2009-10 Season Review: Problems & Weaknesses In Defence

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.

20 Responses to 2009-10 Season Review: Problems & Weaknesses In Defence

  1. Vermaelen says:

    I think the reason not many people replied is because it’s the end of the season, I know I haven’t even opened NewsNow since the Tottenham game when it was clear we wouldn’t win the title. Throughout the off season I would certainly follow 2 blogs only, yours included. I want to congratulate you on what a fantastic job you have been doing throughout the year. Your analyst and detail has been second to none.

    Now on to the article, or so I say the previous one. Quote: “I think Ramsey, Wilshere, Eastmond, and Gibbs have developed really well.”
    While I certainly agree with all the others, especially Ramsey, whom I thought was much better than Denilson and the Diaby we saw in the last few games; I do not agree on Gibbs. Gibbs has not played many games due to injury, most of his development is still based on the previous season and therefore cannot be said to have improved THIS season.

    With regards to this article, one position that I think many has overlooked is right-back. While we do have Sagna and Eboue, I see Eboue as more of an attacking front right than a right back. I have doubts about his defensive awareness. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a fantastic player, but he sometimes switches off. I have certainly seen a goal where the other 3 back-4 stepped up with Eboue playing the stiker onside by about a metre. Also, we do not have enough depth in this department. I believe we had to play Conquelin, a DM, at right back in one of the games, which I have to say, was a disaster right from the start. While it might not be a problem, I expect it will be pretty soon, especially with the number of injures we have had, and it’s worrying we don’t have anyone to step up to this position in the production line.

    • desigunner says:

      Gibbs hasn’t played much this year, that’s very true. I guess I have an impression of Gibbs in my mind that says he’s been good. Perhaps, it’s been formed over the last few years but he certainly looked convincing in the few games he played this year, even in Europe.

      Eboue was a brilliant right back but I think he’s lost some defensive focus after playing in an advanced role on a regular basis. I think we played Coquelin because there were a number of injuries. It was the Stoke FA cup game if I’m not mistaken. Didn’t Djourou play right back for Birmingham when he went there on loan?

  2. cescfiberglass says:

    One question…. When everyone says defensive weakness. They surely can not JUST MEAN our center backs.

    GOALTENDING was also a BIG part of those 40 some goals we let in. Gallas and Vermaelaan are a crazy tandem.

    BUT poor goaltending has definitely cost us MORE than 10 goals. Not necessarily DIRECTLY,but indirectly- such as poor clearances, mis handles, no command etc.

    People are just saying defense is the number one issue. Its a Combination of Defense AND Goaltending.

    We definitely need a World Class keeper, and one more solid CB.

    We will have DJ and Campbell as backup, but mostly DJ. Campbell can play every 5 games if needed, or in carling/FA cups.

    Gallas give him 1 more year at his 80,000k he wants, and then you don’t have to worry about signing a new CB. DJ will provide good challenge.

    But a goaltender is a must.

    And I also like YAYA Toure rumors. (cesc, YaYA and Song in the mid………unstoppable!)

    • Phil23 says:

      Stop copy and pasting your sh*t comments and change your name your not funny.

    • desigunner says:

      I don’t think anyone on this blog has ever blamed only the center backs. Keepers haven’t done well and even the full backs and midfield have made mistakes. If you read the article again you’ll see a mention of almost everyone!

  3. Chris66 says:

    I agree that in addition to needing new players we need new defensive discipline. It is a false choice between attack and defense as the team who scored the most this seasons also had one of the best defenses, and that was Chelsea. You can do both well as our best teams have done in the past.

    There seems to be a lack of commitment to it within the club. A few years ago when we went to the Champs league final our defense was one of the most miserly in Europe even with Senderos and Flamini in it! What they had was a commitment to actually defending as a team both from set pieces and open play. The big difference was the presence of Keown to actually coach them how to do this as it clearly isn’t Wengers strength. The greatest travesty is that he wasn’t retained or replaced, as it now seems that Pat Rice does a lot of this and plainly it isn’t working.

    The other issue is if having too many players paying out of position. Over recent years Wenger seems to have gone for the hybrid player who is some combination of midfielder/winger/forward. The trouble is that none of them really are that and all really want to play the classic number 10 role that was Bergkamp’s for so long. Nobody ever really relied upon Denis for defense (although he was good for the occasional nasty kick). Nasri, Rosicky, Hleb, Arshavin and to a certain extent Walcott and even Diaby all would prefer to be playing closer to the front than the back. None of them has the necessary instinct or discipline to consistently follow their runners back in the way that true midfielders like Gilberto, Freddie, Parlour, Vieira and Petit did. As a result we get overloaded and exposed and perfectly good defenders (which is pretty much all of our guys except for Sylvestre) suddenly look crap.

    Some of you may remember that some years ago Tony Adams had a team “come to Jesus” meeting in the Autumn of 1997 with Petit, Vieira and Grimandi to basically tell them they had to protect the defense better as we had had a terrible run of results. They changed and we were superb for the rest of the season. Now, even if we did have a Tony Adams character to do that who, other than Song, would he call upon.

    To many “not good enough to replace Bergkamp” midgets being played as identikit midfielders and not enough specialists. You can have a few players who are not “water carriers” (Pires is the best example) but we need a better balance. Hopefully this will change now but I am not holding my breath.

    • desigunner says:

      You’ve made some very valid points and I’ll be covering these when I discuss the midfield and the attack.

      We certainly need a better contribution from the people in front and the new formation makes it even more complicated.

  4. dilshan says:

    the problem for me is simply highlighted by an interview Clichy gave on arsenal tv when we were playing well has the answer to most of our problem. I think it was after the blackburn 6-2 and when asked about conceding goals he said that since we are capable of scoring he is not WORRIED ..for me that is the simple problem ..to start the season off with they got into that mentality and once it got tough it was hard to change it and they seemed lost and confused ….this team more than anything else needs attitude and character

    • desigunner says:

      We need 11 players on the pitch who all hate to concede a goal just as much as they love to score one. I think that makes a big difference and in recent years we’ve missed out on that feeling.

  5. amel says:

    I think arsenal is unbalanced team. its to much attack minded. With two attacking full backs we have only 2 defenders and a DMF for the defense and the rest go on the attack. That leaves our goal and the defense too much exposed (+ bad goalkeeper). I think that in some away games and matches against manutd, chelsea we must play with a three defenders and one full back:
    Gallas-Campbell-Vermaelen-Clichy(off) just like others teams do: barca:
    Ivanovic (deff)-Terry-Carvalho-Cole (off).
    Barca pleyed every big match with Puyol as RB(all CL finals!!) Pique(Marques)-Milito(Abidal)CD and ALvesLB(off).

    I think that our team need GK and Hart would be the best choice(excellent+english), 1 or 2 towering centre backs(Kjaer+ Cahill maybe),and deffensive midfielder (Melo or Inler)

    we should bring back Martin Keown as deffensive coach.

    team should leave: Gallas, Sivestre, Eduardo, Denilson, Almunia

    • Phil23 says:

      The problem with Sagna playing offensively is he is sh*t at it so really all he is doing is leaving a hole in the defense with causing the other team defensive trouble. I agree that it is too attack minded. I just think that our defensive players should be in different positions. We need at least one of our center backs to be truly defensive, we need two defensive mids, and we need a keeper that is good at stopping the ball going in the net.

    • desigunner says:

      Somewhere in the middle of the season we did start playing the way you’ve mentioned i.e. one full back stayed deep while the other went forward.

      This issue is more complex because it also depends on the tactics of the other team, the speed with which we move the ball, the quality of our attack because if we pin the opponents back then we don’t need too many players in defence and even a center back can come forward. In general, these are dynamic issues and players have to take decisions in the moment. Sometimes they get it wrong and we need to reduce that. On other occasions they make silly and fundamental mistakes and we have to avoid that as well.

  6. meliboy says:

    hi. today cana had an intwerview in Prishtina and he said something about going to Arsenal this sommer i hope its true and isnt just an bad joke … he could bring some much steel and egressivety in our team …..welll i do think that wee need more powerhousen in our team just like yaya and melo we are just to soft to easy to brush aside……….. plz switch back to 4 4 2 thank u

  7. Phil23 says:

    As I’ve discussed with Desi earlier, I think one of the biggest problems with our defense is Diaby and Denilson. They are both average defenders at best. Diaby could be really good but his mentality is really starting to get to me. Vermaelen (The commenter not the legend himself) brings up a good point with our right back but my problem is that Sagna offers little to no threat when he has the ball. Think about it, if Sagna has the ball in an advanced position do you even bother to hope he might try to beat his man? Do you bother to hope he might play a clever pass to an on rushing player? Well not even the players do and they have pretty much stopped making runs. What you do get is a cross that hits its target maybe once every two games. You might get a short pass to the winger who has a crossing percentage thats rivals his. Our right flank has been just as bad as our defense this year. Its honestly been terrible. I hope that Bendtner or Chamakh get more time out on the right wing this year. Walcott should definitely get some time out there as well but you can’t help that think he is a better impact player. I am confident that Arsene will sign the right defender. He probably wont sign much needed backup for Vermaelen but who knows he might surprise me. I think the confidence in the defense that you and a couple of other posters here refer to come from lack of protection. This is lack of protection from the midfield, and lack of protection from the keeper. A good keeper will be shouting instructions continuously to the defense, barracking them when they are out of position and just generally giving out instructions. This is vital to a good defense and has a huge role on effect which I will come to soon. The problem is that Almunia (and the others) doesn’t make these calls enough. The players also would find it hard to listen to a player who is flimsy and costing a silly goal at least once a month. In turn, if you were Almunia would you feel like you had the right to boss around the defense when your not even capable of dominating your own position? Anyway, the lack of communication causes a lack of confidence in the defensive line and therefore the two central defenders get the job of organizing themselves, their full backs and the midfielders in front of them in defense. Whats worse is that the only person who is normally remotely close to the defense is Song. So this one player has the job of slowing down a breaking attack. This is a lot harder then it sounds and if the breaking team has just two players running at Song they can simply pass the ball around him. The difference between having one and two defensive midfielders in the way is huge. Lets say Vermaelen was converted into a defensive mid, or we signed a left footed defensive midfielder with solid distribution, great heading ability, pace, steel, defensive nous, heart and last but not least great tackling ability. So that I can relentlessly prove my point, lets call this player… Vermaelen (haha). Now, if Vermaelen and Song are in front of the back four, they can cover the entire area in front of the back four. Vermaelen is very comfortable covering for the left full back and as we have seen this season, Song is very comfortable covering for the right fullback. If the opponent breaks down either wing, they simply slide over to that wing with the other ending up pretty much in the middle of the pitch which gives them plenty of time to pick up a threatening runner (such as Rooney or Park in THAT United game) Another really good bonus is that either player can cover for either of the full backs when they go forward while the other can still cover for the midfield.

    • desigunner says:

      Did you see the pass from Sagna that sent Walcott through for the Van Persie Goal against Fulham? And that was with his left foot! I think Sagna has immense talent and so does Clichy but both of them have been carrying an extra burden of defending without support which makes their attacking play a little unsure and inhibited. This reduces the speed with which they can move forward and also the impact they can have because once the movement is slower the opposition gets time to close them down.

      In theory what you say about two DM’s is interesting but I doubt if a game ever actually works out that way. When we are pushing forward, and that would be the case when we discuss a full back going forward, then we don’t need too many people at the back. Most of the times when we have been caught out, we haven’t been out numbered. No one has tracked the runner and that’s a fundamental problem that needs to be addressed and it’s not just down to the DM. And I don’t know too many DM’s who cover for full backs anyway. It’s the job of the central defender to cover for the full back and if necessary the DM can drop into the middle. If the DM has to cover for the full back what’s the advantage of sending one man on a forward run while another is sitting behind covering for him? It would also leave a bigger hole in the middle.

      In the ends it’s about maintaining a fluid attacking shape that is flexible enough to allow various attacking options but also tight enough to close down any threats. It’s very difficult to define each player’s exact role unless you want to be like the Dark Lord and not get out of your defensive third for the whole game!

  8. Phil23 says:

    So anyway I realized that post was super long and i’ll get to my point now. The Center backs aren’t really a problem to me. I think the main problems are the second defensive mid, and the keeper, who put way too much pressure on the defense and make them look like fools. Saying this, we definitely need to sign new Center backs because otherwise we will end up with Sol playing every week and players playing out of position everywhere as usual. Btw, if Wenger could find a player that fits into defensive mid that has all those attributes I don’t care if Vermaelen stays where he is. He is a good defender but I think it would be easier to find another good defender than a midfielder with all those attributes. I’m pretty much certain that if we fixed the defense by fixing those problems we would also be much more fluid in attack, as the attacking players are allowed to stay forward but their job on defense is to pressure the ball properly. In fact whenever Barca have played two truly defensive midfielders in Toure and Busquets, they have done very well. Arsenal could do much better though. Another piece of the puzzle to me, is to (sadly) say goodbye to Sagna and find a right back who is good in attack as well as defense. (Eboue doesn’t fill the latter requirement)

    • dan says:

      Phil23, aside from your comments regarding cescisfiberglass, whose remarks are consistently insightful(though i disagree regarding djourou), you make some decent albeit belated observations. For years we’ve been poor defensively. The mindset of the entire team is not sufficiently defensive. Any team that thinks it can win through offense alone isn’t going to win anything, it has to be able to close up the back and grind games out when needed, this Arsenal squad cannot do that to the level required to win something and it’s long been known. Note that we are talking about winning things, but if your ambition is limited to top four maybe a better defense is not needed(maybe).

    • Vermaelen says:

      I completely agree, while Sagna is fantastic defensively and Eboue offensively, we need someone how fits both roles. It is very worrying there’s a lack of cover in the right-back position. I have no idea if Djourou played there on-loan or not, but what we really require is a natural who can play every week. While we can play Sagna in tougher games and Eboue in easier games, we would be at a disadvantage every time when we play one or the other. While I have certainly seen Sagna play one or two fantastic cross, he does not do it consistently enough and we need a better return especially we have been attacking mostly from the right recently (with Walcott in the team).

      I think we have been lucky we didn’t have any injuries at right-back this season, if you think about it, every other position has had 2 injures/missings at the same time (RB-Clichy,Gibbs, CB-Verm, Gallas, Djourou, Senderos, MF-Fab, Ramsey, Song, etc)

  9. gtr gooner says:

    well desi i do agree with you that the most important thing we require is strong defensive organisation and that cant be corrected just by signings.i think you must have noted by AW comments that he is really eager to correct this. this really makes me feel good hoping aw is working on our weaknesses.anyways, to add on, in current formation we need a midfielder who is very much balanced keeping both defense and attack in mind. i think diaby is great keeping attack in mind, but he lacks defensive instincts.

  10. […] it might be a good idea to read what I wrote while analyzing the problems and weaknesses in defence at the end of last season. A quick glance told me that I could just copy paste some parts of that article and it will still […]

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