Every streak comes to an end eventually and last night was fatal for more than one of our streaks. First of all, we lost after we had been unbeaten in fourteen matches in all competitions. Secondly, we lost the opening match in the Champions’ League Group Stage for the first time since the opening of our European campaign in 2003-04 (yes, that season!). Thirdly, we lost a match in Germany for the first time since February 2005, where we were defeated by Bayern in the First Knockout Stage. Between the aforementioned defeats we had beaten HSV, Bayern and Borussia Dortmund and drawn against Borussia, Schalke and Bayern. Finally, it was our first defeat this season in all competitions.
Truth be told, it was a well-deserved defeat. The Germans completely outplayed us in every part of the game. They were quicker, stronger, smarter and, in the end, more prolific. If they had converted at least half of their chances, we would have suffered a humiliating defeat. Here are key pointers from the match.
1.The system doesn’t work.
As long as the result is good, I tend to stay positive when critics point out single flaws. However, when we get beaten on the score-board as well as on the field, then I start to doubt the system. Our performances so far have been rather slow. Not in terms of pace, as we now have plenty of it, but in terms of the players gelling together. We have seen too many times this season how passes that would find their target in normal circumstances end up overshooting our players. In the game against Monaco at the Emirates Cup it was obvious we were behind in terms of team cohesion but that was justified as a World Cup hangover.
For some reason, Arsene Wenger insists on playing Mesut Özil on the left wing and with Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere in the middle. He should either switch to more reliable tactics or make this one work. It’s not like we can afford spilling points in the league in the forthcoming matches against Aston Villa, Spuds and Chelsea respectively as we are already six points behind Chelsea.
2.Per Mertesacker has a lot of problems adjusting to our new system.
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The German defender has been the leader of our defence and the whole team for some time. Looking back at the period after Mertesacker’s arrival in 2011, we can clearly see that he reduced the danger from set-pieces considerably while Szczesny and Koscielny were not the only ones responsible for our sixteen clean sheets in the league last term. This term we tried a high pressing style with attacking full backs, and that leaves Mertesacker vulnerable. His lack of pace is exploited by teams with quick strikers and midfielders who make darting runs. Also, Debuchy – who has been our first-choice right full-back and plays next to Mertesacker – is more offensive than Sagna was, not to mention that Debuchy doesn’t have Sagna’s physical presence. Of course, there is an influence of the previously mentioned World Cup hangover in Mertesacker’s game too.
3.Mikel Arteta was over-run by Borussia Dortmund midfielders for the third time in a row.
One of the biggest flaws of our current system is that the lack of a world-class defensive midfielder is clearly highlighted in big games. Mikel Arteta has struggled a lot this season and this is mainly due to the fact that Ramsey and Wilshere play in front of him instead of one of them being the engine that co-operates with Arteta’s calmness in the middle of the pitch and hides the fact that Arteta’s legs are gone (remember, Arteta’s weaknesses became more obvious only after Ramsey had suffered an injury against West Ham last term).
What bugs me is, why did Wenger opt for Arteta against Borussia Dortmund in the first place? In both matches last season it was clearly visible that Arteta couldn’t deal with Klopp’s midfielders and was lucky to escape a red card for persistent fouling in Dortmund. Last night, Arteta was a victim of irony and symbolism – a guy named Immobile was too quick for him and gave the lead to the Germans after bursting through our meek midfield – and the second goal came down the middle too.
4.Jack Wilshere’s ankle has struck again…
Jack Wilshere was our arguably best player at Signal Iduna Park. It’s not an achievement to write home about but it is encouraging that Jack has been in good shape lately. However, his injury didn’t look nice, especially given how many troubles Wilshere has already had with his ankle. Hopefully he will return as soon as possible and his form won’t be damaged by this set-back.
5….but Aaron Ramsey might actually benefit from Wilshere’s injury.
This might sound like a bizarre conclusion but it seems Ramsey plays better when Wilshere is not on the pitch. Ramsey’s form has declined since the strong start to the season and he hasn’t been the real Rambo lately. The Welshman had problems in 2011-12 when Wenger used him as a central midfielder in 4-1-2-2-1 formation but flourished in a double-pivot-team-up with Arteta in the last ten matches of 2012-13 and didn’t look back after that. If Wilshere is injured, Ramsey might get a chance to play in a more familiar position.
6.Mesut Özil doesn’t cut the mustard on the left wing.
As you might have noticed while watching Germany in Brazil this year, Mesut doesn’t like to play at the left wing. His performances were average or at best above average when he was played there by Loew. There are pacey options for the wings now with Alexis, Campbell, Welbeck and Chamberlain (not to mention Walcott) in our squad which means Özil and Cazorla should be used in the central role only. The German can propel both Arsenal to the top of the table and our strikers to the top of the goal-scorers’ list. With Özil on the left wing, both our defence and our attack will suffer. Let the best No. 10 in the world play as a real No. 10!
7.Wojciech Szczesny should avoid dribbling.
Our favourite Pole has had a lot of cases in which he decided to dribble himself out of trouble. He hasn’t been punished for that yet but nobody knows for how long he can ride his luck. He might ask his new rival David Ospina how Colombians feel whenever they recall how Rene Higuita’s dribbling knocked them out of World Cup 1990 against Cameroon.
8.Danny Welbeck gets into chances.
The English striker hasn’t scored in his first two matches for Arsenal but it’s promising that he gets into chances. Now, here is where optimism should stop. Olivier Giroud has shown similar quality during his spell at Arsenal but his efficiency against big teams has been appalling, especially if you see how many chances Giroud has had. Gervinho had the ability to dance his way through the defence only to spoil the attack with a poor finish. Welbeck had four promising positions against Borussia Dortmund last night but each time his final touch was poor. As I’ve already written, we have to be prepared for his shooting technique, which is not the best one in town, to put it mildly.
9.I will remind you again – The Invincibles started their Champions’ League campaign with a defeat and a woeful performance.
That game against Inter was one of the worst I’ve seen from Arsenal in my life. We lost 3:0 at Highbury and we should have felt happy with the score-line. Yes, Henry missed the penalty (saved by Francesco Toldo) but Hector Cuper’s Inter could have easily won the game with a bigger margin. Obafemi Martins (yes, the one from that Carling Cup Final!) was unstoppable and their defending was unbreakable (some would say: typical Italian defence). And, we know what happened in the reverse fixture and in the league that season!
It’s still September, we still hold all strings of our destiny but we must react quickly and beat Aston Villa before we face Spuds and Chelsea. The Villains have had an excellent start but quality is on our side.