After Chelsea beat Huddersfield 5-0 last weekend I was hoping we would also set up for an attacking performance to try and close that goal difference gap. Emery, as expected, opted for the back three with two holding midfielders. We should have won 2-0 comfortably but their goal was of our own doing. We should have won by more than two goals, to be honest.
We went into this match with a depleted squad. Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were absent through illness, Aaron Ramsey with a knee injury, and Granit Xhaka’s groin strain saw him sidelined too. We saw the return of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Maitland-Niles to the starting lineup, both of which I thought performed well.
Mkhitaryan provided some creativity and movement we had lacked going forward with the absence of Ozil and Ramsey from the squad recently. I know it was only Huddersfield, no disrespect to them, but it was good to see him get some confidence ahead of probably starting regularly in the Europa League.
Even though we won, which is all that really ultimately matters, we did not make it easy viewing. We no longer play attractive football and haven’t done for two or maybe even approaching three seasons now, bar the odd match. This is something that may change once we get the wingers in we require and start seeing some of Emery’s vision and identity. Or we’ll just be playing like this from now on.
Alex Iwobi opened the scoring with a deflected volley from a brilliant Kolasinac cross. Take nothing away from Iwobi, with the deflection, as it was not an easy chance to hit first time on target. I know I complain about him at times, mainly his (lack of) decision making, but he has his moments and Saturday he did not do much wrong.
Mkhitaryan drove forward and found Maitland-Niles on the right-hand side, who in turn put a great low cross in across the box, and Alexandre Lacazette was there to finish the move and make it 2-0 before half-time.
At this point, I thought okay we will push on in the second half and maybe score another two but it was not to be. We seemed content with defending the 2-0 lead although that game could have turned if it was not for a big save by Leno in the 72nd minute. If we had conceded here then who knows what may have happened. We did end up conceding but in the 93rd or 94th minute via a Kolasinac own goal, disappointing to lose our clean sheet again. We seem to concede many goals in injury time.
Maybe Emery is trying to ‘slow and steady’ our results in order to manage fitness and fatigue to go the distance in the Europa League as well as the race for top four. It’s not entertaining but it grinds out results and spreads the load evenly, even though we messed up against Southampton, West Ham and Brighton which could be massive in deciding the top four.
Maitland-Niles, after the game, was receiving some ridiculous abuse on Instagram. I thought he responded brilliantly by saying he will take on board the criticism and try to do better. What more could you ask for? Apart from our fans not harassing and abusing our young players and knocking their confidence every time they make a mistake. How would you feel if someone kept telling you that you are rubbish at your job and shouldn’t be employed? I’d rather youngsters make the mistakes so that they can learn from them early on and develop into better players.
Iwobi is another player who gets abuse and criticism more than others. I think he should have been sent on loan a couple of years ago to help his development but he wasn’t.
We have supposedly enquired about Adrien Rabiot, currently at PSG, but we will have to try and fight off a host of big clubs to try and win his signature. The trouble with Rabiot is that he thinks he is better than he currently is and has a bit of an ego. He turned down a place as a backup player for the France squad that just won the World Cup. There are rumoured rifts between Emery and Rabiot as well from their time at PSG due to Emery not allowing Rabiot to play a box to box role. Some may argue there are comparisons with the way that Mesut Ozil is being treated by Emery and others at PSG. I won’t be that upset if we don’t get Rabiot.
We are being linked to Ajax centre back Matthijs de Ligt but I don’t think there is any chance of us signing him. Every big club in the world is eyeing him up and will have more money to throw at Ajax to get him. I would love him as he seems like the ideal modern CB but we can’t strengthen every position we need as well as sign de Ligt.
Leno has bemoaned our lack of defensive concentration late on in games:
This season we have conceded goals too easily. Sometimes it happens at the end of games – Cardiff at the end, Newcastle at the end and here at the end.
It always seems to happen when we are two goals in front, so maybe we are losing a little bit of concentration because we feel too comfortable when the games are coming to the end.
We have to work on this because the defence for me is the most important thing to enable us to get back into the top four. The most important area is the defence because we have the quality in the front line.