Before the game against Villa, I mentioned the need to take at least 10 points from 12 before the heat arrives. The two point concession there was mostly with the away visit to Southampton in mind. Most away games are tough but to a side that deserves it’s place in the top ten or higher is that much more trickier.
The first half display from the Gunners was noticeably poor. Southampton had more bodies around the ball no matter where it went. That’s a tell tale sign on a team that is successful in imposing it’s tactical will on the game. Wenger’s side was once again caught in a state of tactical confusion. Some players were pushing up while others were holding back. The team was neither fully committed to high pressing nor were they able to offer structural integrity at the back.
As a result, the hosts seized complete control of the game through their energetic pressing, composed passing, and reliable organization. The only thing they lacked was genuine quality in the final third, which meant that Pochettino’s side weren’t able to convert their numerous promising moments into gilt-edged chances and goals. They were the team on top but not exactly running away with the game.
Numerous half chances came and went but only two opportunities come to mind when thinking of clear chances. The goal, of course, was one such. Debatable fouls aside, I thought it was very poor goalkeeping from Szczesny. The Pole came forward and then went back, losing his bearings in the process. Had he read the flight of the ball better and scuttled towards the back post there is a good chance he could have made a save. Other than that it was just another back post cross – one of their main strengths since the Saints have returned to the top flight – and a somewhat contentious physical duel. That said, I don’t think blaming the referee is a good idea here. We see such battles all the time and the defender has to be stronger.
The only other big chance came from a poor clearance from Monreal that rebounded kindly towards Gallagher. The striker couldn’t hit the target.
The second half was different. Arsenal committed bodies forward to press and it paid instant dividends. Take a look at passes made by both the teams in the opening seven minutes of the half,
Southampton barely got out of their half. Arsenal had complete control and produced a couple of excellent moves, although we do have to acknowledge some luck when that scuffed shot went in.
Arsenal’s first goal was a delight to watch.
The move started with a throw in on the right side in the centre of the Southampton half. The ball made it was all the way to the left, then back, to the right, up the pitch, again all the way across to the left, before a cross brought it towards the right. Sagna was strong in the duel and Giroud was clinical. The quality of possession football and in the final third were both outstanding. It was something the Saints missed. Then again, the budgets of the two sides are vastly different so it’s not an attempt to knock on their players.
This phase of the game was also very interesting in understanding the importance of momentum and resulting off-the-ball positions of players. Throughout the first half the hosts had the momentum and their players were in advanced areas. So, when a deep cross came in from wide on their left, they had players attacking the first ball and others ready to pick up the scraps to sustain pressure.
Early in the second half, Arsenal were on the front foot while the hosts were pushed back. Consequently, when one of those long balls down the channel found a teammate who was able to make space and cross the ball, there were no takers in the box or the other flank. The Gunners were able to recover the ball and comfortably move it forward. Since the Saints were just trying to catch up with the territorial gain (of sorts) their players weren’t even in the position to press effectively. Arsenal broke forward and converted that deep cross into a goal at the other end with the opponents disorganized and unable to close the shot down.
For those who are interested in such stuff, I recommend watching that phase of seven minutes and comparison with some of the football from the first half to see how off-the-ball positioning resulting from momentum shapes patterns of play.
That momentum worked against Arsenal just a minute or so later. It seemed to me the team relaxed just a bit more than they should. Sagna went wider towards the flank when there was absolutely no need to. This created space for Rodriguez to exploit. Arsenal’s forward momentum also meant that the midfielders were just a touch – matter of a couple of yards or so I’d say – further away from Arsenal’s defence and not in a good position to race back in a timely manner. That Llalana was faster than Arteta is not a surprise. It’s a known fact. The fact that Arteta did not take up a compensating position and reacted a fraction later to the threat probably resulted from the team’s attacking impetus.
To me these are the little details that shape the game not the “Leadership Qualities” that Flamini showed!
It was interesting that the Gunners scored two in a short space of time again and that Arsenal didn’t sustain that momentum for a longer period. It’s hard to, understandably. But they did make the momentum count when it was there and created a few more chances later in the game. Defending in the second half was much better too.
Individually, I’d say Koscielny was MotM. Mertesacker also had a very good game. The two full backs were poor in the defensive areas and the Keeper didn’t do a great job either. Normally, a defender would win that ball or a foul would get called and Szczesny’s wandering tendency would be ignored by most. But he does this far too often. It was an accident waiting to happen.
In the midfield, I don’t think anyone had a particularly great game. Özil’s determination, particularly in the second half, and control of the ball were commendable. Giroud again worked hard but he lacks the ability to go behind a high line which does limit the team in such cases.
On the whole, it wasn’t a bad point to take. There are other games where the team can gain points. But if City’s imperious home form continues and they control their away day fumbles, it will be very difficult for the Gunners to match their consistency unless they take their big game performance to levels we haven’t seen regularly. One problem with big games is that, unlike Southampton, those teams have the ability to punish Arsenal when they can create as many promising moments. And a short burst of intensity is usually not enough to score two goals against such opponents. In the simplest of terms, that explains Arsenal’s form against the relatively smaller side and their struggles in tougher matches.
Crystal Palace – Another must win but also another banana skin
I don’t like Tony Pulis but have to acknowledge his ability to organize a defence and extract a committed effort from all his players. His team can be very hard to break down as they park the bus and cover for each other. And you just have to look at Chelsea’s frustrations against West Ham to understand how annoying and expensive such tactics can get for the side that is trying to force the play and needs the three points.
The tactical aspect is quite predictable. Palace will look for long balls, counter-attacks, and set-pieces. Unless they get a gift from the Arsenal defence or the ref, the visitors will struggle to score in this game. But Pulis has made them hard to beat and it’s based on their ability to protect their goal. The Gunners will also have a tough time finding a way to goal.
I’m hoping Arsenal start off on the front foot and have a real go in the first 10 minutes in the manner they did at the start of the second half at St. Mary’s Stadium. An early goal can potentially open this game up and make things more enjoyable.
Wenger faces a challenge when it comes to picking a balanced line-up. It’s hard to believe but Arsenal are actually running out of central midfielders!
We could see the Arteta-AOC duo in midfield for this game. As I’ve said often enough, Oxlade-Chamberlain is not ready for this level of football in my opinion, certainly not in central midfield. But if the manager has to take a chance on him, this is just the game. His errors of judgment, tactical mistakes, and tendency to surrender possession will not be as costly in this game. Hopefully!
Arteta has also looked off-colour in recent games. I’m not sure if he’s been fully fit this season. And that’s a concern because he has to compensate for the youngster’s foibles. He could again have a lot of duels with Chamakh and the Moroccan is a wily customer in such battles. With that in mind even Koscielny will have to be careful he’s not baited into a rash tackle when he’s the last man or in the box.
We might see,
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Arteta, Özil, Oxlade-Chamberlain – Gnabry, Giroud, Cazorla.
Wenger doesn’t pick Podolski as often as some fans would like to see. It’s hard to understand but I have a feeling it’s linked to the positions of Santi and Mesut which the manager probably doesn’t want to change. They are his best players and it’s important to get the most out of the duo.
While many fans still feel the team has a genuine shot at the title, I like to keep an eye on the gap with the team in 5th. Arsenal had a 7 point lead at the top before the last set of tough fixtures. That has now vanished. At the moment the Gunners have 9 points on Spurs in 5th and two months of bad-a** fixtures lined up. Unless we see a major improvement and quickly, that lead might also skittle away. With that in mind, anything less than three points from this game will be a shocker.
Can Kim Kallstrom help?
That’s the question on many minds. To be honest, I don’t know what to think of this transfer as I’ve not watched much of Kallstorm in recent times. A few years ago I’d have said the Swede is one of the most underrated players in the world. But his best is behind him now and that best didn’t rise to the levels his potential once promised.
The player he most closely resembles in the Arsenal side is (pre-injury) Rosicky. That’s somewhat of a lazy comparison and isn’t totally fair but it basically captures what I think he can bring to the team. If he has the fitness levels needed (any time on the pitch on Sunday should tell us more) and can cope with the physicality of the league, Kallstrom can be a very useful short term addition to the side. Not similar in playing style and definitely more talented than the Israeli, Kallstrom could have an impact like Benayoun did. Maybe even more. Is that enough for the Premier League title run? I don’t know. Could he be helpful in the race for the top four spots and FA Cup? Yes.
It’d be easy to interpret that as a lack-of-ambition signing but that’s not my point. The secondary target has to be achieved if the primary one fails.
The guy was very good once upon a time. Let’s see where he’s at right now. Some of the older players who’ve come to Arsenal in recent years have offered good value. He might do the same. Free-kicks, shots from distance, combination play in offensive areas, and passes from deep were all his strengths to varying degrees. Hopefully, he still retains the bearings of the goal posts and an eye for a pass. That would help his integration into the side immensely.
It may not be a blockbuster singing but could yet turn out to be a very clever acquisition. The guy definitely deserves some chances before he and the deal are judged.Follow @goonerdesi