7.05PM: Ten minutes to go at Goodison and Arsenal’s season is in crisis before it even begins. Fifteen minutes later and goals from Aaron Ramsey & Olivier Giroud have clinched a point for The Gunners; a point that had looked so unlikely after the first half. The result may not be disastrous but given the performance it really could have been, Jack Cairns takes a look at the talking points from Arsenal’s evening on Merseyside.
Last season, when Arsenal lost at The Etihad, Anfield, Stamford Bridge, and even at Goodison, there was a common fault: Arsenal’s fullbacks.
Olivier Giroud’s lack of goals against big sides seems to be the easy target for fans venting their anger via social media but after more careful inspection it seems Arsenal’s fullbacks have been to blame on numerous occasions. It’s not even the ability level of the full backs that is to blame (minus Monreal’s horror show in Manchester last season) it’s their positioning.
Too often they’re dispossessed high up the pitch and leave Arsenal’s centre backs painfully exposed, it was the same on Saturday night. Monreal attacked far too much and it was painfully obvious as Everton carved Arsenal apart to score their second (ignore Mertesacker’s mental block, Chambers’ youthful exuberance & the linesman’s atrocious vision).
Wenger’s decision to allow his fullbacks to attack when Arsenal are away from home is bordering on arrogant and this writer is surprised he deployed the tactic after last year’s massive away defeats. It left Mertesacker & Chambers exposed and caused trouble for Arsenal all afternoon, as it did so many times last season.
The decision to play Özil on the left didn’t help matters either and left Monreal horribly exposed. Coleman’s constant running ruined Arsenal while Baines’ day was pretty quiet. One has to imagine this is last time we’ll ever see Mesut Özil on the left wing. It was a tough day for Arsenal’s fullbacks and all their fans will be hoping Wenger is a little bit more conservative when the Gunners travel to Stamford Bridge on the 5th of October.
Özil doesn’t like to defend
When Seamus Coleman headed Everton in front every Arsenal fan in the country bemoaned Özil’s lack of commitment ,”all he had to do was stick out an arm”, groaned numerous Arsenal fans and their thoughts pretty much summed the German’s day up.
It seemed like all Özil had to do was start playing and everything would be okay but he never did, I’d love to say he was stuck in second gear but he struggled to get out of first. A lack of match sharpness could be to blame as could Wenger’s strange decision to play him in left midfield.
Jamie Redknapp grimaced as he stated: “You play Özil at 10 or you don’t play him at all”, and it’s partly true but I think Özil lacks commitment. He’s an exceptionally talented footballer, everyone can see that, but sometimes you need more than talent: you need the heart that earned Mathieu Flamini a second spell in red & white.
Flamini would never have let Coleman past him so easily at the far post and maybe if Özil had a bit more passion, the Gunners could have cruised to a victory.
It’s clear that Mesut Özil is part of Arsenal’s revival but the success of the rival may depend on not what he does with his feet but what he does with his heart.
Newfound mental strength
Arsenal’s comeback was the first time they’ve came back from two goals down in three years and after their late winner against Palace, it seems The Gunners may be turning a corner.
Too often Arsenal have “bottled it” on big occasions but in the last two weeks they’ve come back twice to gather four points. This may stem from the togetherness in the squad or from the influence of Arsenal’s marquee signings but Wenger’s new found confidence is more likely to be the reason.
Arsenal’s transfer drought hurt no one more than Arsene Wenger and since their FA Cup triumph he seems like a new man. Arsene’s half-time change was so uncharacteristic that Martin Tyler seemed confused as Alexis failed to return for the second half. The substitution changed the game as Giroud offered an an aerial outlet that Sanchez, of course, lacked.
Combine this with Arsenal having strength on the bench for the first time in years and Wenger had the options to change the tactical disaster that was the first half. It may be his job but in the age of Twitter swapping Alexis for Giroud was brave and he’s probably lucky that it paid off.
Would a trophyless Wenger have dared to remove Alexis at half-time? I don’t think so. Lifting the FA Cup has galvanised the manager and it seems to be galvanising the squad: Besiktas to take the lead on Wednesday and Arsenal to come back and win? I don’t think I could cope…
Arsenal leave Merseyside with a point, which any fan would have taken beforehand, and a few lessons to ponder. If Arsene Wenger can focus on these weaknesses and bring in one or two fresh faces (a defensive midfielder is still a must), this season could end up being a bright one at The Emirates.
An injury to Giroud may be the worst news from the day but with Theo Walcott still to return Arsenal fans will be hoping their frontline will improve after a couple of rather weak showings in the Premier League. First thing’s first though, the Gunners need to start scoring the opening goal.
Jack Cairns, Pundit Arena.