Any cod psychologists can leave the room or may well want to. Social media was awash with claims and counter-claims over Mesut Özil’s absence, fuelling and fuelled by stories in today’s press about how the German spent an hour in the changing room after the game so can’t be that ill. I paraphrase, but you get the gist.
Whatever the cause of his illness – genuine, genuine and serious, or completely made up – I doubt we will ever know. If he comes back at Cardiff stronger and more focused, so much the better. If Unai Emery chooses to leave him on the bench, so be it. So long as we win, does it matter?
You can argue, yes, we’re not getting value for money from his salary. This is true and at the moment, we aren’t getting value for money. There’s a touch of the ‘judge me in May’ about the scenario though. The arrival of Unai Emery wiped the slate clean-ish. Some players lost, e.g. David Ospina, others would have lost had injury not interfered, i.e. Carl Jenkinson; there was never a completely new start for those deemed not good enough for Arsenal.
For the remainder of the squad, however, surely we give them a clean slate while Unai Emery makes the changes he wants to the style of play? Surely there is an adaptation period? No, not entirely, it seems. I’m well aware, before you point it out, that the point I’m making should apply to Shkodran Mustafi. It should, shouldn’t it?
Well, he and Hector Bellerin are getting cut no slack – and I know we all contribute to that, including me in the case of the former – but as ever the case against is not as clear-cut as it seems.
Mind The Gap
The team is very much a work in progress, both in terms of match sharpness and tactically. Players are adapting to the new style and there is a lot of work to do. Until the team is fully functioning, can we say any of the squad are ready to be cast out? Not those in the matchday squad, that’s for certain, nor the younger players.
Defence is even tougher. It’s been a rough ride for the back four so far. In part, they are architects of their own downfall but not the key factor why we are struggling at the moment. The midfield is a bigger issue. You only have to look at this snapshot to see the space West Ham enjoyed at the weekend:
Using the full-backs to support the attack, providing width works and is proving productive. However, if the midfield pushes, cavernous gaps are left in the centre of the park. While holding a high defensive line compresses the game, the tactic falls down without four defenders across the line and if there is a huge gap in front of them.
We are guily of both failings.
It’s lack of positional discipline leaves us vulnerable to the counter-attack. I know the players are adapting to a new style and you hope with time that these weaknesses will improve. I suspect that gap in front of the back four will diminish with a true defensive midfielder on the pitch. Lucas Torreira’s inclusion in the starting line-up is surely imminent?
That protection should imbue some confidence in the central defenders. As they adapt to each other, Sokratis and Mustafi will grow as a pairing. A better understanding when to drop deep and how to cover each other’s shortcomings will lead to a tangible improvement in their performances.
Wings of Speed
And just as centre of the defence will benefit from cover, so too will the full-backs. It’s madness to have Hector Bellerin the furthest forward player and not cover that adventure, as well as having Nacho Monreal joining the attack on the other flank. In those situations, surely the wide midfielder or two holding midfielders are vital to counter the counter on the wings?
No wonder Bellerin is getting flak when he’s bolted upfield and then expected to sprint back to act as a full-back. In those scenarios, midfielders should be covering. Thinking back to the fabled back four, if one full-back attacked the other shifted infield so we moved to a back three. I know Emery wants us to attack with a 2 – 2 – 2 – 4, but to not have the players covering full-back is suicidal.
With time, that will surely come but to see the same mistakes in every game is concerning. The question is, how long will it take?