Tag Archives: Mikel Arteta

A 4-0 win built of defensive solidity

When analysing a 4-0 win it is simplistic to say that it was due to Arsenal’s miss-firing forwards finally getting it together. But the truth is Arsenal’s biggest win of the season was built on weeks of defensive improvement.

Mikel Arteta’s first job at the club was to improve us defensively.

In Unai Emery’s last 10 games, Arsenal had conceded 18 goals. We were a mess defensively. Individual errors and no collective structure, it is impossible to expect to be able to win games if you are conceding at a rate of nearly 2 a game.

Arsenal improved defensively from the first game under Arteta – and the team have now conceded just 8 goals under his mangerialship. But these improved defensive performances came at a cost as the midfield and forward struggled to create enough chances to score.

A big problem for Arsenal was transitioning the ball from defence through midfield. A midfield of Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira was solid, but also provided very little going forward. A lot of safe, sideways and backwards passes. It meant the forwards were starved of the ball.

But this set up was needed to stop Arsenal leaking goals. You can have the best forwards in the world on the pitch, but it is pointless if you are conceding 2 goals a game.

What we saw against Newcastle was Arteta make a change in midfield based on the confidence he now had in his defence.

Even though the back line contained the much criticised Shkodran Mustafi (who has been excellent under Arteta) and a teenage left winger in Bukayo Saka at left back, Arteta was able to play a less defensive midfield.

This saw Dani Ceballos come in for Torreira.

It slightly weakened us defensively in the middle of the park, but Arteta was confident his new defensive structure would be able to cope. What it did though was massively improve us moving the ball forward.

No player played more forward passes than Ceballos – 69. He went off after 82 minutes.

Ceballos also played more forward passes against Newcastle than any player in other game under Arteta – and more than any Arsenal player this year.

What is impressive is so often the player who plays the most forward passes is often a central defender, with the majority of those passes being short passes into the midfield. With Ceballos leading the way, it meant we were getting the ball forward to our forwards more. And in more advanced positions.

Without our improved defensive displays, Arteta would not have had the confidence to play the more progressive Ceballos, and we probably would not have won 4-0.

With Matteo Guendouzi, Xhaka and Torreira in the squad offering us a defensive option, maybe we need to be focusing more on a back to back midfielder rather than a defensive one this summer.

Someone who can do better at linking the defence to the forwards (think Santi Cazorla or Jack Wilshere) rather someone who can break up play.

Hopefully Arteta’s confidence in defence continues and we see more results like the 4-0 win over Newcastle.


Marriage at Arsenal: Transformation of draws into wins

A great man once famously turned water into wine. An even greater man is charged with the harder task of turning draws into wins.

Arsenal have lost 6 games this season. Only table topping Liverpool, 2nd place Manchester City and Wolves have lost less. It is the same amount of defeats as Leicester City, and less than Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham.

But Arsenal have won just 6 games this season. Only bottom side Norwich City, 2nd bottom Watford have won less. Leicester City have won 15, Chelsea 12, Manchester United 9.

No team has drawn more games than Arsenal this season – 11.

Of our 11 draws in 2019/20, 5 times Arsenal led and failed to win the game.

We led 2-nil at Watford, only to draw 2-2. It was the same story at home to Crystal Palace. 2-0 up only to draw.

1-nil up at home to Wolves, 1-1. Leading 1-nil away to Crystal Palace, another draw. Finally at home to Sheffield United, leading 1-nil. You know the next bit. Draw.

That is 10 points Arsenal have lost from winning positions this season – and does not include leading against Chelsea before losing.

These are not tough games. They are not Liverpool or Man City away where you leave the ground content with a draw even if you were winning. These are games against mid-lower league teams. Sides who you would expect to beat. Especially after taking the lead. Especially at home.

The fact that 3 of the games were at home is even more infuriating.

It does not take much to turn these draws into wins.

Leading by 2 against Watford, we let our opponents back in with one of those silly goal kicks. Sokratis gave the ball away in the area and Watford scored. With 10 minutes to go David Luiz bought down a Watford player needlessly conceding a penalty.

Against Crystal Palace, leading 2-0, the South-London side won a debatable penalty which was originally given as a dive before being overturned by VAR. Arsenal were then denied a late win when VAR ruled out Sokratis’ “winner” late on. An apparent foul by Chambers in the lead up, it is a decision that no referee has been able to explain.

The draw to Wolves came when Arsenal were at their lowest under Unai Emery. A week later he was sacked.

Arsenal were never really on top of the game, despite taking the lead. Wolves had 25 shots on target. Emery had clearly lost the dressing room at this point.

Against Crystal Palace Arsenal went down to 10 men following a VAR decision. Nicolas Pepe nearly won it at the end.

Finally we have Sheffield United. Another game influenced by VAR.

1-nil up, Nicolas Pepe had a penalty appeal waved away that was very similar to the one that Wilfried Zaha won months before in the 2-2 draw with Palace. On one occasion VAR intervened awarding a penalty against Arsenal. On this occasion VAR decided not to award a penalty.

So 5 draws from winning positions. A handful of VAR decisions that went against us. An inability to get that 2nd goal in 3 of the games. A couple of silly penalties given away.

It would not take much to turn those 5 disappointing results into five positive ones. That 10 lost points would see Arsenal move level with Chelsea on 39 points.

Football is a game of fine margins. 5 times Arsenal have led against lower teams. 5 times we have failed to win.

If Arteta can turn draws into wins we will soon start climbing the league table once more.


Arteta’s Arsenal need to learn how to hold onto a lead

Mikel Arteta is 5 Premier League matches into his managerial career.

It is too early to judge how he will get on, however there are green shoots of recovery.

Arteta’s Arsenal are harder to break down. Players are more determined to win the ball back and we are giving our opponents less chances to score.

However it has not been a perfect start for the Spaniard. Everything has not gone swimmingly. And there are a couple of causes for concern.

The biggest of which is lost leads.

Under Arteta, Arsenal have lead all but one game – his first against Bournemouth.

Arsenal were ahead against Chelsea with 7 minutes to go, losing 2-1.

Ahead against both Manchester United and Leeds, holding on for the win in both games.

In the last two games at Crystal Palace and Sheffield United, Arsenal went 1-0 up, only to let that lead slip and draw 1-1.

7 points dropped from winning positions. Had Arsenal held on for victory in those games, we would be level on points with Chelsea in 4th. Instead we sit 10 points behind them. Top 4 a long way off.

So why are Arsenal unable to hold on to a win?

Player Fitness

Arteta is clearly demanding more from his players than Unai Emery was, and we are suffering for it in the last 20 minutes of games as players fitness levels are not up to the level being demanded of them.

This does not mean the players are unfit. Just that they are not fit enough to do what Arteta wants.

Against Chelsea we were leading until the 83rd minute. Sheffield United equalised in the exact same minute.

Arsenal had ran out of steam in both games.


Following on from player fitness, questions have to be asked over Arteta’s substitutions.

Against Chelsea and Sheffield United our midfield looked leggy.

In the Chelsea game Arteta substituted Mesut Ozil for Joe Willock in the 76th minute. But this did not resolve Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi looking shattered.

In the Sheffield United draw, Arteta made just one change. Alexandre Lacazette going off for Eddie Nketiah.

Before Sheffield United scored, it was clear and obvious to everyone in the ground that Arsenal’s midfield was off the pace. Ozil was anonymous and Grant Xhaka and Torreira had run themselves into the ground.

Guendouzi and Willock had spent a lot of the game warming up. Just before the equaliser both were set to come on. Could they have been used earlier replacing the ineffectual Ozil and tiring Xhaka? Giving us a boost of energy in midfield?

When the equaliser went in, Arteta stuck with the team that was struggling to create anything. Why did he not twist? Bring om Dani Cebellos for Ozil?

Substitutions are easy in hindsight. But Arteta needs to sharpen up in this area. He needs to make that change if someone is not performing. He needs to recognise when we are starting to defend deeper as we are running out of legs. He needs to react quicker.

Second Goal

Arsenal have struggled to create all season.

The biggest changes to the team since Arteta started have been in defence. We look stronger. Look more solid. Are more of a unit.

Going forward is another story.

We are still struggling to create enough clear cut chances.

Against Chelsea we had 2 shots on target. Crystal Palace is was 3. Sheffield United 4. Bar Nicolas Pepe hitting the post and Lacazette missing the following against Palace, I can not remember a single clear cut chance in any of those 3 games beyond the goal.

Liverpool are the only team in the league conceding less than 1 goal a game on average. Using this very simple statistic, you need to score 2 goals in the Premier League to win a game. Arsenal have scored twice in the league in just 6 games this season.

If we want to convert these draws in recent weeks, we have to get that second goal.

We can point to Pepe’s penalty being turned down and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang being sent off against Palace as extenuating circumstances. But these are just excuses. In neither game did we create enough to win.

If Arsenal want to start winning games again, we have to score more than 1 goal. It is that simple.


Arteta will get things right at Arsenal, but it will not happen overnight.

Players fitness will naturally improve as they get used to the demands put on them. Arteta’s in-game decision making will improve as he gets more experience. And hopefully once we are more solid as a team defensively, Arteta will begin working on our attacking tactics. Players will grow in confidence and we will start scoring more goals again.