Why Arsenal Can’t Defend Like United Or Chelsea

As Arsenal fans there are times when we just want to see the team shut out a result. On other occasions we hope the defence can remain solid so that we don’t concede soft goals as the opposition defence is stubborn and tough to break down. Now for large parts of the season, the team does deliver in defence and that can be seen from the fact that Arsenal reached the final of the Carling Cup, when other big teams failed to, and are still in the other three competitions including a better position in the League than many expensively assembled sides.

However, there are some singular cases where this defence fails woefully. Birmingham’s winning goal was a classic example and it wasn’t a rare occasion; certainly not as infrequent as I’d like it to be.

The most obvious response from the pundits and some misguided fans is to blame it on individuals.This has led to some annoyingly astonishing U-turns in opinions in the last few years.

Almunia was virtually faultless in 07-08 but became a clown after that. Fabianski was supposed to be the worst keeper ever in his early days but was hailed a very good one this season. Szczesny started as a prodigy and one who would solve all problems but is now being questioned by some geniuses.

In terms of central defenders, Arsenal have had so many over the last few years, it’s difficult to accept all were useless. Senderos was amazing in 05-06, yet completely useless by 09. Under Vermaelen and Gallas the team conceded a lot of goals, many really infuriating ones, but nowadays in his absence Vermaelen is seen as a great defender who will come back to save Arsenal whereas Gallas is the one that got away. Djourou was deemed shaky at the start of the season, Koscielny was dismissed as lightweight and not good enough. Both have formed an excellent partnership off late.

When I see the same players being considered good and bad over short durations of time it tells me a few things. Firstly, it highlights the short term memories of most fans and pundits. Secondly, it shows the thankless nature of the job. If the game had been 1-0 and RvP had botched a sitter at the other end with two minutes to go do you think he’d have been criticized as much as the defenders or the keeper? But more importantly, it tells me that the problem Arsenal have is more fundamental and goes beyond the individuals.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not singling Arsenal out. Every team has problems and even one that sweeps all trophies will have certain areas of improvement.

Arsenal’s main problem seems to be with the aerial ball and the physical game. The easy and lazy solution is to buy a big, dominant central defender. Let’s leave aside the staggering oversimplification in that and look at the 2001 FA Cup final.

Arsenal had big, dominant central defenders in that one – Keown and Adams. We also had the likes of Vieira in midfield along with Pires and Ljungberg. Henry was leading the line. Do you recall what happened in that game? I do because it was shown here last night by FSC and I’m thankful for that.

The first half was as boring as a football game could get. Liverpool maintained their shape and defended well, Arsenal had a lot of the ball but didn’t create enough. I could easily have been describing the Birmingham game, couldn’t I? What was noticeable was that the Scousers didn’t show the kind of planning and work rate that Birmingham showed, which only highlights how far the game has come over the last 10 years.

In the second half the game opened up a bit as Liverpool showed more ambition. That gave Arsenal some room to play and they created plenty of chances. Ljungberg scored one, Henry missed a couple of sitters, two shots were cleared off the line, and so the game went. With ten minutes to go Arsenal were leading 1 – 0 with no real threat against the Arsenal goal.

Then came a set-piece. Keown headed it straight up and it fell inside the six yard box. Adams lost the physical battle with Babbel who headed it back across goal for an unmarked Owen to level things up. Sounds a lot like the current team, doesn’t it?

Arsenal went forward in search of a winner. When Liverpool cleared a set-piece the ball fell to Berger on the edge of their box. He was unmarked and was able to hoof it forward. Owen got in behind Lee Dixon and Adams wasn’t able to cover him well enough. Seaman couldn’t save the shot despite getting fingertips to it.

Arsenal blew a one goal lead in the final 10 minutes with poor defending in a Cup final. Only difference was there were plenty of leaders on the pitch; some really big, dominant defenders; pacy strikers; and so on.

The advantage for that team was that there wasn’t enough competition and they could get away with these mistakes more often than the present side can. Another difference is that there weren’t as many ignorant opinions floating around on the net in those days.

This again tells me that the problems Arsenal have are not individual and it’s silly to think that buying one big defender and/or a goalkeeper will solve anything.

So what is the real problem? Why can’t Arsenal defend like United or Chelsea?

There are two related issues here. One is the basic mentality towards the game and the second, which is kind of a subset of the first, is the approach to defence.

Recent United and Chelsea teams have been excellent ones but their primary strength has been their defence. They could/can go out to play a 0 – 0 with anyone and build the rest of their game around that.

The recent Wigan – United game presents a classic example. Even against a team like the Latics, no disrespect, United sat back and played on the counter right from the start. Some might say it was an intelligent approach and those who prefer results to performance all the time will certainly love it. I don’t and it’s not difficult to see that Wenger doesn’t either.

What is even more interesting is that Wigan created plenty of good chances in that game, certainly more than they did in their 2 – 2 draw with Arsenal. Even then one result is 0 – 4 while the other was a 2 – 2, baffling eh!?

The advantage for United was that they were set-up to defend and had plenty of bodies behind. When those bodies failed the Keeper was able to read the game and close the attacker down. Arsenal failed to stop a counter that led to a penalty and then struggled on a set-piece. In both cases the Keeper was put in a helpless situation and even the defenders couldn’t do much.

This, and many other such examples, tells me that when Arsenal do dominate the ball they can reduce the number of chances the opposition creates. But when the Gunners do concede a chance it’s normally a very easy one for the opponents. Obviously, the guy at the back, whether it is the Keeper or a defender, looks like a clown but in reality the problem is not with that individual.

The way I see it, the real problem is with the way Arsenal are tactically set-up to defend against the Premiership hoof tactics and set-pieces.

In the latter case, we see the Gunners pull 10 or 11 men back into their own half and defend by crowding the opposition out. If people don’t get enough space to run and jump, or aren’t able to win the second ball, their effectiveness on set-pieces goes down. It works quite often as we saw most recently against Stoke.

The problem is that by pulling these many players back it leaves no room for a counter attack. Moreover, the opponents get a chance to have men around the Arsenal box to pick up the clearances and it sustains more pressure on the defence. If at any point any Arsenal player does lose concentration or makes a mistake, it can leave the goal exposed as we’ve seen on numerous occasions.

People claim that having a big centre-back will ensure that Arsenal don’t need to pull everyone back but that is a hard to digest. One or two defenders cannot cover the whole box and mark all the players. Arsenal’s problem comes from the fact that the midfielders don’t offer any presence in the box and even the wide attackers aren’t that useful in the air. When a starting eleven has 6 or more players who can’t defend the high balls it’s not easy to get the strategy right. Even Song doesn’t contribute to the aerial presence. How often have you seen the Cameroonian win the first ball? On the other hand, I can recall a number of occasions when he fell asleep and let his man score.

Should Arsenal let go of players like Cesc, Wilshere, Nasri, and Arshavin in order to bring in some brutes? That would be extremely daft and put Arsenal at the level of mid-table teams at best.

Clearly, Wenger has to find alternate solutions and we can see him trying. Buying an odd strong, versatile defensive player might help. But what if that guy gets injured? Or ends up like Song who is not that effective on defending set-pieces? The point is there is no simple solution.

Similar issues can be seen while defending from open play as well. The midfield would have to stay really close to the defence to win the second balls when the opponents have a striker who can win the first. But there are only 11 players on the pitch and pulling the midfield back affects the shape of the team and the quality of attacks that Arsenal can create.

This becomes a tricky issue of finding the right balance. The Gunners have done that with the first team but when two or three key members of that starting eleven are missing it’s not so easy. No team can really maintain their high level if three of their best players are missing but teams that base their games on defence can still hold out much better. For Arsenal it is difficult to achieve that.

In my limited years of watching Arsenal, I have rarely seen them shutting out a strong opponent while looking unlikely to concede. Even though the 2005 FA Cup final was based on defending it needed a lot of luck, something we didn’t get against Birmingham. That Champions League run was the closest Arsenal came to a consistently solid display but the attacking quality was quite poor in that and relied a lot on the pace and trickery of one man.

One of the main reasons for this is that Arsenal’s defence is based on chasing the ball. If you see the other big teams like United and Chelsea, they get into shape and work really hard to maintain that. They track runs diligently and try to avoid conceding clear chances in front of the goal. They also have enough bodies behind to attack crosses.

Arsenal on the other hand, chase the ball in defence. The shape at the back is often lost as two or three players go chasing a ball only to be beaten by simple one-twos. This pulls other defenders out of position and stretches the defence. It takes a lot of hard work and concentration for Arsenal to defend this way and a mistake by one player often gives a clear opening to the opponents.

This is the reason I feel Arsenal need a different defence coach, another perspective. It won’t be easy to integrate the two styles but Arsenal have to find better balance between their attacking, free-flowing style and a functional approach. There are enough times in the season when injuries and form issues demand subtle tactical modifications to the system to get the best out of the players. For most parts Wenger is able to achieve it, as we can see by the reduced number of counter-attacking goals conceded this year, but a small, yet critical, element seems to be missing.

I don’t expect Arsenal to defend like United or Chelsea, which will only come if the manager goes and I hope that doesn’t happen for a long time to come, but with some tactical adjustments this team can win a lot more. Can Wenger achieve it soon enough or will he get help on that front before it’s too late remains to be seen.

 


79 Responses to Why Arsenal Can’t Defend Like United Or Chelsea

  1. Jonathan says:

    I hope Man U get ripped to shreds today… or atleast a draw. I love our team and yes defensively we have to get more organized but that doesnt change the fact that we are not that far off from having one fantastic record breaking side. Maturity is coming and we are one BIG trophy away from a breakthrough…

  2. glenn says:

    A very good read and raised some points i have been thinking for a number of years now it’s like groundhog day. The reason for the improvement in our defence in 06 champs league campaign was keown he was doing his coaching badges and was allowed to take control of the training sessions. Even with senderos and flamini at left back he drilled them into a working unit. Sadly when keown had finished that part of his course arsene allowed him to walk. So back to the same old the following season. I’m sure keown would jump at the chance to come back and work our back line. Arsene and his EGO would not allow it because keown would ruffle some feather’s and upset the pampered one’s at the COLNEY CRECHE. I remember reading at the time keown had a fall out with senderos for not listening to him and turning his back on him and walking away,that was 5 years ago and look where senderos is now a crock at fulham.

    • Kushagra India says:

      good point…

    • Syed says:

      Cheers mate excellent article. Long time since I read such an objective arsenal blog! Well done.

      I have been thinking for long time, Arsenal’s style of play makes the defence clownlike. Individually none of them are not far off from the chelsea or manc’s. Howver, they get get exposed quite often due to lack of protection from midfield.

      I always feel for the Arsenal goal keppers as how often they face one to one with acres of space at the opposition strickers mercy.

      Another point is I think our style demand more hard work and energy to be spent. That’s why evry year we run out of steam twards the end whereas Mancs seem to get better as season progress.

  3. Kushagra India says:

    interesting post Desi but no maater what u say we are still potless and with RVP injured with walcott here we go again mate…..

  4. Kushagra India says:

    Lack of killer instinct has always been a problem with Arsenal…

  5. Kushagra India says:

    Killer instinct is the ability to kick the opponent when he is down and punish even its minor follies that’s what we always lack which manure and the chavs have showed over the years just like the aussie cricket team of the past ..

    U need to go to London to see the mood is really gloomy there

  6. Northbanksy says:

    Since the first of Jan we’ve played 8 EPL games & in 6 of those have kept clean sheets. All season in the EPL we’ve only conceded 4 more goals than Man U.
    Not bad for a team that everyone thinks has no defence.

    • Kushagra India says:

      Very true but we conceded when it counted mate and it is a perennial problem as Desi pointed out…

  7. Kushagra India says:

    I hope Bendtner and Chamakh nullify RVP’s absence and don’t expect anything from Rosicky sick at the sight of him he is serving no purpose…

  8. T2T says:

    Vermaelen out, Fabregas out, van Persie out… That’s our spine all out injured. Add to that Walcott, 4 starters out injured. Let’s hope we do better than Chelsea did when they had their spine out for a couple of weeks.

  9. venky says:

    Usually when we concede a goal via defensive mistake I am terribly irritated, but on sunday when we conceded the second goal I was almost emotionless, no anger, no sadness, nothing simply because it was pure unluck thats it.nothing more nothing less. Kosser was magical against Barca. It was destined for Birmingham to win. Lets forget and move on. on that day what we missed was Cesc. I am just worried about the Psyche of Sczezney and Kosser

  10. Well said Desi, it’s funny because its something I pick up on during almost every game but just couldn’t articulate it or forgot by time the match was over.

    I think arsenal has only been successful when the defence was immense. Being an arsenal defender is a difficult job so I find our best defenders were always punching above their weight.

    An Arsenal defender must be over and above what a normal defender should be. If you look at our best defenders. Adams,Keown,Campbell,Cole etc, all arguably the best in their generations. With the latter two, best in the world.

    The defenders who were successful were the ones who used to always bail us out. How many times did we see kolo toure run from the half-way and catch a striker who was goalwards.

    I think we need Great centre backs rather than just good ones. We need the defenders with actual magic, that campbell and john terry magic. That magic that just makes sure no one scores….by any means.

    Arsenal have everything right now, aside from injury problems everything is OK, but concede too many goals. It’s not necessarily height we need. We need a dogfighter defender who won’t mind taking a bite at the oppenent’s ass. A real beast to behold. The nearest player to a beast on our team has to be Theo Walcott, who when in the rare mood can make the opposition players quiver. We need more frightening players!!!

  11. footballer says:

    It’s simple. Arsene Wenger is very fixed in his patterns of play BUT very clueless about defense; his weakness. An indictment against him for so many years now. Secondly, there is absolutely no leader at the back – except for Szczesny who’s still very young and new in the 1st team. Forget Almunia, a clown which even the ball boy wont trust. TV is capable is out nor is he made one.

  12. Osi says:

    Desigunner Chapeau pour votre article. I really appreciated your analysis. It’s thoughtful, critical, stimulating, and impressive peace of writing. Most pundits and media and blog writers ignore the methodological issues related to how different managers approach the game, on what basic assumptions they build their philosophy of the game on. They also ignore, by pure ignorance or negligence of how the philosophy (beliefs about how to play the game’ of the manager affects the methodology it adopts for the game, and the issues of ‘trade-off’, that is, every method has its own flaws and merits, and that if you choose one method over another you have to be aware of its limitations.

    Therefore, the problems, largely come with the systems and not with individuals, also quality may reduce the limitations of the system. So there is a ‘staggering overs implications’, as you put it, that assumes that a “big, dominant central defenders” can rectify problems resulting from a ‘chosen’ system or methodology. Your example, to refresh memories, of big guys’ (Keown and Adams, Vieira) failure in FA cup 2001 against a lesser opponent is spot on.

    You also put your finger on the real issues with Arsenal defense that the attack minded system produces.

    I also agree with you in that bringing ‘brutes’ instead of much appreciated talented entertainers such CESC, Wilsh, Nas is not an option for Arsenal fans accustomed to beautiful football.

    While we appreciate and believe that football is all about winning, we will not compromise our style that has an added value which is ‘Entertaining football in order to produce a one-off winning of a cup or two.

    • Kushagra India says:

      Mate but sooner rather than later we need to deliver trophies otherwise the team will breakup we will be having many players coming out with BARCA DNA than u can say goodbye to beautiful football..

    • desigunner says:

      Thanks. I have always believed in the importance of understanding the manager’s approach and the related system and the effect it has on individual performances and vice versa. Hope to see it in the media some day.

  13. Stone Roses says:

    Admiration Sir, a really well thought out and eloquent article. Impressive. Kind of puts into perspective the ‘We were shit so sack Wenger’ blogs that pollute the internet.

  14. JP says:

    Good post Desi makes alot of sense. Personel plays alot into our imbalance. However, we keep on using the first team as a training ground where mistakes like the Carling are more likely. Let’s look at Kos, I think he is a good defender and a great pick up but he is learning on the job and making a big jump from where he was. He has played good games and made some serious glaring howling mistakes. Do Chelsea and Man U find themselves relying on such inexperience? We had a 19 year old keeper in goal who has 3 months experience, mistakes will happen. What other big teams would find themselves in this position? No One. We suffer from our decisions. We have used 3 keepers this year. Far too much. I have never seen so much change at that position by big clubs. Stability is needed. We didn’t get a seasoned keeper to provide that stability and got a center back who’s star is on the rise. You get what you pay for. We have gone that route and we have to suffer as a result. Maybe when the average age is 27 we will be more successful rather than the 23 that was against Barca. Injuries are killing us again.

  15. Kushagra India says:

    WTF……

  16. Kushagra India says:

    Sorry wrong post that was for Malouda’s missed chance..

  17. Kushagra India says:

    That what u call killer instinct…

  18. Kushagra India says:

    Rooney’s goal!!!

  19. Kushagra India says:

    Making the period of dominance count still a long way to go though…

  20. Siva says:

    Nice read.

    The news abt RVP in the club site is another bummer on top of Walcott n the weekend. Why can’t we have a full strength team ever for our big games.

  21. Wrenny says:

    Thanks for another great article, an excellent read.

    I think Arsenal’s defensive problems are greatly exaggerated. That’s not to say that we can’t improve at the back, but looking at the league table we have conceded just two goals more than Man Utd above us. And five more than Chelsea, but we have also scored 9 goals more than the Blues. Taking into account our differences in style and focus, I don’t see anything fundamentally ‘wrong’ about our approach to defending. I feel the structure is strong and Wenger has struck a good balance.

    For me the two key issues are simple: experience and height. You’ve already mentioned height; how the team especially in midfield doesn’t have much ability to help at the back when defending set-pieces. That’s something that’s probably costing us the most goals, but is also the most difficult thing to solve as it would mean changing personnel. I’m not convinced that adding brawn at the expense of creativity is a trade that would improve results.

    The other problem I believe is a lack of experience. We’re being told that this team isn’t young anymore, but at the back the average age has come down from last season. Our current ‘spine’ of Szczesny (20), Djourou (23), Koscienly (25), Song (23) and Wilshere (19) have enormous room for improvement. For four of the five this is their first season as an Arsenal first team regular.

    It’s not what a lot of fans will want to hear, but in my opinion this is another ‘problem’ that will heal with time rather than money.

    • desigunner says:

      I agree experience is another issue especially as these players haven’t played together that often. Earlier in the season we saw a similar cock-up between Toure and Joe Hart (if I’m not mistaken) so such things can happen.

      However I do feel Arsenal need better balance. While the defence has been by and large quite decent it has come at the cost of the offence in some games and that is something Wenger must improve upon.

  22. Davi says:

    Good article.
    Until the newcastle farce, we had only conceded one more goal than utd, and yet you wouldn’t have known it, listening to the press.

    The pressure got to some of our players at wembley. Koscielny was good until the big error at the end, but djourou was unusually shakey all game. It wasnt because he can’t deal with zigic, he was noticeably nervous and was over aggressive in trying to win the first ball, and zigic took advantage. Szczesny was also uncharacteristically nervous. That was clear. It was just too much pressure for some players who haven’t had much first team football in truth. Still, no one really saw it coming.
    Ultimately the back three have been extremely solid in recent weeks and I would guess have let in fewer goals than our rivals when they’ve played together (remember JD went off injured before we let in 4 goals against newcastle).
    We don’t normally look so solid when JD is out though. Squillaci looked the part against stoke, so maybe he’s finally settling down. It would really help if he could step up his game, because he has a lot of experience.

    • desigunner says:

      The players were certainly nervous. Some thought it was poor attitude but I thought it was the pressure of desperately wanting to win.

  23. Davi says:

    @ Wrenny – awesome comment. Agree completely 🙂

  24. Claver says:

    dESI,

    I have to disagree with you for the first time.

    Let me digress; the Wigan Chairman came out saying ManU were more favoured than other teams.

    This is a Chairman. It is something any person who watches English football will tell you is quite true.

    If Rooney had been sent off, with a red card, he’d not be playing today. Would ManU have won 4-0?

    In my view, the real level for ManU is Tottenham not Arsenal, Chelsea or even Man City who are at a higher level.

    Utd would be struggling for 4th if they didn’t have a strong ‘connection’ with Sky and the FA.

    They have mediocre players, mediocre tactics but very helpful Refs.

    How often do you see Vidic grappling players, Silva kicking lumps out of the opposition.

    The reason why people all over the world talk about Arsenal is because we have World Class players managed by the Best Coach in The World over the last 10yrs playing football of a technical quality ManU can only dream of.

    The clearest indication of ManU’s quality came in their defeat, at their prime, at the hands of Barcelona. In that game ManU were not even in it. Ronaldo was reduced to taking potshots at goal.

    Desi, you understand the role played by Refs and the pitch in modern football.

    They are the last variables that still ‘belong to chance’. As it were.

    Look at the facts, how many wins do Utd have compared to Arsenal?

    If Vidic and Ferdinand are so good how did Messi score a goal with his HEAD?

    As disheartening as the loss was you must be prepared to examine all possible, feasible facts before jumping to your erroneous conclusion.

    Did you know that in one season, a single Ref once gave Utd something like 10 penalties?

    As for Arsenal, the adversity we face is not just on the pitch and the sooner the powers that be at Arsenal realise this and do something about it the better.

    • shaka says:

      Here in lies the truth. the teams remaining equal, it is twice as hard for Arsenal to win the premiership as it is for Man U. The factors fundamentally arise from the mentality of the officials.
      The bias towards ManU plays out in two ways.
      1) Directly: more free kicks to them, protection from the bully boys, turning a blind eye to their fouls, providing them additional time, over that allotted at the death, to help them scrape out points, handouts in the form of free kicks penalties etc.
      2) Windfall: The rugbymeisters do not play rugby with them because ManU are protected. moreover, ManU more often than not gives them a taste of their own medicine. The moment they try playing football, ManU becomes overwhelming favorites.

      You can reverse the above two points and you have arsenal’s predicament. Even home games of arsenal now appear like away games. They bring in new rules to ensure that Arsenal do not win (Newcastle?), a bit like Calvinball.

      There is something more fundamental and threatening that is preventing Arsenal from pursuing these matters.

    • desigunner says:

      I guess there is a misunderstanding here. I’m not saying Arsenal should defend like United because United have a better defence. I’m saying we should never expect Arsenal to defend the way United or the other teams do.

  25. Kushagra India says:

    Pure Samba Strike from Luiz…..

  26. Davi says:

    @ wrenny – awesome comments

    @ claver – You are dead right that Utd get more than their fair share.
    I won’t blame the ref for our defeat to birmingham, he didn’t have enough of an effect on our game, and the linesman was incredibly kind to us at the beginning of the game, but there were a few examples in that match of something that is creeping into our matches again: they are often not calling BLATANT fouls on our players! This happened at least four times in the stoke game, and at least twice against birmingham, and has been a regular occurrence over the last month or so. It always seems that at this stage of the season we REALLY lose the refs. I mean, they haven’t been good to us till now, but we’re at the point where they will help to derail us.

    @desi – one thing to mention about your article actually, you are really addressing the goals we concede from counter attacks, which do seem quite natural given our style of play, but the really distressing thing is how easily other teams get chances from corners, or when we are having to face up to sustained pressure, usually from crosses. That is one area where Utd and chelsea are clearly superior, and this suits them in the PL, as compared with us. I have little doubt that if we were placed in the spanish league, our defence would look a lot better in comparison to Utd or chelsea, but they’re better set up to face the barrage from the stokes and boltons. John terry is not a great defender by any stretch, but has never really looked out of his depth in the PL, which led many to believe he was a very good defender. It took him quite a while to adapt to international football, and I think this is because you have to deal with different styles which really don’t suit him. He’s just fantastic in the air, and not much more. Vidic is similar imo.

  27. Davi says:

    54 GOAL! Chelsea back in it after *poor defending* by United as Luiz scores his first goal for the club.

  28. nikkogunners says:

    Good insights. Maybe some training changes may help. all midfielders should do with some be training in defense and the defenders train in the midfield. That can help build their defensive senses…

  29. Claver says:

    dESI,

    Still want us to be like Utd????

    ManU don’t have what it takes, they are a mediocre team, bottlers, rubbish club.

    ManU are RUBBISH, ditto Chelsea (though not so much).

    I hope I never hear Desi moan ‘why can’t we be like MaNURE’ ever again.

    Guess what Desi, it was supposed to be an extra 5min – MaNURE got 10mins!

  30. Kushagra India says:

    YES YES Now it may be the tonic we need COYRG…

  31. Kushagra India says:

    To make everyone feel even better spuds are out of top 4…

  32. Claver says:

    To the ManU fan who thumbed down my previous entry,here’s another;

    ManU are RUBBISH, RUBBISH club, RUBBISH mentality, RUBBISH football hence!

    To all Gooners, being out of one competition is NOT failure.

    Failure is NOT defined by a failure to win a Cup.

    Failure is IF our players abandon the possibilities STILL available.

    I hope Cesc gathers together the players, as Captain, and leads the team on.

  33. oz_gooner says:

    its another repeat year.. in form players injured.. How can v.persie, walcott, fabregas be out at the same time?? this is a frequent problem with arsenal.

  34. MistaKen says:

    Look, good defenders are out there. DB, Cahill and the Captain in the middle, Schweinsteiger. These are the missing pieces and YES we need to spend £50 or £55 mil to get them. Sorry, I just cant see how they would not improve us significantly.

  35. nikkogunners says:

    Even if Wenger will look around for reasons to tell fans for our losses, he had chances to strengthen the team and he did not. I think our B side has been our problem this season. If it was me i would strive to have a strong team B. Meaning you get 3 RvPs and Three Cescs and Three Djoroue’s if we have to win the trophies. I would get rid of Rosicky, Denilson, Bendtner, Scillachi and Almunia. I would bring in Edin Hazard, Vertgotten,Gervinho, Pappis Cisse, and Filipe Melo, and Lloris. This mean i will have four reliable strikers in RvP, Pappis Cisse,and Gerhinho and a good rotational policy will make everyone happy and no one will be missed so much (like we do when RvP is Injured) if they get injured

    • Charlie says:

      Great passing teams need a consistent line-up. It’s all about predicting where your teammates will be and then how do you buy top players to keep them on the bench. Defensively it works the same way. That’s part of the reason why b-team players haven’t been impressive. Having said that a few do need to be replaced and Song needs an effective deputy. Rosicky will hopefully be replaced by Hazard in the summer. The great news is that the kids that are in the youth team now will have a few years building up that telepathy, just hope enough of them make the grade.

    • SomeRandomGunner says:

      ROFL . 3 RVPs and 3 Cescs in the same team it seems.
      Yours is the funniest comment i have read in an arsenal blog. No one has ever gone to this extent in buying.

  36. Charlie says:

    The defense were superb against Barca so solution is we just need to play more world class teams. Slight fault on Clichy for his awareness of our offside trap, that is a small personal flaw that I’ve noticed. Interesting article, excellent actually. If I can just add your best defense is to match your defenders to their strikers so a big brute up against a similar striker. Arsenal cannot get one, he’d give the ball away when controlling the ball is our Mantra. It’d do more harm than good. What do our Spanish twins at Barca do ? They don’t give the opposition a sniff of the ball and I bet they let in a high percentage of the chances against them but there aren’t very many. Let’s keep heading in that direction.

  37. amband says:

    why try and analyse this? It’s not a science. We have the wrong players thanks to the board, who are ultimately the blame, then Wenger

    It’s quite simple

    • Charlie says:

      I can name 18 teams in the Premiership that’d love to have all of those “wrong” players and it’s soon to be 19. Not to mention thousands from around the world. Obviously it’s frustrating going 6 years without a trophy but to say that they’re all the wrong players is just ridiculous.

      • amband says:

        As a team they are the wrong player. We have a few great players, but you could sell half tomorrow and improve the team

  38. Arsenal says:

    I might be a simple man….Where Theo Walcott and Cesc Fabregas came back to defend when they lost possession. When then players like Rosicky, Bednter, Arshavin never or be consistently come back to defend as a unit when the lost possession? I’m a lost why many non First 11 Arsenal players cannot hasten the pace of our Fluidity of our passing game & back tracking all the way to defend off their socks? Is footballers playing for the dignity and glory for Arsenal

  39. Kushagra India says:

    No Vidic at Anfield for Manure relishing the prospect of Evans and Smalling playing together.

  40. Dark Prince says:

    Desi,
    Dont you think that the answer to almost all of your questions lies with a team that plays similar to us – Barcelona.
    They too are a team who hav lots of possession, plays lots of passing, lots of short heighted players who cant do much in aerial battles. So why aren’t they suspectable to set pieces or crosses?? They seem to have very good defensive discipline, much better than us to be honest, and yet they too play like us.
    It could be bcoz the spanish league dont play like us but still if any team goes against barca, even an english team, i dont hear them saying that Barca are vulnerable in set pieces or aerial crosses n the opponents should exploit it.

    So what is it that barca are doing that they are not targeted via set pieces or crosses?? That i think is where the answer to our problem lies.

    • Furovich says:

      Desi, you and others keep talking about the defensive system and strategy not being good enough. Well Wenger has had the same defensive style since he came to Arsenal and he’s won 3 Premier League titles and many other trophies along the way. Why is it now that you think Wenger needs to bring a new defensive coach in and what he’s doing isn’t good enough?

      Just because Arsenal hasn’t won a trophy for 5 years doesn’t necessarily mean something needs to change. We’ve seen Arsenal get it almost 100% right defensively in recent weeks against teams like Chelsea and Barca. There’s nothing wrong with the idea, clearly Arsenal have a defensive plan based on pressing and organisation and it has worked.

      Unfortunately, consistency from the players has been an issue and that it also a responsibility of the manager but it’s got nothing to do with the system. Desi, clearly you wouldn’t have written this article if Koscielny and Szczesney didn’t make such a bad blunder but again, that mistake had nothing to do with a defensive system, it was a terrible error due to one slip in concentration and focus.

      Wenger has said that until you win a trophy, your never 100% sure you have the ability to do it. If there is an issue at Arsenal I think it’s more likely something to do with that. Clearly Arsenal have some defensive issues but I think there more to do with players losing concentration, confidence and maybe being nervous due to the fact the club hasn’t won anything in a while. Maybe a new defensive coach would help by inspiring confidence and focus in the players. I don’t think it would be from coming up with a new defensive system or strategy.

      • Furovich says:

        If there is one thing I’m concerned about and I can only speculate, it’s regarding Wenger’s methods of strength training in the team. Strength training prevents injuries. It’s as simple as that. Again, I’m only speculating but by the looks of some players such as RVP and Fabregas, they certainly look like they could put on some lean muscle mass which would only improve their performance on the pitch as well as help prevent injuries.

        The injury list has crippled Arsenal over the last few years and while some of it has been unavoidable, there’s always the possibility that strength training could of prevented some of these injuries.

        I’ve seen average body weight statistics of Arsenal vs some other clubs and they are way behind. I would be so curious to hear Wenger’s thoughts on this.

      • desigunner says:

        @Furovich,

        The example from 2001 shows that these issues existed even back then. I don’t think Arsenal’s defence was that great even in those days but the competition was much less.

        This article has nothing to do with the error by Koscielny/Szczesny. In many of my articles I’ve mentioned that the issues for Arsenal are more systemic in nature. I don’t think that particular error was due to a slip in concentration but probably more due to poor communication. The issue with Arsenal is that these errors happen a lot more than they happen at other teams. That’s another point that hints at a systemic weakness.

        I do agree that confidence is an issue and unless the players win the first trophy it will be tough.

        I’m not saying the defence is hopeless. Just that it needs work.

    • SomeRandomGunner says:

      Barcelona defense is as bad as ours. It is just that the league does not focus on hoof to a big man and a bit slower. And generally there are not many “big” teams in la-liga from what i have seen.

      And when Barca is under threat it is almost close to a sending off to a defender or keeper that is the extent of the danger. I am very sure that they face the same problems as Arsenal. But they only have to play Big english teams which can be overcome with their style. Also refreeing is one big difference. No team can play “what they call a physical game” there.

    • desigunner says:

      @DP,

      Unless Barcelona play in the English league on a weekly basis withe English rules I’d not like to compare with them. The reason for this is that it’s very difficult to play this way week in, week out. It takes a lot of energy from the players and the knocks and kicks they receive also affect their performances. Moreover, Barcelona have hardly ever played against an English team whose key strength is set-pieces.

    • Metalhead says:

      @Dark Prince… Although Barca and Arsenal seem to be similar they are really different. Yes both play attractive football but while Arsenal stick to a formation I think Barca don’t actually have a set formation. Their fluidity is what makes them so effective. If any other team tried playing like they do they’d be ripped to shreds. A lot of people refer to it as total football. The reason Barca don’t concede set pieces (and this has nothing to do with the fact that they play in the Spanish league) is because they don’t let the opposition get a hold of the ball…. simple as that. Most other teams probably can employ 2 may be 3 players to press (when they don’t have possession of the ball), not more, basically to retain the shape of their formation. Because Barca are so flexible they can employ 5-6 guys to quickly press and crowd the opposition player out. Because of this approach the ball barely comes out of the opposition’s half. Add to this their passing ability …unparalleled, unmatched. They can literally pass the ball under the opposition’s nose and he won’t even have a clue.

      But the downside is that if they come across a skilled team they can hit them on the counter. And trust me not all teams can hit them on the counter. Only really skilled ones.

      • Metalhead says:

        So just to complete what I said…. because Barca press so well and keep the ball owing to their amazing passing ability, the oppression hardly gets a sniff at their goal. It does not actually indicate how well they may or may not defend set pieces. I’ve said this before…. no team is immune to set pieces. You can never perfectly defend a set piece. Everybody is vulnerable. It’s just how you organize yourself in the box that matters. I think Desi touched upon this.

  41. eleanor says:

    Your argument is nonsense.

    You seem to be taking a period of time: “the last few years” … sticking a soggy finger in the air … and divining the defending characteristics of three football clubs that have had multiple changes in personnel and coaches.

    Somehow, having had a reputation for a strong defence in the 1990s Arsenal now has a reputation for having a porous one?

    Yet all this flies in the face that since the beginning of the year Arsenal’s defence has been the best in the league.

    It’s a statistic that’s worth repeating: since the start of the year …

    Arsenal: Played: 8; won: 6; drawn: 2; lost: 0; goals-for: 18; goals-against: 5; clean sheets: 6; goal difference: +13. Premier League points: 20

    Man U: Played: 10; won: 7; drawn: 1; lost: 2; goals-for: 23; goals-against: 10; clean sheets: 3; goal difference: +13. Premier League points: 22

    Chelsea: Played: 8; won: 4; drawn: 2; lost: 2; goals-for: 15; goals-against: 8; clean sheets: 3; goal difference: +7. Premier League points: 14

    Even Man City’s much-praised defence hasn’t been as good as Arsenal’s: Played: 8; won: 4; drawn: 2; lost: 2; goals-for: 12; goals-against: 9; clean sheets: 3; goal difference: +3. Premier League points: 14

    We concede 5, Man U concede 10, Chelsea concede 8, and Man City concede 9.

    You choose an odd time to make a point that makes no sense.

    Sure, United have played two more games during this period. It still doesn’t detract Arsenal’s achievement. Nor does it mean we can’t win big games or are ‘bottlers’.

    What happened Sunday wasn’t ‘a disaster waiting to happen’, nor was it symptomatic of typical Wenger defending. They scored a goal. We scored a goal. We gifted them a goal. They won.

    If you tried to recreate the Szczesny/Koscielny error how many times would the ball land at Martin’s feet? Not the 100% of the time it actually did – that’s for certain.

    There doesn’t have to be a reason for everything.

    Oh, and of the 5 goals we let in during two months in the league … one was offside, two were soft penalties, one was a screamer, and the other was (like three of the previous) also with us down to 10 men and Djourou off the field.

    What exactly do you want of our defence?

    Because if it wasn’t for Szczesny, Koscielny, Djourou, and Squillaci we wouldn’t be five points behind with a game in hand and MU to play at the Grove.

    Maybe two months isn’t long enough to determine anything much, but not only can it not be ignored, it’s the best evidence we have.

    • desigunner says:

      You take the cake for spectacularly missing the point.

      This article is not a criticism of Arsenal’s defence. It’s a discussion on how Arsenal play and the problems we face.

      Since the start of the year Arsenal have defended fairly well but it coincides with the first team being fit and available. As I stated when the balance is right it works really well. But when that balance is off due to injuries, rotation or other reasons there are other issues.

      Anyway I put my effort in writing the article. Can’t waste time on explaining to someone how they’ve missed the point.

      • eleanor says:

        You say that your article isn’t a criticism, yet you use negative words like “woefully” and “clown”.

        You say that “we just want to see the team shut out a result” and as I point out we’ve had six clean sheets in our last eight league matches.

        You ask for a new defensive coach, but even though two months is a short period, don’t you think these recent results warrant patience. Or should we take your advice and start anew.

        Now if your first line of argument was for a fifth centreback of quality instead of the four Arsene Wenger feels sufficient – I’d agree. With Vermaelen injured Squillaci is the only viable rotation in front of Miquel and Song. And Squillaci isn’t adapting as quickly as I’d like.

        My point about your points is that in the Premier League – Arsenal’s priority competition – we appear, and only appear, to have turned a corner. And I also point out that the winning goal on Sunday was an anomaly not normalcy.

        I just think your timing – not your effort – is off. What’s so point-missing with that?

      • desigunner says:

        It seems you’ve scanned the article rather than read it. Those words and sentence have been used in a context and if you read it in that the meaning is not very negative.

        Even when I said a new coach is needed the next sentence itself says ‘it won’t be easy to integrate the two styles’. I know there are no easy solutions unlike some others who think by buying one or two players every issue will go away.

        You’ve gone in completely the wrong direction with that ‘fifth centre-back of quality’ thing. That just trivializes the whole issue because this isn’t about individuals, it just cannot be.

        As I mentioned in the article and in my previous comment, the performances since mid december coincide with the right balance to the first team. That’s why the defence looks good and will continue to look good as long as those players are fit. Even during this period the team has really struggled when that balance has been lost i.e. when the second string has played. Even Koscielny, Szczesny and Djourou couldn’t keep a clean sheet against Ipswich. The problem was not with those three but the team dynamic.

        It’s naive to think corners have been turned because there are no corners. It’s not the defence that has improved or worsened. It’s the team balance that works or doesn’t work. And when the balance doesn’t work the defenders/keeper sometimes end up ‘looking like clowns’ which is different from being clowns.

  42. ArsenalForever2004 says:

    This would make sense if you were talking about the seasons before this one especially 2005-2006 (aside from the Champions League), 2006-2007 and 2009-2010. The problem that I have with your article is that our open play defending has been solid this season (when Squillaci and Koscielny have not played together) and according to some of the pundits about 60% of our goals are from set pieces.

    The simple fact is that we need to get a defensive coach (guys like Keown or Winterburn would be a good idea but maybe unrealistic) who can teach the current Arsenal defenders on how to defend set pieces and help the Squillaci-Koscielny combination work as they are the defensive combination that might cost us the Premier League title in the end. Defensive communicaton would also need to be worked on.

  43. ArsenalForever2004 says:

    I do agree that us conceding more goals is due to our brave and attacking nature but Wenger needs to understand that cup finals are a completely different beast – they tend to be more cagey so Wenger should maybe employ a slightly more defensive mindset with a bit more emphasis on counter attacking football. As we saw in the final, you really can be lacking some luck so we need to at least make sure we concede as little as possible.

    Since Adams left in 2002, our defence has always been really dodgy at times apart from 2003-2004 obviously – 2002-2003 and 2004-2005 season come to mind right away. Look at when Henry was even here, remember how many chances he missed in the quarter final against Chelsea in the 2004 Champions League and against Barcelona in the 2006 final – when we could not be accused of lacking experience and a top finisher. Arsenal have been desperately unlucky in recent big cup games – we just have to try and be more clinical when we get the chances as early as possible in future and be difficult to break down off the ball in our own half.

    I am not saying to park the bus but keep the back 5 or 6 compact off the ball in future cup finals particularly at the start and end – for example, Birmingham had their best periods mainly at the start of the first half and the start and end of the second half. Arsenal had their best periods from just after Zigic’s goal to about the 80th minute before it got cagey again with Birmingham trying to step up just before extra time. I knew we would win in extra time as Birmingham were starting to tire which we could also kind of see when Arsenal were on top of things but then THAT mistake happened :(.

    • ArsenalForever2004 says:

      By the way my earlier point about the defence being dodgy since Adams left referred only to the period before the 2005-2006 season as the trophy winning was just masking these problems. It is obvious our defence has definitely been a problem ever since the 2005 FA Cup win apart from our 2006 Champions League campaign, the 2007-2008 Premier League season and arguably this season (when Squillaci and Koscielny have not played together). The difference is trophies have not masked the problem this time.

  44. Metalhead says:

    I personally think Arsenal are a decent defensive team. I really do. One of the main problems for Arsenal is dealing with the second ball. I think Arsenal are decent when defending the first ball but it comes to dealing with second ball they PANIC!!!!! They panic like there is no tomorrow. I think this is where the defensive organization comes into picture. I think Arsenal get drawn so much into defending the first ball that the second ball invariably goes to the opposition. Then there’s more panic. Suddenly he opposition has the ball close to your goal and the defense is all over the place. If we have players who can anticipate where the second ball will fall then I think we will be a lot better off. Again this is just part of the puzzle!!!!!!!!

  45. Bretty says:

    We’ve now conceded the same amount of goals as United.

    City and Chelsea are the only teams in the league to concede less than ours but both have conceded goals at far more crucial moments than we have in the league.

    Still. We do fall apart quite often (this can be higlighted by the amount of times Chezzer has stopped a 1 on 1 since he’s come in. Heck the suicide run at the end of the Carling Cup proved to be a well timed decision, and the fact he directed the header says it all about him really).

    Wilshere is looking to be a good physical presence BUT lacks any ariel threat with his tiny stature. Which is the problem with more or less all the team as you pointed out.
    Diaby can provide it but… he’s a hit or miss player in general and I see no point having a player thats main reason for being on the pitch is that he’s a bit of a better player at set pieces than other players. Plus most of the time his positioning is off.

    Keown is still speaking highly of Kos and I still think he’ll go far.
    He’s a smart player, he’s still adapting and for the most part reads the game well.

    I’m more worried about Clichy and his tendancy to fail at holding a line for offside traps.

  46. Bretty says:

    Also I don’t think the problem is a defensive coach but more a set pieces coach to work with defenders exclusively in the ways of defending.

    Standard defence is mostly solid.

  47. Siva says:

    It’s just me, yet to be caught up by the match tonight. Just expecting to watch a run of the mill 2-0 victory.

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