Laurent Koscielny

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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.

Report: Granit Xhaka named permanent Arsenal captain

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According to a report by David Ornstein of the BBC, Arsenal coach Unai Emery has named midfielder Granit Xhaka as permanent captain, a position that had been vacant since Laurent Koscielny‘s departure this summer.

The Frenchman had held the position since early 2016 when handed the armband by Arsene Wenger with Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta both in the twilight of their Arsenal careers.

Emery has notably dragged out deciding on who to name as permanent captain despite handing Xhaka the armband in six of their eight matches to this point. Nacho Monreal and Mesut Ozil have also both served as captain once, both coming with Xhaka out of the lineup, although Monreal has since departed the club. Ornstein reports that a vice-captain has not yet been chosen, with strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette both in consideration.

Xhaka, who turns 27 years old today, is considered to be a contentious choice by Emery given his up and down performances for the club since joining from Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer of 2016. His first season was dreadful, with the midfielder twice sent off in his first season of Premier League play. He had raised his level of performance since, proving an important piece of the puzzle last season, but early this season his performances have again dipped, with Gunner fans voicing their displeasure on his withdrawal on 72 minutes in the narrow win over Aston Villa.

Defender Rob Holding confirmed after the Villa win that Emery has presented a group of five players to the rest of the squad to be voted on. “He likes his five captains,” Holding said. “We all did a vote the other week so we’ll see what happens and see who gets named. It was just a case of writing names down and then giving them to the manager and he will go through them – obviously with his input – and we’ll see what happens.”

Holding called it a “good environment” with a lot of players able to “get more input.” He also pointed out David Luiz as someone who has taken up a sort of leadership role.

What should Emery do with Xhaka?

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Arsenal fans have directed their ire at many different people, but aside from manager Unai Emery, many fans have been criticizing the recent play of midfielder Granit Xhaka.

Named Arsenal captain this summer after Laurent Koscielny‘s insubordination and eventual departure, Xhaka looked set to take Arsenal to the next level this summer, with three stars up top and a veteran defense behind him. However, in Premier League matches where Arsenal has struggled, it seems that Xhaka has been right in the middle of it. Sometimes, that’s just because of his holding midfield position. Other times, it’s because he didn’t make the play that was necessary.

[READ: 10-man Arsenal beats Aston Villa in a thriller]

Take Saturday’s eventual 3-2 win by Arsenal over Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium. Despite having a decent game by all accounts, Xhaka allowed Ahmed El Mohamady to run right past him on a mazy run through the middle of the field, eventually centering to Wesley which gave Aston Villa a 2-1 lead. It gave the visitors the advantage yet again right after Arsenal equalized.

Xhaka had every chance to try and make a tackle, or at the least bring El Mohamady down farther from goal if there was no choice but to foul and give up a free kick. Instead, Xhaka just followed El Mohamady before passing him off to a teammate in the box, who was equally as poor.

Not long after, Xhaka was substituted, with some Arsenal fans raining boos down on their captain. And whether it had to do with him or not, Arsenal went from a goal down to a goal up once Xhaka left the field.

According to manager Unai Emery, Xhaka was taken off in the 72nd minute not due to his performance, but to bring on fresh legs. It was a double substitution, with Dani Ceballos also coming off in place of Lucas Torreira and Joe Willock.

“My opinion is we need our supporters and we need our supporters helping each player but our responsibility is to transmit our capacity, our spirit, our commitment and behavior,” Emery said after the game. “And Xhaka is doing that. He played very well on Thursday and also last week in Watford he played with a good individual performance. Today I changed him because on Thursday he played 90 minutes and prefer to use fresh players for today a chance for him but for me Xhaka is very good player for us. He has a very big commitment here. He is improving and I am not asking the people to support him but I am sure that he is going to achieve the best thing individually and collectively for the supporters to help him.”

Just one week earlier, Xhaka claimed that his Arsenal teammates – and presumably himself as well – were “scared” in the second half as Watford stormed back for a 2-2 draw. Man City’s 8-0 pummeling of Watford makes that draw look even worse in retrospect.

If Arsenal is “scared,” and they’re giving up two goals in two straight matches each to two of the worst defensive teams in the league, then perhaps the club captain isn’t doing enough. It seems that although Xhaka has experience, he’s going through a rough patch of form in the Premier League – he looked good in Europa League action – and might do well with a match off.

Luckily for Arsenal, if Emery does agree to give Xhaka a rest, he has a talented player in Lucas Torreira who will run himself into the ground for the team. In addition, he’d likely have stopped that run from El Mohamady instead of letting him glide into the box with hardly a challenge.

It appears Unai Emery is publicly sticking with Xhaka. Arsenal needs Xhaka at his best to make it back into the top four. But right now, he’s clearly not there, and he needs to figure things out on the training pitch so he can shine once again.

Arsenal ‘too scared’ of Watford in collapse

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Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka admitted the Gunners were “too scared” of Watford as they collapsed in the second half.

Leading 2-0 at half time thanks to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal were totally outplayed in the second half as Watford roared back to draw 2-2 at Vicarage Road on Sunday.

Speaking after the game, Xhaka said the Arsenal players were not confident enough to see out the game.

“No-one wanted the ball. In the end we are happy to take a point,” Xhaka said. “We didn’t show our game in the second half, we were too scared… Every team in the Premier League is strong enough to score but you have to keep calm, to show good character, to be mentally strong. We weren’t today.”

If only this was a rare occurrence for Arsenal.

Under Unai Emery their defensive collapses have been frequent, and this issue even dates back to Arsene Wenger‘s final few seasons in charge.

Arsenal were their own worst enemies on Sunday.

Instead of playing the ball out of dangerous areas they tried to play short goal kicks time and time again and were caught in possession on several occasions. David Luiz gave away a penalty kick, Xhaka and Mateo Guendouzi were overrun in central midfield in the second half and in the end they were lucky to grab a point.

Trying the same things time and time again and expecting different results is just bonkers, and that is what this Arsenal squad is going.

Luiz, Bernd Leno, Sokratis and Xhaka are players Arsenal have built their defensive core around, and the same issues keep cropping up when they are in the team. Adding Luiz to the mix after losing Laurent Koscielny was a risk and it seems like a move which will backfire for the Gunners.

It is true that defenders Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney are all close to returning from injury, so when that happens perhaps we will see a newfound defensive solidity and things will improve.

Then again, it’s likely neutral everywhere will be grabbing their popcorn whenever Arsenal play this season because you’re guaranteed entertainment at both ends of the pitch.

Report: Man City looks to January window after Laporte injury

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Hindsight is 20/20, and Manchester City’s decision not to bring in center back depth this summer is looking really poor.

That’ll happen when perhaps the most irreplaceable part of a hopeful quadruple contender goes out for the rest of 2019. Aymeric Laporte’s surgery means that John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi, and (probably) Fernandinho are an injury away from Manchester City using kids or Kyle Walker at center back.

The Daily Mail says that Pep Guardiola will buy a center back in January, five months after pulling out of the bidding for Harry Maguire when the price got too steep.

City almost has to go the transfer route, as the majority of high-ish end free agents on the market on attack-minded.

Laporte is not expected back until at least January, but what would a transfer be? The eventual successor to Otamendi, or something a bit less revolutionary than dropping $75 million on an absolute stud?

Either could work, but both will include inflated fees due to the clear desperation in the case of the buyers.

Also, quality center backs didn’t exactly move this summer. Aside from Maguire, most targets stayed home. Toby Alderweireld, Issa Diop, and James Tarkowski were linked with moves but went nowhere. David Luiz moved, perhaps only because Laurent Koscielny demanded out of Arsenal. Veterans Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill, and Ashley Williams opted for playing time, not that Guardiola would’ve been looking to “buy old,” either.

What we’re trying to say is… City’s going to have to spend a lot of dough if they want to buy someone.