After what can only be described as capitulation over the weekend, Arsenal played a 3-3 draw with West Ham, adding to the bitterness already instilled in the fans by the way the season has panned out. 2-0 up with 2 minutes to half time I would never have thought that by the 70th minute I’d be saying I’d take a draw here. Ultimately a draw is what we ended up with and if the title was looking a tall order before, it’s almost certainly over now.
The game itself was a tale of two halves, not in the context of time but rather in space. Going forward we were clever and opportunistic which resulted in scoring two fantastically worked goals in the first half. On the other side of the pitch however we were awful, bullied in all divisions of defence and illustrated the attitude that some of our players harbour. At 2-0 I thought the game was over, not out of arrogance but out of trust in the professionalism of our players. We had a lot of the ball against West Ham and ended the game with 61% possession despite, contrary to popular belief, not being solely possession focused anymore. I thought we had enough pace on the pitch, Coquelin - El Neny could provide a platform together and that at 0-2 be content and look to shut down the game with our possession and counter.
7 minutes into the second half however and we trailed, 3-2, to an Andy Carroll hat trick. The firsts of which was an absolute disgrace on our part, West Ham countered after a move broke down and there was no attempt at any point from any Arsenal player to interject. It was clear that we switched off and that the three points were already secure in our mind. Creswell put in a great ball and everyone in the box was static apart from Andy Carroll who connected and brought West Ham back into the game. That should have been our warning sign that we needed to focus and the game wasn’t over. They’ve just used Andy Carroll as a battering ram and is clearly going to be their game plan, watch out for that and try to stop it. Instead what we did was what we’ve been doing all season, froze like a deer in headlights. A minute later West Ham were level and scored the exact same type of goal, and after the teams came back out after half time, scored the same goal again. We had conceded 3 goals to the exact same scenario in 8 minutes of football played. An absolute aberration.
Koscielny and Gabriel struggled to deal with Carroll almost all game, even after his hat trick the ball still kept coming in from out wide and West Ham continued to create numerous chances. Ospina didn’t help in staying on and sometimes behind his line which is highlighted in West Ham’s 3rd, the ball comes into the far post where Carroll is taking advantage of his height and playing off Bellerin. The inevitable happens and when he gets his header on target Ospina, apart from his hands, are behind the goal line. It doesn’t seem like much but it forces our defenders just that little bit deeper to the point where on the 3rd goal, Gabriel is practically on top of him. The ball is heading straight at Ospina but Gabriel who’s just in front of the line has no idea where he is keeper is and no sane player is going to forgo attempting a clearance in the hope of his keeper being behind him. The ball deflects off Gabriel’s head taking it out of the path of Ospina and into the net. The decision to not change a winning side serves as an excuse and not validation for Ospina starting, when you’re playing a team like West Ham, being able to come out and claim crosses does half of your defending for you.
The thing about football is though, it’s all about the management, if you can manage to win the balls in the box they can keep coming in all day long, if you’re coming off second best then you need to cut the threat out at its source. That is where our full backs in Monreal and Bellerin struggled who have been exemplary and one of few constants in our season. In their defence though, Payet and Lanzini where offered what I loosely call a free role with Creswell and Antonio as the wingbacks and Kouyate holding the midfield, they were free to support in wide areas playing 1-2’s with each other to work an opportunity to get the ball into the box. A lot of the time they were facing a losing battle trying to keep two players from getting in a position to put the ball in or letting them wander inside of the pitch. Our wide support players in Iwobi and Alexis offered nothing to aid them and there was acres of space for Creswell, Payet, Valencia and practically any of the West Ham players to take their time with a cross.
As I mentioned earlier however, I thought we did very well going forward. They offered nothing defensively but Alexis and in particular Iwobi played well at the other end of the pitch. Resulting in a goal for Alexis and 2 assists for Iwobi. In the first half West Ham played what was 3 at the back with Creswell and Antonio in the wing back position, given the nature of the result and his pathetic attempt at trying to dispossess Noble for West Ham’s second, a lot of people will be blind to it but Ozil was exceptional. He shepherded not only Alexis and Iwobi but also the rest of team in everything we did going forward and his investigation of space was what scored all 3 goals for us. With the middle of the pitch jam packed, Ozil exposed West Ham’s system with Antonio playing right wing back and Tomkins at right centre back, Ozil followed by Alexis, Iwobi and the support of El Neny exploited the space between the right back and the centre back, commonly referred to as the halfspace.
Interchanging with almost everyone, Ozil allowed build up to be made from elsewhere on the pitch not just from the middle and provided an opportunity for others to go where the space is. El Neny and probably the rest of our team’s first thought with the ball is where is Ozil and if he’s on the left wing, that’s where the ball’s going. It created an air of confusion as to who was playing where, who was meant to be marking who and subsequently allowed our 3 behind the front man to have a field day. Numerous time we created situations in which we had a man free in the halfspace, in fact all 3 of our goals came from the position. Ozil and Alexis got on the scoresheet from almost exactly the same blade of grass and for the equaliser Ozil delivered a ball from there to Welbeck who should have finished, fortunately his first touch landed to Koscielny who managed to do just that.
Özil heat map
Arsenal heat map
It a game where every time the ball entered our half it looked like West Ham would score, it was a joy to watch Ozil operate. I discussed our defensive frailties quite a lot and wish I had more to discuss about us going forward but it’s the nature of Ozil. He allows us to be 2 or 3 passes ahead and the simplicity of it elevates it from football to an art form. It serves to highlight just how important he is despite not registering a League assist for the last 5 games and is integral the way we play going forward. The signing of El Neny has helped us whereby Ozil was feeding off scraps or playing deeper in search of the ball he is now able to lead. El Neny has helped to bridge a gap that was gaping before with his assured passing in the absence of Santi, he’s also helped Coquelin out defensively and has shown that he is indeed multi-faceted which bodes well for the future.
Unfortunately however, the score line remains. We have conceded 3 goals now for the 4th time this season and have turned the best defensive team in 2015 with only 20 Premier League goals conceded, to what looks like one of the worst conceding 15 already. We had a balance at the start of the season that has seemed to have gone missing, and where we have solved a problem in linking our midfield with our attack. It looks like it’s beginning to rearise in terms of linking our midfield with our defence.