Sunday 27th October 2019. The Emirates Stadium in North London. The home side Arsenal are 2-0 up inside ten minutes thanks to Sokratis and David Luiz. This for most teams would be game over. Playing against an in-form but inferior Crystal Palace, this is almost certainly over. This is Arsenal however, a side perennially known for bottling it in recent seasons.
The conventional wisdom 2-0 up at home would be to sit back and become more defensive, whilst quickly hitting Palace on the counter attack. Sadly defense is not an Arsenal strong point, as they at times appear as porous as a wet sponge. Of course the game ends 2-2, and the most revelatory thing is that Arsenal fans are not surprised at all. They are used to these letdowns. Unfortunately for fans of this once proud club, the problems are not just with the defense.
The man stealing unwanted headlines is club captain Granit Xhaka, who reacted to fan displeasure with him by antagonising them as he walked off. He is a figure who splits fans, with some sticking up for him whilst others call for his head. He has been inconsistent at best since joining the club in the summer of 2016.
The defensive midfielder often fails to support the defense, instead leaving them exposed. Many fans, pundits and commentators regularly lament the fact the Arsenal midfield is often nowhere to be seen, leaving an already bad defense outnumbered and overrun. In ten Premier League games this season they have conceded 14 goals, six more than Leicester even. Last season they let in 51 goals in 38 games, 29 more than the league best Liverpool.
People who often watch Arsenal play will point to a midfield often in the wrong position and this will frequently force Xhaka to foul to stop potential attacks. Outside of his debut season Xhaka has been in the top 20 for most fouls committed every season, and currently leads with 22 fouls from ten games. This constant fouling by proxy leads to cards, and the Swiss international averages no less than 12 yellow cards a season.
Fans were wrong to loudly boo their own captain, but they feel frustrated with this poor performances over recent seasons. When coming to conclusions on Xhaka we should remember that in the same summer he arrived Chelsea bought N’Golo Kante for £3m less.
Xhaka is by no means the only player struggling in the Arsenal midfield, with players like Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi have also played poorly at times. The difference is that in the defensive midfield role they often show what fans desire most, tenacity and a fighting spirit often lacking from recent Arsenal sides.
Manager Unai Emery shoulders a lot of the blame also. The Spaniard has yet to noticeably improve this team in 18 months despite spending £207.9m in that time. Reports have come out saying that some players are left confused by the tactics Emery adopts and what their roles in the team are. Star striker Alex Lacazette is liking Instagram posts calling for Emery to be sacked.
At the other end of the pitch, the attacking talent at the club is often forced to feed on scraps because of a lack of creativity from the midfield. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang is a Premier League Golden Boot winner, Alex Lacazette is highly rated worldwide and Nicolas Pepe is a £72m pound player. We’ve scored 15 goals this season, 17 less than Manchester City. We’ve scored one less than rivals Tottenham, who currently sit 12th.
This is because we lack creativity in the midfield. Xhaka and Guendouzi are defensive in nature, and loan signing Dani Ceballos is more of a link up player then creative outlet. We’ve missed the number ten role Aaron Ramsey played excellently for years, and our only true player who can replace him appears to be being frozen out by the club.
Mesut Ozil is a controversial topic amongst Arsenal fans. He is just as divisive a topic as Xhaka, but what is of no doubt is that at his best he’s a world class creative midfielder. He has 52 assists and 32 goals in 167 games, but has found his role diminish under Emery. He played 26 times in the final Arsene Wenger season, for a combined 2,164 minutes. Last season this dropped slightly to 24 appearances for 1,741 minutes.
After a year of assessing him Emery has made his feelings on the player clear. He has made one Premier League appearance in ten games, and has been left out the matchday squad for seven of those fixtures. The ambiguity surrounding his disappearance under Emery has left fans frustrated with him and the future for Ozil at the club looks bleak.
Many use the £350 000 pounds a week wages and languid playing style to ridicule Ozil, but at a time where Arsenal lack creativity he appears our best option to rectify this. Two important decisions Emery has made in his first 18 months are firstly to back Granit Xhaka, making him captain and integral to the team, and ostracizing Mesut Ozil. Will these two decisions put Emery in jeopardy come the end of the season?
Do you have any thoughts on Arsenal’s shortcomings or how to rectify them? Let me know in the comments section or find me on Twitter @JWjournalism. Finally, a massive thank you to everyone who read this blog I really appreciate it!