Sunday’s result brought back some doubts in the minds of the supporters. There are some who continue to have faith and there will always be those who question the quality of the squad after every adverse result. I am of the opinion that our squad is good enough and this can be seen in the comparison of the squads that I had done. But I also agree that our present performances are not those of a title-winning squad.
The important bit is to see the difference between the two i.e. the squad being good enough and the performances not being good enough. If our squad was not good enough, we would not be dominating as many games as we do. Anyone who doubts our squad should take a long look at any other squad across Europe and see if it can cope with injuries to 4-5 key players. Have a look at how Citeh are performing in spite of the money they have spent or see how Real Madrid have struggled in the last two games without Ronaldo. Teams will have problems even after spending big.
I am convinced our squad is one of the most talented and well balanced in the whole of Europe. We can perform much better if we work on a few essential aspects of our game. I am not trying to claim that I understand the game better than Wenger or his staff. But I have been following our matches closely and there are a few general observations that most fans would agree with.
Here are some improvements that can help us win the league
Crosses/Delivery on Set Pieces and Corners
At Upton Park, we didn’t really create too many clear chances. But we got our first goal from a lovely cross by Sagna. We also got a great chance late in the game through the same route. This only proves the importance of getting the ball in dangerous areas. It adds a different headache for the defending team. It also gives us a completely different dimension in attack.
But how often do we get our crosses right? My guess is less than 20 percent. In the early part of the 07-08 season, our fullbacks were doing a good job with the crosses. I don’t really know what happened and when, but over the last year and a half, we have completely lost the plot when it comes to putting the ball across the penalty area.
Similarly, look at our set pieces. RvP has a fantastic delivery from corners and free kicks and gets it right more often than not. But ask yourself if anyone else has been that convincing?
I love Cesc and Arshavin and they are among the world’s greatest players. But do they get their set piece delivery right? Don’t we normally see them floating the ball in and often missing the target area or putting it too close to the goal keeper or hitting the first defender?
Vermaelen and Gallas have scored a number of goals from headers this season. Doesn’t that just highlight the goal scoring potential of a dangerous delivery? I have a feeling we take our set pieces lightly. There is no real evidence for this but it’s a thought that developed from seeing us waste many good opportunities.
Good delivery also has the effect of putting the opposition defence under pressure. Right now, most teams seem comfortable in conceding a free kick or corner against us. They are also comfortable in allowing us width and an opportunity to cross. This gives them the chance to pack the center and make it difficult for us to play our game. So, improving on this aspect will not only help us in getting more goals, but will also help us in our normal passing game. Most importantly, how difficult can it be?
Defending Corners/Free Kicks
Clearly our Achilles’ heel, isn’t it? I don’t think any Arsenal fan would disagree that we are amongst the worst when it comes to defending set pieces and corners. It does make me wonder if it’s directly connected to our inability to deliver from these situations.
There are two important questions here. How much time do we spend on practicing our delivery and defence in set piece situations? Have we made any real effort to improve in this area? We are not likely to get any answers to these questions, but I do believe that we would have seen the improvements on the field of play if any serious effort had been put in.
Some of us like to blame the goalkeepers for our problems. But I have a feeling that any goalkeeper in the world would struggle in our team because of the lack of communication and understanding that is palpable in our game. Our goalkeepers have to come out to deal with situations that most other keepers would leave to their defence to sort out. And once the responsibilities are blurred, the confusion only complicates the issue.
I am not really qualified to say how we should improve in this area. We can certainly do with more commitment from the players. How often have we seen Chelsea defenders throw themselves in front of a shot? How often do we see their midfielders diligently track the opponents? Why do our players shy away from this responsibility?
As things stand, we are under pressure every time someone gets a chance to put the ball into our box. We can see the tension and the pressure even in the players’ body language and I am sure the opponents can sense that as well. It must give them renewed belief even if they are down by a couple of goals. This has to change. The players must feel more confident in these situations and Arsene has to do whatever it takes to reach that state.
Rotations and Substitutions
Let’s consider the game against West Ham. We were up by two goals and it was clear to most people watching the game that Arshavin and Cesc were not having a good game.
Could we have reverted to a more conventional 4-4-2 by bringing on Ramsey for either of the two? Could we have introduced either Eduardo or Bendtner to support Van Persie? I am not the type who would say that we should sit back on a two goal lead. But our attack wasn’t flourishing anyway. Shouldn’t we have tweaked with it a bit to see if we can do any better? Were the players on the bench not fit?
I think Arsene needs to seriously rethink the timing and the tactical aspect of his substitutions. What is the point of putting Bendtner on the field in the last few minutes and then having him play wide? Shouldn’t he, straight away, get into the opponents’ penalty area and stay there or thereabouts? Shouldn’t the players be instructed to get the ball forward with urgency instead of the usual pass and move?
I don’t want to come across as someone who thinks he can do better than Wenger. I have no delusions of that sort. But all of us, who follow the team so passionately, have a right to question the decisions, don’t we? We also have a right to our opinions. Mine says that we can do much better if we rotate our squad more efficiently. In a way, that is a stamp of faith in the whole squad that Wenger has accumulated and developed.
We are making basic mistakes that are obvious even to commoners like me. Unless we improve in these areas, we will continue to put ourselves under undue pressure while giving a glimpse of hope to all the opponents. The areas I have mentioned are not difficult to address and they can certainly help us in being more ruthless and crushing the smaller teams.
The confidence of the players and the fans will also improve greatly if we can deliver on these fronts. It’s down to the manager and his staff to identify how they can work on it. It’s down to the players to put in the extra shift. After all they must want to win more than any of us.
The trophies are there for the taking this year. How badly do we want them!?