These days most fans just talk about defensive reinforcements in the form of a Centre Back and a Goalkeeper. Some also add a DM to that list. Judging by what Arsene has been saying and the rumours doing the rounds it seems fair to say that for once Arsene agrees with the fans and is working towards these signings.
I’ve maintained all along that we will certainly improve as a squad if we get a good keeper and a quality central defender who can double up in defensive midfield. But regulars know that more than the signings I’ve always talked about the system, training, and collective defending.
I tend to believe that we defend well when we can play our football. Once we can keep the ball on the ground the opposition’s chances are automatically limited. On top of that if our attack is doing well on a given day, we push the opponents so far back that they can only rely on counters or hope for freak goals.
Of course, on occasions we do gift goals even in such games but by and large the result is in our favour.
The contrast seems to be equally true but I’m not spending any time in working on the statistics for now. When we struggle to get our game flowing the opposition tends to trouble us more and our defence is under a lot more pressure. Obviously, with attacking minded full backs and ball playing central defenders there is always a chance of a mistake. When we are constantly under pressure, these chances multiply.
It’s not surprising then that there have been many games in the recent past when we’ve conceded 2 or 3 goals in a short space of time. Normally, the blame falls on the guy whose mistake seems most obvious. The keepers, Denilson, and Clichy have been favourites in this regard.
I’ve almost always disagreed with this approach of heaping the blame on one or two individuals for a collective failure. In the past I’ve showed, I believe conclusively (Birmingham Goal Analysis, Blackburn Goals Analysis), that there were at least four or five mistakes for each goal.
There have also been many generalized criticisms of Wenger and Arsenal over the last few years. Usually, I try to debunk them with detail oriented analysis but there is one that I consider valid.
At times, Arsenal lack a leader on the pitch.
It’s not always. When we have our first team playing or even if we have one or two missing we tend to do well. We miss a leader when some key players go missing all at once. Unfortunately, this has has been a frequent phenomena in the last two seasons.
I think the leaders role on the pitch cannot be performed by a keeper or a striker. They are at two ends of the pitch and aren’t involved with the play all the time. The way these players read the game is also completely different. I’d say a central midfielder is the best leader and Fabregas did an excellent job whenever he was on the pitch last year. He wasn’t very vocal but he lead by example and his talent allowed him to control the game in most cases.
We missed him towards the end and it is quite possible that we will miss him at the start of this season, although it might be only for a game. To be pragmatic, we must be prepared to lose him for a few weeks in the season simply because he is constantly under attack.
All this has led me to believe that we need another leader on the pitch. I don’t think it would be fair to put this mantle on Song, Nasri or Diaby as they are still relatively young. Van Persie could do it but he is normally at one end. Arshavin doesn’t seem to have the personality to pull people along. Considering these factors I feel the best person for this job would be Vermaelen.
The Belgian has the experience of being a captain at the highest level. His workrate is fantastic and his commitment has never been questioned. Moreover, he seems to have that hard, no nonsense personality that can be so important when one has to take charge of things.
I’m really hoping Arsene and his staff will realise that they need to encourage Vermaelen as an on field leader. Some players have a natural aura about them and they become leaders without any effort. I’m not sure the Belgian is in that category but that doesn’t mean that he can’t do the job. Sometimes you just have to flick the switch on for someone to shine. It’s time Arsene does that.
I can see the youngsters listening to the Belgian. I can see him forcing the team into shape, controlling the style of play, and dictating the tempo when the going gets tough. He can definitely use all the help he gets from others but he will have to stand tall and strong.
I realize that this is an abstract discussion and connecting such a topic to points gained on the pitch is not easy. I’d say it’ll more about points not lost. In other words, Vermaelen can help us save 8-10 points if he takes charge at the right moments. I’m confident he can do it but it’s up to the player and his manager to prove me right.