Analysis Using Snapshots: One Defensive Problem Wenger Must Solve

Just before Shakhtar got the equalizer there was a period when they created a couple of clear cut chances. I want to look at these with snapshots to see the defensive mistakes Arsenal made.

In the first image the situation seems under control. The ball is near the touchline and Arsenal have enough numbers back. What is interesting to note is that no one closes in on the man on the ball and no one tries to read the run of the only Shakhtar player within five yards. Eboue, Walcott, Wilshere and Squillaci are all caught ball-watching.

The simplest of passes is played and now it’s a different player on the ball. At least this time Wilshere is trying to move towards him while Walcott and Eboue admire the small round thing! Again a simple pass is available to him to an unmarked team-mate in an attacking area.

The Shakhtar player makes the pass. Wilshere turns around to chase the ball. Eastmond gets sucked into a no man’s land. Squillaci is marking his man. No one is aware of the player on the touchline and a wide open channel is available for a through ball in behind.

The ball gets played through. Shakhtar are in behind without any effort or exceptional skill.

Think of how often a team as skilful as Arsenal tries to get in behind in this manner but fails. This happens because the opponents maintain their basic defensive shape and get the fundamentals of defending right. Arsenal, on the other hand, make it easy for the opponents.

When the player is about to cross, two of his team-mates have shrugged off their marker and taken up good attacking positions.

Once again, how often do we see our strikers closely marked in the box?  If almost all the smaller teams can do it, defending shouldn’t be that difficult. Why is it that opponents are unmarked in the Arsenal box so often?

In this case, the ball was cut back to the man free in the centre of the box but his shot was lame and hit Djourou. Arsenal got a lucky break but didn’t learn the lesson.

Eboue gets attracted to the loose ball and others are all caught ball-watching again. The man on the right side (left of the image) is free and two attackers are completely unmarked.

The cross comes in under no pressure and the attacker is unmarked on the six yard line. He got a free header but could only hit the post.

All this took about 10-11 seconds from the time the man got on the ball on the right touchline. Shakhtar didn’t have to come up with anything special in terms of passing, dribbling, or finishing. In fact, their finishing was poor and Arsenal got off the hook.

The simple question is – why do we make it so easy for the opposition?

This is not a one-off, it happens in many of our games. Opposition players in England and Europe are able to get in behind far too easily. It’s also not limited to the personnel in this game, although one could say Song, Sagna, and Nasri on the right would have done much better. Nonetheless, we have seen these kind of situations even when a near full strength side is playing. And since this problem is not limited to one or two players, selling or buying one or two will not really solve it.

Of course, in many games Arsenal dominate the ball so well that the opposition isn’t able to get this many men forward. But away from home, and when we have some injury problems, these issues get exacerbated. In order to get results in difficult games, especially with a weakened side, we need a solid defence. Unfortunately, we end up making more defensive mistakes in such games.

To me this is a matter of defensive training. If players train often enough they will have the instincts (concentration, awareness, composure) to deal with such situations. If not, we rely on luck and mistakes by the opposition. Le Boss has to look at his defensive drills and improve and/or increase them.

This is not about changing the style of play either. Arsenal can still be a positive, entertaining side true to the principles of the beautiful game but that should be abetted by a fundamentally strong defensive foundation.

With the new central defenders our first choice defence is undoubtedly stronger but we’re not quite there yet. I hope Wenger is working on this.

42 Responses to Analysis Using Snapshots: One Defensive Problem Wenger Must Solve

  1. Kofi says:

    I also think Wilshere’s positioning in most part of the game were suspect. Committing fouls in sensitive areas

  2. Jim says:

    Is there any defence coach? I’m scratching my head to think of one. The last I know was Martin Keown 5 years back.

    • Ole Gunner says:

      The defensive coach thing is silly. Our coaching crew consists of defenders entirely; Wenger was a centre back. Pat Rice was a full back. Boro Primorac was a centre back. Steve Bould was a centre back. Neil banfield was a centre back.

      • desigunner says:

        We have plenty of defenders in the coaching staff but I’m not sure we have the system right. We’ve had defensive problems ever since the change of formation and it could be that the people we have haven’t really perfected this. Outside help could be beneficial.

  3. Arsha says:

    Complacency. Our players are not nearly enough drilled on their off the ball work. It stems from Wenger.

    Allied with this is the casual attitude towards defending to begin with seemingly related to our style of play…the players think they need not bother to defend as its “not part of the way the team play”

    Our atrocious off the ball work is largely why we’ve won jack for the last 5 years. Excruciatingly frustrating watching the same mistakes over and over and over again.

    • Furovich says:

      To somehow try and pin the blame on Wenger saying, “Our players are not nearly enough drilled on their off the ball work” is ridiculous (I’m assuming you have no involvement in Arsenal training sessions). Also, when Wenger’s sides of the past have been renowned for their defensive stability (Champions League record for longest time without conceding a goal). It seems pretty likely Wenger knows how to conduct a few basic training drills.

      • Theo says:

        It is actually known that Le Prof doesn’t do defensive drills. Martin Keown was in charge of defence when we kept 10 clean sheets in that amazing Champions League run.

        Wenger does not believe in teaching defensive drills, even in our best years without a defensive coach, we still conceded an average of 22 goals a season. We aren’t even drilled on set pieces, that’s why we continually concede soft goals.

        Our problem isn’t really a world quality center back, we just have no clue how to defend as a unit.

      • Furovich says:

        I find it hard to believe that any club, let alone a one of Europe’s best doesn’t do defensive drills. If you can show me some evidence of players or current coaching staff saying that then post it up. You also make it sound like 22 goals a season is a lot of goals. 22 a season is an incredibly good defensive record.

      • Ole Gunner says:

        No such thing is known Theo. That’s complete nonsense.

        Also, Martin Keown has never coached tha Arsenal first team. That’s nonsense.

        Arsene let him come in and work with the reserves when he was getting his coaching badges.

        I won’t say that him being around didn’t help, as his advice and presence must have had an influence.

        But it is not true that he has ever been defensive coach for the Arsenal first team.

    • desigunner says:

      I agree defence has been a big weakness but it’s not that cut and dried.

      I would say we need to do better defensively and one of the ways is to improve the defensive training in terms of quality and/or quantity, which is the point I’m trying to make in this post.

      But I would not say we are hopeless or useless or that Wenger doesn’t know anything about defence. That is a bit extreme.

  4. Furovich says:

    At this level, I don’t think an increase in defensive drills is likely to solve any defensive problems. The mistakes are obvious and the players know what is expected of them. It’s an issue of mentality and concentration that the players(along with the training they’ve had over their whole careers) will ultimately have to solve themselves.

    Arsenal has in the past, and in many ways (such as the reserves in the Shakhtar game) still has today, a very young squad. But as Wenger has said, the time for excuses of lack of maturity is over. The Arsenal first team have now all had ample training and experience and know what is expected of them. It is now their responsibility to deliver winning performances.

    • desigunner says:

      If we discard the importance of training and drills what we’re saying is that it’s the players who are either good or bad. And if they make the mistakes as often as we have seen in the last few years that directly leads to the theory that half our players are useless and we should sell them and buy new ones (which is completely wrong IMO).

      To me repetitive training is very important to create the mentality and concentration. It doesn’t come by saying to a player “you must concentrate better”. It comes from doing drills that improve concentration.

      • Furovich says:

        I’m not saying Arsenal should disregad coachinging drills, I’m sayin that once they players have done the drills, the responsibility ulimately on is them.

        My other point is that Wenger as well as the lyers are almost certainly fully aware of defensive frailties and has already got the squad dointhat ing repetitive drills. Thats why I dont think increasing drills is really going to be much use. Obviously it helps but only to a point. if increasing drills improved defenders concentration, Titus Bramble and Sylvain Distin coulb be the best defenders in the world. You can’t always teach the composure that the likes of Vidic or any other world class defenders possess.

  5. guns says:

    nice post. it always about the marking and put the pressure to the opponents. they not doing it well enough. i think the most important thing is arsene please get the world class defensive coach not only world class defenders. hope that arsene read this blog.

  6. Hong-gunner says:

    Eastmond is not ready for this level yet. I was impressed with his reserves outings, but not yet. Shakhtar’s stadium is awesome.

  7. GF60 says:

    Nice analysis Desi. Unfortunately wasted on the likes of us. Don’t you have a link to somebody that can do something about it? Go do it!

    • desigunner says:

      I’m sure Wenger knows these problems. He can’t be at the level he is without having an eye for such things.

      The issue perhaps is in his approach to solving this problem and trust me that’s the real complex part and something I’m not qualified to comment on. Obviously, we can say we should get better coaches or better drills but we don’t know what efforts have gone in and these issues can be really tricky.

  8. Daniel G says:

    yes there have been some major improvements from last season arsenal, but still there are some more adjustments that need to be made.Like Goalkeeper problems.I dont know how Wenger cant see that Fabiansky is just not that good enuf for a club like Arsenal.I dont understand why he cant let a goal keeper with a good performance play?rather that giving them the chance to play just because they have been waiting in line for a long time.that is just stupid…..or ignorant of the fans feeling and thirst for silverware.

    • Kofi says:

      Van Da Sar not good for Manu, Cech not good for Chelski, Gomes not good for Spurs. Just becos of a few mistakes in the past or present does not make one useless. Maybe fans like you not good for Arsenal. I am not saying we dont need good players but rate players based on the positives and negatives

  9. Metalhead says:

    Same old story. We’ve been ranting for years that Arsenal’s defense needs some work. But it keeps falling on deaf ears. Doesn’t Wenger use video technology to assess the team’s performance? This is not the first time that Arsenal players are guilty of not getting their basics right. Or are players just taking things for granted? The other day I was watching highlights of Arsenal v Blackburn and believe you me that was one of the finest defensive displays you’ll ever see by any team. How they thwarted the aerial bombardment launched at them by the Blackburn players was something to marvel about. Then again when you witness a performance like this and you’re totally left bewildered!!:(

    • Kofi says:

      i would like to point out that Arsenal has keep clean sheets with Denilson playing in the middle as opposed to Wilshere. Denilson defends higher and commits fewer unnecessary fouls as opposed to wilshere who needs to work on his tackling to improve his play. He is good but his launching of studs in very sensitive areas need to be looked at. Eboue seems to lack fitness. Maybe lack of playing time or he is older than his advertised age

    • desigunner says:

      I have a feeling it happens when we make too many changes to the team and the opposition has some quality. Somehow the balance is affected and then we see some chain reactions of mistakes.

  10. critic says:

    no,no,no… desi, that’s the mentality of jose mourinhio, ur so called darklord, arsene wenger, our warrior of light doesn’t and shouldn’t focus on defense that much and should always try to outscore teams, entertain as we are known for..

    anyways who cares for a trophy? we love entertainment more and proud of the identity that wenger has given to this club.(serious)

    • metalhead says:

      You’re cruising for a bruising my friend!!!

    • desigunner says:

      I think the first part of your comment is again a black or white way of looking at the things. Something I’ve been against since the start.

      The second part is partly true. We’re proud of the identity of the club but it can co-exist with success and we should discuss/explore ways of achieving that.

  11. Steven says:

    @Critic, excuse me, do you mind? Should yr obsession with the wengerball be balanced with trophies? Like it or not, until we win the CL, we’ll always be a second rate team in Europe.To beat the best the Europe, we must have a better defence.What we failed to do against Barca in 2006 and last CL, Jose did;respect that because if you cant beat Barca in their style of play, common sense means you find something different, that works, to contrast and frustrate it. We were a man down against in 2006 and lost, the Loquacious One was a man down (Thiago Mota)against them but won. Oh for the day that Wenger will add some guile and ‘dark-side’ to his team setup; we criticize Jose for it but he has the trophies and we, well, are still waaaaaiiiiting for a sniff! The rigid structured team (Chelsea) he built are still our nemesis three years after he left; its the same ‘steel’ that Jack(our current obsession) admires in Vieira and wants to add to his game. That defensive ability that has seen Chelsea score loads of goals in 10 games and concede 3 goals! When we fail to learn from even our staunchest rivals, what they are doing right, we end up also-rans. The last step,I dare say, to take before we can dominate Europe as Wenger has predicted, is to learn the rigid, seeming boring and focused regiment of defending like ‘forever’.When we get that right, we start winning trophies again;we fail the empty-trophy cabinet years wont end anytime soon!

  12. Ole Gunner says:

    I noticed this situation you illustrated here while watching the game. The camera zoomed into Arsene’s face and you could see he was livid.

    This had nothing to do with drills or anything like that. Players at this level know better than they demonstrated.

    The lack of pressure in a situation where we had 4 men squeezing 3 men out on our right flank, led to 2 clear chances being created. Drill all you want, but if the players don’t do the basics it’s all to no end.

    Eduardo’s goal was blamed on Clichy, but if you watch the sequence again, you’ll see that at the time the ball is pumped upfield by the Shakhtar defender, there were 4 Shakhtar players to our 3. Clichy did well to win the ball, and undid his good work by not slamming the ball into the opponent for a throw-in.

    But despite the error, the main cause of that goal is that Wilshere, Eastmond, Rosicky all went missing.

    They had gone upfield to press, but as soon as that ball was played, they had to have been sprinting back into position.

    As it was, Eduardo was left alone unmarked 12 yards from our goal. That’s not acceptable.

    • desigunner says:

      I’m not for one moment trying to pretend that I can see this problem but Wenger can’t. Obviusly, Arsene knows.

      The point is, this has happened far too often for it to be put down to “players at this level knowing better”. Because that directly leads to the argument that the players are no good as this happens far too often for our liking.

      To me the issue is somewhere in between and more drills focused on defence and concetration will surely help.

      I saw the Clichy mistake and agree with your take, Arsenal were outnumbered on a long ball. I didn’t bring that up because many would just have left abusive comments about Clichy and I didn’t want to get into that. I did mention about the midfielders missing and Eduardo free in the match report.

  13. offsi isutsa says:

    we lacked our dm,song,denilson and eboue was useless.he put squillaci and djourou under much preasure fullstop.

  14. Oceania says:

    Good analysis. I wonder about your casual dismissal of the importance of the team selection as both Eboue and Walcott had not played together at all this season?

    • desigunner says:

      I agree team selection makes a difference. But we’ve seen similar mistakes for say the Blackburn goal, or the goal by Drogba when it was too easy for the opponents to get in behind.

      I agree this team was relatively weaker and more likely to make mistakes but we do have general defensive issues that still needs some work.

  15. Ruby044 says:

    We still haven’t learnt from the Barcelona tie last year. You have to work off the ball as a unit. It’s not simply a case of closing down the call carrier quickly, it’s limiting his options and the positions he and his teammates may take. I think they’re trying effortwise, but not consistently or intelligently enough

    • desigunner says:

      Good point about consistency and intelligence in defending. All players have to read the game defensively and should be ready to predict the pass rather than react to it.

  16. Zama says:

    Happy Diwali DesiG!!!
    The game itself evoked mixed feelings for me. In our November run this is the only game I don’t mind us losing. But now it definitely makes the away game at Braga very very important. But had the players on the pitch been a bit more assured we could have come back with atleast a point.

    • desigunner says:

      Happy Diwali Zamaji!

      That’s true. We’ve put pressure on ourselves for the upcoming games in the CL. Now we have to hope our players can stay fit during this hectic period.

  17. B.F.G. says:

    Desi , what do you think about this quote?
    “Sometimes it can be easy defending against Arsenal, which is a strange thing to say because they do pop the ball around you, pass it better than anybody, but as a defending team you can set your stall out on the edge of the box if you don’t leave gaps and pick up the runners, they can stall.“ So true , isnt it ? We see it so often with Barca and Spain as well.Spain only scored 8 goals in the WC.It is not effective and usually works only against poor opposition.I know Spain won but they got lucky with Robben`s shockings misses, portugal`s misses and Paraguay`s misses and they had top top quality players to manage to pull it off.Barca won the champions league thanks to the referee at Stamford Bridge.What I want to say is I want direct football not tiki-taka.Wenger should start playing the same style that we had with Viera,Henry and co.Slow build-up play tiki taka is really boring? Dont u agree ? Borusia Dortmund(this season), Real Madrid (last season and this season) and the Chilean national team represent what football should be all about for me.When I think of direct football ,Angel di Maria always comes to my mind. I dont know why.He is a joy to watch, isnt he ? Theo Walcott is of course that kind of player and hopefully Wellington da Silva.
    I love Wenger and what he is doing with the club so dont get me wrong.

    • desigunner says:

      I believe defending in general is easier than attacking, that is the nature of the game.

      Chelsea for all their direct game couldn’t score against Inter Milan when they had to. In fact, they have been struggling to win the Champions League despite having the likes of Mourinho and others in charge and all kinds of top players and tactical systems.

      Point is, when a team defends well it can be difficult to score. Add to it the fact that our top players have been injured far too often, and it gets tougher.

      Last year Walcott and Nasri were injured at the beginning, just see how well they’ve done this year. Similarly, last year Cesc and Van Persie had a great start but they are missing now. It’s not easy when these things happen in such numbers.

      I don’t like the comparison with the Vieira, Henry, etc team because that team really struggled in Europe and the Premier League was much easier in their day. So the context for comparison is unfair and unbalanced.

  18. JP says:

    We turn off (concentration) and do not defend with the intensity and close marking that we need to on occasion. Part of it is arrogance as skillful players often feel they don’t need to mark closely as they can make up the distance. We need to be tighter marking when we don’t have the ball and that starts by picking up a man closely. Not five yards off him, Not 3 yards off him, tight marking when we transition to defence. Attack the man with the ball and cut off the passing lanes thus limiting passing options. It means hard work. Sometimes we are up for it, but we need to be up for it EVERY game EVERY minute in order to be champions. Otherwise we will be talking about the same mistakes that we have been for the last couple of years.

  19. 7masters says:

    If Wenger was aware of Arsenal shortcomings we would done something last few years. Problem is players are not learning from their mistakes why?

    The back room staff are full of hangers on instead of someone who could challenge Wenger or give him ideas on tactics etc. One thing that is very irritating about Wenger nowadays it seem to be all out attacking football without solid defensive foundations, What the points when you can score if you cannot keep clean sheet?

    Sometimes the team go out in big games without proper tactics to deal with opponents threats etc Chelsea, Who have used same template in every game last two years with success. If Arsenal came with proper game plan we have cleaned them inside out in every game we meet them and that would happen if we progress in big cups like Champion League, FA Cup to name few. Wenger should push Pat Rice down to reserve or Ladies team and get someone experienced who would eventually take over from him. He need to delegate more responsibilities in team affairs to others so when he focus on his strength which is to develop players. He is the only coach who has turned players into superstars but nowadays it harder as he seem to be doing to many jobs at the same time. I think our genius is over worked and need to delegate more like Fergie, Plus who can argue with Fergie record? none he is winner without doubt but very expensive as well to boot.

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