Granit Xhaka

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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.

Xhaka rips Arsenal timidity in draw: ‘Nobody wanted the ball’

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Granit Xhaka proffered the sort of post-match comments that can make a manager blush.

“We knew they had nothing to lose and they would come for us but we didn’t show our game, we were too scared, nobody wanted the ball,” said Arsenal’s captain following a 2-2 draw with Watford.

[ MORE: Recap | Watford “smell” Arsenal timidity ]

The Gunners led 2-0 on a pair of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goals but couldn’t manage another as Watford scored on two of a remarkable 31 shots over 90 minutes at Vicarage Road.

That’s an unprecedented level of bad for the club, at least as far back as Opta keeps data.

Arsenal boss Unai Emery said Watford did what it could to force mistakes out of the visitors, and that the Hornets succeeded in that regard.

He also doesn’t like the look of the point gained from the match, even if the maxim goes that they all count the same. From the BBC:

“We couldn’t break their pressing in the second half. They are physical, a very strong team. They pushed for our mistakes, they were playing for our mistakes. When you are trying to break their lines you can have chances. They won the second half and my summary is it is not a good point.”

Arsenal sits seventh ahead of visits from Eintracht Frankfurt and Aston Villa, and a trip to Manchester United.

Four Things from North London Derby

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Thrill-a-minute? Absolutely, but Sunday’s 2-2 draw between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal was probably more fun for the neutrals than supporters of the teams on the pitch at the Emirates Stadium.

[ MORE: Full recap ]

Arsenal somehow turned early dominance into a 2-0 deficit, but erased it and then some against a Spurs side which wobbled again in drawing top opposition at home.

Here are three things we took away from the pulsating encounter, which left more questions than answers for both teams.

We’ve now seen both Arsenal and Spurs look clearly second best over 90 minutes against Liverpool and Man City, respectively. It’s still super early, but maybe there are three distinct classes in the race for the Top Six places.

Luiz gonna Luiz, and Xhaka gonna Xhaka

No, that’s not a good thing. Arsenal’s twin time bombs turned a dominant first half into a 2-0 deficit.

David Luiz‘s lackadaisical life as a Gunner continues in the opening 10 minutes at the Emirates, as the ex-Chelsea man nearly gave away a free kick to Harry Kane with a silly challenge that went uncalled.

It was foreshadowing, as Luiz got caught in two minds when following Heung-Min Son. He was shook by a simple run behind him, and then didn’t bother to get in the path of Eriksen’s run to the back post to deposit a rebound for 1-0.

You’ll recall that Luiz got cooked by Mohamed Salah in similar fashion last week. Both matches were close, and both mistakes mattered to the score line.

As for Xhaka, he defies his statistics at every turn. Over 90 minutes, he’s going to be one of your best players (See his terrific vision to set-up of Pepe in the 85th minute). But in at least one moment, he’s going to absolutely short-circuit your goals.

In this case, the Swiss star slid into Son with the ball gone and only minuscule hope of anything positive. No miracle arrived, rather a penalty to Spurs and Harry Kane rarely misses those.

That was 2-0 Spurs despite Arsenal control of the match.

Pepe, Auba, Laca trident verdict = Pretty, pretty good

If Granit Xhaka‘s midfield madness showed the opposite, Arsenal’s first goal showed why every neutral on Earth wants to see Nicolas Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Alexandre Lacazette on the field at the same time.

Unai Emery handed Arsenal’s best trident its first start, and Pepe’s otherworldly close-range pass allowed Lacazette to burst through the 18 to smash past Hugo Lloris.

Aubameyang would add a goal soon after Lacazette subbed out of the match, and it would be foolhardy to imagine that the hour-plus of dealing with the trident wore on Spurs defenders.

The performance wasn’t picture perfect — they did only score the one goal in 67 minutes together — but you have to think they’ll cook a lot of defenses that hold less quality than Spurs.

Spurs leave a lot to be desired

When you consider that Tottenham was given among the most fortunate 2-0 leads you’ll see, this was a poor result even given the venue. Outshot 26-15 and off-balance often, Spurs ought to give Harry Winks, as well as their center backs and goalkeeper, free dinner.

Yes, they were playing without Tanguy Ndombele. And yes, they deserve full credit for the Christian Eriksen goal, but it came via school boy errors by a half-dozen or so Arsenal players led by Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz.

The other goal came from Xhaka’s absurd challenge on Spurs MOTM Son, who was very very good. Late chances were there, but Harry Kane embellished to try and win a late penalty and Dele Alli‘s lone moment as a sub was also a headfirst baseball slide which went unheeded. The calm of Spurs’ last season was simply not there.

Still, Son was quite good, Winks again a wonderful engine — sometimes single-handedly willing the unit forward — and Hugo Lloris mostly up to the task. The defense did stop the bleeding and preserve an away point. There are things to like from the season’s slow start, but Sunday’s performance was entertaining but not encouraging.

How Mauricio Pochettino integrates Giovani Lo Celso and eventually Ryan Sessegnon will go a long way to settling Spurs down.

Emery pushes decent buttons in come back

It’s easy to forget that Unai Emery has turned average ingredients into silverware-winning dishes in his day, so it’s no surprise that Arsenal’s manager was able to adjust his side to get a point at home.

Yes, even against Spurs stingy defense.

It’s clear that Emery thinks the Aubameyang-Lacazette-Pepe trident won’t allow him to include more than one forward-thinking midfielder like Dani Ceballos or Henrikh Mkhitaryan in his midfield (Mkhitaryan was pedestrian if not poor off the bench). That’s presumably why he opted for Lucas Torreira and Xhaka with Guendouzi.

Emery’s men didn’t lose their nerve down 2-0 — a credit to him — and the comeback started before he made his subs, but Ceballos was a big part of the difference. Would playing Ceballos and Guendouzi with Torreira sacrifice too much size and grit in the middle? Probably, and that’s the hard bargain Emery will have to strike on a week-to-week basis: Is he better with his trident together, or with a necessary fourth midfielder?

Arsenal sinks sloppy Manchester United

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  • Solskjaer’s first league loss as Utd manager
  • Xhaka scores from distance
  • Arsenal back into Top Four
  • Shots 14-14

Granit Xhaka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored on either side of halftime as Arsenal beat Manchester United 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

Arsenal rises fourth on 60 points, one point behind rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

Manchester United just didn’t have it on the day, and sinks fifth with 58 points following manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s second loss as Red Devils boss.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Early danger arrived at David De Gea‘s doorstep when Sead Kolasinac swept a cross into the box, with Alexandre Lacazette flicking across frame and wide.

The visitors snapped to life in the ninth minute, as Romelu Lukaku popped a Luke Shaw cross off the bar and a sliding Fred unable to meet the Belgian’s rebound pass.

Xhaka then scored on an odd-looking effort from distance, the Swiss midfielder knuckling a powerful shot to wrong foot De Gea.

The Spanish keeper couldn’t ponder what went wrong because Alexandre Lacazette dribbled into the 18 to put an effort toward goal.

Lacazette then worked Victor Lindelof over to lash into a left-footed shot which careened off Chris Smalling‘s back and out for a corner.

Lukaku twice just missed combining with Diogo Dalot in bids to set-up an equalizer.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

United’s second half started brightly enough, Lukaku missing a chance off a Rashford set-up thanks to a Bernd Leno save.

And Rashford missed with a 30-yard free kick bid that just missed the upper 90.

Xhaka zipped a shot wide in the 66th minute, but Lacazette was taken down by Fred moments later to win a penalty.

Aubameyang rolled the ensuing attempt down the center of the goal to make it 2-0, a week after missing a penalty in last week’s North London Derby.

Lacazette just missed a chance to drive home a goal of his own when Lindelof let a ball bounce over his head in the 72nd minute.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

WATCH: Xhaka fools De Gea with knuckler from distance

Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
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Granit Xhaka fooled one of the best goalkeepers in the game.

Big time.

Arsenal’s Swiss midfielder lashed an effort from distance and David De Gea thought he had a read on a curling shot.

[ MORE: Stream Arsenal-Man Utd ]

But the ball knuckled outward, away from the Spanish backstop, and into the goal as Arsenal built a 1-0 lead on Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

It’s the 26-year-old’s 11th Arsenal goal.