I copped a bit of flak on Twitter after the game by saying I was delighted to win but that our performance wasn’t that convincing. To be clear: it is quitepossible to be very happy to take three points, yet still harbour some concerns about the way we’re playing.
Looking at Scott’s By The Numbers piece on Arseblog News reminded me of why I was not doing cartwheels despite the fact I thoroughly enjoyed scoring two late goals to win our seventh successive game. They had a lot of chances to score goals. Too many chances.
After a quite exciting first half in terms of spectacle because of how open the game was, we had Bernd Leno to thank for keeping us level. The German had come on for Petr Cech just before half-time after his hamstring went sproink, and from a free kick Troy Deeney, Watford’s Falstaffian pantomime villain, got a good flick on the ball to send it towards the bottom corner. Leno’s reactions were superb and he tipped the ball around the post.
When Gray got in behind Leno came out well to save again, and then it was Rob Holding’s turn to be the defensive hero when Mustafi did a big old Mustafi to let his man run off him but his defensive partner was there to make an outstanding block. And not long before we scored, we lost the ball high up the pitch, Isaac Success powered towards goal and clipped his effort beyond Leno but millimetres wide – it might even have brushed the post.
Watford, whose league position tells us they’re a decent side, created more big chances in this game than any other they’ve played this season, and came away with nothing. Which is obviously marvellous, but while we all want to focus on the positives it’s a bit concerning that we’re allowing the opposition such freedom in our final third in almost every game.
We’re riding our luck a little bit, and it’s not negative or moaning to point that out. It’s simply reporting the facts. We won, that’s a fact. We let Watford have a lot of chances. That’s another fact. You might like one more than the other, but it doesn’t change the veracity of it.
And look, winning when not playing well: I’m on board with it. Winning however we win is always welcome, and it’s a fantastic habit to get into. Winning ugly, great, but sooner or later a team is not going to squander the kind of chances that Everton did last week or Watford did yesterday, and then our chances of winning become slimmer. I want our chances of winning to be much fatter, like Troy Deeney, and until we sort ourselves out defensively, we won’t do that.
What’s interesting is that individually I thought most of our defenders played well. The two keepers, the two full backs, and Rob Holding were all very good. When Sokratis is back I would like to see him partner the young Englishman because I have to tell you I’m somewhat fed up with Mustafi. I could go on, I might expand on this in the Arsecast Extra that we’re recording later this evening, but I feel it’s best if I just leave it there after his display yesterday which made me say bad words out loud and the puppy to look at me strangely.
However, Watford still caused us lots of problems, and I wonder if part of why we’re so vulnerable at the back is because of our inability to control games properly further up the field. Whatever Unai Emery is trying to do with Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil clearly isn’t working, and we were better when the Welshman went off and Alex Iwobi came on. We looked to have more balance, Ozil became more involved, and ended the game with a season high number of passes and touches, not to mention the second goal which sealed the game for us.
It’s so hard to work out what exactly he’s looking for from Ramsey, and Ozil when he’s shunted out wide, but I think we have sufficient evidence now to tell us whatever it is doesn’t suit either player, and we have options in the squad who can come into the team and give it more balance.
Although he scored last week, I can’t escape the feeling that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is not particularly liking his job on the left and you don’t need to be a genius to know that when you have a prolific striker playing him wide is not going to get the very best out of him. Alexandre Lacazette has been playing well, should have had a penalty (go down!), and a goal (what a miss!) in the first half, and was directly involved in both of our goals, so his form merits inclusion, but you look at Aubameyang and feel like he’s not really enjoying life out wide.
So, there are things that the boss has to figure out about his team. We know he’s a man who doesn’t view things in a superficial way, therefore if we’re a bit concerned about how many big chances Watford had, you can be sure he is too and he’ll be working to try and put that right. However, if you were to ask me today – with the caveat that it’s still very early days and all that – ‘What’s the thing that stands out most to be about Unai Emery’s Arsenal?’, it’d be the fact we give so many goal-scoring opportunities the opposition.
That said, it would be followed closely by how effective we’ve been in grinding results out in the second half, so that’s a bit of yin and yang there. There’s a resilience to the team that definitely wasn’t there last season and that’s a big positive, as is the fact we keep going and have enough quality up front to cause most teams problems. We left it late yesterday, but the own goal and Ozil’s sweet finish from Lacazette’s cross ensured we took all three points, and that’s the main thing.
The other stuff can be worked on, it needs to be worked on, but it’s far better to work on it after you win than trying to sort it out in the wake of what would have been a disappointing defeat.
Right, as I said, we’ll be recording the Arsecast Extra for you later this evening. As ever if you have questions or topics for discussion send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra and we’ll get to as many as we can.
In the meantime, enjoy your Sunday.