Arsenal's Henrikh Mkhitaryan was worse than invisible against Tottenham - he was detrimental

Alex Rea 11/02/2018
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Arsenal's Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Harry Kane proved Arsenal‘s nemesis again as his bullet header earned Tottenham a deserved 1-0 victory in the north London derby.

Spurs could have won by more at Wembley had they not squandered countless chances in the second half but Kane’s seventh goal in eight versions of this fixture was enough to seal all three points.

Here, we look at three things learned from an Arsenal perspective.

MKHITARYAN IS WORSE THAN INVISIBLE 

Henrikh Mkhitaryan was in shocking form

Henrikh Mkhitaryan was in shocking form.

Actions speak louder than words and this week Henrikh Mkhitaryan should have kept quiet because his performance against Spurs screamed average.

“Jose Mourinho required a lot from the players. A lot, he was very hard. Arsene Wenger is friendlier, he understands, can think about players’ situations, is calmer. That’s the difference,” the Armenian told SFR Sport this week.

Shame for Arsenal there is no difference in his displays from those in a Manchester United shirt.

The playmaker was ostracised for his anonymity in the big games but he was worse than invisible against Spurs – he was detrimental for Arsenal.

Indeed, Mkhitaryan may be one of the few deserving of a negative player rating because he was negligible in a set-up which required flair and ingenuity.

Compacting the midfield and defending deep, Arsenal had to counter-attack with craft and speed but Mkhitaryan’s 80 per cent pass success rate was the second worst of any in their starting XI.

The proverbial balloon blown up by his three-assist performance against Everton was acutely popped on Saturday, leaving a flatulent mess in its wake.

Aimless passes under no pressure combined with little work rate hallmarked a dire display, the damaged goods shipped off by United in exchange for Alexis Sanchez appears to be the deal of the century.

BUT AUBA IS THE TRUE INVISIBLE MAN 

A dejected Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

A dejected Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang touched the ball 23 times against Spurs – the least of any player in Arsenal’s starting XI – and managed zero shots during 90 minutes.

And yet those damning statistics have precious little to do with Arsenal’s record buy.

Indeed, while Mkhitaryan was the one labelled anonymous, Aubameyang was actually the one who must have been invisible to his teammates.

This is no exaggeration, countless times the 28-year-old was completely free in space to the left, and on almost every occasion the players in behind failed to see him despite other options being cut off.

Ultimately, he was let down by the inability of the playmakers behind him – Mesut Ozil and Mkhitaryan – to have any discernible impact on the game.

We all know his style, piercing pace on the shoulder of the last man to break in behind and considering how high Spurs’ line was, you would have expected Ozil and Mkhitaryan to have been capable of creating chances for him.

But the Gunners didn’t play to his strengths and when they eventually did and sprayed longer balls, Alexandre Lacazette was brought on in the spearhead with Aubameyang forced out wide.

Arsenal ended up looking incredibly imbalanced and the Gabon international looked dejected in a position which was clearly an uncomfortable one for him.

ARSENAL’S WEAKNESS IS THEY ARE WEAK

In every area of the pitch Wenger’s side lost the physical battle. It’s not the first time this has been said, and for this group of players, it won’t be the last time either.

Defensively solid in the first half, the Gunners lost their discipline after the break.

The chasm between Nacho Monreal and Laurent Koscielny for Kane’s header was indicative of the wide gap between the quality of the two sides.

In possession there was no ownership and at times no communication. Midfield was arguably even worse with Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny a dire duo.

Mousa Dembele was superb and he practically dominated Arsenal’s midfield three by himself with only Jack Wilshere coming out of the game with any credit.

The Belgian used his physicality to eliminate any pressure, then displayed great footwork and ball retention skills to set Tottenham’s attacks in the opposite direction.

Granted, he is a unique footballer in the sense he bulldozes and pirouettes around the pitch like beauty and the beast infused but Arsenal had no answer.

They were simply second best and in the end the 1-0 scoreline flattered to deceive.

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How Man City boss Pep Guardiola's tactics have changed the English game

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Not only can Pep Guardiola win the league with Manchester City this season, but he can do it in devastating fashion, in a style that has never been done before.

Come the end of the season, we have no doubt that City will have blitzed multiple Premier League records en route to securing a fifth league title.

But what’s been the difference in Guardiola’s second season at the Etihad Stadium that has led him to dominating the English game?

Here, Copa90 looks at how the Spaniard’s tactics have changed the game.


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Latest chapter of Jose Mourinho v Rafael Benitez rivalry and other Man United talking points

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Rafael Benitez (l) and Jose Mourinho (r).

Manchester United’s Premier League campaign continues on Sunday (18:15 UAE) with the trip to Newcastle United.

An enduring storyline between the opposing managers is at play, despite the current disparity in position between their sides. The fixture should also be illustrative of left-back Luke Shaw’s standing at the club, plus a sombre tone will be provided by the death this week of ex-Red Devils midfielder Liam Miller.

Here, we examine the major talking points:

LATEST ROUND OF BENITEZ V MOURINHO

There is certainly no love lost between both clubs – and their respective managers.

Newcastle v Man United was one of the defining fixtures of the 1990s, Sir Alex Ferguson’s legendary mastery of mind games famously producing opposite number Kevin Keegan’s famous “I will love it” rant during the epic 1995/96 title implosion by the Magpies.

The stakes are nowhere near as high on the pitch this time; Newcastle are one place outside the relegation zone and their opponents seem set for a relatively easy cruise into second place behind runaway leaders Manchester City. But the rancour in the dugout survives.

Rafael Benitez and Jose Mourinho endured bitter battles in the previous decade when Liverpool and Chelsea repeatedly clashed. An innocent joke by Mrs Benitez in 2015 about her husband yet again tidying up “his messes”, this time at Real Madrid, then led to callous jibes about the Spaniard’s diet.

A sizable disparity between the sides is hard to dispute, even though United roared back from a goal down to win 4-1 in November. Studying interactions between the bosses could be the major source of intrigue at St James’ Park.

LUKE HAS TO BE SHAW ABOUT HIS FUTURE

Luke Shaw appears to be back on the ascent in his rollercoaster United career.

Mourinho stated he would be “a United player for years” in his pre-match press conference, some turnaround for a 22-year-old whose attitude and approach has been disparaged so many times under his stewardship.

The left-back has started seven of United’s last nine games and performed well upon his return to the XI for last Saturday’s 2-0 win against Huddersfield, Ashley Young paying the price for being one of several poor performers in defeat at Tottenham.

But the £30 million (Dh189m) signing from Southampton in 2014 has been here before. On January 19, Mourinho said: “I don’t see many left-backs better than Luke Shaw” – then promptly dropped him for the 1-0 win at Burnley.

A show of faith for a historically tricky away day will continue Shaw’s rehabilitation. It could even put him on the path to being a starter for England at World Cup 2018.

But what will a demotion to the bench do to his ego? It should set alarm bells ringing about the ultimate futility of his position under the ‘Special One’.

Luke Shaw (r) competes with Huddersfield's Tommy Smith.

Luke Shaw (r) competes with Huddersfield’s Tommy Smith.

FOOTBALL FAMILY IS SET TO REMEMBER MILLER

Manchester United are set to don black armbands this afternoon in remembrance of Liam Miller, who passed away on Friday aged just 36 from pancreatic cancer.

Legendary figures from Wayne Rooney to Ferguson have all paid tribute to the ex-Republic of Ireland midfielder in the aftermath. No team-mates or senior members of coaching staff are left from Miller’s – ultimately unfulfilled – spell at Old Trafford from 2004-06, but this will not prevent his memory being respected.

Once a player is part of any club, they remain so forever. It will not matter that the nascent talent exhibited at Celtic only translated into two goals in 22 matches.

Liam Miller joined United from Celtic in 2004.

Liam Miller joined United from Celtic in 2004.

Football is often criticised by outsiders for its rampant tribalism. Often rightly so.

Yet you can guarantee that Newcastle fans will stand in unison, despite Miller scoring three times in 60 appearances for bitter rivals Sunderland from 2006-09.

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