It was an unconvincing performance from the Gunners as they overcoming Cardiff 3-2.
Pre-match, Arsenal appeared to once again adopt the 4-2-3-1 formation that Emery employed versus Man City and Chelsea. That said, the players’ average positioning indicated that they adopted more of a 2-2-5-1 formation throughout the match, with Bellerin and Monreal occupying very advanced positions on the right and left flanks respectively.
Possession and key observations
As was anticipated, Cardiff were happy to cede possession, employ a highly energetic and aggressive defensive approach, and counter attack. This was reflected in Arsenal dominating possession (72% to 28%), but losing the ball recovery battle (11 tackles and 11 interceptions to Cardiff’s 12 tackles and 15 interceptions).
There was also a minimal difference between the two sides in terms of total shots (17 to 14 to Arsenal), and arguably Cardiff’s approach enabled them to create clearer goal scoring opportunities than Arsenal’s, which is an ongoing concern for the Gunners.
But for some poor finishing by Cardiff, and three clinical strikes Mustafi, Aubameyang and Lacazette, this is a match Arsenal could have easily lost.
GK: Cech (6/10)
It was a difficult day for Cech, who conceded 2 goals from Cardiff’s 3 shots on target for the match. On the goal conceded, there was nothing more Cech could have done. That said, Cech did well when called upon to deal with Cardiff’s 19 crosses for the game.
RWB: Bellerin (3/10)
It was a terrible defensive performance from Bellerin, who failed to demonstrate the necessary defensive anticipatory skills (0 interceptions) and was unacceptably passive in his defending (0 tackles). Bellerin’s defensive positioning was also too far advanced (again), which exposed Arsenal’s right flank to counterattacks from Cardiff. Bellerin’s primary opponent, Bennett, took full advantage of this with an impressive 7 crossing attempts, 2 of which were accurate.
Offensively, Bellerin’s performance was mixed. Positively, the Spaniard attempted 3 crosses for the match. Unfortunately, none of those attempts were accurate and he failed to contribute to Arsenal’s transitional play via the dribble.
RCB: Mustafi (5/10)
It was an underwhelming defensive effort from Mustafi. Despite demonstrating good defensive anticipation (2 interceptions), the German was not aggressive enough in his defensive approach (1 tackle). While Mustafi was regularly isolated during the match, due to the poor defensive positioning of right wingback, Bellerin, individually Mustafi struggled to contain his primary opponent, Hoilett, who managed 3 shots for the match. Positively though, Mustafi was able to best the Canadian aerially, registering 5 successful aerial duels to Hoilett’s 0. The German was also solid with respect to clearances (5 for the match).
LCB: Sokratis (3/10)
It was a poor defensive performance from Sokratis. While the Greek international was strong aerially (4 successful aerial duels to his opponent, Reid’s, 1), he showed poor defensive anticipatory skills (1 interception) and was, for the second match running, not aggressive enough in his defensive approach (0 tackles). This allowed Reid to pose problems for Arsenal (2 shots, 1 of which was on target). And while Sokratis’ effort to clear his lines was reasonable (3 clearances), he could certainly have simplified his defensive approach more often.
LWB: Monreal (5/10)
It was a relatively quiet day defensively for Monreal (1 tackle and 1 interception) as his opponent, Camarasa, struggled to make an impact (1 shot, 1 successful dribble and 1 crossing attempt), despite scoring a scrappy goal for Cardiff. That said, Monreal’s defensive positioning, like Bellerin’s, was too far advanced, which exposed Arsenal’s left flank to counterattacks from Cardiff.
Offensively, it was a mixed performance from the Spaniard, with only 1 successful forward dribble, but 3 crossing attempts for the match, albeit none were accurate.
RCDM: Guendouzi (4/10)
It was an underwhelming performance from the young and inexperienced Frenchman and a continuation of his poor performance versus West Ham. Defensively, the youngster was very poor, as he failed to demonstrate the necessary aggression in his defending (0 tackles) and showed limited defensive anticipation (1 interception). The only real positive of the Frenchman’s defensive effort was his positioning, in that he was reasonably disciplined and wasn’t drawn out of position and into advanced areas of the pitch too often.
Offensively, Guendouzi was solid, albeit slightly underwhelming, as he recorded 93% passing accuracy, and contributed 5 accurate, long range transitional passes, but failed to produce a successful forward transitional dribble.
LCDM: Xhaka (6/10)
It was a slightly underwhelming defensive performance from Xhaka, who was not aggressive enough in his defending (1 tackle), but showed reasonable defensive anticipatory skills (2 interceptions). In terms of his defensive positioning, while Xhaka was disciplined to a degree, in that he wasn’t drawn into advanced areas of the pitch, he was arguably too left of centre in his positioning, which left Arsenal unnecessarily exposed centrally.
Offensively, Xhaka was reasonably productive, as he recorded 86% passing accuracy and produced 6 accurate long-range transitional passes. The only real blemish on Xhaka’s offensive performance was once again his failure to contribute in terms a successful forward dribbles for the match (1 successful forward dribble).
RCAM: Ozil (3/10)
It was another poor attacking performance from Ozil, who showed no goal scoring intent (0 shots for the match), failed to attempt or produce a through ball and only managed 1 successful forward dribble and 1 key pass during the game.
CAM: Ramsey (7/10)
It was another solid performance by Ramsey, who showed some goal scoring initiative (2 shots, both of which were on target), a desire to penetrate Cardiff’s rearguard via the dribble (2 successful dribbles) and some nice creativity with his passing (4 key passes). The only real negative was Ramsey’s failure to attempt a through pass.
LCAM: Aubameyang (4/10)
His well taken goal aside, it was a poor performance by the Gabonese striker, who showed no desire to penetrate Cardiff’s rearguard via the dribble (0 successful dribbles) or through passes (0 attempted through passes). Aubameyng also showed no creativity with his passing (0 key passes). It was painfully obvious that Emery is limiting Aubameyang’s effectiveness by deploying the Gabonese striker out of position on the wing. Emery’s refusal to adopt a formation that would allow Aubameyang and Lacazette to act as a striking duo, and in turn play to their goal scoring strengths, is highly reminiscent of the stubbornness seen from Wenger in the second half of his tenure.
CF: Lacazette (7/10)
While Aubameyang struggled being played out of position at LCAM, Lacazette flourished in his preferred striking role. The Frenchman, who had 5 shots for the match, 3 of which were on target, scored a cracking goal from an acute angle to seal victory for the Gunners. The diminutive Frenchman even managed to match it with his much taller and more physically opposing defender, in Bamba (3 successful aerial duels each).
Like the match versus West Ham, Arsenal’s performance versus Cardiff was reminiscent of the side’s performances under Wenger during the second half of his tenure. While Arsenal dominated possession, they failed to regularly create high probability goal scoring opportunities. The Gunners also overcommitted players in attack, which exposed Arsenal’s centrebacks to dangerous counterattacks.
While Emery has shown in his opening 4 Premier League matches, a willingness to substitute high profile personnel (e.g. Ozil, Xhaka, etc), his refusal to adopt a formation and tactical approach, that accentuates the strengths of Arsenal’s elite attackers (Aubameyang, Lacazette, Ozil), and his unwavering commitment to the 4-2-3-1 system, even if it means playing a number of players out of position, is a concerning trend.
I fear that until:
- Emery becomes more willing to adapt his approach to accentuate the strengths and mitigate the weaknesses of the elite players currently at his disposal; or
- Arsenal are willing to overhaul the squad to recruit players with a more complimentary skill set to what Emery desires in his cherished 4-2-3-1 system;
Arsenal will continue to deliver unconvincing performances.
The stats referenced in this post are sourced from http://www.whoscored.com.