Just before Shakhtar got the equalizer there was a period when they created a couple of clear cut chances. I want to look at these with snapshots to see the defensive mistakes Arsenal made.
In the first image the situation seems under control. The ball is near the touchline and Arsenal have enough numbers back. What is interesting to note is that no one closes in on the man on the ball and no one tries to read the run of the only Shakhtar player within five yards. Eboue, Walcott, Wilshere and Squillaci are all caught ball-watching.
The simplest of passes is played and now it’s a different player on the ball. At least this time Wilshere is trying to move towards him while Walcott and Eboue admire the small round thing! Again a simple pass is available to him to an unmarked team-mate in an attacking area.
The Shakhtar player makes the pass. Wilshere turns around to chase the ball. Eastmond gets sucked into a no man’s land. Squillaci is marking his man. No one is aware of the player on the touchline and a wide open channel is available for a through ball in behind.
The ball gets played through. Shakhtar are in behind without any effort or exceptional skill.
Think of how often a team as skilful as Arsenal tries to get in behind in this manner but fails. This happens because the opponents maintain their basic defensive shape and get the fundamentals of defending right. Arsenal, on the other hand, make it easy for the opponents.
When the player is about to cross, two of his team-mates have shrugged off their marker and taken up good attacking positions.
Once again, how often do we see our strikers closely marked in the box? If almost all the smaller teams can do it, defending shouldn’t be that difficult. Why is it that opponents are unmarked in the Arsenal box so often?
In this case, the ball was cut back to the man free in the centre of the box but his shot was lame and hit Djourou. Arsenal got a lucky break but didn’t learn the lesson.
Eboue gets attracted to the loose ball and others are all caught ball-watching again. The man on the right side (left of the image) is free and two attackers are completely unmarked.
The cross comes in under no pressure and the attacker is unmarked on the six yard line. He got a free header but could only hit the post.
All this took about 10-11 seconds from the time the man got on the ball on the right touchline. Shakhtar didn’t have to come up with anything special in terms of passing, dribbling, or finishing. In fact, their finishing was poor and Arsenal got off the hook.
The simple question is – why do we make it so easy for the opposition?
This is not a one-off, it happens in many of our games. Opposition players in England and Europe are able to get in behind far too easily. It’s also not limited to the personnel in this game, although one could say Song, Sagna, and Nasri on the right would have done much better. Nonetheless, we have seen these kind of situations even when a near full strength side is playing. And since this problem is not limited to one or two players, selling or buying one or two will not really solve it.
Of course, in many games Arsenal dominate the ball so well that the opposition isn’t able to get this many men forward. But away from home, and when we have some injury problems, these issues get exacerbated. In order to get results in difficult games, especially with a weakened side, we need a solid defence. Unfortunately, we end up making more defensive mistakes in such games.
To me this is a matter of defensive training. If players train often enough they will have the instincts (concentration, awareness, composure) to deal with such situations. If not, we rely on luck and mistakes by the opposition. Le Boss has to look at his defensive drills and improve and/or increase them.
This is not about changing the style of play either. Arsenal can still be a positive, entertaining side true to the principles of the beautiful game but that should be abetted by a fundamentally strong defensive foundation.
With the new central defenders our first choice defence is undoubtedly stronger but we’re not quite there yet. I hope Wenger is working on this.