Sunday, September 28, 2014

Arsenal still trying to strike a balance after derby day draw

After being 1-0 down, a draw with Tottenham Hotspur isn’t a bad result. But, this was a draw against the worst Spurs team to play at the Emirates for quite a few years. That includes those that got battered 5-2.
Mauricio Pochettino set up his team up not to lose the match, and until an Arsenal mistake allowed Tottenham to take the lead through Nacer Chadli, the visitors hadn’t shown much attacking intent. The last few seasons have seen saw real blood and thunder type derbies, but with Tottenham happy to sit and just soak up pressure, the first half didn’t have the same feeling as recent derbies. The onus was on Arsenal to take the game by the scruff of the neck, because Tottenham simply weren’t interested in doing so.
There were flashes from the Gunners in the first half, but the team struggled to show the same fluency they had at Aston Villa. It wasn’t help by having to make changes for injuries as both Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey departed before the break.
It also wasn’t helped by Arsenal again being unable to find the balance in midfield. It’s great that Arsenal have plenty of option in the centre of the pitch, but Arsene Wenger has so not worked out what the best of those options is, and while he continues to experiment, the performances have remained scratchy. I am yet to be convinced that Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey can play well together in the same line-up because they’re too similar, especially when Mesut Ozil is stationed in the number ten role, which the last week has surely reaffirmed is where the German has to play.
On Saturday, Wilshere was pushed out to the left for most of the first half until Santi Cazorla replaced the injured Ramsey. When the likes of Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez are on the bench, it would surely have been better to have one of them in the side to play on the left, rather than asking Wilshere to do a job he’s not used to. It was no coincidence that Arsenal were a more balanced side when the Spaniard came on, and when Alexis was wide during his second half appearance.
For Wednesday’s visit of Galatasaray, with the injuries sustained by Wilshere, Ramsey and Arteta, I think Arsene Wenger should start with the same team that ended the game against Tottenham, with Flamini being joined by Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Ozil and Alexis in the midfield positions behind Danny Welbeck. Arsene Wenger then has the more attacking option of playing Cazorla alongside Flamini behind Ozil, or playing Oxlade-Chamberlain in that position, with Cazorla on the left. Considering Arsenal lost the first group game as well, Arsene Wenger needs to make a statement, and picking that sort of balanced, attacking, midfield would be a way to make one before kick off on Wednesday.
With that midfield on Saturday, Arsenal were livelier in the second half, but they had to be after they over-played in their own half, Mathieu Flamini miscontrolled the ball and was caught in possession, allowing Chadli to score for Spurs. With Tottenham sitting so deep, it was hard for Arsenal to find the pockets of space for the intricate passing game to be effective, but Mesut Ozil was getting on the ball and putting Arsenal in dangerous positions around the Tottenham area. Arsenal also had a dangerous attacking outlet in Kieran Gibbs, who regularly went charging up the left hand-side and often found himself in the box alongside Welbeck.
Considering the desperation of trying to get level, and how well Tottenham were defending, it wasn’t surprising that the Arsenal equaliser was a bit scrappy. Cazorla and Alexis were involved before Welbeck’s air-shot as the ball came across the box awkwardly. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain reacted and rammed the ball into the roof of the net. The Ox was a constant threat during the game, and after missing a lot of last season through injury, is beginning to make the most of his first team opportunities. He brings direct running to the team and is a great player to have on the field when chasing a game as he commits defenders and causes chaos when the defending team want to feel in control.
Arsenal couldn’t go on and build on the momentum of the equaliser to win the game as the match became fragmented with fouls and some time-wasting from Tottenham. Despite coming from behind to draw, it really felt like two points dropped. While Arsenal haven’t lost a Premier League game yet, they need to start converting these draws to wins to not fall too far off the pace of the leaders. The longer Arsene Wenger juggles with the balance of the team and can’t find the answer, the harder it’ll be for the Gunners to put a run of wins together.