Today’s 3-3 draw between Arsenal and West Ham left me somehow feeling like the Gunners had no business being in the match and like they should have won. Only at Arsenal, right? It was their season in miniature: shocking lows and incredible highs. The only consistent thing is the massive inconsistency.
The opening 35 minutes were as bad as the side has played all season. Mikel Arteta made a number of personnel and positional changes, and the players looked as if they had no idea what was going on. They also looked as if they weren’t fully aware the match had started. Guys were hitting balls into spaces where teammates weren’t, covering the same areas defensively, and generally running around like chickens with their heads cut off. In Mikel Arteta’s defense, Alexandre Lacazette, on behalf of his teammates, took the blame, “we didn’t respect the game plan from the coach.”
The West Ham goals were all disappointing renditions of “The Hits” from the Arsenal defense. On Jesse Lingard’s goal, there were seven Arsenal defenders in the box, all watching the ball. None of them were looking for the late run from a deeper position. On Jarrod Bowen’s goal, the Gunners all fell asleep and were done by a quick free kick. Remember when that was A Thing plaguing the club? (Not so) Good Times. Some dodgey keeping from Bernd Leno on that one, too. On the third, Pablo Mari stood and watched as Tomas Soucek ran past him. Not great from David Luiz getting bossed on the initial header, either.
Now, I’ve got a few gripes with the West Ham second. The kick was taken well away, too far away for me, from where the foul was committed. Jon Moss has pulled out his spray and is talking to the Arsenal defenders, indicating that he’s going to delay the kick to set up the wall. And I’m not sure it was even a foul on Bukayo Saka to start (mind you, I haven’t seen those particular replays close enough).
None of that excuses three Arsenal players with their backs turned to the ball. Or Bukayo Saka standing still complaining to the referee. Or nobody getting in front of the ball to prevent the kick being taken quickly. Or Bernd Leno getting nutmegged at his near post. None of those things should be happening to a professional football club.
Full marks to Arsenal, however, for battling back. As poorly as they played in the opening 35 minutes, they were that good in the closing 55. Alexandre Lacazette scored (later deemed an own goal) off a ball whipped in by Calum Chambers. Bukayo Saka could have gotten another one back before the half. Calum Chambers “assisted” another own goal. And a just-introduced Nicolas Pépé set up Lacazette for the late equalizer.
The Gunners easily could have scored a few more, and they easily could have been down more than three after starting so slowly. So I don’t really know how to feel about this one. It was frustrating, it was exciting, and in the end, they managed a result. I guess I’m pleased they got the result in the end, but that start was just so, so bad.
A few random notes:
- Pablo Mari was really poor today. Looked flat and a step off the pace, which, is pretty easily explained by him being in and out of the lineup. He’d had a quiet run of strong performances, but today was a stinker. Don’t think it’s anything to be particularly concerned about.
- Calum Chambers was just as bad in the opening 35 minutes. But once Mikel Arteta let him get forward and swapped Saka and Aubameyang, Chambers came alive. He was involved in all of Arsenal’s good attacking moves and “assisted” both of the own goals. Pleased that he put in such a good performance, especially since his minutes have been so limited.
- Thomas Partey was off, again. It’s a good thing he’s not traveling for Ghana’s upcoming internationals (for COVID quarantine reasons). Should give him time to rest, get back to full fitness, and be ready for the end-of-season push. I’m not concerned for him yet, but I’m keeping an eye on it. And please, Thomas, for the love of all that is good, stop shooting from distance. Editor’s Note: as soon as I hit publish, I see from @Orbinho that Partey regained possession a game-high 14 times. Maybe I’m being overly critical. But I maintain that he hasn’t been as good on the ball lately as he was earlier this year.
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was more-or-less invisible today. He’s just not as good playing from the wider areas, especially when Alexandre Lacazette is on the pitch too. Aubameyang’s strength is drifting into the inside left channel from the middle and using that movement to find dangerous areas in the box. It should be one of Aubameyang or Lacazette, not both.
- Speaking of Alexandre Lacazette, he had a good game today, especially in that closing 55-minutes. Took the shot for the first own goal, scored the equalizer, and probably should have earned a penalty, too. Had a nice, quick turn and shoot move from the edge of the box. Yes, his goal was his first from open play since January, but I think he’s trending in the right direction.
- Nicolas Pépé was great, again. He’s a walking goal-involvement right now. Would really like for Mikel Arteta to get him some more playing time, he’s earned it.
- Martin Ødegaard is magnificent. He was the only Arsenal player worth anything in the opening 35 minutes, and he was pulling the strings all match. Easy MOTM performance, for me. He reminds me so much of Mesut Özil with his composure on the ball, his recognition of when to play quickly and when to slow things down, and his creative vertical passing.