In his press conference before the Blackburn game Arsene was talking about our defensive weaknesses and how the goals we have conceded hurt our title chances.
If you assess our situation, going forwards we have been very, very efficient – our goal scoring rate is very good.
Where we want to set ourselves a target next season is we have conceded nearly 40 goals – that is too many to win the championship and is where we want to improve.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it. At the end of last season and beginning of this season Le Boss was talking about how we’d conceded 37 last year and that was too many for a side aspiring to win the League. A cursory Google search took me to an article published by the Arsenal Dotcom on 22nd October last year. Here is what Arsene said at the Annual General Meeting,
I believe we will have to see at the end of the season. But we conceded too many goals last year and we decided to rectify our defence and the system we play.
I believe that by the end of this season we will have conceded less goals but somewhere as well we encourage the team to go for an offensive game and sometimes we pay the price for that a little bit.
Curiously enough, the title of that article was “We will concede fewer goals this season.” Something’s clearly not right. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the “buy, buy, buy!” type of fan. Regular readers know that I try to be honest in praise as well as criticism. The way Arsene has managed the defence this year deserves a fair bit of criticism.
One thing is obvious – Arsene knows what the problems are. Some fans are of the opinion that Le Boss is blind to our weaknesses but I find that hard to believe. The next logical question is, if he knows what’s wrong why doesn’t he sort it out?
The crux of the matter is in that question. Supporters of Arsene, including myself, tend to believe that he has tried solving it but it’s not worked out. Injuries are obviously a big reason for our problems. The critics point out, and it’s a fair point, that injuries can be a reason but they cannot be a valid excuse.
If we really want to get to the bottom of this, we must cut out the superlatives and hyperbole. If we take a stance that Arsene is perfect and doesn’t make mistakes then even the great man himself might laugh at us. I’m sure he will be the first to accept that he’s made a few errors of judgement this year. At the same time, if someone ignores his work and achievements and starts saying Wenger has no clue and we cannot win with him in charge then it becomes impossible to take such a critic seriously.
As with every important aspect of life, the truth is always in a grey area somewhere in between. I feel management decisions in any field are largely percentage calls. It’s not an exact science and the decision maker has to factor in many unknowns and variables. In hindsight, it’s much easier as we know how these variables pan out.
For instance, at the beginning of the season we had Senderos. He might have been training well and the manager might have had some hopes of getting a few games out of him. For some reason it didn’t work out and we ended up with a name in the squad but with very little contribution on the field. The net result being no rotation or rest for Gallas and Vermaelen and we can all see the consequences of that.
Similarly, in January Arsene signed Campbell. The big man has done really well and it’s hard to criticize the decision of signing him. Still, Le Boss himself said he didn’t expect Sol to play so many games. He also said Sol can’t play twice in three days. He did play against Tottenham and Wigan but that’s not the same as playing against Barcelona, is it? And who can say whether or not we conceded a couple of late goals because Sol was tired?
The point here is that signing Sol and no one else eventually ended up as a handicap. We were forced to risk Gallas against Barca. It’s impossible to measure the impact of the forced substitution and the goals we conceded due to Song’s mistakes in an unfamiliar role and his absence from a crucial position even though Denilson did a good job in that game.
Should we have signed a proper, fully fit, young Centre Back who could have played every game if necessary? Should we have signed Sol and another backup defensive midfielder? Looking back it’s easy to say we should have. It’s quite possible that Arsene tried but didn’t find the right player. Let’s not forget it’s not easy to step into a top Premier League team and perform from day one.
I think Arsene took a percentage call that Campbell will be used sparingly and we will get by without any serious problems. He might have based his assumption on medical opinions and objective analysis. As it turns out he got it wrong by a long way.
Essentially, it’s a question of whether you want to err on the side of caution and sign an extra player or whether you want to be cautious with the finances and not risk an overpriced signing who might not adapt to the league and perform as expected. Wenger chose financial prudence and we paid a heavy price for it in the Premiership and the Champions League. I think our finances have improved in the last few months with good news on the property front. Hopefully now, Arsene will not repeat the same mistake once again.