An entertaining match for the neutral but as an Arsenal fan it was another match that acutely highlighted the significant conundrum Wenger has created by the way in which he has built his current squad. That is:
- Wenger’s favoured front three (Ozil, Alexis and Lacazette) require the game to be stretched vertically to give them the time and space to create and score from quality goal scoring opportunities.
- However, Wenger’s central midfield options are not good enough at recovering the ball from the opposition to be effective in a game that is vertically stretched.
- Also, with the exception of Per, Wenger’s central defensive options are all front foot defenders who are best suited to aggressively pressing an opponent as opposed to sitting deep.
Put simply, the result is that:
- Arsenal struggle to score goals when the game is pushed high into the opposition’s half; and
- Arsenal struggle to withhold the opposition when the game is stretched vertically, or if they are required to sit deep.
In terms of the individual performances of Arsenal’s players during the clash versus Chelsea:
Couldn’t do anything more to prevent Chelsea’s two goals and made a string of fine saves to keep the Gunners in the contest. Was very strong aerially and claimed a number of threatening crosses.
It was a much more aggressive tackling display from Bellerin, with a total of 4 for the match. While I think the referee made the right decision on the penalty, I can’t fault Bellerin for trying to intervene with the attempted tackle. That said, he was guilty of failing to track Alonso for his goal. Offensively, he was solid with 2 forward dribbles, 2 attempted (albeit inaccurate) crosses and a fantastically struck goal.
A very passive defensive performance by Chambers with no tackles and just the 1 interception. The Englishman got beaten on a number of occasions by Hazard as the Belgium dribble past him and recorded a total of 6 shots for the game, 2 of which were on target. On the positive, he tried were possible to simplify his game with a number of clearances. He wasn’t really challenged aerially.
A solid albeit passive performance from Mustafi. His defensive positioning was fantastic, which was reflected in his 5 interceptions for the match. He was also no nonsense in his approach with 4 clearances and was strong aerially with 5 successful aerial duels. My only criticism of his performance was his aggressiveness. I thought he was too passive in his defensive approach which allow Morata opportunities to strike on goal on a couple of occasions.
A passive defensive performance by Holding. Like Mustafi, his defensive positioning was fantastic, which was reflected in his 5 interceptions for the match. That said he was even less aggressive in his defending than Mustafi, which allowed his opponent Bakayoko the space to shoot on goal on a number of occasions (one of which was on target). Like Chambers, he wasn’t really challenged aerially.
LWB: Maitland Niles
A very aggressive tackling performance by Ainsley, with 6 tackles for the match. Positionally though he really struggled. He was at fault for failing to cut out Zappacosta’s cross which resulted in Alonso’s goal and he got beaten a couple of time by the Italian when he dribbled at the Englishman. He also failed to cut out a number of crosses from Moses whilst the Nigerian was on the field. Offensively he was very strong with 3 successful forward dribbles and 3 attempted crosses, 1 of which was on target. For a young, heavily right footed midfielder by trade being asked to play left wingback to cover Wenger’s inadequate squad management, I thought he acquitted himself well.
A strong tackling performance by Xhaka (3 tackles for the match) but his defensive positioning left a lot to be desired as Chelsea frequently ran passed him when they attacked. Offensively, his transitional passing was very good with 3 accurate long range passes from 8 attempts and his passing accuracy (88%) was excellent. He didn’t offer anything in terms of forward dribbles.
A very poor defensive performance from Wilshere, both in terms of his tackling (0 tackles for the match) and positional play (0 interceptions for the match). His poor defensive performance resulted in his opponent, Fabregas, having a substantial influence on the game. Offensively, his transitional efforts were very good with 2 forward dribbles and 4 accurate long range passes from 8 attempts. His 85% passing accuracy was also very good and he took his goal very well.
A mixed performance from Ozil who took up much more of a central attacking midfield position than a right attacking midfielder. He had 2 forward dribbles for the match and 6 accurate long passes out of 7 attempts as he tried to transition the ball quickly to take advantage of Chelsea’s willingness to attack. That said, he only attempted 1 through pass for the match (which was inaccurate) and had only 1 effort on goal (which was also inaccurate).
An underwhelming performance from Sanchez. While he showed plenty of goal scoring intent with 4 shot and was extremely unlucky not to score, only 1 of his shots was on target. He also only executed 1 successful dribble for the match and he failed to attempt any through passes.
A quality performance from Lacazette who was unlucky not to score a brace. In total he had 3 shots for the match, all of which were on target and some of his hold up play was sensational. Chance creation remains his biggest challenge, as the likes of Bellerin, Ozil, Alexis and Maitland Niles again failed to create clear cut goal scoring opportunities for him.
Ultimately the aforementioned conundrum which Wenger has created is one which requires significant personnel and tactical changes to resolve and I don’t envisage Wenger deviating from his current footballing and recruitment philosophy to sufficiently solve that riddle. Similarly, I don’t see Arsenal replacing Wenger anytime soon with a more tactically adept manager, who has a proven track record of recruiting players to fit a system that is both defensively resilient and is able to regularly create clear cut goal scoring opportunities.