NBA First Half Awards
With the season just over halfway done, let's look at the major awards. Feel free to disagree but it's James Hardens world right now and we're just living in it.
A sorry performance from Arsene Wenger's side saw them lose at rival turf. Spurs were the better team throughout the 90 minutes and this wasn't the most worrying observation for Arsenal fans. The 1-0 final scoreline does not even begin to do justice to the day's proceedings. This was not a closely fought encounter or a game decided by a miserly goal, it was a battering. The Lillywhites swarmed the opposition penalty area more times than Arsene Wenger would care to admit as his rearguard barely held on from getting humiliated.
The recent capitulation of Chelsea meant Arsenal were handed a silver lining in their pursuit of the Champions League spot. Now sixth in the Premier League table, a win for Liverpool and Chelsea could put an 8 point gap between them and a return to the upper echelons of Europe. Knowing that anything other than a win would spell disaster, this was a result that could have been avoided. Let's take a look at what went wrong for Arsenal at Wembley.
Arsenal started the match with a 4-3-3 formation when the entire universe was convinced that 3-4-2-1 was the way to go. Why? because of what had taken place in the North London derby earlier in 2017. Gunners lined up in 3-4-2-1 which pressed and harried their opponents into submission. They were rewarded with a 2-0 victory against all odds, a time when every team seemed to get something at the Emirates. It was certainly a refreshing change in Arsene Wenger's tactics.
On Saturday though, Wenger committed a blunder when he went with the 4-3-3 system. The midfield 3 of Xhaka, Elneny and Wilshere managed a single shot all game. Ozil looked wasted on the wings and Henrikh Mkhitaryan seemed to have forgotten how to play football since his dream debut against Everton.
The initial high line seemed like a good proposition against this Spurs side. Hueng Min Son was a marginalized spectator throughout the first half as Hector Bellerin continuously got the better of the South Korean. The lack of pace upfront from the likes of Kane and Alli meant Arsenal were able to mitigate any dangerous near the penalty area.
Surprisingly though, a deflection from Alli and Kane's effort on goal later, Arsenal slacked off, seemingly content to sit behind and invite pressure, an erroneous judgement similar to the one taken by Liverpool in their previous encounter with Spurs. Sensing the change in flow, Pochettino switched to a back three and 4 minutes later his side were ahead. It became a blow-off from then on with only Petr Cech preventing the scoreline from becoming a cricket score.
Spurs deployed a high line and the presence of the pacy Gabon international meant Arsenal could have easily exploited his speed via long balls over the defence. However they did that only 3 times during the match. One was an incorrect offside call, other was a correct offside call and the third resulted in a corner. Considering he was brought because he added that extra verve to Arsenal's front-line it was a major let down.
Even more surprising was shift to a wide position following the introduction of Alexandre Lacazette. The Frenchman proved to be nightmare missing a good chance and doing litlle to inspire confidence. You wonder what it would have been PEA was on the end of that chance but again, who thought it was a great idea to buy Aubameyang and play him as a winger?
Arsenal's player of the month in January was invisible at Wembley. He did not make a single tackle or interception, did not take a single shot at goal and ended the game with 0 key passes. His abysmal performance meant Wilshere and Monreal both struggled.
Tasked with supporting Wilshere in offence and Monreal in defence, Elneny did neither and was the first player to be withdrawn on the day, coming off for Iwobi who should have started the game in the first place and supplied the through pass for the miss of the day from Lacazette.
Turning out to be the scapegoat of Arsenal's defeat, the Armenian looked like the player Mourinho was so keen to get rid off. He was dispossessed twice in the first half more than any player on the pitch, attempted zero dribbles and seemed bereft of any confidence in carrying the ball forward.
No wonder Spurs had a gala time marking Ozil out of the game who was not adequately supported by his counterpart on the opposite wing. Mkhitaryan will definitely have better games for Arsenal as evident by his performance against Everton but this was not one of them. For the time being he will have to face the wrath of Gooners but surely he is a better player than the one that turned up at Wembley.