Brighton 1 – 1 Arsenal
The extent of Unai Emery’s rebuilding task became fully evident yesterday as we contrived to throw away three points from a dominant position. It isn’t just the players with questions to answer, the coach has some as well. After weeks of a patched-up back three, he went with a flat back-four which left our top four aspirations punctured.
Injuries forced his hand but the question is why not continue the mix ‘n’ match approach? His thinking was obviously scarred by the defeat at Southampton and Koscielny’s lack of fitness. He missed the Burnley win through being tired and withdrew on 70 minutes yesterday. By then, the damage was done; Arsenal
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang became the chief culprit. An opportunistic strike early on brought a good save out of Ryan; it was the Gabon international getting his eye in. Minutes later, Brighton couldn’t clear the ball and PEA, lurking on the left side of the penalty area unmarked, curled home after seizing on a loose clearance.
Later in the half, with just a one goal advantage, Aubameyang spurned a glorious opportunity. Ryan made a good save, there’s no denying that, but for a striker of PEA’s quality, you expect him to score at those moments.
It proved decisive. The closest we went to winning the game was a miscued clearance which hit Iwobi’s heel and span past the far post. The remainder of the match, in an attacking sense, was non-descript. Withdrawing Lacazette because Ramsey “deserved to play” felt like the wrong player leaving the pitch. The Frenchman works hard for the team and has the explosive finish we need late in the game.
Hindsight is something Unai Emery can only dream in the thick of the action.
Call The Keystone Kops
He won’t want to dream of the Brighton equaliser. The Seagulls claimed a goal earlier but it was rightly chalked off as Leno had both hands on the ball. However, the manner in which we eventually conceded defies belief.
From a Brighton perspective, they exploited a weakness they spotted before the game: we’re vulnerable to the counter-attack from corners. A long pass was misjudged by Lichtsteiner and his wayward header fed Locadia who scored as Leno charged out to meet him.
I absolve Leno in those circumstances. Had he stayed in his area, he was left facing two strikers on his own and a goal was inevitable. However, he’s the only one who gets a free pass. Aside from Locadia, of course.
The real problem was the tracking back. If anyone wants to know why Mesut Özil doesn’t fit with Emery’s thinking, this was the moment. Faced with a chase back, he didn’t; it’s not his game. Neither were the preceding 35 minutes and he only had ten more left before being unceremoniously hooked.
Guendouzi failed to react quick enough as well. He trailed in the strikers’ wake, never close enough to foul or tackle the man until he was about to shoot. Was it worth a professional foul to stop that happening? That early in the game, no. With 10 minutes to go, definitely. Sokratis levels of ‘sh*thousery’ demand it.
From therein, we did little. Possession became king; square, back, sideways but never meaningfully forward. Bereft of confidence, we bedded down for a draw. A deeply disappointing attitude and overall performance. On this showing, we remain some considerable distance from the top four.
Raul Sanllehi may not like the January window but we have a busy winter ahead if we’re to get anywhere close to the Champions League places.
Here Comes The Tinkerman
The match left Unai Emery being questioned. Some wondered what his underlying football philosophy was, others just baffled by the Spaniard. I think his team selection yesterday was questionable. Three at the back is something the XI is founded on, with a high-pressing game.
While the available personnel colours his thinking in terms of the eleven players on the pitch, dropping to a back four was a mistake. We lacked width on the right but that was it.
Özil’s inclusion from the start was baffling. The German doesn’t press – it isn’t his game – so is the weak link for opponents to exploit. This season, his ‘pre-assists’ are being hyped up, a sure sign that the ‘assist’ count is nowhere near the level it has been.
He’s trading on reputation and wage bill but whichever way you cut it, he doesn’t fit Emery’s philosophy and never will. No-one will be surprised if and when he is moved on.
But what is Emery’s philosophy? The suggestion is that the constant tinkering undermines the message he’s trying to get across. I don’t believe that is the case. A high-pressing game in a 3-4-3 variant is the over-arching belief. The problem is the quality of players to carry that out. Some are adapting quickly, others taking more time.
Hector Bellerin struggled to begin with but is now in tune with Emery’s demands. I don’t think Mustafi is nor Koscielny. The latter I understand through his time out injured. The former is the former; an expensive indulgence.
However, we must return to the fundamentals, the basics, just as we did after back-to-back defeats at the start of the season. Until then, we’re lurching from mediocrity to ineptitude, picking up points along the way. But not enough to make inroads on those above us.