What we saw yesterday was far from perfect, and yet, I didn’t walk away feeling disappointed. It was the first time in as long as I can remember, besides maybe some romp against European minnows, that we actually controlled the tempo for most of the game. Besides the goal, Bournemouth were largely stifled. These kinds of foundations are exactly what were needed with a new appointment, and would suggest that the players are at least taking Arteta seriously. As much as it was strange to see him on the touchline, he didn’t look out of place and hearing him barking orders and corralling players throughout the game showed how much he’s applied himself to the role. We already knew he was an impassioned man after his emotional sendoff (seen below), but there’s also a steeliness to his demeanour – all important qualities in my book.
It’s a testament to the fickle nature of football; once a chief tenet ingrained over the course of Wenger’s 22 year tenure, dissected in the space of 18 months. It’s easy to first point to the fans and their bipolar opinions but a team’s fortune can just as easily change. Barring their drubbing at the hands of the league’s runaway leaders last night, Leicester’s acquisition of Brendan Rogers is a pertinent example.
It’s fair to say that we should expect to control the tempo against a team like Bournemouth, especially given their recent form, head-to-head record and injury problems, but having not done so for some time, it’s important to get back to basics. That may not have carried over to Reiss Nelson and Bakayo Saka and their wayward (putting it very kindly) crossing, but that can be worked on in training.
I had my doubts over Nelson’s ability to deliver the ball after some dreadful corners against Everton where he often failed to beat the first man, but yesterday was quite the opposite – often massively over-hitting the ball to the other touchline. It’s a shame because the quality of his final ball marred what was otherwise quite a tidy game for him. He managed to beat some players, gave the Bournemouth left back a really hard time of it and developed some good combination play with Özil and Lacazette predominantly. Even threw in a Roulette at one point. The problem is playing from the wing, his end product is where the buck stops and it’s what can begin to define a player. Fortunately, he’s in luck with Arteta at the helm, who was by all accounts hugely influential in Raheem Sterling’s emergence.
Pépé’s starting snub presumably was to ensure his readiness for Chelsea and/or United but this harkens back to the dilemma of how you prioritise winnable games. Keown, ever the militant spokesman, has often claimed that our strongest team should always be played, irrespective of fixture congestion. I take this with a pinch of salt because as much as I can relate to, and understand the willingness to always play your strongest lineup, there’s a degree of finesse which maybe escapes him (expected for anyone who saw the man play), as does the intensity of the modern game. It’s far too early to try and second-guess Arteta’s strategy in such instances but the fact that yesterday felt like “two points lost” plays it’s part.
The Bournemouth game was far more winnable than either of the aforementioned, so should we be setting our standards lower and looking to ensure these 3 points and go from there rather than manage the squad for some kind of “point maximisation” approach? I’d be interested to know what kind of directive has been given to Arteta – what do they expect from him this season and how much financial support will he be given in January? More to the point, I’d be just as interested to learn what kind of realistic expectations Arteta has. At the half way point, we find ourselves in 11th (which I can scarcely believe), 8 points off the Top Four and yet only 6 points off the relegation zone. A win against Chelsea would close that gap to 5 points and given their slump in form, it’s anyone’s game.
That being said, Pépé’s sporadic starts and limited minutes even from the bench – now under 3 managers – may point to something more behind the scenes. Not content with just one inclusion from a no-nonsense former defender, Lee Dixon commented earlier in the season about Pépé’s lackadaisical pre-match warmup, so it may not be unreasonable to suggest he’s not the most committed trainer. Given Arteta’s preliminary demands, this may go some ways in explaining any subsequent absences. Our starting lineup against Chelsea will be telling. What stood out to me most yesterday was having an actual, discernible shape. So often this season, our distinct lack of shape – particularly in midfield – has really compounded our obvious defensive shortcomings. We’ve become accustomed this season to high energy, low impact performances from midfield, with high rates of turnover, little cover in front of the defence and a lack of pressure which often allowed the opposition to saunter into our half unchecked. It doesn’t take much to cast your mind back to the kind of panicky and chaotic approach we had without the ball – it was bordering on primal.
I also thought Bournemouth were lucky to escape a red card after another dangerous, scissoring challenge on Pépé. He’s had quite the baptism of fire in many ways since arriving in England, but I still wish more was done to protect players – not just those in the red and white – from those kinds of challenges. They’re not inherently malicious but they’re so clumsy and tangled that they invariably cause a few serious injuries every season. The fact that it was from behind makes it even worse than last week’s and yet both escaped punishment.
Lacazette is another player who can’t be neglected in discussion after yesterday. Despite his continued importance in holding the ball up with his back to goal, still-tireless workrate and importance in serving as the focal point of our attacks, yesterday was a really bad day at the office. Already off-colour, I can’t remember a more wasteful performance from him . Often so clinical, he was far from it yesterday, which also brought an air of indecision – so often a unfortunate symptom of a player down on confidence. The Chelsea game, should he feature, will at least provide him the kind of scenario he seems to really thrive in – a home fixture against a big team.
Being that I’ll be in the stands, I’d love nothing more than for Sunday to be the start of his redemption at Arsenal.
Another positive shot differential. A positional map that somewhat resembles a manager’s crudely drawn formation on a whiteboard before the game.
|Pass Success (%)||78||87|
|Average Pass Streak||4||6|
Points of Interest
- Pépé completed 3 dribbles to Nelson’s 2, despite coming on in the 82nd minute. By no means a criticism of Nelson, rather highlighting Nelson’s ability to also beat players.
- Played with a higher defensive line in comparison to some of Emery’s final games in charge
- 15 of 17 attempts were from open play – another distinct deviation from our previous system under Emery
- Low number of attempts on target more attributable to individual wastefulness than poor quality of chances created