What I took from the PSG match.
I was mystified when I saw the team selection. No Xhaka, No Giroud. Ospina for Cech? At the weekend I assumed that Xhaka was not selected because he was being saved for this match. The same applied to Giroud and I could not believe that Wenger would repeat the mistake he made against Olympiakos last year when he played Ospina instead of Cech. From the outset, I have to eat humble pie as far as Ospina was concerned. He undoubtedly saved us from a hiding.
As has happened a lot lately, we were caught cold and went a goal down in the first minute. Still, not total despair because we still had 89 minutes. Unfortunately, for the rest of the first half we were subjected to the sight of our ineffective forwards trotting upfield, or maybe even walking whilst they passed the ball back and forward until one of them gave it away and PSG sprang their trap. They sprinted forward and Cavani dragged Kos all over the place. Mustafi was unaffected because he was out of position anyway. Ospina was like Custer at the last stand or Canute trying to hold back the tide and fortunately he did. Monreal did his best at left back but he was one of the ones who gave the ball away mostly from attempting to cross into a non existent centre forward. Bellerin was similarly focused on bombing up the wing and leaving Maxwell or Krychowyk with a free run. Santi looked as if he had not got over his 90 minutes on Sunday and Sanchez demonstrated once again that he will never be a centre forward. His forte is running at the defence and causing havoc from the wing. He gathers up scraps which appear when he forces mistakes from defenders and pounces on them to great effect.
The Ox once again fell into his customary dribbles which went nowhere and generally resulted in a misplaced pass which put us back on the defence. There was no balance in midfield and Coquelin was simply overwhelmed by trying to do everything himself. He is obviously aware of the pressure from Elneny and Xhaka for his place and he is trying to combine his defensive role with also running ahead of his forwards. The BT commentator commented more than once that he was pulling the ball back from the byline for a forward ( any forward ) from a position he should not really be in. Ozil was exhausted when he was subbed near the end because, as on Sunday, there was no shape in the midfield or forward line and therefore no one making runs that he could pass to. He spent acres of time running all over the midfield without success. The lack of support is making him look bad.
Half time arrived and mercifully we were only 1 down. Surely Wenger would make changes. NO! The same 11 turned out and the pain continued until mercifully the penny dropped and he brought Giroud on which relieved Sanchez of his duties so that he could return to his usual role of guerilla warfare from the wing. He also brought Elneny and Xhaka on and that tightened up the midfield so that we had purpose in the team and we actually shared the possession with PSG. To our great relief, Sanchez did just what he does best and pounced on a rebound from Iwobi`s shot to smash the ball into the net.
That goal rescued Wenger from a well deserved defeat and it was because of the grit of his players despite his incompetent selection, coaching, poor tactics and lack of strategic nous. Despite the chasing we got in the first half and the obvious imbalance in the team, he waited until the 65th minute to make a substitution. As we have seen far too many times, he returned to his policy of the “70th minute sub” in a game when his selection was clearly wrong for the game at hand. He bought three players, one of whom had to play because he had no other CF and the other two were on the bench? Xhaka is clearly the best of the three and the one who was best equipped to shore up the midfield, so why was he not picked?
A notable feature of the game was that, as with many of our games, when we play slowly as we did in the first 30 mins, the opposition defence assembles in two banks of four and PSG did that last night. They were disciplined, they knew what they were doing and they relied on springing from defence on the break when they inevitably gained position. That was what earned their first goal and it could have been 4. Ironically it was like watching the blueprint of our game at Man City last year.
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I challenge anyone to look at the replay of the game and see if you can find a reasonable passage of the game when our defence was similarly organised, you will find that whilst the back four were usually lined up across the pitch, the other four were all over the place. That left huge gaps which Cavani and co. exploited. Surely that is a lack of good coaching. Every other team can do it. Look at Mourinho, Klop, Mancini etc. It is drilled into them. Atletico Madrid can beat Barcelona and Real Madrid using it. We can do it. Look at the Man City game. If we don`t have the players who can play the tippy tappy game at speed as we used to have, then we have to use the ones we have in a more efficient manner.
I don`t think Wenger has it in him to play that type of game and if he cant adapt, then we can continue to watch the same old mistakes. The same slow motion football and the same frustrations. I don`t expect that any of this will change this season but please god this is the last season of this nonsense.
A sophisticated, articulate Arsenal Man of Mystery. Aged 70 and a bit.