Typically, my post-match analysis takes the form of a column called “Good, Bad, and Ugly.” But given the changes to the team I want to highlight the performances of the three new players who took part without having to force them into one of those three categories. So, instead of a rigid format, I’m going to start by looking at the match as a whole, then look at some things about each of the new players, and I’m going to finish with a look at some changes the manager made. As always, feedback
The Match as a Whole
I consider this Arsenal’s first real match of the post-Cesc era: the Liverpool match was tainted by carrying a passenger in Nasri, the United game was tainted by Arsenal’s glaring lack of squad depth, but against Swansea Arsenal were nearly full strength (missing Song, Wilshere, and Gervinho) and featured three of the five new signings. This, for better or worse, is Arsenal’s team for the next four months.
That said, the game had a pre-season feel to it from the Arsenal side. Fitness looks lacking in several players and the defense looks like it’s still trying to figure some things out — all changes that would normally be ironed out in pre-season. We can complain all we like about what the management did or didn’t do to create this problem, assess blame, and try to fantasy manager our way back into a title challenge but for me this is the reality we are facing. And I like to face my realities head on, by writing about them in a blog, just as soon as I have enough liquid courage in me.
The first three games of the season were a disaster. There’s no other way to put it. Any time you allow 10 goals in three games it’s a disaster. That’s 23% of all the goals that Arsenal allowed in 38 games last season — in just three games. Big numbers like that ruin confidence and can make it easy for the team to turn over and give in to their opponents on any given night.
Not only that, but three red cards in three games which all were born of retaliation and frustration shows a team that is ill disciplined and that gives opponents a way to get back into games as well. Kicking Arsenal has always been a tactic employed by the opposition and condoned by the League and its referees. But Arsenal cannot allow teams to goad them into stupid retributive fouls like the one that Theo Walcott was booked for. Yes, he was being pulled on every dribble. Yes, that causes hamstring injuries. But the answer isn’t to kick the opposition in retaliation, the answer is to kick them first.
That last part is a quality that I think Frimpong brings to the team. His dribbling is not very good, his passing is decent in terms of sideways and backwards, but where he excels is in getting in people’s faces. “Coming in their face” as Senderos would say. Arsenal need a few players who will come in people’s faces: both Frimpong and Coquelin are face comers.
The other worrying thing about Arsenal in the first three games is how they were not playing the fluid, passing football we are used to. In the first three games of the season, the number of overall passes per game was ok (511) but where they were suffering is the number of goal attempts they were creating and converting. Last season Arsenal created 6 shots on goal per game and here this year it’s just 4. Just in terms of overall shots Arsenal have struggled this season. Last season they averaged 17 shots per game and this season that number was 14 before yesterday. This was purely down to the fact that Arsenal were lacking a true playmaker in midfield. Rosicky has never been the same since his injury and without Wilshere Arsenal lacked any real creativity in those first three games.
It’s telling that Arsenal managed 4 shots on goal yesterday and created 19 chances overall. Not only that, but for the first time this season Arsenal really imposed themselves in terms of possession and passing, dominating the League’s best passing team 540 to 420 and keeping 57% of possession against a team which fights for possession. Those are decent numbers.
The one thing that should worry everyone is that some of the old habits crept back into this team. There were 43 minutes between Arshavin’s goal and Arsenal’s next shot on target (Chamakh’s header). Arsenal are known for taking their foot off the gas and letting teams back into games and that’s exactly what happened. In those ensuing 43 minutes, Swansea started building belief and put Arsenal under plenty of pressure. We’ll need to see if that was down to lack of fitness or if it’s a permanent fixture for Arsenal.
It might sound like it but really, I can’t complain. Like I said, this was almost like a pre-season match and you can see that some players will need a few games to get up to speed in terms of working together offensively and in terms of gelling defensively. But Arsenal won the game 1-0 and kept the clean sheet. And that’s something to build on.
A lot of people are talking about Arteta’s numbers and I will agree that he looked really good both objectively and subjectively.
Arteta’s passing numbers were very good, completing 91% of his passes, 100% of his long balls (3/3), and putting in 1 successful through ball. In particular, his first half was stellar, misplacing just three passes total.
In the second half he flagged a bit and that showed with five passes misplaced in the second half. But really, can we complain that about a guy who made 8 bad passes in 90 minutes? And not only that, but they were almost all probing passes forward to Theo. He was trying to get Arsenal’s counter attack started and it just didn’t come off for him. Hardly something to get all hand-wringy over.
Subjectively, in the second half he started to look tired along with Arshavin who always looks tired. How much Arteta can be used before Jack returns (if Jack returns) is a big question for me. There’s some depth in the team in terms of wing players but central playmaker is really thin and we risk burning Arteta out and him picking up an injury if we aren’t careful. I suspect the crack Arsenal medical team are going to monitor his “red zone” to make sure he doesn’t get some bizarre injury like “soggy bone” or something.
I keep reading about how Mertesacker lacks pace but I’m not worried about pace as much as whether he forms a good partnership with Koz, gets his positioning right, and helps out aerially.
It shouldn’t surprise you that teams will target whomever partners with Per. But it probably surprises you to learn that Koz is 91% in aerial duels this season. That’s 10/11 for those who are counting. Yesterday was no different and Koz led Arsenal in terms of headers (3/3) and led Arsenal in clearances with 7 of 10. Per was only 2/4 in clearances and lost the one aerial duel he was forced into.
That said, he had a crucial block and his passing numbers were amazing: 100% in the first half and 94% overall.
I thought it was a bit of a risk playing Per yesterday because he has only had one practice session with the team and it showed. I’m not worried about it yet. Like I said, this felt like a pre-season match.
Benny and Youn
Benayoun was perfect yesterday and I don’t mean statistically. Wenger brought him on when he saw that Swansea were pressuring Gibbs down the right and all Benayoun did was come on and give an all energy performance to help cover Gibbs.
Before the match, I told you that Swansea’s attack comes from the right and last night they created 43% of their attack through the right where Angel Rangel led their side with 52 passes. Benayoun came on for the quiescent Arshavin and immediately had an impact in helping to contain Dyer and Rangel.
Arshavin and Benayoun is a good partnership for Arsenal because there are few players in the world who could score the goal that Arshavin scored and if he’s having an off night, or teams are trying to exploit his laziness, you bring on Benayoun who will use his experience and energy to help the team.
It’s early, but so far, he’s a great signing.
And finally… Arsene Wenger
Arsene is scrambling to get Arsenal back into the League. He has to do this by managing the player’s disappointment from the big loss to Man U and he has to work hard to integrate all the new players into the team. St. Andre has yet to make a bow but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him started Tuesday in the Champions League and started along side Gibbs. Meanwhile, now that Mertesacker has made his first appearance, I think Wenger has to keep playing him. And with Arteta, I wonder if we won’t see a late sub rather than a start on Tuesday. As you can see, Wenger has a lot to manage on this team which is essentially starting over from scratch.
That said, all his substitutions were perfect. Frimpong looked a bit tired and on the verge of picking up a silly card so on came Coquelin and he gave 100% just like you’d expect from a player who is hungry for a chance to prove himself at Arsenal.
Ahead 1-0 and with Robin needing a bit of rest for Tuesday, on came Chamakh who had a brave header late in the game. If Wenger can instill some belief in that kid Arsenal will suddenly discover some options in attack that we don’t currently have.
And of course, Benayoun for Arshavin was perfectly timed and shut off service to that side of the pitch.
Arsene also changed up the formation a bit in the second half, switching to a 4-2-3-1 with Arteta as the deep lying playmaker. It was an interesting tactical change and probably down as much to man management (less running for Arteta) as trying to slow down the Swansea attack. It also shows his critics to be wrong, Wenger is flexible. He just chooses when to be flexible and when not.
So, he got the team off to a winning start in their new era and Wenger now has a match every three or four days until October 2nd. The manager has to erm.. manage to integrate the players at hand, be flexible in terms of tactics and substitutions and keep Arsenal going forward in the three competitions they compete in this month.
All of which culminates in an away match to Tottenham on October 2nd.
We’ll see what him and this team are made of by then.