While it’s never pleasant to witness your team lose any game of football, let alone several on the trot, I find it extremely hard to get bent out of shape this morning.
Context is king here, of course. Had we lost the two opening fixtures under Arsene Wenger, people would have been out in force on the streets. As it is, fans are willing to give the new man some breathing space, and I count myself among those.
Naturally it doesn’t mean we should just ignore everything that happens on the pitch. Despite this being an Arsenal side in a very obvious transition phase, psychologically as much as footballistically (ba-dum-tss), we can’t just chalk stuff up to a learning exercise at will.
So let’s see whether we can separate the wheat from the chaff.
It’s fair to say Emery raised quite a few eyebrows with his starting line-up. Monreal at left-back was expected, but the only other change apart from that was Iwobi for Ramsey. No Torreira, despite a promising cameo against City, no Lacazette, Guendouzi still intact.
I caught myself thinking our line-up was actually quite underwhelming. Apart from Auba, Ozil and maybe Mkhitaryan we looked genuinely short on the quality front. I should nonetheless give Emery credit where it’s due: Iwobi repid the trust shown in him with a goal, while Unai was more than ruthless with his subs.
Xhaka was hauled off at half-time after another indifferent showing and Ozil’s time was also cut short when Ramsey was introduced in his place on 70 minutes. Right now only two players from our attacking group seem immune to Emery’s wrath: Auba and Mkhitaryan. And still I get the feeling the former is walking on thin ice.
Diabolical opening period
During the first half hour Chelsea walked all over us. They scored twice, they could have scored more, and our defense was a defense in name only. Chelsea actually had four players on the left-hand side for a while, such was Bellerin’s and Miki’s insistence on giving the ball away.
We appeared to have been instructed to play a high line, but failed miserably on numerous occasions to play Morata/Pedro/Barkley offside. Mustafi appears as braindead as ever, while Sokratis just seems slow and uncomfortable in this system. Understandable, he is 33 or whatever, high defensive line isn’t really his game.
In all seriousness though, I’m more than ready to see just how much worse Holding can do in the centre of our defense. As to who he should replace I believe the only way forward is Joker-style tryouts. This is the part where I rue Chambers’ loan again.
But we picked it up … in their final ⅓
However when we broke forward in numbers, the Gunners always looked dangerous. We were especially good at cutbacks from the byline, scoring one and creating at least another three clear-cut chances. How Auba, Miki and then Iwobi all missed from the same spot, unmarked, I will never know.
Iwobi’s goal was a direct result of this tac paying off, meanwhile Miki made amends by smashing a low distance shot past Kepa. It was genuinely encouraging to see us split Chelsea’s defense like that, and actually made me miss Olivier Giroud, who was the king of near-post finishes.
We could have gone into the break one or two up and it was disappointing we weren’t more ruthless when some steel in front of goal could have won us the game.
We also dialed it back in the second half
Presumably under instruction to stop defending like twats, and aided in this quest by Lucas Torreira, the Gunners fell back for the second 45 minutes. Emery’s side only concern seemed to be defensive shape and solidity in front of our own goal.
This ensured Auba and Miki drifted out of the picture and became peripheral figures, and even Lacazette’s and Ramsey’s cameos did little to peg Chelsea back. This seemed like a wasted opportunity, it was clear we could hurt Chelsea, but maybe Emery was more concerned with the state of his “defense”.
And the Spaniard should be concerned by all means. Without Koscielny the centre of our back line looks bang ordinary, slow and porous. If this season is indeed viewed as expandandable, a training exercise more than anything, we could do worse than just chucking in Holding and Mavropanos. I’m being serious here, it’s been a long time since our centre-backs filled me with such dread.
Is Guendouzi essential to how we want to play?
Like the rest of the team right now, the Frenchman looks raw, albeit it’s because he lacks top level experience rather than being thrown into a new set-up like his more seasoned colleagues.
However I think it’s quite telling how Emery perseveres with starting the Frenchman and you can see why. Matteo reminds me of Elneny is a sense that he is always on the move, always a passing option, but where he differs is distribution.
Elneny became somewhat emblematic of Wenger’s team shortcomings in the last season or two, in that he fed into the safe-sideways passing theme perfectly. GUendouzi is willing to take risks, but it’s necessary for something positive to happen. That he is preferred to his senior colleagues perhaps gives us a glimpse at Emery’s thinking.
The last word
It was disappointing to miss out on even a point at Stamford Bridge. One could say we merited at least a draw, but honestly I see nothing shameful in going down by one goal to Chelsea.
I’m worried about our finishing, I’m in a state of panic regarding our central defense, but I can still see progress. I can see how Emery wants to play, I can see glimpses of his ideas on the pitch already and this in itself feels like progress.
We are not doing the same thing hoping it’ll somehow work out this time. There are no more untouchable players in this squad. I can genuinely see Emery dropping half the squad when we host West Ham next Saturday and I catch myself thinking I wouldn’t bat an eyelid.
This is refreshing, it makes me hope we can improve and I can finally enjoy something even when we lose. Long may it last.
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.