14 October 2017

Watford 2-1 Arsenal—Vote for Player Ratings and MOTM. It'll be cathartic!

Captain Per Mertesacker scored in his first Arsenal start since April to disrupt what had been a stultifying first half, and it looked like this would be enough to earn our first away-win of the season. Alas, Héctor Bellerín was caught off-balance and tripped in the box, and Swarbrick pointed to the spot. It was a bit harsh, as there was contact. Truth be told, though, Pereira sold the contact well, and we exposed ourselves to the dangers by failing to kill off the match. An old friend in Troy Deeney coolly scored it. From there, it looked like Watford would be more likely to find a winner, and indeed they were lively enough to hit an upright late on. Disaster struck in stoppage time when Tom Cleverley smashed it in during a scramble in front of our goal. Well, not much else left to say other than to rue the dropped points. Let's give the lads what they deserve...

13 October 2017

Kos and Özil? Out. Kolašinac and Alexis? Out. Who's available for Watford?

Well, we return from the international break predictably worse for wear, with Koscielny and Mustafi injured and various others, such as Alexis and Kolašinac road-weary as well. On top of that, the break came at an inopportune time, interrupting a tidy little run of form that had seen us go undefeated, winning six of seven, and flirting with the idea of starting to dominate opponents. Yes, we did benefit from a softer stretch of the schedule, but we made the most of it and will need to refind some of that form as we travel to face Watford. Do not underestimate them. If nothing else, they've got Troy Deeney. And Capoue. Oh, and Cleverley.

01 October 2017

Why the hell can't Lacazette play a full 90'?

After all of the breathless hype and exhilaration that accompanied Alexandre Lacazette's arrival at Arsenal, there has arisen a few mutterings and murmurs around the fact that the man has not played a full 90' since doing so against Leicester on opening day. Seeing him subbed off late on has become a regular feature of recent fixtures, so much so that Lacazette himself is probably peeking over after an hour to make sure that someone is warming up. That can't be good for his confidence or his fitness over the long term. Having spent £48m to bring him in, shouldn't we expect Arsène to be getting more for his fee?

Arsenal 2-0 Brighton—Vote for Player Ratings/MOTM!

Nacho Monreal opened the scoring for Arsenal in the 16th minute during a scramble in front of Brighton's goal, and Brighton never really looked ready to answer. Alex Iwobi scored his first goal in January to make it 2-0. Arsenal were turned away time and again in a splendid performance by Mat Ryan, assisted by numerous goal-line clearances and the woodwork as well. The result is our sixth win and fifth clean sheet in our last seven outings, and we're making the most of a softer stretch of the schedule. We're now level on points with Chelsea, no small feat when we consider where we were after the loss to Liverpool. Enough of the big picture for now; let's get down to the poll to rate our efforts against Brighton!

Will Alexis finally snap out of his preseason sulk? It might be nice...

After what felt like a disastrous start to the season, Arsenal have now gone on a little run and look ready to start closing the early gap that threatened to open into a gaping chasm into which the entire squad if not the club itself might disappear. However, we're now undefeated in our last six, with only a draw at Stamford Bridge to mar an otherwise perfect record since leaving Anfield. Having returned from Belarus, we welcome newly promoted Brighton & Hove, whom we've never met in the Prem but know fairly well from two FA Cup clashes in 2013 and 2015, both 2-3 wins to the Arsenal. They're off to a tolerably good start and should not be underestimated.

30 September 2017

Will Wilshere wither, or will he weather the storm?

Safe to say there was underwhelming expectation for Jack Wilshere as we entered the 2017/2018 season.  Our fan base has clamored to the idea of signing an additional central midfielder for obvious reasons.  For Wilshere, there was more expectation from our fans for him to be sold or loaned than to play any part this season given his injury record as well as the loan circumstances when he went off to Bournemouth. However, as the summer progressed, and our transfer activities stalled, I became open to the notion that Arsène might just be planning to utilize him for central midfield depth.  Of course, this roll of the dice all rides on Wilshere’s maintains fitness and our ability to properly manage him.  Sure enough, here we are at the tail end of October and we are seeing positive signs thus far. Slowly but surely,  Arsène has brought Wilshere back into the fray.

Starting with matches for the U-23’s (okay, no need to mention his role in the brawl vs Manchester City U23’s), working his way up to a cameo in the Europa League opener against Cologne, and finally starts vs Doncaster in the Carabao Cup and BATE in the Europa League, it's time to evaluate Wilshere's role in the squad.

In Woolwich 1886's own post-match voting, Wilshere earned himself man of the match performances in both matches against Doncaster and BATE, with 7.9 player rating vs Doncaster and an 8.44 rating against BATE. For me, he was easily the best player on the pitch in both matches.  He did seem to fade away a bit and become less influential as both matches wore on past the hour mark.  Part of that might have been due to him not quite being where he needs to as far as match fitness, bu another part comes down to our side collectively fading. Let's look at a few variables to consider for both matches...

Difference in Roles
Against Doncaster, Wilshere was partnered with Elneny as a deep central midfielder in a 3-4-3 shape. Within this shape, he operated from deep, a lot of times picking the ball up from our centre backs, demonstrating his passing range, swinging balls out to our wing backs who were constantly getting into advanced positions as well as making some good advanced runs in their final third.  From my perspective, he was running the game from midfield and was one of our most influential figure on the pitch.  I thought the dinked chip to Giroud was brilliant when he volleyed the scissor-kick and smashed the crossbar.  He also had some neat short combination passing links with Alexis.
We’ve missed some of that when operating in the final third. We saw him operate in a more advanced role against BATE. However, this shape was more of a 3-5-2, with Walcott pushed further forward as a second striker with Giroud as opposed to shared responsibilities playing just behind the main striker. Wilshere operated as the highest central midfielder, forming a CM trio when necessary and acting in a number 10 role between the opposition's midfield and defensive lines as our creative hub.  Since Walcott was pushed further forward as a second striker, this gave Wilshere more room to operate freely as a 10.
Jack's first-half passing agaisnt BATE, courtesy of Squawka.

In the first half, Wilshere completed 23 of 24 passes and created two chances, (credit Squawka) one being a very nice chipped assist to Walcott.  I also enjoyed his pass to Maintland-Niles which completely cut the BATE defense open.  Thinking ahead to what position he would be preferred in, I would lean towards his role against BATE. Playing this position with two strikers ahead of him is probably not as realistic in a Premier League setting; however, it is very much attainable in the Europa League.  As far as the Premier League is concerned, I think one of the advanced roles behind the striker will call for a little less physical demand than playing as a deep central midfielder. 

Quality of Opposition
Before we all jump back on the Wilshere hype train, we need to consider the quality of opposition. Let’s face it, Doncaster and BATE are not Premier League level sides.  The difference is Wilshere will not be afforded the time the same time and space. The Premier League opposition will not be quite as forgiving either.  It is just a different level of intensity and physicality.  Wilshere showcased that he still has some very good technical qualities, but I think anyone calling for him to start Premier League matches at this point in time should pump the breaks.  The last thing we need is to mismanage him and cause another horrific injury setback.  He’s incurred enough of those. 

If anything, I think the unexpected revival of Wilshere gives us fans something to finally be positive about given all the turmoil so far at the start of this new season.  He may not currently be the central midfielder we need, however having a player of his technical quality in that position is a commodity we definitely need to utilize efficiently when possible.  For now, Arsene needs to continue with his gradual integration and progression working up to playing Premier League matches.  If he continues his progression and remains fit, he will get his chance sooner than later.

Emory Stern has been an avid Arsenal supporter since the days of the Dutch-duo of Overmars and Bergkamp. He loves beautiful, fluent,attacking football and appreciates a good run to the near post—a Gooner through and through.  You can find him under his Twitter handle @emorystern.