Le Prof’s Match Report: Opportunities Were There, Arsenal Just Didn’t Take Them

You know that saying about being able to do it away at Stoke on a rainy day? Well, it rained there for a bit on Saturday, and of course, Arsenal was unable to get it done. After an unbelievable ending to match day one, I was hopeful that we wouldn’t have to endure yet another emotional rollercoaster on Saturday.

Now, I wish we would have gone for the most fu*&en epic ride of our lives, with an even more exciting ending than against Leicester. Actually is that even possible?!

As I mentioned in the preview to the match, my fear was that although the starting XI was somewhat obvious, Arsene Wenger does like to get adventurous from time to time. Sure enough, when the teamsheet was released, I couldn’t help but wonder how the hell this was all going to play out.

Either we’d start the season with six points, or the #WengerOut brigade would be out in full force.

My first mistake was that 99% of the time, I watch the match alone at home. And if I can’t watch it live, I’ll watch it later in the day without knowing the result, but still alone. Unless of course the wife wants to cuddle and watch the Gunners, but, that’s not happening. Maybe one day she’ll surprise me.

This time around, I went to a friend’s house, Man Utd supporter. Also there, another one of the chaps, a Liverpool supporter.

I knew very well the situation I had put myself into, but, as any other Arsenal supporter, I was confident in the squad, although I wasn’t entirely convinced by Wenger’s team choice.

Match kicked off, Arsenal didn’t look all that bad. They were getting forward with numbers, but every time they lost the ball, my blood pressure would go up. Everyone was so scattered across the pitch, there seemed to be absolutely no shape. It looked as if in training they just work on going forward, and when they lose the ball, they just reset the play. Carry on, no need to play defense.

Speaking of defense, one of my four concerns started at the back.

Nacho Monreal has been one of our most consistent players over the last few years. The poor lad gets so much stick, but truth be told, he is undoubtedly a key piece to the squad. The problem here though was that he’s not a very tall guy, and he’s not very physical either. To his right was Mustafi, who has some size, can head the ball, and won’t shy away from a challenge. You would think that playing Mustafi central, Monreal on the left, and Bellerin on the right would make more sense, right?

Better yet, how about slot in Mertesacker who was on the bench, play Mustafi on the right, Monreal on the left, and then can move Kolasinac to LWB? And where the hell was Rob Holding?

We’ll come back to the defensive side of things shortly.

Further forward, Bellerin was played as a LWB, while Ox was on the right. Now, I know they are professionals and should be able to get by with either foot, but, apart from standing on his left leg, when do you see Bellerin use it?

So now while it’s awkward for him getting up the line seeing as he has to cut back to his right more often than not, defensively, if he shows them the line, he’s now on his weaker foot. Opposed to if he’s playing on the right, he shows the attacker outside, and has the comfort of being on his strong foot. Going forward, he’s also able to have the confidence of playing a first time ball in with his right foot.

Defensively, he can be a liability, and he showed that a few times when he made some halfhearted challenges. Take him out of his comfort zone, and you have yourself a recipe for disaster. All this with two players on the pitch who can play that position, and Ox on the right side, who although not left footed, can occupy that LWB position better than Bellerin. To add to that, in the Community Shield and against Leicester, Bellerin featured on the right side, while Ox operated on the left, so why the sudden change?

Again, we’ll talk about this part a bit later.

In the center of the park, Elneny and Xhaka had been playing well together. They look to have found a decent balance, but we all knew that with Ramsey fit, Wenger would slot him into the starting XI. Sure enough, that’s what he did.

While I don’t have the time to analyze every match frame by frame to properly study movements on and off the ball, with the time I do have, I’m very well capable of seeing that Xhaka and Ramsey in the center of the park is a liability. Yes, it can work very well against some teams, but that doesn’t mean that the team isn’t exposed throughout the match

Elneny is happy to chase the ball and close down space with the opposition trying to come out playing from the back. Xhaka on the other hand doesn’t prefer to chase the ball, so he’s fine with sitting deep and keeping the shape. Ramsey on the other hand is capable of closing down the opposition, but positionally he’s not very disciplined, leaving Xhaka exposed. Proof of that was when Stoke scored their only goal.

Xhaka came out playing, and obviously made a poor pass. The problem here though is that his midfield partner left him out to dry, which again, given Ramsey’s characteristics and style of play, is not all that surprising. Have a look at his positioning. He’s out wide to the left, Arsenal’s furthest forward player on the pitch, yet we were just passimg midfield.

Right after giving the ball away, the Swiss international quickly tried to regain possession by pressing the opposition. Had another played dropped in behind him, that would have been fine, but his midfield partner was nowhere to be found.

Stoke quickly broke that line of pressure, and they were off to the races. Have a look at all the space they had to run into.

Here is where things get real interesting.

Xhaka quickly turned and made an effort to get back. Guess who else made an effort… You have a name in your head? You sure you want to stick with that name? Well, if you said Ramsey, well, he may have tracked back, but not far enough. Mesut Ozil tracked back. He may not have been able to get completely behind the ball, but, he made an effort and helped to at least put some pressure on the ball carrier.

Meanwhile, Arsenal had two lines of three players, trying to defend three Stoke players. Yes, you read that correctly. Six Arsenal players, with three Stoke players between them.

Looking at this photo, for someone who didn’t watch the match, you’d think there’s no chance the white team scored, unless of course you know Arsenal is the team in black. But honestly, how did that happen?!

Mustafi did fine, he was patient, and didn’t commit. The only realistic pass was the one that happened, which left Monreal completely dumbfounded.

Monreal had a good five yards on Jese. All he had to do was shadow his run, but, not allow him to get in front of him.

Jese continued his run, Monreal got caught flat footed for an instant, and there you have it, Arsenal was down 1-0, and I was sitting at a table with a drunk Liverpool and Man United supporter. Just my fu%#en luck. Fortunately I was watching the match on my phone, so I didn’t have a chance to check the group chat, despite being fairly certain of what was being said.

Monreal should have been there before Jese, I have zero doubt about that. And here we were, yet again. Arsenal controlling the tempo of the match, only to get caught out, and now had to chase the result. I’m thinking going forward we should just enter the match trailing by one goal because it seems to be a frequent scenario.

Let me just say, even with Wenger’s adventures and questionable decisions on the teamsheet, this goal should have never happened. Xhaka did lose the ball and Ramsey was out of position, but we had six players against three of theirs. That’s simply unacceptable. The second half had just started, run your fu%#en balls off, and help to get the ball back. Instead, they got it back, but had to pick it out of Petr Cech’s goal.

Time to throw caution to the wind now. All I could think was that we’d witness another memorable comeback, but even after all the damn chances, either Jack Butland had the performance of his life, or, Danny Welbeck needs to really work on his finishing.

How many freaken chances did he want? Time after time, he squandered every chance. Had Lacazette had half of them, he would have had a brace. I mean he did score one, but apparently that linesman has such incredible vision, that he managed to see that Laca’s big toe nail wasn’t trimmed, subsequently raising the flag to call back his thunderous left footed strike.

Can someone please tell me how the f#%k he saw that? Even pundits were baffled at the fact that he was able to see that, yet even to the naked eye and with the play paused, it’s incredibly close.

From that point on, it was obvious that it wasn’t going to happen.

Needing at least a goal in a match that you have a record possession percentage, what do you do? You take out Lacazette, who is your biggest goal threat on the pitch along with Giroud, and you replace him with Theo Walcott. Meanwhile, the guy who wasted chance after chance is still on the pitch. 🤔 How does that even make sense?

Why not take off Welbeck, play Walcott wide, Laca can also play wide, and Ozil can sit behind them, with Iwobi and Ramsey in the engine room. Instead, you take off Lacazette? Arsene, wtf are you doing to me?!

Time was ticking away, still need a goal, and we are pouring bodies forward. You have Giroud as a target man in the box, but again, Stoke is sitting deep, so throw bodies in front of Butland to make sh*t all sorts of chaotic for him.

Here is a picture of Arsenal’s last chance.

Two players in the box. TWO! While there are another four forming a fu%#en human wall outside the box, just in case Stoke decided they wanted to turn on their Joga Bonito and come out playing from the back. Mustafi was at least making an effort to get into the box, everyone else, not so much.

It’s beyond frustrating for me to see how calm and not bothered Shawcross looks on this play. Last chance of the match, get in there and push some people around. Nah, we’ll hang out here and hope Giroud can save the day again. 😡

Our first defeat of the season, and I wasn’t even able to go two weeks without having to endure a bunch of bullsh*t from the lads. Luckily we all ended up together after the match so there wasn’t much said, but having to hear it and accept it in person hurt a little.

So what’s the moral of the story here?

One, Arsene Wenger needs to stop fu#%ing with the lineup. If you have a central defender available, play him in the center where he should be. Two, either Ramsey learns to be disciplined when playing in the central role, or we need to figure something else out. Three, get Welbeck some additional training in front of goal. Four, Alexis, can you hear me?! We need you. Gracias!

Lastly, five, don’t panic. Sure it wasn’t the most eye catching performance, but, we had more than enough chances, just didn’t take them, while Stoke took theirs. It’s only the second match of the season, let’s not throw out the white flag just yet.