In his post match comments after the defeat-like draw against Wigan Arsene talked about the lack of communication at the back.
We need to communicate much better. That’s something we need to rectify.
Nobody is taking charge on the organisation side, there is no voice when the focus drops a little bit.
You don’t feel that anybody takes charge on alertness and we need to communicate much better than that.
To those who follow Arsenal closely on the internet and the media these comments will not be hard to understand but they do come as a surprise as Arsene doesn’t always acknowledge the teams failings openly.
I’ve been talking about defensive organization and awareness for a long time now but to be honest I can’t see a simple or straightforward solution. It’s certainly not as easy as buying a new central defender or goalkeeper. Completely revamping the back five and adding another DM might be one approach but I’m not sure even Sheikh Mansour or Roman Abramovic will call it a simple solution.
If we just consider the second goal by Wigan, I find it hard to see how communication would have made any difference. Who should have said what to whom? Bearing in mind that the time these players have in such situations is in milliseconds, it’s really hard to see what exactly was missing in terms of communication.
One might say there could have been better organization before the set-piece was taken. Having seen a few replays I thought Arsenal had enough players marking the Wigan attackers and there were players like Eboue and Chamakh marking critical areas like the near post and the central area on the six yard line.
The problem was Sagna could not win the header against Rodallega. This is something we cannot really blame the Frenchman for as he doesn’t have the height to challenge for such a ball. Squillaci was made to run around by Caldwell and couldn’t really get into the right position. It would be easy to blame him but I don’t recall too many central defenders clearing such a ball when they’ve been running to mark their man. In either case could anyone have said something that would have made a difference?
The only answer I got was that someone could have asked Chamakh to move on to the line when the corner went to the back post. But was there enough time for someone to say this and for Chamakh to listen, process, and act on it? Should he not have known that he should drop back to cover that space given that Squillaci first went to the near post with Caldwell and then had to turn around without really knowing where the ball was? On the whole, doesn’t it look like something that should have been worked out in the training ground?
More than his comments about communication, one line by Arsene really struck me as odd. I don’t recall the exact quote but Le Boss said something like we should not have conceded the corner!
The corner came when Koscielny cleared a ball that was headed towards Rodallega. I don’t see how the corner could have been avoided. Perhaps Arsene was suggesting that Koscielny should have knocked it back in play somewhere?!
All through last season I noticed and commented on a number of incidents where Arsenal conceded a goal because a defender tried a difficult reverse clearance when he could simply have knocked it out for a corner. The most recent example that comes to mind is the last minute against Sunderland when Clichy tried to hoof the ball towards the touchline and knocked it against Koscielny giving Bent a tap in. Watching that incident in slow motion it’s easy to see that Clichy could have put the ball out for a corner without any immediate risk. This would have given the defence a chance to reorganize and if they could make more than 80 clearances that day surely they’d have made one more!
My theory based on these observations was that the defenders have been given specific instructions not to conceded corners. Now Arsene has come out and said something pretty much along these lines and I find that really worrying.
Most teams don’t mind conceding corners when the defenders are under pressure. If Arsene wants the defenders to minimize the number of corners they concede even when under pressure, he is just making their life that much harder.
It could be down to the number of shorter players in the side. Last night Arsenal had Sagna, Denilson, Wilshere, Rosicky, and Arshavin on the pitch when the corner was conceded. None of them is particularly great in the air. Add to it the fact that the strikers at Arsenal don’t really win defensive headers as often as one would like and we end up with a number of weaknesses in defending corners, crosses, and set-pieces.
One solution that Arsene and his coaching staff have come up with is to have enough numbers in the box. Arsenal often have all eleven players in the penalty area to defend corners. While having enough bodies in front of goal does work on most occasions, it allows the opposition to push right into the Arsenal half knowing there is practically no counter attacking threat. This puts sustained pressure on the Arsenal goal and often gives the opposition greater belief and at times a goal.
The other solution seems to be to minimize the number of corners or set-pieces conceded. Sometimes this puts the players, especially defenders, in a difficult situation and they end up putting the ball in a dangerous area of the penalty box. This cannot be a good approach because it acknowledges a weakness in defending and would lead to increased anxiety if the players do end up conceding a corner or set-piece in a promising position for the other side.
Arsenal face a unique conundrum because most other teams in England play a physical game with a distinct English flavour. For them defending set-pieces is not as big an issue.
If I had to guess I’d say someone like Pat Rice would be very good at the English style. He’s vastly experienced in that style both as a player and a coach. The problem for Arsenal is that the present team is not based on that style. There are too many technical players and not enough of them can win the rugby battles in the box.
Obviously, having such players has many advantages as can be seen by a much more consistent performance by Arsenal in Europe than compared to Wenger’s earlier teams. These players can with their technique compete with the physical players in most areas of the pitch but on set-pieces and corners their weaknesses are exposed.
Another point worth noting is that while this is an annoying issue it’s not the most important one as far as football goes. That is the reason plenty of physically strong teams in the League finish much below Arsenal.
Unfortunately, quite often these discussions tend to boil down to “X is not good enough, get Y”. But over the last two, three years Arsenal have had so many players in different combinations that it really cannot be about one or two players.
Buying one or two players isn’t going to change much because on a set-piece there might be seven or eight attackers in the box. How many big and tall guys can Arsenal get? In the Wigan example it seems that the hosts targeted the back post because Sagna was marking Rodallega. The opposition can always put the ball in an area where Arsenal don’t have a big defender. What then?
The more I think about this issue the more complex it gets. It’s easy to say there is no leader or not enough communication on the pitch. Solving that problem is not so easy. Sometimes I wish Arsene had a magic wand and could just get it right with a flick of the wrist. But in moments of sanity I know that’s not going to happen.
Well, MS Word is telling me that I’ve typed over 1400 words and I have a feeling I’m no closer to a crystal clear understanding of the situation than I was at the start. Obviously, we cannot talk about the perfect solution unless we get a grip on the issues. I’ll leave this topic open for the time being hoping for a magical solution from Arsene.