The win against the Saints was a good one in terms of performance and obviously useful in terms of consolidating the position at the top. However, there wasn’t much in that game from an analytical point of view. It was pretty much the Arsenal we’ve seen for the most part this season.
The visitors tried pressing up the pitch but Arsenal’s midfield and technical quality in general was just too good. In the end it seemed Pochettino’s men were often chasing the ball valiantly but in vain. I doubt there were any turnovers that led to attacks on the Arsenal goal. Apart from Arsenal’s ability to move the ball, you could also see Southampton are still new at this and have a lot to learn before they master such a style of play. On a number of occasions their pressing was reactionary and individualistic rather than cohesive, although the energy, persistence, and the attempted methodical nature might still be enough to rattle most teams in the League.
Similarly, you could see their build up from the back is also a work in progress. Boruc was palpably the culprit for the first goal but any manager who wants his Keeper to play passes like an outfielder has to instruct his defenders and midfielder to provide options when the custodian has the ball. Nobody moved when Boruc was getting cornered. It was a systemic fault and I’m sure Pochettino will look to improve all aspects of his team’s play instead of relying on simplistic solutions like kick the ball away.
The Gunners were again excellent in defending as a unit. I don’t recall Southampton having any clear shots at goal. A couple of volley’s from the edge of the box were their most noteworthy moments. Of course, there is some tension when the lead is limited to a solitary goal as the possibility of a freakish equalizer can be felt in the anxious breaths of fans and players alike whenever the opponents advance to the penalty area. Then again, the tendency to concede such goals was directly linked to deficiencies in the defensive unit so solidity on that front does provide greater comfort and reliability.
The only slightly iffy moments I recall were from Arteta when he miskicked his clearance on the edge of the box and when he gave the ball away leading to that chance for Rodriguez. Mertesacker too was caught flat footed once or twice. The fact that others stepped up and covered for errors from the most reliable defensive players bodes well for the future. It’s that layering thing I’ve talked about.
The attack is still not there and I think it will take a little time to get the exact balance between protecting the goal with assurance and attacking the other end ruthlessly and efficiently. It’s happened in some games but part of that was down to the defensive quality of the opponents. Southampton were pretty well organized and worked very hard to limit opportunities for the Gunners. Even then some of the interchanges in the midfield were delightful. They are moving around well but not quite finding either the right positioning in the box, or the final ball, or the shot. Bit of that is down to luck – like hitting the post – but it’s also about probabilities. The more and better chances you create the better your probability of scoring beautiful goals. On the other hand, the team did benefit from a different form of luck. Boruc probably won’t make that mistake again and I doubt Fonte will concede another penalty of that nature. The goals Arsenal got were odd in that sense. But on the whole it was a deserved win.
Individually speaking, it’s hard to pick one outstanding player. I thought everyone played well even if Mertesacker and Arteta were maybe two percent below their usually exceptional standards. Giroud was decisive and probably deserves the man of the match award.
I don’t expect the Marseille game to be very different. The dynamic of the Champions League group has worked out in such a manner that the French side appear to be the whipping boys. But they are a pretty good team in their own right and can still cause an upset if Arsenal drop their level even by a short margin.
Elie Baup’s side are physically strong and fairly well organized. If in his boots, I’d ask the team to press Arsenal really high up the pitch like Southampton did but with greater urgency and anticipation when closing down players off the ball. They haven’t got much to lose and by giving it their all they could regain some pride. Arsenal don’t enjoy it when teams get really tight to them in a physical manner, something Southampton tried but didn’t quite succeed with. It’ll also be interesting to see if they leave at least one of their tricky wide players up the pitch and closer to the striker who was isolated at times in the reverse fixture. That would also give Valbuena greater creative possibilities. Starting without a recognized central striker and playing the extra midfielder could give Marseille greater technical balance to counter Arsenal’s main strength.
Wenger’s side have shown high levels of concentration, discipline, and structure in most of their games. Same again should limit the opportunities that the visitors can create. However, there are times when it seems Arsenal do drop a little too deep. It’s good while it works but the margin of error is very fine when you’re on the edge of your own box or just inside. It’s certainly not good for the nerves and also limits the number of counter-attacks a team can create. Dortmund, for instance, look a much more offensive side even when they’re predominantly defending because their off the ball work is aggressive and higher up the pitch. I’m watching every game hoping Arsenal will move up the pitch a bit more but for now it seems results are the priority and it’s hard to argue against that.
Wenger has the opportunity to make a couple of changes to bring fresh legs in. Flamini is available and Rosicky could be ready for another start even if the game is still too early for Walcott. But given the importance of the tie, Wenger will probably not tinker with the line up from the Southampton game.
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Arteta, Özil, Ramsey – Wilshere, Giroud, Cazorla.
If things go according to script this would be another tight game where the Gunners show that little bit of extra decisive quality in the attacking third to get three points, but I won’t be surprised if a lack of offensive efficiency proves expensive. Either way, except in the event of Marseille crumbling mentally as they’ve little to play for, I don’t expect more than one goal to separate the teams at the end.Follow @goonerdesi