Communication, Leadership, Organization – Is There A Magic Wand Somewhere?

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.

24 Responses to Communication, Leadership, Organization – Is There A Magic Wand Somewhere?

  1. Prabal Rakshit says:


    A nice one here. Trying to add something more:

    – One reason I feel, why Arsene is apprehensive of conceding corners is the rather idealistic notion of retaining possession and building up counter attacks from the back. This unfortunately works only if the midfield falls back alongwith the defence and sufficiently press the opposition attacker into losing the ball. This is still a long way round the corner for Arsenal. Barca probably do it a lot better, but do not have a definite answer for that.

    – Your point about Arsenal putting enough men in the box is a very valid one. It pays off when attackers like RvP defend set pieces reasonably well in the air. The problem about the opposition pressing because there is no counter attacking threat, is because we miss someone like Vermaelen. He is a typical ‘Dutch no. 4’ defender – a dynamic center back like Arie Haan, Ronald Koeman, Frank De Boer etc. He as a better chance of threading a through ball to the likes of Walcott and Nasri and build a counter attack.

    – Height is definitely an asset for central defenders in defending set pieces, but there have been shorter defenders like Roberto Ayala, who have countered this by the sheer timing of their jumps. In fact world class defenders like Puyol are less than 6 ft. I feel height is a matter only if you are insistent to follow a man marking strategy. The much ‘discussed’ zonal marking (as followed by Benitez in Liverpool) kind of compensates for the lack of height in defence and midfield, but the price to pay is lightning quick responses from the defence.

    – I think one reason we conceded the second goal was that Chamakh instead of Squillaci (or Koscielny) was the free bird in the box. Ideally Chamakh should have been marking Rodallega(?) at the far post and Squillaci should have been a floating presence to snuff out danger if Chamakh missed. I think it is more important to have a center back in a non-marking role, who would cover up any loose balls that are missed.

    You are absolutely right that buying new defenders (like the rumored Samba or Mertesacker) will not be a lasting solution, as this is not an individual problem. In fack Vermaelen at 5’11”, is our shortest center back. So height alone is not an issue. we would need more bodies in the box surely, with the likes of RvP, Chamakh, Song etc. helping out. what we also need would be the extra outlet for us to relase the ball as soon as it is won.
    Well, definitely no easy answers here. Arsene would be thinking all these and above. Wonder if we need a ‘reincarnation’ of Martin Keown, an undoubted beast of a marker. 🙂

    PS: DG, is there a name you can be addressed with? If you prefer to be incognito, perfectly fine though. 🙂

  2. nirmal says:

    How will Barca fare if they played in the English league. They have small defenders too. But Villa or Messi are always available as an outlet to hare through in a counter attack situation. Walcott gives us that option, Nasri too. But they are usually drawn too deep. Cesc and Gael man the posts. That leaves Sagna, Chamakh and Song in the middle, while our CBs hustle out the big poachers. Our CB pairing is good, but not great enough to win us titles. Compared to the CB pairing of the other 4 (City, United, Chelsea and Spurs) we come up short. We also have the newest pair amongst them. May be in a year or so they will some good. But our other players are ready to win the title this year. So one may be two epl experienced defenders can make a difference (Cahill, Huth, Jagielka) We are may be 10 to 12m pounds from a title. We are that close. In the II half, i believe we will do good at Emirates and struggle away. These lost points do not mean much if we can match the run of our opponents. It is who makes least mistakes from here on.

  3. santori says:

    On set pieces, the person in charge of setting up our defense should (I feel) be the keeper. He needs to be given license to get them organised and make certain that everyone is IN his respective position.

    BTW Koscielny did the right thing in clearing the ball out for a corner. Perhaps Wenger meant that we should have not been put in such a position in the first place (particularly with an extra man in hand) had we not taken our foot off the pedal after the half?

    He would have been well advised as well to have dealt with the threat coming from Nzogbia but I suppose that would be a different matter.

  4. billyboneshaker says:

    The more you have a consistent backline,the better the communication between them. Central defensive partnerships are formed for ages.
    Usually teams have a stable backline and blend in a couple of new players (either youth or signings). In Arsenal’s case, central defensive pairing is kinda new.
    The more the pair plays together, the more there is a telepathic communication between them.
    Players start to understand each other, their strength n weaknesses and start to project what the partner is going to do in a particular situation and how he can impact that.
    Remember when Henry used to play, there seemed to be a telepathic partnership between him and other players.

  5. Steve Palmer says:

    Two Keepers, one taller than the other, both pretty good shot stoppers,one good in the air, and one not so good, playing against two big strikers, which one of the keepers do you put in goal, the shorter one who is not good on crosses of course.
    Genesis Chapter one of Arsene’s Bible

  6. Ajinkya says:

    Desi, see this video. It is Liverpool 0-1 Wolves. Wolves had scored in the 56th minute and were defending, their lead. This was what they did when they conceded a free-kick in i believe the 88th minute.
    What do you think?
    i found this relevant to our issue. These clips aren’t included in the highlights since they concern themselves only with the goals, so the guy has filmed it on TV, so watch carefully.


    • Ajinkya says:

      i have never seen anything like this before. Brilliant? Funny? Both?

      • Sriram says:

        While this idea works, it doesn’t work all the time. The chances of getting caught out and looking like a fool is always there. Then again, offsides don’t apply on corners. So the only way forward is to work on set piece defending and improve.

      • Ajinkya says:

        This clip was to point out a clever move.
        Of course, nothing works all the time. You cannot do the same things again and again.
        But this was really funny, and did make Gerard look like a fool.
        Our center-backs take similar risks by playing high up near the half way line, though not on set-pieces.
        If any forward gets through, chances are high that we concede.
        It depends on the situation, they saw liverpool had only six players in the box, with no one else looking to enter. So it worked.
        i certainly do not mean that this must be done for every free-kick.

  7. Am says:

    I believe the best player to organise should be either one dominant centre back or the goal keeper.

    We have neither a vocal Goalkeepr in Fabianski, and in Koscielny and Squillaci we have none.

    A John Terry/Vidic could easily sort out our rubbish defence.

  8. critic says:

    a well thought and nicely written article.

  9. Furovich says:

    There was an article a couple of months back by either Lee Dixon or Nigel Winterburn talking about how Arsene doesn’t really coach defensive strategy on the training ground and that he more or less let’s the players figure it out because he likes players to express themselves. He went on to say that maybe with his current squad they need to be told more what exactly to do.

    I’m sure we all agree, something needs to change. In my opinion though, the manager and the players are all responsible for Arsenal’s current poor defensive state. Good defending certainly takes a certain type of mentality that requires dedication and concentration and both the manager and players are responsible for instilling this within the team. Sometimes players will need intrinsically show defensive qualities on the pitch and other times the manager will have to instill these in his team on the training ground. The problem is, it’s just not happening. It would be interesting to hear what current players really thought about what needed to be done but we can only really speculate.

    When we see Wenger complaining to the 4th official about a lack of added time in the Wigan game, I find it extremely pathetic. I know Desi, you were saying he was probably caught up in the heat of the moment and that’s fair enough but after such a bad performance, it is he and the players that should be taking responsibility not the 4th official.

    The other real issue I believe is that almost the entire squad that Wenger has assembled, is made up of attacking midfielders and second strikers. The players all have alot of technical ability but can anyone really expect the likes of Rosicky, Arshavin, Bendtner and even Denilson and Diaby to put in a great defensive performance? Diaby and Denilson have had no great success at Arsenal in a defensive midfiled role and it was only the emergence of Alex Song last season that saw Arsenal get some defensive stability. Why is Song the only defensive midfielder in the squad? Surely Song as a solitary defensive midfielder is a huge issue as we saw in the Wigan game when he was rested. What if Song is injured? The other problem with all the above mentioned players is that in attack they have all shown to be extremely inconsistent and this puts more pressure on the defense.

    I think the way for Arsenal has to be firstly to keep Song fit (without him there are huge problems as there is no cover in his position which in itself is a huge concern) and to also play a pressing style of defense where Arsenal use their best weapon of attack as their main defensive strategy. As we saw against Chelsea, Arsenal’s best 11 will be very hard to beat.

  10. SoCal_Gun says:

    From the replays of that goal, it seems like Fabianski shouldn’t have ran all the way to the far post when the corner came in. Rodallega couldn’t have scored from that angle, Sagna was marking him, AND somebody else was standing on the goal line just inside the post. Like you said, the players’ positioning was good…..the only thing is that somebody taller (Chamakh?) should have been on Rodallega

    Also like you said, Clichy’s mistake vs Sunderland proves that sometimes you just need to get the ball out of bounds and re-group.

    BUT I’m really having trouble getting over that fact that we were denied a 100% penalty (handball on Nasri’s fk) late in the game. Just like in American sports, the refs don’t want to decide the game and usually they do bite the whistle toward the end. But that was just ridiculous. Spuds were given that exact same call (on the road to their biggest rival, and with the Arsenal captain being called for the offense)…….if they get that call, everyone should.

    I can’t believe that Cesc is the only person complaining about this (and its only through twitter lol)

    The referee double standard and constant media bias is really starting to get old……it seems like this sort of thing happens all the time; or am I just bitter about the wasted 2 points still….

  11. Jekyll says:

    I think it’s pretty clear if we had a talker at the back this would help an awful lot with defensive organisation. It may not be a total solution but I can’t see how anyone would disagree that the team is too quiet. So yes, it is as simple as getting a commanding CB in who shouts at other players – like we did have for years and years and reaped rich rewards. If Wenger is finally noticing this problem then that’s a good thing.

  12. nikk says:

    One the best must read Arsenal blog not just for the all the gooners but also for Arsene and the team.

    Well done Desi & all the best mate from London.


  13. Miranda says:

    Even with bossy Lehmann we conceded from set pieces more than we should so the problem isn’t the keeper. Not entirely. But that said, Szczesny would be a big step in the right direction. His positioning is better and he looks to be taking charge and instilling confidence in the others, which poor Fabianski really does not. Quite the reverse. And given the number of times he has cost us key games with his flappiness and bad decisions, it’s hard to believe he doesn’t spread panic and confusion. Not a big help when defending a corner.

    There’s a strong rumour that we’re signing a 25-year-old German defender. Mertesacker? He is, I think, 25 and Werder are in a big mess at the moment, so if it’s true it’s another positive step as far as communication and confidence goes – German players are usually very tactically aware and articulate.

    Szczesny and Mertesacker as the solution? As I say, it’s a longstanding problem which even the ultra-articulate and organised Lehmann didn’t have much effect on, possibly because Wenger in those days wasn’t that bothered. I used to get the impression he regarded defending corners as a kind of boring retro-English thing and therefore slightly beneath us. Now, however, he has at last changed his tune and admitted that there’s a problem. Small glimmer of hope if it means he’s open to suggestions and improvements. Time for two organised bossy players, Szczesny and Mertesacker, to step in and take the defending of set pieces in hand?

  14. JP says:

    Having too many short players on the field at one time does not help this at all. You play in England so you have to be aware of this balance all the time. Height is not the only aspect needed, players have to be able to get to the ball and be good in the air. Verm is not tall but he gets to the ball and has a good vertical. Neither of our full backs are good in the air, combined with the players that were on the field, the result was that we had a short team.

    Fabianski does not command his area and is not a physical presence on crosses. Wojo is much better at this. I do believe that player changes at CB can help this situation but I agree that defensive coaching changes are also needed. And you must pick a team that has balance to defend aerial challenges. (Which is hard in our team of small players). Not an easy solution with the current personneI I agree.

  15. reality check says:

    if someone had claimed the ball while it was half way through from the corner ( which is basically possible) then fabianski whould have stayed in the middle to catch it or punh it clear intead of going to the far post after hugo R deaded it in.. and that could have been achieved by simple comunication.

  16. Miranda says:

    This week’s Depressing Announcement from Wenger:

    ‘We have too many strikers.’

    Is he crazy? With Chamakh who looks tired and heading for burn-out, Van Persie who has never yet managed a whole season, Walcott, who’s definitely improving but, given his pace and dangerousness, very vulnerable to the attentions of the Premiership thugs, and Bendtner and Vela who aren’t good enough to start except for the B team, it seems to me, far from having too many, we’ve not got enough. I’m not suggesting we try to emulate City – now there’s a club you could say are over-blessed in the striker department, but who feel themselves to be so devoid of reliable goal-scorers they’re are rushing through the paperwork for Dzeko so he can play against us! – just thinking that with our injury record, come April it’ll be the same old story. Everyone out apart from Bendtner, of course.

    No, a striker isn’t the top priority – in my view that’s another Song – but, given our defensive frailties, it’s not as though we don’t need to worry about where the goals come from. How many could we put past United? How many can we put past any half-competent defence, or even a completely incompetent one when we’re relying on Bendtner alone (remember Shakhtar and Braga away)? And we will be relying on Bendtner, just like we were last year.

    • Ajinkya says:

      We now have all our forwards fit, but suddenly we will have only one or not even that. We can never have excess players.
      As to man city, i do not know how they are going to cope with the squad rules if they go on signing players like that, however good they may be.
      Regarding the 25 year old German, there are reasons to believe it is not Mertesacker. Mertesacker is 26, but does a year make so much of a difference?
      But one guy took it very seriously, and went through, i believe, all the rosters of all teams in the Bundesliga, and found this:
      Marvin Compper, 25, German, Hoffenheim player, defensive all-rounder.
      Arsene picks up unknown players, we may see him at Arsenal in January, if he signs anyone.
      Again that is only a speculation.

      • Miranda says:

        Mmm, Compper is interesting but why would Hoffenheim be willing to sell at the kind of price we’d be likely to pay? He’s their first-choice central defender; they’re doing quite well and they don’t (as far as I know) need the money. The situation at Werder, by contrast, is catastrophic – not quite as catastrophic as at Stuttgart, which makes Liverpool look successful, but still bad enough for players of Mertesacker’s calibre to want out for CL football next year.

        City? Yeah, well, words fail. I guess they’re assembling the world’s most expensive stars before the Uefa financial fair play rules kick in; and with Dzeko they’re on to a winner – that guy can even score for McClaren. Poor Ade. Flaky character but a talented young striker, when he tries, bought and left to rot like so many before him.

  17. Miranda says:

    Since it’s New Year’s Eve, I’m going to take the optimistic view and assume Wenger will do the exact opposite of what he’s announced and buy us a striker. Benzema perhaps who’d much prefer us to Spurs (who are apparently getting their chequebook out); or, more interesting, Elia. With Walcott on the shoulder of the Barca defenders on one side and Elia on the other – now that’s a pacy, scary attack.

    OK, probably not, but I’ve noticed a few time recently that Wenger’s announcements are rarely the truth. Take the one about Ramsey today. According to Wenger, we’re bringing him back early because of the injury to Diaby, which as an explanation make no sense at all, not if, as Wenger asserts in the same statement, Ramsey won’t be ready to play until February at best, by which Diaby would (in theory) be returning from injury himself. In short, it’s a nonsense statement, a tactful way of cutting short the loan spell presumably because Wenger thinks it isn’t doing Ramsey much good. I’ve no problem with that; I hate the idea of our players getting kicked to bits on the potato-fields of the Championship. But honestly some of the statements made by the club really don’t stand up to close scrutiny!

  18. Furovich says:

    The other issue with the Wigan game was just the players that took the pitch. Obviously Wigan’s equalising goal was a terrible one to concede but the overall play from the whole side was extremely poor. I think Arshavn, Eboue, Diaby, Denilson and Bendtner are all useful squad players at the moment but starting them all together I think is certainly not a good option. Full respect to the players but they are all a bit away from Arsenal’s best 11 at the moment.

  19. Tim says:

    At full speed it looked like a foul, but the replays suggested there had been little or no contact – and Theo confirmed the dive afterwards, as you noted. If there was no foul, then Bendtner’s offside counts, which seems to be what the officials finally decided after the confusion. No real complaints on that one.

    Until Cesc and Theo arrived, we lacked craft and pace on the pitch to really stretch the Leeds defence. I think we need to reassess how good our second-string players really are. Bringing them into the side two or three at a time masks their deficiencies, but when they all play together the likes of Denilson and Rosicky just look ordinary.

    Still, we live to fight another day – even if it is a game we could have done without.

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