Arsenal were defeated 1-0 by Stoke at the Bet365 stadium this evening, and there were some very familiar lessons.
Arsenal came up against the dubious combination of Stoke City and poor refereeing and suffered their first defeat of the season.
It’s early days and the dust has yet to settle from the transfer window, but already there are signs that this could be a long and arduous season for Arsenal.
So much for the euphoria of last Friday, eh?
It’s not all doom and gloom – after all, Arsenal can surely only get better – but there were some familiar failings from that defeat.
So this isn’t so much a five things we “learned” and more of a five things we’re seeing again.
1. The pundits were right this time
I enjoy mocking pundits as much as the next fan and while you can’t help but roll your eyes at the “Arsenal can’t defend” cliche, it proved true against Stoke. Arsenal really couldn’t defend. Or maybe “wouldn’t” would be a better word there?
Either way, Arsenal were weak in the tackle all game and were far too passive. Neither pressing and winning the ball nor sitting back and tightening up, Stoke found it easy to play against us. Whether we have one centre back or three on the pitch, it’s no excuse for players not engaging the opposition.
It’s infuriating to watch, as it’s not like Arsenal can’t defend well. Those cup games against Chelsea proved that. But, as always, it’s about consistent application across all games, something we continue to struggle with.
2. Wenger should try playing some centre backs
It’s baffling to see Wenger play a formation that requires one extra centre back yet refuse to play the defenders at his disposal. For the second game running, Monreal and Kolasinac, our two first choice left backs, were fielded in the back three. Mustafi played, while Mertesacker was on the bench, Holding went missing and Chambers is apparently unselectable despite playing well for Boro all season.
After the game, Wenger admitted he was unhappy with the centre of his defence. He’ll receive little sympathy, as he’s the one who put that back three together. Koscielny’s return from suspension cannot come soon enough.
3. The balance in midfield needs readdressing
There was some optimism that Arsenal had found a functional central midfield partnership with Ramsey and Xhaka, but seeing Stoke waltz through the centre of our team was alarming. Not having any centre backs doesn’t help, but nor does not having adequate protection from the midfield.
Ramsey had a decent enough game, but his frequent runs forward, while dangerous, exposed Xhaka in the middle of the park. Xhaka struggles enough defensively without being left entirely on his own. It was ultimately his poor pass, and subsequent chasing of the ball, that left our defence completely unguarded and led to the only goal of the game.
With just two midfielders, the protection simply hasn’t been there.
Short of changing up the personnel, we may have to look for a third midfielder from somewhere.
4. Replacing Lacazette with Walcott was bizarre
We needed a goal, and what does Wenger do? Takes off the man we spent £52m on to score goals.
Having just had a legitimate goal taken away from him by the linesman, Lacazette would have surely been determined to get on the end of another chance. However, he was denied that opportunity as he taken off for Walcott. That’s the same Walcott who is notorious for being ineffective against deep defences and is not as clinical as Lacazette.
As Walcott proceeded to have little influence on the game, Lacazette fumed on the bench, likely wondering why he wasn’t out there trying to get his team back in the game.
He wouldn’t have been alone.
5. Andre Marriner had a poor game
I’ve refrained from complaining too much about the officiating, but it deserves a mention.
For all of Arsenal’s failings, it doesn’t help when they’re denied a clear penalty and have a perfectly good goal ruled out because Lacazette’s stud with three millimetres offside. Had those decisions gone our way, we might have been sitting here talking about how we ground out a win in tough circumstances.
Such is the Premier League, though.
Bad officiating is part and parcel of every matchday, and it’s up to us to ensure it doesn’t have too big an effect.