Most people want Arsene to sign a striker and/or a goal keeper while some want a defensive midfielder. I don’t deny the fact that any or all of these signings would strengthen the squad. Well, that’s the whole point to signing players anyway. Having said that, in my opinion, the most important signing would be a defense coach.
I know that we have people like Pat Rice and Boro Primorac on the coaching staff but I am not sure what their exact roles are and how much time we spend on defensive training. In the recent past we have lost quite a few big games and have looked really hopeless in some of them. While people have their favorites, I don’t think changing one or two players is going to make a big difference in these kind of games.
There are several basic problems with our team
- Too many players, including some defenders, are really poor at tackling. In other words, the opponents can skip past them with ease.
- Most of our wide players and full backs don’t really know how to block a cross (Just see how many of our crosses are blocked by the first man and compare it with how many we block)
- I haven’t seen many of our defenders throwing themselves in front of an attacker to make a block.
- Too many of our defensive headers are weak and fall in the danger area
- Our defenders are not very good at attacking the balls in the box and put too much responsibility on the goalkeeper. (See the number of balls we put into the United box and how many times did Van Der Saar have to come for them, even from corners and set-pieces?)
- Too many of our clearances are scuffed and cause further defensive problems
- Hardly any of our defenders can win a one on one with an on rushing attacker
- Our players switch off at critical defensive moments
- Most of our defensive players don’t know how to commit professional fouls or fouls that break up play to snuff out chances of counter attacks
- Attackers can easily receive the ball and hold it in and around our penalty box
- Too many of our players shirk responsibility. When we have two or three players closing down an opponent with the ball, each player waits for someone else to put the tackle in
Don’t get me wrong, even if the list is long, I am not saying our players are no good. Most of them are top quality and we are so high up in the league in spite of these problems only because our players have great ability while in possession of the ball.
Unfortunately, those qualities are not enough to win the big games. We need a stable defense in these games because the opposition has a lot of quality in attack with some clinical finishers. A lot of these issues are also the reason why our goalkeepers struggle a lot.
I am not saying that Almunia is a great keeper. At the same time I don’t buy the theory that all three of our keepers are no good. So when all three of them struggle, one must ask why.
Let me give a few examples,
- At Old Trafford, Rooney won a penalty against Almunia and most people put the blame on the keeper. In my opinion the problem was with Gallas who had a two yard head start on Shrek and still couldn’t get a tackle in. The tackle was there and often in the past Toure used to make these tackles but Gallas never tried and put the onus on the keeper. To me Gallas shirks responsibility quite often and the keeper ends up in trouble.
- Similarly, look at the first and second goal against Chelsea. Both the balls came in quite close to our central defenders and they couldn’t clear them. In fact, Vermaelen put one in. I don’t see such balls going past Terry or Ferdinand.
- The second goal from Rooney this Sunday should have been blocked by Vermaelen. So often we see the likes of Carvalho and Terry flying in to block a goal bound shot. How many times have we seen our defenders do that? (I am not defending Denilson or the other problems that led to this particular goal, but once all that had gone wrong the last defender had to do better)
I can go on and on with examples where our defenders get it wrong. The point is not that they are not good players and these are, in themselves, not really big errors. But when you put them all together they cause a lot of problems.
I am convinced that any goalkeeper who plays for this Arsenal team will struggle simply because there are too many small, small weaknesses in our defensive game. Unfortunately, once a player struggles and makes some mistakes his confidence is affected and it’s a dangerous negative spiral.
Arsene has to really focus on these issues in training and if necessary get a specialist coach to sort these issues out. We might not be able to change this in time for the next match but we desperately need a long term solution if we are to consistently challenge at the top level.