Arsenal 1 – 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers
A point is better than nothing. Or certainly better than the nothing we looked like we were going to get for prolonged periods of yesterday’s game. It took several good saves from Bernd Leno and a freakish equaliser from Henrikh Mkhitaryan to change the outcome. In the cold light of day, it feels like a point gained rather than the two we know were dropped.
Unai Emery praised Wolves hard work in much the same way we received praise for our hard work against Liverpool. While that was our benchmark performance under Emery, we didn’t reach those levels of intensity. Once again, we didn’t turn up in the first half.
Another half-time tweak, another substitution; Alex Iwobi hooked for Matteo Guendouzi. Emery’s pro-active nature refuses to let the players try to play themselves back into form; if it’s broke, he fixes it. Or tries to at least.
But it felt like there was a lot broken yesterday. Not torn asunder by clumsy hands but splintered. There were bits of performances from the outfield players and a whole match’s worth from Bernd Leno. Rightly crowned Man of the Match, the German blocked, parried and caught. When he didn’t the woodwork came to his rescue as Wolves almost snatched their first win at Arsenal since Moses was in nappies.
We could have few complaints if that was the outcome. Yes, we were better in the second half but we set a low bar in the first. Some never rose above that with Granit Xhaka having a particularly off day. Guilty of the mistake which led to Wolves opening goal, the manager was specifically asked about the Swiss international. Essentially what he said was that it’s two steps forward, one back for everyone, Xhaka included.
Flattering to Deceive
Another who saw better days recently was Mesut Özil. Such was the lethargy of his performance, he found himself booked and hooked. With few arguments from anyone, either.
It feels like the international break is coming just at the right time for Emery. Some players looked jaded yesterday, like they need a break from club football to revive their spirits.
While the lack of intensity against Sporting on Thursday was put down to Danny Welbeck’s injury, it wasn’t entirely due to that. This is a performance in keeping with the games since brushing Leicester aside in the second half. Crystal Palace, Sporting (twice), now Wolves; call it focus, intensity; whatever you want, it’s been absent.
Liverpool is the exception. Was that because it’s a big game? Is complacency the culprit? When you make a habit of overwhelming opponents in the second half, is the first shrouded in a thought of ‘we’ll be better after half-time’?
Maybe not consciously but a seeping poison through players minds requiring the antidote of a tweak or change. When it happens almost every week, something is collectively not right.
Speaking of not right, Hector Bellerin’s left boot is not his right otherwise he may not have skied a very presentable opportunity. Shooting practice is in order.
His passing is not an issue; Aubameyang grazed the post from one opportunity created by the Spaniard. Perhaps most telling of the striker’s contribution was missing the ball as Mkhitaryan’s cross found its way into the far corner.
Had we been comfortably ahead, Aubameyang may have found himself substituted once again. Unai Emery decided there were more pressing changes to be made and PEA stayed on the pitch. Nevertheless, he cut a frustrated figure. With his own form or playing wide? We’ll find out soon enough.
Every Which Way But Lose
Whatever the case, the squad has forged a sixteen-match unbeaten run which is not to be sniffed at. When we come back after the international break, there is a tough run of fixtures, starting at Bournemouth. Is a change as good as a rest?
Emery felt we’d done enough to warrant a win yesterday but it’s hard to see the justification for that way of thinking. We might so easily have lost when Wolves rattled the underside of the bar; thank God for goalline technology.
A draw was a fair reflection of play. We had the possession but Wolves the more clear-cut chances. That Bernd Leno was Man of the Match in a home game says it all. We’re used to visiting ‘keepers receiving that accolade but ours? Not for some time.
The international break takes over now giving Unai Emery time to work with the rump of the squad on shape and tactics. Let’s hope it reaps benefits once the Premier League returns.