Alexis

Full disclosure: my notes from all of Arsenal’s 14 goals.

Because I think some of you are interested here are my notes from all 14 goals Arsenal have conceded this season. I’m harsh on some of the players and you’re going to see a few names over and over again that are probably a surprise to you. But this is what I saw when I re-watched each goal.

This season Arsenal have conceded 10 of 14 goals from either their own set plays or the opposition’s set plays. And they have done so with some almost comedic defending at times. Way too many lapses in concentration, especially from Flamini, and far too much poor positioning, especially from Gibbs, are gifting the opposition far too much space and time to get into dangerous positions to score.

Arsenal have a troubling habit of relaxing on set plays. If you let a loaf of bread rise on your counter and then you pick it up with your hands, the dough will quickly collapse and relax into your hands. This is what Arsenal’s set play defense looks like time and again.

First Chelsea goal (penalty, Hazard):

A series of set plays and throw ins which culminates in an offside against Schurrle. Gibbs takes a quick free kick to Sanchez. Alexis is dispossessed by Ivanovich (probably a foul), passes to Matic, to Cesc, to Hazard all alone. Eden dribbles past Cazorla, then past Chambers, and then is fouled by Koz.

Analysis: Gibbs took the free kick too soon, Atikinson allowed Alexis to be fouled, Arsenal in disarray and too slow to react to Hazard. Set play indiscipline starts the Chelsea move, Chelsea set play finishes the goal.

Second Chelsea goal (long pass, Costa (Cesc assist):

Long ball to Alexis in the CF role, turnover, Mikel quick pass to Cesc, Fabregas has all the space and time, Costa beats Koz and Szczesny with a great first touch and special finish.

Analysis: pushing up for the win, not enough pressure in midfield from Flamini, leaves Cesc too much time to create.

Galatasaray goal (penalty):

Sanchez dispossessed in midfield, defense switches off, Gibbs tries to step up to force the offside but Per doesn’t, Yilmaz gifted tons of space, Szczesny comes for the ball, foul.

Yilmaz scores the penalty.

Analysis: Gibbs probably shouldn’t have stepped up to draw the offside. There was, however, lots of lazy play leading up to it and the Arsenal players were walking all over the place. To be expected when your team is 4-0 up? Or chronic problem with Arsenal’s soft mentality?

Tottenham goal (Chadli):

Szczesny claims the Erikson free kick easily and then hurriedly passes out to Chambers. Chambers is challenged by Erikson and passes back to Mertesacker, who passes to Flamini. Flamini takes a lazy touch and turn, is dispossessed by Erikson. Jack lets Lamela waltz past him, Lamela picks up Flamini’s recovery tackle, and passes to Chadli who scores past Gibbs (who recovered with a quick sprint), Koz, and Szczesny.

Analysis: Szczesny shouldn’t have taken the throw so quickly, the defense was disorganized, and Gibbs was too far up the pitch and for what reason I don’t know. Flamini was too casual with the ball and Wilshere, his midfield teammate, didn’t attempt to help out but stood and watched as Flamini was dispossessed. Lamela got the assist because Jack didn’t track him and Chadli the goal because Gibbs couldn’t recover. Better shape at the back and calmer presence from the keeper and this goal never happens.

Southampton first goal (penalty Tadic)

Free kick boomed in by the keeper, headed away, but played right back in to the same player, who flicks over to Manaes. Rosicky comes flying in and makes a pointless challenge. Tadic shoots right down the middle.

Analysis: Rosicky made a stupid challenge.

Southampton second goal (Clyne):

Tadic takes a corner, Chambers heads the ball out. Clyne picks it up from 35 light years from goal and fires in a shot which parts the red sea.

Analysis: a goal scored off a corner. Half wonder goal, half Einsteinium.

Dortmund first goal (Immobile):

Arsenal win a throw in deep in the Dortmund half, it’s punted up to Immobile, Gibbs races back, Koz is jockeying Immobile and Gibbs doesn’t make a challenge.

Analysis: Gibbs should have challenged Immobile for the ball, Immobile gets a lucky bounce and scores.

Dortmund second goal (Aubameyang):

Arsenal have another throw, cleared up to Aubameyang who passes to Grosskruetz. Aubameyang runs past Wilshere, between Per and Koz, Szczesny comes off his line, Aubameyang gets a lucky bounce and gets around Szczesny, scores a chip despite Koz’ valiant effort to get back.

Analysis: Wilshere was nominally the defensive midfielder. If he follows that run, it probably gives Per and Koz time to catch up. Instead he ran over to Gross.

Man City first goal (Aguero):

Kompany clears the ball desperately, Flamini tries to clear/tackle away from Aguero but the ball bounces to Navas. Navas drives up the pitch, Flamini runs exactly where you want him to run and tracks Aguero but at the wrong moment stops and Aguero goes past him and scores the cross.

Analysis: I don’t get it. I just don’t get why Flamini would run all that way back, get into nearly the right position and then lose Aguero. It just doesn’t make any sense.

Man City second goal (Demichelis, Corner, header):

Man City send a line of players to attack a spot, pump in a corner and Demichelis is completely un-marked. He actually had a lot to do with the pass, but he sends in a nearly flat-footed, falling away header that Szczeny and Flamini can’t keep out. Szczesny actually palmed the ball into the post.

Analysis: Arsenal had just two players in that zone. Neither got the ball.

Leicester Goal (Ulloa header, cross Schlop)

Koscielny suffered a head injury a few minutes earlier. Leicester ping a ball forward to Scholp, he chests down and makes a break for it, the ball is played back to him and he sprints to the end line. Debuchy is covering fine and Scholp sends in a hopeful cross to where he sees Ulloa running.

Analysis: It wasn’t catastrophic in any way, it was simply lax marking.  Koz is probably to blame (he sees Ulloa but cant beat the man to the spot), except that seems a bit harsh considering the fact that he will be taken off in a minute for his head injury.

Everton first goal (Coleman header)

Alexis commits a foul on an aerial duel. He then spends plenty of time talking to the referee for Arsenal to get set up for the free kick. Everton take the free kick and pass to Barry. Barry passes and moves to a more advanced position. The ball swings to Baines and Baines basses back to Barry who sand wedges a ball into Naismith for the header.

Analysis: This looks like a set play by Everton. Baines and Barry have a chat and then the play starts. It goes through Osman before getting to Baines and then to back to Barry but what that ball movement does is relaxes the Arsenal defense like resting a loaf of dough. I think Barry’s ball was intended for Lukaku but Coleman beat Özil to the ball and headed in far too easily. Classic example of Arsenal switching off.

Second goal (Naismith)

Play is entirely down the left. Monreal is in advance of Mesut Özil and the ball is passed to him in space, he plays it back to Özil who attempts a splitting pass into the box. The ball is hoofed clear and Lukaku wins the first challenge with Mertesacker. Chambers rushes out to challenge and misses the tackle completely. Özil actually busts a gut to get back while “pass master” Monreal stays up top — ready to counter attack. Flamini, alone (which could be a poem), is caught between covering Lukaku and Naismith. Flamini checks Naismith several times, and even points for Debuchy to cover. Naismith waltzes between the two players (not that it would have mattered, they had a man behind Debuchy as well), and strays well offside. Lukaku plays Naismith in and Naismith scores a bit of a lucky goal between Szczesny’s legs.

Analysis: Naismith was offside. Lukaku fouled to win the first ball. Does it seem to you like Arsenal rely more on officials to get the calls right than other teams? Chambers shouldn’t have made the challenge. And structurally ask yourself this question: should Mesut Özil be the player busting guts to get back, what value does Monreal offer going forward, and why shouldn’t he be dropping back or holding back?

Crystal Palace (Hangelaand header corner)

Hangelaand simply beats everyone in the air.

Make of this what you will.

Qq

mountains

Arsenal have conceded 10 of their 14 goals this season off set plays

Preface

What is this, a Tuesday? Mid October? Is it the time of year when the trees turn fire red and leaves clog the gutters? Oh man. Where did the time go? It seemed like summer not too long ago.

Time slipped down a sunlit path into the forest. A path that climbs rocky ledges and comes to a small blue lake surrounded by sharp green cliffs. A place where the sinners go to dip into the cold waters of nature’s absolution.

Except there is no washing away sin if your heart isn’t in the asking. You can’t simply say that you’re sorry for your sins and expect to be forgiven. In that case you’re only there to soil the spot with your presence. Which so many do.

So many come to the water looking to wash off their grime, only to leave it behind for others. It’s the sin of sins, really, to treat such a wonderful thing with such abandon. To suck the life out of something pure and beautiful and leave it sullied.

You can’t just wash off the dirt. You have to be there wholly. You have to feel the water not just as a tingle on your skin but deep inside of you.

You have to dip in the waters not just with your body but with your heart.

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Post

Lately I have been staying indoors and watching game tapes of Arsenal matches on Arsenal.com¹. I have been watching them because I am sick in the head and because I wanted to review how Arsenal concede goals. Specifically, I wanted to see if Arsenal were conceding goals after they took a corner kick.²

The good news is that Arsenal are not conceding goals after they take a corner kick.

The bad news is that Arsenal’s defense is highly susceptible to switching off on all sorts of set plays.

First, let me get this out of the way: anything I say here will be repeated by one of the paid Arsenal journalists some time next week. It’s a trend I’ve noticed. When I say something on my blog, it is miraculously rejiggered and repeated a few days later. No “thanks for the idea, Tim!” No links back. Just “here’s something I was thinking.” So, expect to read about this idea that Arsenal have a defensive weakness from all sorts of set plays next week some time. Probably after they concede a goal from a corner.

In all competitions Arsenal have conceded 14 goals and the commonality is that Arsenal show a lack of mental strength on set pieces both their own and the opposition’s.

Arsenal have conceded 7 of the 14 goals from opposition set plays, either from a corner, a penalty, or from a well worked free kick.

Worse, Arsenal have conceded three times from their own set plays — twice on throw-ins against Dortmund and once on a Szczesny throw against Spers. We will talk about that Spers goal in more detail in a second. And one of the 7 counted as opposition set pieces, the penalty v. Chelsea, started as a Gibbs free kick.

There have been just three error goals, though in reality all goals conceded require some kind of error. One, against City, was player error. Flamini tracked Aguero all the way back to the box but then switched off at the crucial moment. One was referee error, Naismith was offside and Lukaku fouled Mertesacker in the buildup to the second Everton goal. And I am awarding an error to the medical staff for the Leicester goal for leaving Koscielny on the pitch after a head injury (the goal was a header from open play and Koz was removed minutes later).

Arsenal, then, have conceded just one goal from open play — the Cesc to Costa Chelsea goal.

It’s an incredible record, really.

But the most incredible of all the goals that Arsenal have conceded this season probably has to be the Tottenham goal. That starts as a Szczesny throw. He takes the throw before his defense is set. He throws to Chambers who is covered. Meanwhile Gibbs is creeping up toward the half-way line. Chambers passes back to Mertesacker, Per passes to Flamini and Flamini takes a lax touch trying to turn. Erikson dispossesses Flamini and then Lamela waltzes past Wilshere in midfield. Wilshere doesn’t even turn on at all defensively, just lets Lamela walk over and pick up the ball. Gibbs sees Chadli way too late and sprints back but by then Chadli has acres of space on Gibbs’ side and slots Lamela’s pass between Szczesny’s legs.

It’s the North London derby. Why on earth are 5 or 6 Arsenal players switching off at that moment? It seems unconscionable.

Given the sheer number (10/14) of goals Arsenal are conceding from set plays I think it’s fair to say that clearly there is a problem with Arsenal’s defensive organization. The fact that Arsenal have conceded 7 goals on opposition set plays and at least 3 on our own set plays (including two off our own throw-ins against Dortmund) shows me that Arsenal have a real problem staying focused whenever there is a stoppage in play.

Mental strength? I don’t think so.

Qq

¹You can become a digital member and watch all the games for free a few days after the match has been played. It’s great for the obsessive nerd, like me.
²Because I know that you will all ask, and because I want your feedback, here are my notes on all 14 goals Arsenal have conceded:

Chelsea

1 – Gibbs quick free kick
Alexis dispossessed
Arsenal fans want a foul
Cazorla, Chambers, Koz beaten by Hazard dribble
Penalty scored – opposition set play goal

2 – Alexis dispossessed
No pressure on Cesc with the ball
Fantastic finish by Costa – great goal, open play

Galatasaray

1 – Alexis dispossessed
Gibbs fails to spring the offside trap
Szczesny fouls
Penalty scored – opposition set play goal

Spers

1 – Szczesny takes a quick throw
Arsenal defensive shape is poor with Gibbs way up field
Flamini poor touch
Wilshere fails to track Lamela
Gibbs doesn’t recover to cover Chavli
Decent finish – Arsenal set play goal

Southampton

1 – Free kick by Soton keeper
Ball pinged around
Rosicky foul
Penalty scored – opposition set play goal

2 – Corner
Arsenal clear but the second ball falls to Southampton
Wonderstrike – opposition set play goal

Dortmund

1 – Arsenal have a throw in deep in the Dortmund attack
Ball is cleared, hoofed really
Immobile is jockeyed by Koz waiting for Gibbs
Gibbs doesn’t make a challenge – Arsenal set play goal

2 – Arsenal have a throw
Ball cleared, hoofed
This is starting to sound familiar
Aubameyang runs past Wilshere
Bit of luck with the dribble to get past Szczesny – Arsenal set play goal

Man City

1 – Kompany clears the ball
Flamini error in the tackle
Flamini tracks Aguero
Flamini loses Aguero
Aguero scores easily from close range – error (Flamini) goal

2 – Man City corner
Terrible marking, Demechelis left all alone
header – opposition set play goal

Leicester

1 – Koscielny suffers head injury
Koscielny stays on the pitch
Schlop is covered by Debuchy but gets in a decent cross
Koscielny doesn’t really challenge the header – open play goal (error by medical staff leaving Koz on the pitch)

Everton

1 – Everton free kick
Barry to Osman, Osman to Baines, back to Barry, cross
Coleman header past Ozil – well worked opposition set play goal

2 – Ball hoofed from open play
Lukaku fouls Mertesacker
Naismith offside – open play goal, referee error

Crystal Palace

1 – Hangelaand header from a corner – opposition set play goal

wilshere-Ox

Footballistically speaking: Dr. Jekyll off the pitch, Mr. Hyde on it

I used to play basketball with this guy named, well, let’s call him Joe. Off the field, Joe was a nice guy. When we were sitting on the bench waiting to get back into the game, he would talk to me about my family or my love life and was variously insightful, funny, and charming — he never failed to make me laugh when I needed it. After the games I would go to his house for parties and drank many beers with Joe and again I never saw a single raised voice or even an angry moment from Joe.

But in the game, Joe wasn’t Joe. Joe was a cheater and a liar: every call had to go his way, even the ones that were wrong. Whenever Joe played, the game devolved into a screaming match over some perceived foul that Joe called or wanted called. Joe was also overly physical and played dangerously and with little care for the safety of his fellow players: if you tried to box him out on a rebound he would climb over your back, foul you to get the rebound, and then swing his elbows to clear out space. Joe was, to be blunt, a fucking asshole.

At first it was funny and I laughed it off. He wasn’t always some crazy rage-beast and so I took the good Joe, the non-ball playing Joe, to be his real personality. But that rage was always bubbling under the surface and it could erupt at any moment. Eventually, that sports Joe erupted into his real life. Without getting into too many details, Joe was caught stealing money, lost his job, lost his wife and now, from what I hear because I don’t play basketball anymore, he’s still the same old Joe.

I’ve been playing sports my whole life and I’ve seen a lot of Joes – these guys who are sweet and friendly off the field and a terrible menace on the field – and a few years back I came up with a theory: if you ever want to get to really know someone, play sports with them. Sports is the kind of heated, competitive environment where people make instinctual decisions without the benefit of a cold shower and a fortnight’s thinking. If Joe’s instinctual decision is to snap into a harsh tackle whenever he loses the ball, that’s how he will act when the chips are down in real life too.

I was doing some research on Arsène Wenger’s first North London derby a few weeks back and I came across a quote from Wenger which confirmed my theory. When Wenger took over Arsenal, the players were well known for what the British press call “anti-social behaviour”. Merson and Adams were confirmed alcoholics which seems to be the only disease that is a crime in England.

On the field, Arsenal had Ian Wright who had a reputation as a bad-boy with the officials. And whether they were deserved or not, Arsenal were second in the League in bookings. To this very day Arsène is abused for the number of red cards his teams gather¹.

wilshere-Ox

And so, in that context, Arsène was asked what he thought of the personality of his team and he responded in his usual insightful way:

The real revelation of a player’s character is not in his social life but how he plays. In social life I can hide my real personality, but when I’m playing, I show my real self because it’s important to win. You see the real character of a player not off the field but on it.²

Jack Wilshere continues this tradition of supposed bad-boys off the field. His sins so far are that he’s a (not so) secret smoker, though I am starting to wonder if he isn’t also a secret gluten eater. And we all know that gluten is the devil.

But on the field, Wilshere is just a fiery midfielder who stands up to bullies, who is creative, and who can pick apart a team with a mazy dribble or incisive pass. He’s not afraid to tackle a player and he will even stand up to a Jonas Olsen who is, like, 17 times his size.

Meanwhile, Cesc Fabregas can give all the interviews he wants to about how much he respects Arsenal and what Arsène has done for his career, but in the Chelsea v. Arsenal match, Cesc let his true feelings be known: here he is tackling Welbeck from behind, after the whistle had blown. It was a dirty, chippy, little play from the former Arsenal captain and I think a bit of insight into his true personality.

Cesc fouling

We all have our outward social facade that we would like everyone to believe is our true self. And we all hide bits of our personality from the world, only showing the nasty stuff to the ones we love (oh how they love us that they put up with our nasty bits). But if you really want to get to know someone, to break through that thin exterior shell, just play football with them. And the first time they slide tackle you, studs up, from behind, after the whistle has blown, you’ll know… this guy? He’s an asshole.

Qq

¹Arsenal have three red cards already this season (2013/2014) all in Champions League play, just in case you hadn’t heard in, ohh… the last 10 minutes or so.
²Beauty is any kind of goal against Spurs, says Wenger - David Lacey, The Guardian, November 23rd 1996