While doing the match preview I’d mentioned that we just don’t have the personnel to continue with the same formation. I’d also said Arsene is likely to continue with his system and will play Eastmond in the DM role.
In fairness and with the benefit of hindsight, we could have won this game even with the youngster in the team. Wigan are so bad defensively that an Arsenal team with only two or three first choice players managed to get a comfortable two goal lead. The problem however, was always going to be in defence.
Let’s look at some stats and charts that explain why we were so hopeless.
The following image shows the average positions of players on the pitch.
As you can see Eastmond was the only midfielder playing really close to the defence. Diaby and Nasri are pretty high up. When we have Song or even Denilson in this role this is pretty normal and it works against smaller teams. But with the youngster in there, we had absolutely no way of playing the ball out of defence through the middle.
If we look at the passing statistics, Eastmond made a total of 31 passes out of which 30 were successful. That’s nearly a 100% success rate and can easily mislead us into believing he did well. The fact was, and you could see this during the game, that no one really wanted to pass to him unless he was completely free in acres of space. This made his passing easier but completely screwed our passing game.
It got worse because Diaby made only 26 passes with 22 successful ones. He should have been much deeper supporting Eastmond. I don’t know what instructions were given to the Frenchman but he was completely useless on the pitch.
If you want some perspective on these numbers consider this, against Tottenham Denilson made 65 passes and Diaby 63. That’s more than the total of Eastmond and Diaby in this game. Similar numbers can be seen in other games as well.
To me it highlights the importance of the DM taking the ball out of defence and moving it forward. Even Campbell and Silvestre had almost as many passes as Eastmond. Just goes to show that by playing the youngster Arsene completely killed our midfield.
Most of the times we got the ball out of defence via the wings. This is evident from the fact that Sagna, Clichy, Rosicky and Nasri all have more passes than either of the two deeper midfielders.
We could still have won the lackadaisical encounter but for our loss of focus. After the two goals we just started kicking the ball upfield and even the movement on the wings came to a standstill.
The following image shows our passing chart for the last twenty minutes.
It would be easy to mistake it for the passing of a relegation contender.
It seems to me that Bendtner’s presence evokes a false sense of security in our players who feel their job is done if they hoof the ball up to him. The Dane won a few balls but our midfield was almost always in no man’s land so he just didn’t have any support.
Wigan pushed into our half and pressurised us. We hoofed the ball at every opportunity. Our midfield pushed forward following each long punt. Unfortunately, before they got forward we lost possession and the ball would be back in our defensive third with the midfield completely out of position. This led to constant pressure on the defence and they hoofed it to relieve the pressure. The cycle continued.
The telling statistic is that during this period, 71-90 mins, Eastmond made 1 pass and Diaby 3. Just proves what I’ve been saying about our midfield being in no man’s land and not supporting the defence.
In my match report I mentioned that our defenders were not at fault. I know they made some mistakes. But when the back four is under pressure for so long without any support from the midfield they are bound to crack.
After the match Arsene mentioned that he could see we were not focused.
No, I never thought the game was over. I saw that we were having difficulties keeping the ball and creating opportunities.
I was concerned before they even scored. We were comfortable, but we lost focus, discipline, and we were caught. It was not like us
It’s not rocket science. Anyone could see that we were all over the place. The bigger question is why didn’t we do anything about it? Le Boss could have instructed Diaby and Nasri to fall deeper, he could have brought on Traore for the tiring Rosicky, Eboue for Walcott or Bendtner, and he could have asked them to stay close to the defence.
What’s the point of bringing Merida on when we were clearly struggling and our defence was crying out for support?! What’s the point of Eboue coming on and running all over the pitch?! In the first image, if you look at his average position it is somewhere you’d expect a left winger to be. All this while Sagna was clearly struggling with a fresher and faster Moses!!
We shot ourselves in the foot by playing Eastmond. I’m not criticizing the youngster. It’s not his fault that he was thrown into the deep end but his presence, or should I say lack of presence, left us exposed.
Arsene got the tactics completely wrong and even when he could see the danger his decision making was inexplicable. The players should be getting instructions from the bench when things are not being done right. We also have to make substitutions that make some sense and the players coming on must have specific instructions.
We need an alternate formation with a better organized midfield to support the defence. The 4-3-3 is good when we have players like Vermaelen, Song, Cesc, et al in the team. It’s a disaster waiting to happen with Fabianski, Silvestre, Eastmond and Diaby.
It’s easy to point the finger at Fabianski or the defenders. Fact remains, blaming the keeper or the defence won’t solve our problems.