2010-11 Season Review: In Defence of Arsenal

I thought it might be a good idea to read what I wrote while analyzing the problems and weaknesses in defence at the end of last season. A quick glance told me that I could just copy paste some parts of that article and it will still be just as relevant.

Sample this,

…many of our top players have made big individual errors in important games. At times it’s been an error in positioning, on occasion it’s been poor awareness, sometimes they’ve panicked or had a lapse in concentration, and some are just painful bloopers.


The other problem we have defensively is on set-pieces. Too many of our players just don’t have the ability or physical attributes required to win the ball in the air. This has forced us into a tactic where we put 7-8 men in our own six yard box and hope that the bodies will block the goal.


The full backs have been left exposed on a regular basis, especially on the left with very little help from Arshavin.

It is not hard to see why many fans feel nothing has been done about the defence and the same issues are harming our chances every season. But I think that is an unfair opinion that doesn’t do justice to the work that has been done over the last year because it trivializes the whole debate.

This season we did see some critical changes,

  • The goalkeeper didn’t come out to gather/attack crosses or set-pieces as often as last year. As expected this made Fabianski and Szczesny look a lot more reliable than anyone custodian did last season.
  • Directly related to the point above was the fact that the central defenders and others took a lot more responsibility (Blackburn and Sunderland away are excellent examples). If the Keeper wasn’t going to come for the ball someone else had to deal with it. Unfortunately, this hasn’t solved the problem but the blame has shifted from the Keeper to the defenders.
  • The number of counter attacking goals conceded has reduced. There were some lapses on that front which resulted in some defeats (West Brom at home, United in FA cup, and so on) but the problem was controlled better than last season. This change enabled the Gunners to halt and conquer the embarrassing run of results against some of the big sides.
  • The number of suicidal reverse clearances has gone down. Last season the Gunners were hesitant when it came to knocking the ball out for a corner or throw in the defensive third. This season they were more willing to take the safety first approach with Koscielny making a key contribution in this regard. This hasn’t been completely eliminated as we saw when Clichy attempted a crazy clearance against Sunderland early on in the season. But the improvement is noticeable and worthwhile.
  • The rotating triangle in midfield has evolved into a better system than the solitary, designated DM from last season. This could be one of the key changes that led to the reduction of counter attacks. I do feel there are games when Arsenal should play with two distinctly defensive minded midfielders. More on this while discussing the midfield.

These observations tell us that a lot of work has gone in on the training pitches. Clearly, that is a positive change. Evidently, it isn’t enough.

I am not a believer that buying a big, tall, commanding, central defender who can lead and organize will solve all or most of Arsenal’s problems. Such a player doesn’t exist. If you don’t believe me, just watch John Terry and Rio Ferdinand playing for their national team.

The single most important factor in creating a solid defence is the system. Barcelona have evolved a system wherein they don’t let the ball reach their defensive third that often. Most other teams focus on defence ahead of attack. Arsene has been in a limbo and hasn’t been able to create an attacking system that suits his vision while having defensive solidity.

Part of the problem is definitely in the size of the players. In England, no team can win major trophies purely on technical merits. That does not mean players of the calibre of Cesc, Wilshere, Nasri, Arshavin, et al. should be discarded. The trick lies in finding the right balance.

Analysis of this season’s performances is not straightforward because the final few weeks have been awful in an unprecedented way (haven’t checked the facts but I don’t think Arsenal have had a run of 11 games under Wenger when they’ve managed only 12 points). It’s difficult to ascertain the contribution of individual errors, systemic problems, and mental issues in this collapse.

At the start of the season and during the January window I’d mentioned that buying a versatile defensive player should help. With the benefit of hindsight that seems like one of the areas where we missed out on. A stronger player suited to the English game could have contributed a lot to this season especially when Diaby was struggling with injuries, Rosicky lost form, and Denilson regressed. There is no guarantee that it would have led to trophies but the number of mistakes might have gone down and who knows how that would have affected the mentality of the players.

Transfer dealings can always have an impact but I don’t want to speculate at the moment as the possibilities are endless. I have never been against buying quality players but don’t be under the assumption that those who are successful in other leagues will deliver in England. Squillaci too had won titles in France and Spain before coming to Arsenal! Similarly, there is no guarantee that a player, like Cahill, who looks good in a smaller team will succeed at a big club. There are plenty of examples where big money signings from English clubs have been flops. Since the fans don’t really have anything remotely resembling detailed information it seems foolhardy to raise hopes based on lazy and ignorant pundit opinions. In this regard I completely trust Wenger’s knowledge, the information that he collects, and his judgment/method.

On the whole, I think the defence has moved in the right direction. The work will have to continue in pre-season training. I think this is an area where Arsenal can use a fresh voice with a different perspective. A new coach can do wonders for the squad but finding the right person – in terms of knowledge, mentality, and ability to integrate with the current staff and players – will not be easy. For now we can only wait and watch.

25 Responses to 2010-11 Season Review: In Defence of Arsenal

  1. N5 says:

    look at john terry and rio ferdinand for their club teams

  2. G4L says:

    The final few weeks have recreated the impression that nothing has changed and frankly it’s hard to argue against that. Each year the reasons are different but the results are the same.

    You might be right in saying that analysis of the free-fall is not straightforward but Arsenal have to do better. That much is straightforward.

    I think the defence needs a major shake-up in the form of new personnel and staff. Even with an improved system it’s hard to see the current set-up delivering over the course of the season.

  3. T2T says:

    Desi, I agree with your strategic outlook. Reading and listening to many of the Arsenal fans, it´s almost like we´ve been relegated and not placed 4th in the most competitive league in the world. Looking at some of the results, e.g. against B´ham in CC where Arshavin was wrongly judged to be offside and didn´t get a penalty, the result – even with the comical last minute goal against us, we would have won. When RvP was wrongly sent off against Barcelona, we were on our way to beating them over a two-legged contest, …
    Wilshere has taken huge leaps forward, we have Walcott who is now well established (although on a lower level than I was hoping for) and the defence with the best RB in the league, last season´s top 2 CB out for basically the whole season and Gibbs emerging as a possible LB regular, we didn´t do too badly. Arsenal is continuously being criticised for a leaky defence but both Tottenham and Liverpool are worse.
    We win as a team, we lose as a team, we score as a team and we concede as a team. Defending is NOT only a task for the defenders. Barcelona is the prime example of that. The energy they put into winning the ball back immediately after losing it the one thing I´d like to see change. Of course, a defender like Verthongen or Hangeland wouldn´t hurt either…

    • alphie says:

      thats the one thing desi missed out on……can we soak pressure or should we pressure from the mid-field upfront….

      its tricky coz epl teams are better at counter attacking generally than teams in spain yet again long ball merchants including refs just means soaking pressure leads to goals….tricky

      i prefer if we start adapting more tactically to each team like we did on a few occassions this season….we need more than one system.

      an example being man-utd’s clear adaptations to 442,433,424,451…

      wenger sometimes waits too long to change stuff around but at the very least substitutes are coming in much earlier.the previous season to the one which ended was sickening especially that wigan game,van persie was brought with like 10SECONDS to go…i was like WTF…its happened a few times this season were sometimes the team is FLAT and wenger needs to be making changes at CERTAIN times like at half-time or if even possible immediately….mourinho has the guts to do so. if players are having off-days dont let it affect the team,get them out and try in the next match except arshavin….hehehe

  4. bob says:

    There’s still the issue of the mystery and impact of the Verminator’s injury: did Arsene know or not know whether the Verm would return? I believe he couldn’t have known for sure and gambled on Verm’s return, rather than spend (conservative approach or on a fiscal leash?); and felt he had enough with Squilacci rather than admit a flawed purchase (which many of the fans were screaming about at the time). Whatever the reason, Arsene’s/Arsenal’s failure to get help – as in greater depth – at the transfer window was a major blunder.

    It does seem like we had something strong emerge in Djourou, but he seems to have failed badly in the collapse of the last games. The need for a fierce defensive coach is great, it seems. Whether that person and Arsene co-exist remains to be seen. Perhaps Pat Rice will take on that persona as a condition of his staying on. The commitment – indeed requirement – to collective defense is essential. Perhaps that’s what Gallas demanded and, in his way, ruffled too many feathers. But the essence of what he demanded is still missing, as he said in today’s interview. Even if people feel good riddance, it doesn’t mean he is wrong – he did have a bird’s eye view and he’s not coming back, so why lie about it? I think he’s right, but I don’t know enough to be sure, only persuadeable.

    It seems that the addiction to an offense – that was not clinical enough and bereft of ideas when Cesc was too often injured, and that could not overcome a parked bus – could not paper over the defensive flaws. Also, as an easy to say but I think demonstrable rule, it seems that too many people are being asked/forced to play positions that are not their natural positions. I don’t know why, but I think it’s demonstrable and that Arsene could stop seeing himself as always being able to shove a square peg into a round hole.

    • desigunner says:

      I would certainly love to know the exact details of the Vermaelen injury management or rather mismanagement. Based on the quotes it seems everyone expected him to be back sooner but that does not justify the manager’s decision making. He should have been more decisive – a quality he likes in his players.

      I didn’t really rate Gallas as a centre back so I don’t want to read too much into his comments which to me seem laughable. He hasn’t proven anyone wrong because his performances have been quite ordinary. Last I checked Spuds actually conceded more than Arsenal and scored less. He went there on half the wages he was getting at Arsenal so he clearly had a high opinion of his worth and it backfired. I think he is just bitter. Apart from that he also had trouble with more than one player. That tells me the problems were with his personality rather than the others.

      Interesting point about people playing out of position. I think it should be explored further. I’m off the opinion that there is nothing like fixed positions when the manager and players are good enough. Wenger has been able to get a lot out of some excellent players but all his players aren’t good enough to deliver at that level when played out of their preferred positions. But in the modern game flexibility is a must.

      • bob says:

        Desi, I’m jumping the gun a bit by shifting to offense, but the flexibility that’s demanded in the modern game saw Bendtner, Arshavin, Walcott, RvP all being played out of their Preferred positions. Now we can say who are they not to be flexible as they are so well paid, and blah blah. But is it wiase to have that many players of the view that they are not being given their optimal role on the pitch. It’s disturbing to me and I fear that it builds up a conscious or unconscious resentment over time that can, in the hard times that the team spiraled into, can add to or cause despair or indifference or accelerated unraveling. I hope you might address this further in your Offensive (no offense!) Analysis to come. My feeling on RvP is that, as many have suggested, he’s even more effective coming in from behind the lead striker, not being the lead striker. And, of course, Arshavin did show how well he could tackle when he put his mind to it; but whether he has the physical stamina or prowess or youth to keep that going throughout a match is highly doubtful and so, a real deficit as we know on defensive, especially with Clichy behind him.

  5. bob says:

    Desi, In all fairness, it wasn’t (as you suggest above)with benefit of hindsight that we can state that we paid a heavy price for not paying for further defensive depth during the transfer window. People far and wide were calling for it, imploring, demanding it. I can only hope that there is some degree of soul searching and honest personal assessment within the managerial ranks to learn from this apparent mistake. The real reason has not, I think, been shared with the fans – a way of parking the bus against just criticism which I don’t find healthy.

    • desigunner says:

      I didn’t mean to imply that we can only say this with the benefit of hindsight. I wanted to suggest that with the benefit of hindsight it can be confirmed that this demand was indeed valid. As you might have noticed, I was one of the few who wanted a signing although I was more in the hoping bracket than the imploring or demanding ones.

      • Miranda says:

        I can’t believe Wenger didn’t know or at least fear that Vermaelen’s injury was long term. Achilles problems are notoriously difficult, and when Benayoun was diagnosed with the same injury at just the same time the return date was immediately given as April-May. Wenger’s problem was that at that point there was no good-value replacement he wanted to buy, so I suspect he was just fobbing off the media/fans with the initial announcement that Vermaelen wasn’t out for that long. Can you blame him? Well, yes, you probably can, but just imagine the outcry there’d have been if he’d told the truth and said that he doesn’t do panic-buying, not now and not in January either, so it’s just tough luck that we’ll be without our best defender for most of the season.

        Trouble is, this policy may have come back and bitten him in the bum even more than normal because he’s not got just the fans on his back; the players are getting demoralised and wondering whether to put their own careers first and move on. So apart from the half dozen we are happy to lose (Almunia, etc.), there’s now Nasri and Clichy and possibly Arshavin, not to mention the continuing problem of Cesc. The worst of this is that, knowing Wenger, he won’t sign an expensive central defender – e.g. the PSG one – until he knows what other positions he has to buy for – left back, playmaker, holding midfielder, cover for Sagna, striker, keeper etc.(!) – and how far the available money will stretch. At which point it will be what, July, August? If we don’t make a signing quickly I think I shall scream!

  6. SoCal_Gun says:

    like you said….many of the team’s short comings from the last year have been addressed, but not solved

    you said you found a few paragraphs to copy from last yr’s season review, but in all honesty the team’s failings were the same…though to a much lesser degree (until the very end, of course)

    So….with this theme of continued growth and progress it would seem logical to believe (AW’s FAVORITE word in the world btw if nobody has realized by now) that this team can win things next year. By all accounts they should have won things this year. And I do believe that once the team wins 1 trophy, the floodgates will open

    ALL of this critically hinges on Wenger being able to keep this core group of players. And as we’ve all seen in the last few days, the ONLY way of keeping your current stars is by buying new ones

    It’s finally time for some god damn $$$ to be spent

    • Tim says:

      Yes, we will spend some $$$/We will spend 90k per week for Clichy’s salary. You happy? The guy is 25 and he cant cross.Do you think he can suddenly be able to cross. He is no Coentrao,Alves,Lahm,Van der Wiel,Maicon and Bastos.We are overpaying for not quality players.
      My point is if money are to be spent , it should be for the RIGHT players.

    • Miranda says:

      It looks like we’re signing Gervinho, so we’re getting our wish. One up, six to go.

  7. Tim says:

    Next season is the first time I am afraid that we may finish outside the top 4.Then, I look at Liverpool and see them sign Hederson for 20M and think nah they wont finish in front of us. Let’s see what Spurs do in the market. They are not in the Champions League so I doubt that they will buy quality.Still 4th will probably the best we can do which is just sad. I can’t see Man City finishing behind us next season.Chelsea will struggle to get top players because Modric and Hazard can’t leave while Palermo dont want to sell Pastore.Lukaku is like Drogba.He will struggle to play with Torres.Neymar is too expensive.Lampard and Essien are past it.Mikel not good enough.Chelsea will probably be pretty poor next season but even if we finish above them it wont mean we will get a trophy.

    • G4L says:

      Why should Arsenal finish above Man City? Do Arsenal have a divine right? You believe spending is the way to go and you want Wenger to outperform with Arsenal’s budget against the Sheikh’s? Seriously?

      If spending was the key to success, Arsenal would never win the big trophies. It’s the fatal flaw in the Wenger must spend argument.

  8. Tim says:

    ”In this regard I completely trust Wenger’s knowledge, the information that he collects, and his judgment/method.”
    In recent years,his transfers haven’t been that great to trust his methods. Squillaci and Chamakh(cant dribble cant shoot ) are far from quality signings.Diaby and Denilson did not turn out to be as good as he thought they would become.Rosicky ditto.Arshavin has scored a lot of goals but he has disappointed us with his laziness and probably has cost us a lot of goals because of lack of work rate.I dont even want to talk about Silvestre.Adebayor and Flamini left too early so no good signings.Gallas…… Probably Nasri soon……Thomas Vermaelen is poor defensively.Overall,players who should be there for the long term and perform consistently havent actually done it so I think there are too many and we are starting the cycle all over again with the likes of Szczesney,Wilshere,Ramsey,Bartley,Coquelin,Frimpong,soon Afobe.Who knows how many we will manage to keep by the time they are 24.

    • G4L says:

      What an astonishing rant.

      Tim, why don’t you compile a list of signings from top clubs and then give us a comparison based on some clearly defined criteria. Given the kind of meaningless arguments in this comment of yours any signing can be considered a bad one.

      Hernandez scored a lot of goals but he was a dud in the biggest game of the season so he is a flop. Silva hasn’t scored enough or created enough, didn’t do anything against the big teams so he must be a poor signing. After signing Van der Vaart Spurs dropped out of the top 4. He contributed to attack but didn’t do enough in defence. So he is a bad signing. Do you realize that’s how absurd your points are?

      • Tim says:

        I am just saying that a lot of the recent(last 4-5 years) signings Wenger has made didnt turn out to be as good as expected or because of lack of trophies we keep losing them by the time they reach 25. I criticize them because we haven’t finished in the top 2 for many years. This season we were probably the best team in the league but we finished 4th. Even horrible Chelsea finished ahead of us.

        Hernandez is a limited player. He is at the right place at the right time and scores a lot of goals but apart from that nothing else. Ferguson is happy to have him so I guess it`s a good signing for them.He is no flop like you suggest.David Silva is no flop either. He hasnt scored or assisted enough goals but when he didnt play Man City couldnt string two passes together. He provides the fluidity and creativity. He usually is the one who provides the pass for the assister so his lack of assists does not mean lack of creativity.Van der Vaart for 8M is a good signing but not great. He is injured often and lacks stamina. Spurs’ problem is that their strikers suck and Man City spend a lot more.That’s why they will never get in the top 4 again.

  9. Mahesh_deGunner says:

    Arsenal have all the attributes of a Champion team… the only thing they lack is commitment and desire to win…. some of the players think their job is to only attack and dont defend…. i dont know why the some of MF dont even try to head the ball or tackle the balll… even though some may be small, they can still jump right???? or atleast try to push the opposition player to get him off balance…. look at wilshere…. that boy has desire to win, commitment, love for the club… tats wat the fans need… they wont care if u dont win trophies… just the commitment…. the only way to get the things right is in the hands of Wenger…. he has to give a little of hair dryer treatment to help the players remember their roles and that they are playing for Arsenal…

    The big name signing may not be great, may not contribute welll… but atleast they ll try to prove their worth by working hard and giving their best… all the players want motivation and someone needs to give it to them… all rests in Wenger…. Gunner 4 life….

  10. Kushagra India says:

    Desi cant agree with the rotating triangle theory
    Firstly it cost us a lot of points at the start of the season
    Secondly I don’t think Song isn’t consistent enuf to play in that traingle which requires a gr8 footy brain….and large periods of playing together(would rather Vertonghen a more total footballer IMO)
    Thirdly whenever one of the players in the three gets injured the new one requires time to adjust which again costs us a lot of points

    This triangle requires total footballers and helluva lot understanding btw the three which only comes with playing time so u need to be lucky for much season and I think its a gamble which backfired spectacularly in the later season ….Clichy suffers the most due to the absence of mobile CDM especially since we changed from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3. We should rather keep it simple and get a better CDM….start from the back because we dont have the players of the calibre of Barca and This IS England!!…

  11. Kushagra India says:

    Last but not the least every year you could right about our defensive frailties but the end result remains the same as I have presented you a stat before ,of our continual under-performance in the second half since 2005 barring the year when we made a signing in January window a certain Andrei Arshavin(a signing which boosted the morale) and we were fighting 4th tells you about the inherent mental problems .

    Every year one player or another causes a ruckus (Nasri dis time) which has a profound impact and Arsene seems unable to handle it I hope not this time finding his replacement who could right away deliver the goods wouldn’t be easy …..

  12. Kushagra India says:

    On Gallas I agree that our players pussyfoot a lot due to a family culture that Arsene tried to built at the club that has made our players moaners and consistent bottlers because they lacked leaders and winners among them ,if you see any club that has won trophies in the last decade or so in England all have showed a nasty streak required to win big matches as one poster said to me that you can see the fear of Fergie driving manure on for the last 20 mins or so,the no of points the snatch at dead end is exemplary just like the gr8 German sides at the international stage have been renowned for the same leadership qualities……In England it cant be overlooked no matter how you cook it….
    Secondly Gallas has always looked good when he has played with a tall dominant CB remember his Chelsea days where he was a world beater we haven’t had one since the days of a young Sol Campbel hope DJ turns out to be that one and I believe in Kozzer have a got a gem in our hands……

  13. 1-eight-7 says:

    in defence of Wenger as always.


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