I don’t think many would disagree with the opinion that Arsenal have a shaky defence and struggle to hold on to a lead. This doesn’t mean that we have a relegation quality defence, just that we are not as good as some of the other top teams.
The goal we conceded against Birmingham is a perfect example of how poor our defence actually is. We lack organization, our midfield doesn’t contribute and there is general sense of panic in the air. The snapshots below illustrate our problems.
It’s important to note the positions of our midfield when Diaby misses this header. They are more than ten yards away from the defence and there are four opponents between them and the defenders!
This was not from open play and the ball was in the Birmingham box when the foul was conceded. If the Birmingham players can reach so far before the free kick is taken, you have to wonder why our mid-fielders aren’t in better positions.
Kevin Phillips came on late in the game. Since Wenger didn’t bring on an extra defender one would assume that one of the defensive mid-fielders would be playing really deep along with the defence to counter the extra striker. Denilson is in no man’s land between Nasri and Diaby. Brilliantly reading the game from a distance!
Next see the amount of space Kevin Phillips has when he receives the ball.
I can’t understand why Sol backs away from Phillips. Song could have covered behind him as he wasn’t marking anyone. If Sol had been tighter he could have pounced on the loose ball as striker’s touch was quite poor.
Have you ever seen an Arsenal attacker get so much space in such a position, especially when chasing a game!? Can you imagine United or Chelsea giving the opposition player so much leeway. Interesting to note that Denilson is still ten yards away from the play.
Then Fabregas leaves his man alone. I don’t want to be too critical of El Capitan as he works really hard and has to carry the creative burden. In other teams the left winger would be closing this man down but Arshavin was near the Birmingham penalty area.
As the ball is played to the right, every Arsenal player is either chasing the ball or is caught ball watching. Kevin Phillips is left completely unmarked. Just look at Denilson’s position.
There are five Arsenal players between the guy who crosses the ball and the man who scores. None of them is in a decent position to block the ball, or to tackle the guy on the ball, or to mark the goal scorer. Denilson is perfectly placed to launch a counter.
After this Sagna tries a ridiculous 180 degree clearance instead of knocking it away for a corner. If he’d left it we might even have got an offside but that’s an impossible decision in such a big moment.
Ultimately, the mistake by the keeper was horrible. Almunia should have clawed it away if he couldn’t catch it.
I still think it was a freak goal. The ball somehow went in between five players and the clearance from Sagna hit Phillips in the perfect spot. Anywhere else and it would have fallen kindly for us.
The point is that as long as our defence is so shambolic, we will always run the risk of conceding freak goals. Blaming one or two individuals is a meaningless exercise. We need better organization and our midfield needs much better awareness. We also need to cut out ball watching and ball chasing habits. Most importantly, we need to overcome the panic that sets in amongst our ranks when a long ball is punted forward.
Guardiola must be scared to death!