Gabriel Martinelli

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Emery’s use of attackers may be his Arsenal downfall

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When the Premier League season began, many joked that Arsenal was built to try and outscore teams 3-2 each week over 38 weeks.

It was a nod to the Gunners’ extraordinary attacking prowess and limited defensive additions. Arsenal had signed three defenders in the summer, one who wouldn’t arrive until the following season (William Saliba*) and another who would miss some time with injury (Kieran Tierney).

The third was David Luiz.

So it isn’t surprising that the Gunners are still allowing goals. It is surprising that they are not scoring more, and perhaps a bit stunning that the expected goals table says that Unai Emery‘s men aren’t even hard luck victims.

Arsenal has scored 16 goals and allowed 15 through 11 match days, but the xG table says the North London outfit has actually finished a bit better their chances and been worse on the other end (15 xG for, 17 xGA).

Luiz has made several head scratching errors to go with his wonderful long passes and forays forward. He’s a player capable of both the ethereal and the tragic, not unlike Granit Xhaka, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that a move across London.

There are plenty of reasons to be upset with the defense, of course, and it’s one thing if that anger is put at the board instead of Emery. The league-worst 7.7 interceptions per game points a bit to the tactics, but there’s no question the Gunners have made mistakes above field level even if the Laurent Koscielny exit to Bordeaux caught them by surprise.

But what should be damning is what Emery has been unable to do with an unbelievable batch of attackers. Given Nicolas Pepe to go with Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the tactician has not been able to find a way to play them together. Breakout teens Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka were both used over unused sub Pepe on Saturday despite the Ivorian not playing in the midweek League Cup loss to Liverpool.

Don’t get us wrong, both players are exciting pieces for the future, but the decision is so short-sighted (let alone that Emery put on Saka for Lucas Torreira with a one-goal lead and 17 minutes to play. Perhaps coincidental but no surprise tha it was 1-1 three minutes later).

Some if not many have argued that Pepe has been a disappointment since arriving in a mega money deal from Ligue 1, and the 24-year-old’s three goals and three assists in exactly 800 minutes in all competitions certainly aren’t eye-popping from a player who scored 22 and 11 in 3300 at Lille last season.

Yet Pepe is capable of the sensational, as evidenced by his pair of free kick goals in 15 minutes off the bench in the Europa League on Oct. 15. He’s third in the PL in successful dribbles (34) and is the 19th ranked player by SofaScore and 24th in WhoScored’s ratings. That’s the best of any Arsenal player, with Aubameyang 38th and 62nd according to both sites, respectively.

And stats say Pepe has been somewhat unlucky in PL play to boot, with one actual goal to go with 3 expected goals. His xG plus xA per contest is below only Lacazette and level with Aubameyang.

Arsenal is ninth in the PL in key passes, with 12.9 per game. Pepe’s 1.7 are behind only Mesut Ozil, whose sample size is two matches.

Look at this pass from Pepe to Lacazette between three bodies to set up Arsenal’s first goal in its memorable North London Derby comeback. It’s just one example, sure, and all players need time to integrate to a new league and culture, but not using a healthy Pepe for 180 minutes should never happen even with the five-pack of attackers.

*A silver lining for Arsenal fans: Saint-Etienne boss Claude Puel is furious with his club for selling the 18-year-old Saliba, calling him the “best player” on the team. He’s coming, eventually, even if Real Madrid are reportedly trying to find a way to hijack the sale/loan.

Mexico’s Jimenez delivers Wolves point at Arsenal

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Raul Jimenez’s 76th minute goal gave Wolves a deserved point from a 1-1 draw with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Wolves out shot their hosts 25-10 in collecting a 13th point of the year. That sits them 11th, four points behind fifth place Arsenal.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bagged Arsenal’s goal in the first half.


Three things we learned

1. Emery gets it wrong: The Arsenal boss would be right to feel pressure as another visitor dominated play against his side. A start for Mesut Ozil meant a place on the bench for Nicolas Pepe, and the in-form Ivorian never entered the fray against a Wolves side which can be beaten by creativity. Instead, Emery put in youngsters Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka, and the kids didn’t have it in them. Moreover, we can understand why Emery didn’t start Granit Xhaka after his tumultuous week — and maybe the player preferred not to face the home crowd — but his steel was missed against Joao Moutinho‘s stylish midfield.

2. Wolves grab point in 9th of 11 league matches: Look, there’s no question Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men have been troubled by the schedule congestion provided by the Europa League and, until this week, the League Cup, but full credit to them for finding a way to get points more often than not. Late equalizers against Newcastle, Crystal Palace, and now Arsenal mean the side has only fallen to Everton (3-2) and Chelsea (5-2) in Premier League play despite playing 20 matches all over Europe since Aug. 8.

3. El Tri’s best striker delivers the goods again: Raul Jimenez led the way with Wolves’ equalizer and this monster stat line: 8 shots, 6 aerials won, and 4 tackles. That’s from your center forward, Wolves fans. He’s a problem in the club, folks.

Man of the Match: Jimenez was an absolute beast for the visitors.


Wolves came out of the gates with vigor, and Arsenal had trouble keeping the ball out of its end and keeping hold of it altogether.

The Gunners went ahead through their two strikers, Lacazette doing plenty of work to set up Aubameyang for a goal that doesn’t rank high on his difficulty scale.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

But Wolves did not relent against a side which probably missed Xhaka (see above).

Amazingly, it was still Arsenal 1-0 for much of the second half despite massive disadvantages in possession and shots, but Jimenez’s relentless effort allowed Wolves to level the line.

Liverpool wins 10-goal League Cup instant classic v. Arsenal

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Two second-choice sides provided first-choice thrills as Arsenal and Liverpool accounted for 10 goals on Wednesday at Anfield before penalties helped the Reds advance to the quarterfinal draw.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Caoimhín Kelleher stopped Dani Ceballos after both sides made their first three shootout attempts.

Gabriel Martinelli scored twice and Mesut Ozil also starred for the Gunners, as Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Lucas Torreira, and Joe Willock also scored to seal a place in the quarterfinals.

Divock Origi scored twice, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner joined an Arsenal own goal on the board for the hosts.


Three things we learned

1. Klopp, Emery not bothered with the League Cup: Whichever manager lost this match was going to have to answer questions after playing extremely weakened sides for a quarterfinal against a Top Four rival. With all due respect to an insanely entertaining match and all the kids who got a chance to wear the Liverpool and Arsenal shirts at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp wasn’t bothered to give his team a fighting shot and Unai Emery cared just a little bit more. Both managers are right to make that call and hope their depth comes through, of course, but it seems like this was the round to start thinking about hardware: three wins from a final and 90 minutes from a draw that will include a third-tier and a fourth-tier side.

2. But the thrills! The old cliche is that high-scoring games make everyone happy but the coaches, and we’ll certainly be including the goalkeepers in this, too. Caoimhín Kelleher and Emiliano Martinez were hung out to dry on several occasions, including a rare mistake from James Milner that allowed Ainsley Maitland-Niles to make it 4-2. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s feats of strength from distance continued with Liverpool’s third, which gave us seven combined goals with a half-hour remaining on the clock. Origi’s equalizer came moments later and was gorgeous, only to be topped by Willock’s wonderful moment.

3. Martinelli keeps making his case: Kids hungry for a chance to shine led to risky challenges and some pretty nice feats, and 18-year-old Arsenal striker Gabriel Martinelli falls in the latter category. Having now scored seven times in seven senior matches including two braces in this competition, Martinelli is ready to contribute now despite being stuck behind Bukayo Saka, Alexandre Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Quite a good problem for Arsenal as it navigates several different competitions.

 

Man of the Match: Origi — The man just keeps showing up at big moments in big games, whether in the right spot for Jordan Pickford‘s Merseyside Derby error, the UCL Final, or with two big goals late in this one. Monster day.


[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Where to start? Maybe we just give the quickest of explanations for the goals.

6th minute: Arsenal’s Shkrodan Mustafi stabs at a cross with one leg, sees his other leg score an own goal.

19th minute: Lucas Torreira deposits a rebound to tie the match after Mesut Ozil sets up Bukayo Saka for a fine shot.

26th minute: Martinelli gets his first by roofing a shot from extremely close range to give Arsenal its first lead.

36th minute: Saka causes a turnover and gets it to Ozil again, who sets up Martinelli for his second.

43rd minute: Having made the giveaway on Martinelli’s second, Harvey Elliott hits the deck after a challenge from Martinelli and James Milner scored from the spot.

54th minute: An uncharacteristic bad pass from Milner puts Kelleher in no man’s land and Maitland-Niles makes it work for a 4-2 lead.

58th minute: “The Ox” has been money from distance, and strokes home for 4-3.

62nd minute: Origi’s goal could’ve easily been the goal of the night (see below), a tidy turn and finish from the top of the box, but…

70th minute: Joe Willock, take a bow.

90’+4: Youngsters Rhian Brewster and Neco Williams do plenty of work to set up Origi, who has more to do when he blasts home to force penalties.

Pepe plays the hero as Arsenal avoid Vitoria defeat (video)

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Disaster averted, but only just barely.

[ EUROPA LEAGUE: Man United, Wolves seal key Europa League wins ]

Arsenal 3-2 Vitoria de Guimaraes

Arsenal were anything but convincing against fourth-place Portuguese side Vitoria de Guimaraes, but in the end it matters very little as Unai Emery‘s side came from behind twice before snatching a stoppage-time winner at the Emirates Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur academy product Marcus Edwards, who moved from north London to Portugal this summer, scored the game’s opening goal in the 8th minute. Arsenal equalized through Gabriel Martinelli just after the half-hour mark, but a bit of woeful possession and counter-attack defending saw the Gunners concede again just four minutes later.

The score remained 2-1 until the final 10 minutes, at which point the Nicolas Pepe show began, mercifully for Arsenal.

The victory sees Arsenal keep their 100-percent record alive in Group F play, with three wins from three games. Halfway through the group stage, they lead second-place Eintracht Frankfurt by three points and have a six-point advantage on third-place Standard Liege.

Other notable Europa League results

Partizan Belgrade 0-1 Manchester United — FULL RECAP
Slovan Bratislava 1-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers — FULL RECAP
Porto 1-1 Rangers
Celtic 2-1 Lazio
Sevilla 3-0 Dudelange
Ludogorets 0-1 Espanyol
Getafe 0-1 Basel
Roma 1-1 Borussia Monchengladbach
Gent 2-2 Wolfsburg
Eintracht Frankfurt 2-1 Standard Liege
Saint-Etienne 1-1 Olexandriya

Emery pleased as youth helps Arsenal outlast Bournemouth, keep clean sheet

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Arsenal boss Unai Emery says it’s more than the clean sheet his side kept in a 1-0 defeat of Bournemouth, but how they looked in keeping it.

The Gunners copped just their second Premier League clean sheet of the season on Sunday. The first coming against sterile Newcastle, this one against lively Bournemouth felt a lot better.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 1-0 Bournemouth ]

That Arsenal did it after playing Thursday, and with four young players getting big minutes, means a lot to Emery.

“For me it’s one step more for the young players, for us,” he said. “We didn’t feel fear with that moment when the opposition was pushing us. Really I think the second half we can analyze and improve, we will do. In 90 minutes we deserved to win.”

Bukayo Saka (18) and Matteo Guendouzi (20) both started, with the latter going 90 minutes in a Man of the Match performance. Joe Willock (20) and Gabriel Martinelli (18) came into the game to see it out.

And the defense. David Luiz, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, and Sead Kolasinac have been a part of some horror shows this season, but — together with Calum Chambers — they were much better on Sunday.

“I remember the last matches we played here,” Emery said. “We can remember that we can improve with that spirit. The level in the Premier League is more than the cups but we played with one idea and one style. We want to use this way. An objective today was to win and then to take that way. The first half we did that.”

With Sheffield United, Crystal Palace, and Wolves next, the Gunners have winnable matches that will also test their resolve. Let’s see what lies ahead for the Top Four chasing Gunners.