Man City 3-0 Arsenal: The end of David Luiz at Arsenal?
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
In his 25-minute cameo performance last night, David Luiz epitomised David Luiz in two rash moments; a lapse in concentration which saw him misjudge a simple interception from a loose Kevin De Bruyne pass which enabled Raheem Sterling to sweep home the opener, and then an instinctive rush of blood which resulted in his dismissal for denying a goal-scoring opportunity. Two moments that ultimately cost Arsenal dearly in this game. More points cost by individual errors this season.
The thing is, we know David Luiz does this. We know he’s prone to lapses in concentration. We know the occasion can get the better of him, which can lead to him making illogical and rash decisions on the pitch. And furthermore, we knew this would probably be heightened without the intensity and focus a live attending crowd enforces.
So, can you really be angry at Luiz? At some point, you have to blame the people that chose to have him at the club. He’s always going to make mistakes, and we know that, yet we continue to select him. In all fairness to Mikel Arteta, he didn’t want to pick the Brazilian last night, and was forced into utilising him following Pablo Mari’s early injury. However, the club’s hierarchy decided to commit to a 33-year-old defender notoriously capable of making high profile errors in this league, because they were looking for a cheap solution to our centre-back problems, and spent the majority of last summer messing about and chasing a winger instead. Question marks should be burdened on those at the top.
The irony is, it’s not even been a cheap deal in the end. Luiz has cost the club £24 million this year in wages and fees, and cost us quite a lot more on the pitch. He’s conceded four penalties in the league this season, been sent off twice and made more errors leading to goals than any other Premier League defender. Not a great use of the club’s limited resources if you ask me.
The weird thing is, if you’d asked me prior to this game, I’d probably have told you he had been our best centre-half this season. Prior to the lockdown, he looked impenetrable in this Arsenal team. He was the first name on Arteta’s team sheet. He was the experienced figurehead of this youthful side, the man with the invisible armband. Aubameyang wore the physical armband, but Luiz was the real leader, vocalising himself emphatically on the pitch and guiding the young crop of players off it.
He’s always looked comfortable and at his best in well-drilled systems with stringent tactical shapes and structures. These enforced roles for players around him giving him slightly more freedom to express his expansive passing range, whilst also reducing the cost of his inevitable, frequent errors. Arteta’s team in the opening months of his tenure had shape. Every player knew what they were doing and where they should be, following the Spaniard’s strict guidelines. Drop into a 3-2-5 when in possession, press in a 4-2-3-1 when out of possession. Luiz fit perfectly into this shape. When in possession, he was essentially playing as part of a back three, which enabled him to showcase his superb distribution qualities. He was a crucial cog in our build-up and construction of offensive moves from deep areas.
The problem last night was that, as soon as Arteta lost Granit Xhaka and Mari to injury, key personnel in his game plan were gone and our shape fell apart, thus paving the way for inevitable David Luiz mistakes. This is not by any means excusing these horrific errors, but it’s providing a bit of context for them. There’s no coincidence the best campaign of his career came in Chelsea’s title winning side of 2016/17 under the tactically meticulous Antonio Conte, where he formed a crucial part of Chelsea’s back three. There’s also no coincidence some of the worst form of his career came under the frenetic Unai Emery side from earlier this season.
The good thing is, we may not have to endure these painful and infuriating mistakes for much longer. Luiz will miss the next two games with suspension, meaning there’ll technically be just one final game he can possibly take part in in the period where he’s currently still contracted to the club- and I can’t imagine Arteta is eager to throw him in at any costs after last night. With both coy in their interviews over the possibility of the optional additional season in his deal being triggered, it looks as though his time at Arsenal may be coming to a somewhat abrupt end. I’d still be surprised if we didn’t extend until at least the end of this current campaign given our limited options at centre-back, but after last night, I’d be extremely surprised if those above were willing to commit to another season of an ageing, error prone defender (and as we understand, no decision has been made yet).
As for the game itself, there were some encouraging signs, albeit in what turned out to be something of a disaster. We stood resilient and in good shape in the opening half hour, imposing ourselves on City (exactly 50-50 possession by the 30-minute mark) and looked vaguely threatening on the counter with Eddie Nketiah. Dani Ceballos and Matteo Guendouzi looked bright, whilst Bellerin and Tierney both made encouraging starts.
As I eluded to earlier, the injuries slightly hindered our game plan, and the two errors from Luiz turned the game on its head. Whilst we struggled to create anything after being reduced to ten men, we didn’t implode and limited one of Europe’s best sides to few clear-cut opportunities. City finished the game with 1.85 xG (minus the penalty), not too worrying a stat given we played over 40 minutes with a man fewer, and had a back four comprised of Mustafi, a left-back at centre-back, and an 18-year-old winger at left-back, protected by a pivot of Guendouzi and Ceballos- neither natural ball-winners.
Yes, not imploding isn’t actually something to celebrate and as Arsenal Football Club, we shouldn’t be looking at that as a success. However, the reality of the situation is that this was a mid-table Premier League side playing against an elite European outfit. We are a mid-table team at the moment. All the stats point to that; we’ve had a mid-table season. We have to accept it.
A tactical review of the game will be released tomorrow by our tactical analyst Vinay, so watch out for that. For now, don’t have a meltdown at one result- football is finally back after all, so appreciate it.