As the game wore on I started to get desperate. The reason for my desperation stemmed from the fact I couldn’t see how Arsenal was going to win the game, but it was obvious how Leicester could. It is a familiar situation for Arsenal fans, albeit not the most frequent one. Arsenal didn’t pose much of a threat up front, while their opponents on the day, Leicester, were dangerous on their rapier-like counters. It was a game hanging in precarious balance, and in the end I was relieved to hear Clattenburg’s final whistle.
As always, there are quite a few talking points. I’ll start with the positive ones.
How’s that defense Holding up?
I’ll admit I was worried about the prospect of facing pacy Vardy, Mahrez, Okazaki and Musa. Turns out I shouldn’t have been.
First of all, Laurent Koscielny returned to the side and had an excellent game overall and against Vardy in particular. On the few occasions Vardy had the space to run into, Kos was quick and alert enough to either match the Leicester striker for pace, or restrict his options. On a side note, we now know the pecking order for the armband, as all of Cech, Cazorla and Koscielny started the game.
Secondly, Koscielny’s exemplary performance and his general presence rubbed off on Rob Holding. The Englishman didn’t look nervy or out of his depth, something that is a huge achievement for a player so young, even given the protection he got from midfield and Koscielny’s reassuring presence. Rob’s rather low passing rate (74%) is a worry for a defender lauded for good distributing skills, however it is not the end of world. Holding played against a very organised (in their collective pressing) side and he is still taking first steps on such a big stage. Arsene was full of praise for the defender:
“I think he did remarkably well against top-class strikers today. For me he had an outstanding performance. He’s 20 years old, he’s English and it’s a great reason to be happy.”
The only thing I don’t like about the whole situation is how unceremoniously Chambers was dropped. That’s ominous. He has been at Arsenal for 2 seasons and is supposed to be higher in the pecking order than a 20-year-old fresh signing. That he isn’t, doesn’t bode well for him, and it’s something that worries me. Chambers has shown great promise at the start of 14/15 season and has done reasonably well when called upon after that, so I’m not sure what’s happening and why he isn’t trusted more.
Finally, our fullbacks were solid as ever, with one contentious point late in the game, when Bellerin brought down Musa in the box, but it was obvious the winger was looking for a foul. Apart from that Hector and Nacho did grand to keep Albrighton and Mahrez quiet, which is no mean feat, especially with the latter. But I’ve already run out of compliments for Monreal last season.
On a side note, I’ve noticed a definite improvement in how we defended crosses. Leicester put in quite a few in the closing stages (hoping Ulloa would connect with at least one), but our back four weathered the storm stoically. It’s too early to make a conclusive judgement, however it’s something to keep an eye on for sure.
Coquelin vs Xhaka
This debate raged in pre-season, it raged yesterday and I think it’ll continue to rage. Problem is, Coquelin got in most fans’ blacklist last season without doing much wrong. He became a victim of a myth that he’s a bad passer (which he is not, he is just not a playmaker to spray Kroos-like diagonals), plus, most consider him reckless, despite the Frenchman getting sent off just once since becoming a regular in 14/15.
In short, most became fixated on an idea that we need a controller type in midfield for Arsenal to become a better side overall, ironically after crying out for God knows how long that we need a “proper destroyer, a beast”. I suspect a healthy portion of these fans is made up of Ramsey admirers, who, after seeing how ineffective the Welshman has been alongside Coquelin, quickly decided to heap all the blame on the Frenchman. However that’s a debate for another article.
Coquelin and Xhaka are different types of players, which was all the more clear yesterday, when they played alongside each other. Coquelin was less attracted to the ball, doing the bulk of his work off it. He was tasked with breaking up play and he did his bit brilliantly. Xhaka, on the other hand, was more active with the ball, helping to keep it in circulation.
Order your signed copy here
Coquelin and Xhaka are not interchangeable. They are different players with different tasks and will be selected based on the opposition. Xhaka will likely establish himself as first-choice, but only because he’s more useful against teams playing the low block, and most teams prefer to play exactly like that against Arsenal. Coquelin, meanwhile, will be better suited against the big sides, when the task or regaining possession will become vital. Leicester, who are very dangerous on the counter and good at pressing, would have got the upper hand yesterday, had it not been for Coquelin’s immense contribution.
Our attacking play was painful to watch. I think this was down to a number of reasons:
- A more disciplined defensive approach overall, which restricted the attacking freedom our players had
- A disjointed front 3. Oxlade, Alexis and Walcott only exchanged 20 passes between them. A drop in the ocean when a team attempts over 500
- No focal point. Alexis got lost up front (again) and drifted to the wings to get involved in the build-up and play triangles. As a result, Walcott, a pronounced winger on the day, posed more of a threat than our nominal centre-forward
- Slow play on the ball. Even when we successfully managed to pass the first line of Leicester’s press, our midfielders/wingers took their time, allowing Leicester to fall back into shape
- Lack of penetration. Neither Xhaka, nor Cazorla were either interested or successful in playing forward passes, while also reluctant to take players head-on, so as to create a numerical advantage in the final ⅓. Ozil rectified the former, while Wilshere took care of the latter, but both came on too late to make an impact we desired. However, not sure Ozil was ready to start, so not going to blame Arsene here, especially seeing how Sagna, Lloris and now Payet went down injured.
The last word
If last week showed why you shouldn’t start the season with no senior centre-backs, this one demonstrated how important it is to have a focal point. However, our problems ran deeper than simply not having a recognised striker on the pitch, albeit having one wouldn’t have hurt: the game showed how dependent we are on Mesut Ozil’s magic. Last week we had this problem too, though it was well-hidden behind three goals.
Are you laughing at the notion that a team with 3 goals scored can have a problem creating chances? Don’t. Only the first goal was down to a team move, 2nd came from a bit of individual skill, while 3rd was from a set-piece. Saturday exposed our inability to create, although of course you have to give Leicester credit for restricting us.
We badly need to start a proper forward against Watford, not only because we need a genuine focal point, but also because we need Alexis’ creativity on the wing, as we can’t rely on Iwobi for now and, frankly, we can’t seriously rely on someone that young for the entire season. We also need to start Mesut Ozil, as we seem unable to do anything inventive in the final ⅓ without the German maestro.
A draw against Leicester isn’t bad in itself. We managed a point so early in the season against a team which showed just why they won the league last year. We also haven’t conceded. I’m sure other top teams will have a very hard time at King Power and that they will drop points there.
It’s the fact this draw came on the back of a home loss during which we conceded four which boils the piss. Wenger now has a week to fine tune his lads and maybe bring a couple more. Further dropped points against Watford would be very unwelcome indeed.
Get your replica wall clock here
Russian Gooner. No, it’s not always cold in my home country 🙂
A staunch Arsenal supporter since 2004. Started writing about the Gunners in 2013.
Currently in London to get a degree in journalism.