Arsenal’s loss to Olympiakos was simply due to a stream of dull errors

Why We Lost

There are very little words to describe this haunting feeling of loss at our own stadium. Very little words to describe the devastating sadness of Aubameyang’s miss. What can be described in plenty of words is how we lost.

We set out in our usual 2-3-5/4-4-2 in and out of possession respectively with nearly a full strength team. There were no surprises anywhere. Mustafi, Luiz, Saka and Bellerin defended, Xhaka and Ceballos anchored the midfield, and Ozil joined Lacazette, Aubameyang and Nicolas Pépé upfront.

Olympiakos mirrored our 4-4-2 when out of possession and shifted to a more expansive structure when they had the ball.

Nothing was fundamentally wrong with our setup. In fact, it made a whole lot of sense (apart from the fact that it is our usual setup under Arteta) to employ such a structurally sound system considering that we had an away goal advantage. The 4-4-2 is a really solid set up and easy to coach in the defensive phase. If the space is compact, the players well-drilled and full of energy, it takes a lot to find ease in penetration. On the other hand, the 2-3-5 is the go-to formation for breaking down deep defenses. It ensures control in possession, width in stretching play and numerical presence in dangerous areas. Combining both formations gives incredible balance in both the defensive and offensive aspect. With a team like Arsenal’s, this setup makes much sense.

If Arteta’s setup and lineup going into the match was right, then what went wrong for Arsenal?
First of all, individual mistakes can undo any system. Arsenal were full of dull errors in both halves. An error is not always an obvious, egregious thing. Sometimes it can be a completed pass that ought to have been made a second earlier. At other times, it can be as miniscule as a player trying to shift the ball onto their strong foot before making a decision with it. Dull errors are insidious. Commit enough of them and you give the opponents a chance to get settled and comfortable. You give them security and a sense of solidity.

When an opponent is employing a deep 4-4-2 like Olympiakos, you only enhance their rigidity. Maurizo Sarri’s attacking philosophy is constructed to combat against this. To Sarri, football is not just about you, the opponent, the ball and space. It is also about the brain as well, all the 22 on the pitch. Just like how a Mourinho team might employ antics and arts designed to frustrate a more attacking side and wear them down (nipping at legs, outrageous curse words, excessive force in safe and legitimate defensive actions, diving, time wasting, hostile atmosphere, etc), an attacking side can do the same with the ball (constant possession, numerical superiority in key areas, constant switches of play, constant pressure in attacking phases, deliberate taunting when passing out of the back).

Sarri’s system uses a lot of disguised passes, false runs and decoy phases of play to keep the opponents constantly on their toes on as extreme a level as possible. By posing a constant threat and a certain level of unpredictability in your play, you do not allow the opponent to gain a sense of security. They begin to doubt themselves: is that pass about to go there or here? will this run really be picked up? why is everyone being pulled out of position? Sloppiness creeps in with mental fatigue and the quality of the defensive system begins to suffer. As it happened last night, Arsenal might as well have given Olympiakos a letter of assurance from the House of Commons. There was so much predictability on show, WWE wrestling felt like a Game of Thrones epic in comparison.

Arsenal committed too many individual mistakes and dull errors. One too many touches were taken when a touch could have progressed play faster. The ball seemed to move around like a thrown balloon and bounce like a beach ball. Everyone was committing these dull errors, even Ozil, a master at the subtle art of technical elegance. These little errors allowed Olympiakos too much of time to execute their instructions and gave them confidence as they settled into the game. The technical level in this Arsenal team is simply at an all-time low.

Secondly, we were not brave enough. Arteta, in trying to protect the lead, gave too much respect to Olympiakos when they had the ball. After 30 minutes, it was obvious that the Greeks had too much of an influence in the match. Their passing and transitions were so comfortable in a way they shouldn’t be in our own backyard. We have been braver against top 6 English opposition this season.

It kind of became obvious that settling into a 4-4-2 shape every time the ball was with their goalkeeper was not the best available option. We should have gone pressing man-to-man. Such a tactic would have placed them under great pressure and cooked far more counter-attacking transitions than we got.

Ajax showed us the beauty of a man-to-man marking system last season in the Champions League. It simply startles even the most technically accomplished teams in the world, not to mention the mighty Olympiakos. We were pressing hard but not efficiently. We forced no good turnovers in their final third, no dispossession or interception at all. We had to move the pressure forward and contain the threat they posed from buildup. Unfortunately, Arteta stuck with the safe option.

Additionally, this match had Arteta make some of his worse decisions when it comes to personnel. We could have used Ainsley Maitland-Niles today. In fact, we needed him. Bellerin was very pathetic in both the attacking and the defensive phase. If he had the ball, Bellerin made a poor decision. When Nicolas Pépé had the ball: his movement offered no useful option. There were so many instances when Pépé had the ball in front of three opposing defenders where Bellerin could have provided support by making a run out wide but didn’t. Instead, he floated uselessly behind the Ivorian who usually had to return the ball or attempt a mazy dribble through.

In defence, Bellerin offered no confidence in covering or marking. At one point, it seemed like Bellerin had drifted outside the bylines and Mustafi had to provide cover for him. He was so easily beaten by his man and only Mustafi’s glorious cameo stopped the ship from sinking from his side.

Sometimes, in football, it can so happen that a much-loved senior player does not fit into the tactical system of a new coach or that there’s simply a better option available. This seems to be the case with the inverted rightback role. Ainsley is a more natural fit for it than Hector Bellerin. Why the 21-year-old is on the bench is a decision shrouded in mystery. In any case, he had to have come on. Olympiakos were dedicating most of their defensive strength to stop Saka on the left. This was why we could generate so many attacks and chances from the right.

Unfortunately, Nicolas Pépé was abandoned by Bellerin (and Arteta) and was forced to do most of the penetration alone. A role he shone at against all odds. Having Maitland-Niles come on would have been a big boost for our right-sided attack. That did not happen.

Lacazette was also pathetic and he was screaming to be substituted off by halftime. How he remained on the pitch past the 80th minute is another mystery. This match exemplifies why Nketiah has taken his spot in the league. The Anglo-Ghanian youngster simply offers more than the 28-year-old.

Arteta’s ineffective substitutions did not stop there. Bringing off Ceballos was a mistake. Granted, the Spaniard had also been error-prone as much as anyone but none of his errors were overly egregious. Most of the time, it was just that his decisions and passing could have been better. A stern talking-to could have elicited a change into the second half. But we would never know now.

If Ceballos had to be brought off and another midfielder brought on in the match, it had to be Matteo Guendouzi. Highly energetic, aggressive in marking and progressive in his decisions with the ball, Guendouzi would have injected a particular kind of intensity and passion that we lacked in midfield, as well as bring quality on the ball. That could have won us the game. In several matches this season, notably against Tottenham and Bounermouth, Guendouzi has almost single-handedly operated the entire midfield by himself and raised the urgency level of the team. His presence brings bite and drive: things that we were missing through the middle in this match. Mentally, he’s almost world-class, capable of inspiring his own teammates with his own passion. Unfortunately, Arteta brought on Torreira whose qualities were not in acute need on the field. We didn’t need more protection. We needed more purpose through the middle.

In fact, after the introduction of Torreira and Joe Willock, the midfield did not get any better. Sometimes, a specific player fits into the specific context of a match. This was a match screaming for Guendouzi.

Overall, there was no gargantuan error made by anyone anywhere. It was the little ones that accumulated and eventually overwhelmed us. From David Luiz’s backpass to the continuity of Lacazette on the field to Arteta’s decisions, those errors gathered weight and heft until we were broken.

It has to be said that Arteta is very inexperienced at this level. This is his first European two-legged knockout tie and this fact might explain his security-first approach to it. He trusted old deputies in Lacazette and Bellerin over the obvious. We were set up not to ensure goals but to contain the opposition. Then it seems he has not fully come to grips with the specific qualities of all his players. This was a Guendouzi match. Ainsley Maitland-Niles was a better fit for the game he wants. All battle-hardened fans know this.

Perhaps then we need him to quickly learn and not put him down after this. It is not everyday that a very improbable stream of errors would happen in this way. Take away just one of those errors and Arsenal would have won.

Football, bloody hell!

Agboola Israel

11 Comments

  1. Glorious says:

    The only error that led to us loosing to olympiacos was from our own keeper. Leno was supposed to kick the ball out but instead took a heavy touch that forced him to play the ball for a corner that eventually led to olympiacos second goal. This absent mind from our goalkeeper caused us the game, though defending frailty of that corner kick was due to tiredness but the act of Leno putting a wrong foot undone all our effort. This is another learning curve for a keeper of his standard. Kicking the ball away from your area keeps the opponent away. I can not say Aubameyang miss was an error, not all chance in football do ended up at the back of the net. The main culprit was our goalkeeper.

    1. GunneRay says:

      Actually, there were more, Glorious. We were woeful in the box. So many balls went into the box only to amount to nothing. So many passes going astray by the usual suspects. There were average performances all over the pitch. Leno made a mistake, yes. But so did Auba and Luiz. They all did. Only some errors were really costly!
      They all have learnt little from the past and still have much to learn..

  2. Mobella says:

    I have done my best to stay away from anything Arsenal related since Thursday and didn’t even watch the match and decided not watch the highlight. What I watched on Sunday against Everton, there two goals, affirmed my thoughts that this club is cursed. Those types of goals, I had seen them scored against us during Wenger, Emery and Freddy during his shot reign. Different coaches, different players the same sh**t. I know I was vocal against Emery but now I know it wasn’t his doing. I mean this is a coach that saw all our pitfalls before he got the jobs and had a solution that wowed his interviewers before he got the job. But when became the coach he was oblivion of the problems and the solution eluded him. It is not a coincidence that Arteta is in the same both now. Sideways passing, back passing, playing out the back passing nonsense even though it pressure on the team, no single shot on target for large part of the game, no urgency, no purpose game… Is it so hard for a coach to tell Xhaka no back pass or Leno to always kick every goal kick in field. I don’t how else to view our problems. So many players had been moved on with new one purchased and the situation still the same with different coaches. Blowing away qualification with 75% advantage isn’t an ordinary failure. Some metaphysical forces are against us😭😭😭😭

    1. GunneRay says:

      I think we can all relate to that, Mobella. We can all see that it’s a case of “same s**t, different toilet”!

      I do think this that if you changed the whole team (as an experiment) and manager and training staff. We would play a completely different style?

      I believe every player that joins the club inherits the philosophy and style of those around him. Some of these players have been here years and have adopted the very same approach as those that went before..

      If this is the case, it could be a very long and tiresome hill climb! 🙁

  3. Shakir says:

    Ceballos substitution was not a mistake infact bringing torreira on covered us more defenssively.It helped us to move forward.
    Guendouzi is a player who likes to control game not progress play so why he was not brought on is not a surprise.
    Martinelli shoukd have brought on earlier but MA trusted laca and that was the only wrong decision i saw in MA’s management thursday.

    But then again the lineup he went up against newcastle,evsrton totally surprised us but he got the job done didnt he so we have to keep trusting him.The fa cup game is vital now because we have to lift the spirit of the club.I also kinda have a feeling that this knockout can be a blessing in disguise.

    COYG

  4. jon fox says:

    Interesting article with lots of welcome detail, much of which I would agree. It boils down to too many players simply not being good enough and that is the old, old story. Xhaka should not be at our club, never should have been bought and he adds nothing of worth at all. WHY he is still here after all this time is one of footballs huge mysteries to me. HE LACKS PACE, JUDGEMENT, MOBILITY, ARTISTRY AND IS CLUMSYNESS PERSONIFIED. No other top club would even think of playing him, so why do we? Anyone care to explain please?

    Individual errors in general, through the whole team too, are far too many for the standard we need. Auba’s miss, Lacas CONSTANT MISSES, Leno’s mistake at the end and much more besides, from most players. It is a huge job that MA has to turn this deeply flawed giant club around and he needs time, our constant support and esp PROPER FUNDS from Kroenke.

  5. Joe Kupoluyi says:

    I said it so many times that Arteta not Qualify to be Arsenal manager he has no business at Arsenal it is because he worked with Man City for just Three years anyway you can’t blame if not the Hopeless Management at Arsenal Board who appointed the Useless Idiot Manager Freddie better than Arteta by a manager who went begging his former Manager when he was player at Everton is like appoint Freddie and he call on Wenger to become his Assistant . Arteta has Failed already and the Hopeless Management gave him Three and half years contract can you imagine the Two Plaer’s they acquire in January are they useful now? Hopeless Useless Management .

  6. Grandad says:

    Joe you are entitled to your opinion,but I and most rational Arsenal fans are behind him.He inherited a team which is bereft of real quality and there is not a Manager on the planet who can turn this squad into a successful winning side.If you must criticise our young Manager perhaps you could try to be constructive.

  7. David Rusa says:

    I will take a very objective assessment to answer this question which is very intriguing. I believe the first reason is psychological and it has plagued Arsenal for a long time. It is the feeling of over limited ambition where our players feel that games are won before the final whistle. This makes them complacent at best and at worst ridiculous. They set their target so low that once they score one goal they imagine they are home and dry.
    The other issue has to do with the fitness levels of our players. Several times we have all noticed that our team either start too slowly or end up hanging on by a thread. They have no capacity to be consistent for the whole duration of the game. This is why we end up bottling it up. The solution, therefore, lies in the training regime where the coach should be ruthless with those players whose fitness levels are low.
    The other issue has to do with team selection and substitution of underperforming players. There is no reason why a player should be allowed to continue with his messes up to the 70th minute. He should be replaced when there is still sufficient time to change the game. I strongly believe that our forward players need very rigorous training on how to score goals. Our middle field is another Archilles heal which needs revamping. The mid field.leaves very big spaces which are often exploited by the opposition.
    Lest I forget, our fans also let our team down. I was greatly embarrassed to see foreign fans from far away Greece cheering more than us on our own ground! What is the purpose of cheering only when the team is performing well? Why don’t we encourage our players to stand up for the cause? Why should we always do more booing than cheering? It is simply pathetic! Are most of our fans negative? We need to change this attitude which is a result of pessimism. Let us be positive even in defeat. Why don’t we learn from Liverpool? Even in lean times Anfield atmosphere is always a nightmare for rival fans. Is it the urbane London mentality or the ultra modern facilities at Emirates that sup our soul and zeal? We need to reexamine ourselves.

    1. Austine wenger says:

      I agree with you on this. We as Arsenal football club fans have to take a hard look at ourselves; Are we toxic or what? Why do we only celebrate when we win or we are playing well? I believe the change has to begin with us fans.. irrespective of the football being played, we should cheer them.. stay beside them, I think the problem lies from the home fans. We feel because we are at home we don’t need to remind them anymore.No! Thats where we get it all wrong, we should first be the ones to tell the other club they are in our turf. We sing to our glories. We have a pride if they don’t see anything to sing about. We sing to the 49 matches the invisibles did. At least we now know that wasn’t an easy feat. Just raise the spirit every time at the emirate and I believe the players will replicate the same efforts on pitch. Common let’s change this attitude and we will start moving forward. This is the bedrock of Liverpool football club. We should always create an atmosphere where they believe they are the best. The solution starts from us fans.

  8. David Rusa says:

    Corrections:: Achilles heel instead of heal
    Sap our soul instead of sup.

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