Dortmund 2-0 Arsenal: An apocalyptic performance, but not the end of the world

Arsenal were dreadful against Dortmund. Watching this felt like looking at a cruelly-drawn caricature of a bad Arsenal display. Jurgen Klopp’s team were outstanding, and had us on the back-foot for 90 minutes.

That said, I feel like I’m a little more positive than most in the wake of this match. I think it’s because I saw encouraging signs against City that I’m not prepared to write off on the back of one horrendous night. There’s a certain novelty about our squad. We’ve got some shiny new toys to play with, and until they’re settled in I’m refraining from definitive judgement.

I can understand the frustration and anger that envelops the Arsenal fanbase this morning. Arsene Wenger might have loosened the purse strings, but he doesn’t seem to know how to tighten the defence.

It’s the repetitive nature of these defeats that’s so infuriating. Wenger’s team make the same errors time after time, marching lemming-like towards high-profile defeat after high-profile defeat. It’s tempting to wheel out the same blog as I do after each of those loses, citing a lack of defensive discipline and the absence of a powerful holding midfielder. To be honest, talk of missed signings feels like a bit of a red herring. The problem is as much to do with tactics as transfers.

Still, I’m optimistic. We haven’t yet hit form this season, but oddly I find that reassuring. I feel like there’s a good XI in our current squad, but Arsene is yet to achieve the alchemic balance to see that translate on to the pitch. It must be true that the best is yet to come.

It’s a dirty word but we’re a team in transition. We’ve had that label in the past when coping with the loss of a major star. That wasn’t transition — that was recovery. This time, the change has been instigated deliberately, not forced upon us. In signing Alexis and Welbeck, Wenger has indicated an intended shift in style. He wants us to a play a more intense pressing game. He wants us to use our speed to win the ball high up the pitch, long before it reaches that dreaded defensive midfield area, and punish opponents with rapier counter-attacks. In short, he wants us to be more like Dortmund.

That kind of strategic shift takes time to implement. We lack fluidity and we lack balance. Both will come with time.

We can’t wait forever. Transition is only bearable if it arrives at a decent destination — none of us want to watch much more of this purgatorial pish. Call me crazy, but I think someone will be on the end of a hiding when this team eventually clicks in to gear. Let’s hope it’s Villa this weekend.

Further Reading:

Borussia Dortmund vs. Arsenal – Player Ratings | ESPN

Why Arsenal may have to wait for Welbeck | ESPN

Arsenal 2-2 Manchester City: Might we be this year’s Liverpool?

This game reminded me a little of the 1-1 with Everton last year…
From beginning to end – and from end-to-end – this was a frenetic and fabulous spectacle. In truth, either side could have come away with three points. This was a game Arsenal could have lost, and yet arguably should have won.

The reason it reminds me of that Everton match – apart from the calibre of entertainment of show – is that at one stage it seemed we were going to make a real statement with a victory. It felt like we were on the verge of a landmark win. Instead, a late equaliser rather took the wind out of our sails.

Nevertheless, there were plenty of encouraging signs. Jack Wilshere and Alexis were both outstanding. Amid the hurry to hail Diego Costa as sliced bread’s superior successor, his impressive acclimatisation to the Premier League has gone almost unnoticed.

For more detailed thoughts on the game, check out my Player Ratings for ESPN.

Danny Welbeck nearly had the perfect start…
I’m in the camp that says his effort off the post was unlucky rather than profligate. I liked the imagination and confidence he showed to take that shot on. When Yaya Sanogo plays, he looks more likely to chip a tooth running in to a post than chip an international goalkeeper.

The injury to Mathieu Debuchy was horribly predictable…

Arsene Wenger’s decision not to strengthen his defensive options before deadline day was effectively the equivalent of climbing in to a bull pen, naked except for bright red body paint, and bellowing “come on then you cow twat let’s see what you’ve got”. The boss was asking for trouble, and it has promptly arrived with Debuchy’s severe ankle knack. If the latest reports are to be believed, Nacho Monreal has also suffered a minor injury. We are down to the bare bones, and it feels like only a matter of time until those bones snap under the weight of a gruelling schedule. We are in the midst of a mini ‘Death Run’. Let’s hope the rest of our defenders can survive it.

Mesut Ozil looks lost…

…and I don’t think it’s anything to do with playing on the left. It seemed to me that he was granted the freedom to roam wherever he likes from that flank, frequently swapping with Alexis Sanchez on the other wing and even drifting in to his preferred central role. The heat maps appear to verify that.

The greater problem is what happens when he has the ball at his feet – or rather, what doesn’t. According to Opta, Ozil has 3 assists in his last 19 games. I think I’m right in saying he’s only scored one goal in the same period. For a player with his undoubted talent that is well below-par.

I sensed a bit of a sea-change in attitudes towards Ozil after the City game. Thus far, while he has attracted criticism from outside the club, the Arsenal fans have been stoutly defensive of him. That’s shifting. I think it’s partly due to the fact that we have another expensive plaything in Alexis Sanchez, and I don’t think it’s helped by the fact that Ozil is now being directly compared with Cesc Fabregas, who is excelling at Chelsea.

I’m not sure what’s required for Ozil to click back in to gear, but I’m not convinced that playing him through the middle will be the panacea some suggest.

Could we be this season’s Liverpool?
Watching the City game, I wondered if we might be capable of being this season’s Liverpool. Hold your vomit, readers: I mean it as a good thing. Sort of.

The frenzied high-press we employed in the game’s early stages was reminiscent of the tactics Brendan Rodgers used to blow teams away for much of 2013/14. We should know: we fell victims to it ourselves. A front line of Alexis, Welbeck and Walcott certainly bears comparison with the trio of Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling. Both sets of strikers are characterised by relentless movement and blistering pace. If we get our attacking blend right, we could be as irresistible as the Anfield side were last term.

Unfortunately, at present our team also seems to share some of Liverpool’s defensive vulnerabilities. It’s vital we iron those out if we want to climb up the Premier League table.

For more…

…be sure to tune in to this week’s Arsecast Extra over on Arseblog.

Arsenal vs. Man City: Back to the beginning

This Saturday, Premier League football returns to the Emirates Stadium. In more than one sense, it feels as if we’re going back to the beginning.

Back to the beginning in that we also opened up the campaign with a match against the Citizens. In the Community Shield at Wembley, Arsenal ran out 3-0 winners. Something tells me it won’t be quite so easy this time round.

Back to the beginning too in that this feels like the start of the season proper. It’s ridiculous that transfer deadline day falls several weeks in to the campaign. Squads are rarely fully assembled until the end of August. Everything that occurs prior to the deadline feels curiously underbaked. Business is not done, teams are in flux – even the Champions League contestants are still to be decided. In truth, those early matches feel like little more than an extension of preseason.

Arsenal’s performances have reflected that mood. It’d be fair to say the Gunners haven’t quite got going yet. We laboured to a win against Palace, scrambled a point at Everton, and scraped past Besiktas in the tightest of two-legged affairs. Our last outing was the dispiriting draw at Leicester.

In time, we might be grateful for that dour draw – not because I expect the KP Stadium to prove a particularly fearsome fortress, but because it probably went a long towards prompting the purchase of Danny Welbeck. Had Yaya Sanogo scored any sort of goal in an Arsenal victory, Arsene Wenger might have been convinced to persist with the fallible Frenchman. Instead, our problems in attack convinced him to move for a new striker.

Welbeck might not have been Wenger’s first choice. The indications are that he made late enquiries for Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao, only to discover he had been beaten to the punch by rivals.

At 7.30am on deadline day, Wenger telephoned a reputable football agency and asked them to help broker a deal with Manchester United and Welbeck’s brother and manager, Chris. Talks began over a £3m loan deal. By the end of the day, amid fierce competition from Spurs, Welbeck had signed a five-year deal with Arsenal for a fee of £16m. It may prove to be a masterstroke.

Anyone unconvinced by Wenger’s decision to bring the athletic Mancunian in should be forced to watch England’s 2-0 victory over Switzerland on Monday night. Welbeck grabbed a brace in an electric display, showing pace, power and a surprising dose of composure.

It’s back to the beginning for Welbeck too. He’s left behind the club of his life for a new start elsewhere. You have to admire his courage. This prodigiously talented son of Manchester has left home to make his fortune.

He couldn’t wish for a better start, facing off against the club he has been raised to regard as rivals. A goal on Saturday would make it a memorable occasion for all involved, and restart the season with a bang.

Good news for Gunners who haven’t got BT Sport

Good news, Gooners: word has reached Gunnerblog that BT is currently offering to pay the cost of cancelling your current broadband contract when you switch your broadband and home phone to BT.

Apparently the deal is only going to be open for a short while, but the timing couldn’t be better: Arsenal’s clash with City is live on BT Sport this Saturday.

This is the first real test of Arsenal’s title challenge this season. We dispatched City pretty impressively in the Community Shield, but that’s little more than a glamorous friendly. With points and pride at stake, City are set to provide a sterner test this time around. It’ll be particularly fascinating to see how Danny Welbeck fares against a side he has been raised to despise. The England striker will be desperate to continue the clinical form he showed on international duty.

Our sources indicate that only way to get this limited offer is to call the following number: 0800 0280048. It goes without saying that it’s only open to fans in the UK!

Hopefully that helps some of you out. Now let’s get behind the Gunners. With the transfer window now closed, it feels like the season is kicking off for real. Don’t miss a minute.

Why Danny Welbeck reminds me of Emmanuel Adebayor

The Leicester game…
…was the latest in a string of uninspiring performances that have formed our start to the season. After our convincing victory over Manchester City in the Community Shield, many expected us to make a fast start in the Premier League. Not so: we’ve looked leggy and listless much of the time.

Part of the problem seems to be that we are struggling to come to terms with a new system. At Leicester, we once again employed the 4-1-4-1 formation we’ve seen in recent weeks. Yaya Sanogo was installed at the point of the attack, with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil alternating in the wide roles.

It didn’t really work. Arsene seems certain that he wants to include Santi Cazorla, Ozil and Alexis in his first XI, but hasn’t quite worked out how. Personally, I think he ought to have kept faith with Alexis through the middle. After an encouraging display against Besiktas, this could have helped establish him as Arsenal’s new centre-forward. Instead, another opportunity was misguidedly handed to Yaya Sanogo.

At this stage in his development, Sanogo should not be playing for Arsenal football club. Judging by his late transfer business, Arsene Wenger has recognised that too. I’m not willing to write Sanogo off entirely — I did that with Alex Song and was proved wrong. However, at present, if you deposited him in to the third tier of English football, I’m still not convinced he’d stand out as impressive.

Danny Welbeck is a smart signing…
All the good things people claim to see in Sanogo, I see in Welbeck. He is quick, agile, powerful, and a very willing worker.

He reminds me of Emmanuel Adebayor when he first arrived from Monaco. It’s easy to forget now, but in those days Adebayor was a ball of energy, tearing about the pitch trying to make a positive impression. He was partnered with a Thierry Henry riddled with sciatica, and was charged with doing much of the Frenchman’s heavy lifting for him. Pay rises and plaudits eventually killed off Adebayor’s work-rate, but in the early days he was a real handful.

Of course, there was a trade-off for all that perpetual motion: he couldn’t really finish. Adebayor once conspired to miss two open goals in the same game, on a dark night away to Portsmouth. Welbeck has suffered similar woes in front of goal. Hopefully Arsene Wenger can give him the confidence and composure he needs to develop, as Adebayor did, in to an accomplished goalscorer.

I feel good about this one. Welbeck has all the raw attributes, and we have the ideal coach to oversee his development. He is a huge upgrade on Sanogo, and I expect him to make an immediate impact.

The lack of defensive cover…
…is genuinely difficult to understand. We’ve known we needed another centre-back for some time now. Many of us were calling for an additional signing in January. When Arsene Wenger sold Thomas Vermaelen, he admitted that he would need replacing. And yet nothing has happened.

I can only think that the unexpected progress of Calum Chambers threw Wenger’s plans a little. Speaking to The Guardian last week, he said:

Today we are in a position sometimes, if you always buy, you can never give a chance to a player. We take now the example of Calum Chambers. Calum Chambers played centre-back because I gave him the chance to play centre-back. If I had four centre-backs already because I had bought four, I would never have played him. And he would sit on the bench and play in the youth team.

I think contained in that quote is something approaching an explanation of what was going on in Arsene’s head. He doesn’t want to block Chambers’ path to the first-team.

However, that’s a crazy way to think. Even as fourth-choice, Chambers would still get plenty of game time, especially given his versatility. What’s more, he’s arguably not even ready to be the immediate back-up for Koscielny and Mertesacker. Impressive though he has been, his inexperience has also been evident on several occasions.

We were far stronger at centre-back last season than this. Not only did we have the experience of Vermaelen in reserve, but we also had Bacary Sagna to call upon as emergency cover. No-one can convince me that Nacho Monreal is a centre-half in the making.

Arsenal will need to be very lucky to get away with their lack of defensive cover until January.