true this season.


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

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Post-Boro: Feast to Famine

We took the average of Arsenal's two goal tallies this week and made it the number of download locations for the new podcast episode: iTunesour raw RSS feed and the archive. Don't ever say we're not intentional.

Arsenal run riot in the Champions League as they put six past Bulgarian side Ludogorets and then turn around and score precisely 0.0 goals against a packed-in Middlesbrough. Helping us evaluate the vastly different gameplans between Arsenal's two opponents and mull over the psychology behind playing a free-scoring Premiership side at their place will be Sam Limbert of The Big Diag, plus we'll also discuss Ozil's new Ramsey-role and the sticky situation of switching tactics mid-game as well as offer up some six-goal prize trivia...

Friday, October 14, 2016

Post-Swansea Live Show

John Moss is off duty so you can cynically cut down the new podcast file from behind via iTunesour raw RSS feed or the archive without facing any serious repercussions.

Arsenal make it tough-sledding against Swansea as they narrowly emerge with a 3-2 victory at home, winning their sixth straight game in the Premiership. Helping us pick over very yellow red cards and the continued success of the roving Alexis formation will be Arsenal matchday commentator Dan Roebuck, plus we'll ask him some excruciatingly-difficult "Would You Rather" questions submitted by listeners and finally reveal the Alexis home kit winner...

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Post-Burnley: Five's a Streak

"Ball-to-hand" the new episode before anyone notices: get it from iTunesour raw RSS feed or our archive.

Arsenal obliterate Champions League party-poopers Basel before blundering their way to a last-second victory against jammy Burnley at Turf Moor, but we couldn't care less as we celebrate a real, live winning streak on Arsene Wenger's 20th anniversary at the club. Helping us unravelthe stats on a beefed up Theo Walcott and turn a blind eye on forearm goals will be returning guest Tim Bostelle of 7amkickoff, plus we'll give our favorite Wenger sideline dramas and catalog the virtues of the crappy away win...