Judging by the mood on the internet and the response to my last post I guess not many are in the mood to discuss the positives from our season! Or maybe I did a bad job of it and didn’t generate enough interest. I’m hoping it’s the latter.
In the next few articles I’m going to talk about our weaknesses and problem areas. This series will be divided into five parts – Defence, Midfield, Attack, Tactics/Formation, and Support Staff. In this instalment the focus is on our defence, i.e. the keeper and the back four.
I don’t want to spend too much time on the keepers. They’ve been poor this season but not as bad as many believe. I’ve analysed some goals in detail to prove this – Birmingham, Blackburn – so I won’t spend any further energy in defending them because that’s not the purpose of this article. We need a new keeper simply because the confidence of the whole squad rests on that. The issue has snowballed and is now a big deal. Even if the new keeper is not technically superior to the ones that we have, just the fact that we’ve made a change will add some impetus to the side and the fans.
Throughout the season, I’ve been more concerned with our defensive organization and awareness. As long as these issues linger on we’ll struggle to have a Trophy winning defence no matter who we have in goal. Let’s take some examples.
Consider the home game against Chelsea. The first two goals we conceded were both from a simple yet effective cross from the left. Sagna was not in a position to block it, Gallas chose not to attack the ball, and Vermaelen left one and scored an OG from the other. You can watch United and Chelsea all season and not see such a stupid goal leave alone 2 in five minutes in a big game!
At home to United we conceded a couple of really stupid goals from counter attacks. There were many at fault but let’s just consider Denilson. He was jogging back as if everything was under control and there was no danger. Rooney made a blistering run behind him and if the Brazilian had been alert he could have intercepted the pass from Nani. Instead he was clueless and Rooney had a clear shot on goal.
Similarly, in another big game at Stamford Bridge, Clichy went AWOL from the post and Song was caught ball watching as Drogba snuck in at the back post. For the second goal, a simple dummy by the Ivorian took Clichy and Vermaelen out and he had a clear sight of goal from 12 yards!
I can go on and on but it’s useless. The point is that many of our top players have made big individual errors in important games. At times it’s been an error in positioning, on occasion it’s been poor awareness, sometimes they’ve panicked or had a lapse in concentration, and some are just painful bloopers.
This doesn’t make all of them bad players. It happens to other top players as well. The problem with Arsenal is that we’ve a general sense of discomfort in defence and if one guy makes a mistake the others don’t recover immediately.
The other problem we have defensively is on set-pieces. Too many of our players just don’t have the ability or physical attributes required to win the ball in the air. This has forced us into a tactic where we put 7-8 men in our own six yard box and hope that the bodies will block the goal. We put our big guys on the dangermen in the opposition and put two on the post. Bulk of the responsibility of dealing with the ball falls on the keeper and it’s difficult for him to attack the ball once we crowd the area. As we don’t have a single player outside our own box it also allows the opposition to push men forward and they are able to win any clearances and sustain some pressure.
Clichy, Denilson, Fabregas, Nasri, and Arshavin aren’t much use in such situations. At times we also have the likes of Eduardo and Rosicky in the mix who can’t really win too many headers defensively. Even Gallas doesn’t do much in terms of winning headers or clearing the ball.
Arsene has to find an answer to this situation or we will continue to struggle no matter who we sign in goal or central defence. Although I’m hoping that we can get a better defender than Gallas and at least that will give us one more strong body in the box. Campbell has certainly been a big addition in that sense.
Another problem with our defence has to do with our new formation. The full backs have been left exposed on a regular basis, especially on the left with very little help from Arshavin. I’ve no doubt that Clichy and Sagna are right up there with the best in the business but they’ve struggled with the balance. Either they’ve been five yards short when we’re going forward or they’ve been a little too advanced when we’ve been caught on a counter. Towards the end it did seem that we’ve improved on this and Arsene will have to put in some serious training effort to get this balance right. The full backs are very important to us in attack as well as in defence and we must get the best out of them.
It seems like I’ve mentioned a lot of problems and could easily give the impression that our defence is hopeless. There can be no denying that we do get such an impression at times when the team is under pressure but I genuinely feel these problems are all workable.
It’s a large number of small issues that come together to create the illusion of a massive problem. If we work on them individually in training there is good reason to believe that we can improve defensively. That doesn’t change the need for some reinforcements but it does tell us that simply buying won’t magically solve everything.
Apart from these issues I think our defenders need better support from the midfield and the wide players. I’ll discuss that in the coming articles.