Discussion on Vermaelen’s Forward Runs And Arsenal’s Susceptibility To Counter-Attacks

Last Saturday, in the game against Norwich, Vermaelen won possession around the halfway line in the 26th minute and proceeded on a run towards the opposition box. Arsenal did manage to get enough bodies forward but Sagna’s cross was easily cleared leading to a counter-attack that resulted in the visitors’ second goal.

Many prominent bloggers, fans, and media personalities have cited Vermaelen’s run as a mistake that was, at least partly in their opinion, responsible for the goal. However, it’s worth studying whether this was a coincidence or if a causal relationship between the run and the goal does indeed exist. In other words, would the situation have been different if Vermaelen had stayed back or was his choice to venture forward excusable? And by taking the discussion forward we can also see if there are certain patterns that make Arsenal vulnerable against counter-attacks.

In order to analyze the situation let’s take a look at some snapshots of the build-up and note the events of the game as they happened. Based on that we will then venture into an analysis of individual choices/mistakes.

When the ball comes out to Sagna, we see Norwich roughly have two banks of four. They’re not in perfect straight lines but it’s clear the visitors are leaving two men forward while others are getting into defensive positions.

Vermaelen is circled in purple and Benayoun in blue. Rosicky is at the far end, barely visible so underlined by a blue line. Interestingly, the assist-provider for the goal – Hoolahan – is just in front of Rosicky and he’s underlined in red.

It’s important to note that Sagna has a lot of space down the right but very little support as Gervinho has moved into a central position taking the full-back with him while Rosicky is at the far side. Song and Ramsey are too deep to be of any help as an immediate attacking threat.

Due to the lack of support, Sagna had to create space for the cross through his own efforts. He did this by cutting inside and subsequently by going out wide with a change of pace. When the full-back puts his cross in, there are four Arsenal players in there – RvP, Benayoun, Vermaelen, and Gervinho. Seven Norwich players are also visible. In fact, there was an eighth player in there as well. Hoolahan was present on the edge of the box as can be seen in the next snapshot.

The assist-provider has moved from his position around the centre of the half (as seen in the first image) to a defensive area. He’s circled in red. Ramsey has moved up to cover the area just outside the Norwich box. At the time this frame was frozen, the ball had already been cleared. Norwich players were on their way out and Ramsey was turning around along with some of his teammates.

It’s worth mentioning that at this point the visitors have 8 players in their own box while Arsenal have 5 (Sagna is not in the box technically but can be considered so for practical purposes). That means the Gunners have a 5 v 2 in the area between the edge of the Norwich penalty box and the Arsenal goal. Goalkeepers are excluded.

When Song goes in for the aerial challenge from the first clearance, Arsenal still have numerical advantage in defence. The red line shows the run that Hoolahan is about to make. Ramsey, on the near side, and Rosicky, on the far side, are watching the ball without reading the threat from the run or the gap in the middle.

Holt, Koscielny, and Gibbs are out of the picture towards the left side i.e. on the centre line or just either side of it.

Song isn’t able to control his header and the ball falls to a Norwich player who immediately heads it back towards Holt. Ramsey has turned around and is again watching the ball. Rosicky is still unaware of the threat posed by Hoolahan.

When Grant Holt receives the ball and lays it off, Koscielny is not tight on him. Jackson has turned and is sprinting past Song. Hoolahan has taken up a good position in a central area.

With a couple of simple passes Norwich have turned this into a 3-v-2. Ramsey, Song, and Rosicky are trying to chase back but they are too far behind the play.

After that it was clever movement from Norwich leading to a slightly fortuitous but well-deserved goal.

With these observations in front of us, let’s ask the question again, albeit with slightly different words. Was this goal conceded primarily due to Vermaelen’s forward foray or is there a bigger problem with Arsenal’s shape outside the box, and the decision making, awareness, and execution of some players?

One might ascribe some of the blame to the centre-backs run if indeed Vermaelen had been a monster of a defender who’d have done much better than Gibbs in a 3-v-2. But as we saw in the first goal by Tottenham at the Emirates, and in quite a few others, Arsenal have conceded such goals even when the Belgian has stayed back.

If Vermaelen had stayed back it’s quite possible that Gibbs would have ventured forward as he normally does. So instead of Vermaelen in the box we might have seen Rosicky in the box and Gibbs patrolling the far post outside the box. Arsenal’s shape would have been very similar and the odds of conceding this goal would not have been that different, would they?

It’s also essential to recall that Arsenal often concede gilt-edged chances, and occasionally goals, from counter-attacks that originate from a set-piece/corner for Arsenal. In such cases one would naturally expect the centre-backs to go forward and for the covering players outside the box to do their job in preventing the break. If they can’t do it consistently, wouldn’t it be safe to say Arsenal have bigger problems than centre-backs venturing forward?

Based on this discussion it would seem really harsh to associate any sort of blame to the Belgian’s run in this particular instance. However, that does also raise the pivotal question of what actually goes wrong in such situations?

Discussing the roles of various players can provide some insights.

Song had enough time to read the flight of the ball and position himself in such a manner that he can better control his header. Why does he fail to read the flight of the ball, which then forces him into an awkward aerial duel where he can’t really control where the ball goes. By taking charge of the situation through better aerial play, Song could have cushioned his header towards Ramsey in front of he could have powered it wide to his left for Gibbs to mop up. At that time Hoolahan and others were too deep in the Norwich half and would not have been able to challenge Gibbs. Holt was behind Song and with Koscielny so he too would have been away from such a pass.

The Cameroonian’s inability to completely own the aerial duel, if you will, seems like a very minor point to quibble over. To a large extent that is true. However, as we will see in further analysis, often a number of seemingly trivial mistakes combine to form a catastrophe because of the dynamic nature of the game where everything is linked.

Next we can question the movement of Benayoun. In the first snapshot he can be seen somewhere in the middle of the Norwich half. At that moment the Israeli could see that Arsenal already had three players going into the box including Vermaelen. If Yossi held his run outside the box Ramsey could have stayed deeper in the area that Hoolahan exploited. Furthermore, Norwich would not have pulled as many players back and Sagna would have found greater space to cross into. The full-back might also have linked with the winger to create the crossing opportunity instead of creating space for himself. This might have given him a better shot at crossing the ball effectively or at least beating the first man.

Once again, Benayoun’s movement in itself was not a problem. With a better cross he might have made the difference in the box. But if Vermaelen’s run into the box is perceived as a problem area that exposes the defence, shouldn’t the winger have been more cautious with his movement? The issue here is of finding the right balance and shape so that the ball can be retained and pressure sustained while protecting the Arsenal goal.

Even Rosicky’s movement is questionable. If you look at the way Hoolahan moves from a central position to his own box and then back out in an attacking run, the Norwich player easily covers 70-80 yards in the space of a minute or so. In contrast, Rosicky is ambling around at the far end and does not read the danger.

His position might have been helpful if the cross went deep but once it failed to clear the first man Rosicky really should have started moving across to the middle. Norwich only had a couple of players up front and there was no one in a position to sprint forward on Arsenal’s left. By moving across he’d have been in a position to challenge with Hoolahan or at least force Holt into producing a quality pass rather than a simple sideways tap.

This too is a small detail but the point is, why do Arsenal make it so easy to attack against them, especially on the break.

With that in mind you could also question Koscielny’s decision to stay back instead of challenging Holt when the striker received the aerial ball. Similar analysis can be done about Gibbs’ decision to drop deep earlier than necessary or for the reasons Ramsey got caught in a “no man’s land”.

When we see a number of details going awry in a matter of seconds, it invariably leads to a strong counter-attacking chance. The opponents could still goof it up, indeed many do so, but when they get it right it usually results in a clear-cut chance/a goal.

Such minor errors happen often but usually at least one of the players does his job and the attack is averted. That often means that other mistakes are overlooked because a goal isn’t conceded.

The worst part and the most concerning aspect from Arsenal’s point of view is that these issues are not limited to one or two individuals. Virtually any starting line-up is vulnerable to these counter-attacks. How often have you read, “Gibbs was caught out of position”, “Vermaelen made an ill-advised run”, “the ball in behind the full-back”, “Corner for Arsenal, goal for them”, and such other observations explaining the build-up to goals conceded by the Gunners?

In most of these cases Arsenal have more bodies in defensive areas (relative to the Arsenal attack) to begin with but these are bypassed with ease leaving a couple of defenders to chase back and protect the goal against marauding opponents across vast spaces.

Looking back at the principles of defence, the Gunners lack compactness as the five players are spread out over the pitch, the depth is taken out by a couple of simple passes, and consequently they can’t put sufficient pressure on the opponents to slow them or to break down the attack.

Arteta does bring better defensive balance to the side because he reads the danger in such situations better. But that just highlights the dearth of defensive thinking in many of his teammates. And when you have such widespread issues, especially minor ones, you could ask if the manager and his coaching staff are doing enough to acclimatize players to their defensive duties. No one is born with the ability to read the danger. Instincts develop through training. It’s highly likely that Arteta is better at this because of his work at Everton where defensive solidity was vital to the team’s style of play.

Of course, there isn’t a single solution to such problems and it’s virtually impossible to eliminate them completely, but football is a game of percentages. Limit the number of gilt-edged chances created and you’ll control the goals your opponents can score. This will have a direct bearing on the number of points dropped and consequently the league position.

In fairness, it must be said that the Gunners do have phases during each season where they’re largely in better control of such moments. This usually coincides with a strong run and often with a settled line-up where players understand each other intrinsically. So it’d be a folly to think that Arsene Wenger does not know where the problem lies. But it does leave one wondering as to why he hasn’t been able to find solutions that work consistently and irrespective of the injury problems.

One could jump to a conclusion that Wenger can’t do much better or take it up as a challenge and delve deeper into the details to figure out the answers. One of the options is the easy one and seems like the obvious choice, the other is probably the right one.

DesiGunner on Facebook

63 Responses to Discussion on Vermaelen’s Forward Runs And Arsenal’s Susceptibility To Counter-Attacks

  1. The BearMan says:

    Our back line lacks leadership, hence the reason Arsenal should seek the services of Vertonhen.

  2. […] Discussion on Vermaelen’s Forward Runs And Arsenal’s Susceptibility To Counter-Attacks […]

  3. jatinbaveja says:

    Brilliant Piece bro! arsenal’s frailties exposed. do you think wenger needs defensive coach. specialist like Adams or Bould that he will be having next season.
    SAF has changed assistant coaches 4-5 times and as a result they are much less predictable and are able to iron out these kinda mistakes.

  4. raghugovind says:

    It has happened since long when the defenders are made to look like they will be totally helpless . It happened as early as the Carling Cup game against Man City , Then I think the FA Cup game against Sunderland which led to the AOC own goal and also the first goal we conceeded against Tottenham .

  5. Redcore says:

    Well, What can I say? No other blog describes the footballing side of Arsenal with such good clarity. This definitely is one of those rare blogs which clearly highlight Arsene’s mistakes as a manager and at the same time helps one appreciate the difficulties in setting those mistakes right. Great article once again Desi Gunner.

    I do agree that Arteta’s defensive awareness has been so impressive because of all those years spent under Moyes.

    Players who are coached in the Wenger way are less likely to have such good defensive awareness as they see contributing to the attack as their primary responsibility. I guess that is why AW is finally loosening his purse strings to get a natural defender like M’Villa.

  6. Tee Song says:

    I agree that a major part of Arsenal’s vulnerability to counter attacks actually begin when we are in possession. The problem isn’t necessarily that TV5 (or Song, or the fullbacks) makes forward runs. It’s that teammates don’t rotate to cover the vacated space. The players don’t seem to anticipate where they need to be in relation to the ball, their teammates, and their opponents when in possession, leading to an inability to press or control space in the transitions from offense to defense. Cesc has mentioned that at Barca, he found it surprising how hard Barca worked on these transitions, the clear implication being that it’s not something that they worked on at too much at Arsenal.

  7. th0rax says:

    Top post Desi. This is what people don’t realize. Signing new players doesn’t always solve these problems. There is lot more to defensive organization than what meets the eye. Whats concerning is that Wenger has failed to address it over the past few seasons.

    PL has evolved, and other teams use our counter-attack strategy (During 49 unbeaten run) against us and we don’t have an effective solution. Looking at the number of goals we conceded this season, what we need is a better and much more clever defending going forward. We have the individuals. What we need is tweaking the defense and the team’s mentality towards defending.

  8. cupsui says:

    Great analysis as always…
    but i feel ramsey and rosicky are to blame here.

    (1)Song won a challenged header and its always hard to direct it when challenged well. Credit to the norwich player for not making it easy. But credit to song for winning it. (Maybe he should dropped ahead of koz/gibbs after head covering centre)

    (2) Good to see gervinho making attacking runs (and he was very good again in this game…so no blame

    (3) Yossi was looking for a deep cross and since he is a winger thats the smart run

    (4) TV5 he makes his attacking run and good on him if he hadn’t done it this season we would be about 7 goals less.

    (5) Kozzer can’t take much blame for not challenging holt cause he went with him but saw the hoolahan run coming and had to pull back into position….

    Thus the blame goes to Ramsey and Rosicky for simply ball watching. One of them has to respond at least. TV5 goes up so at least one stays deeper which they both sorta did then just got lazy and ball watched as you said desi. But that is poor. Arteta or Song would never have idled back like that. They have to communicate and look around, be aware.

    This is why i think M’Vila looks like he is coming because wenger wants 3 midfielders that can essentially exchange all three midfield positions and cover properly – TOTAL MIDFIELDERs if you like.


    All three can move forward and pick out a pass in the AM role, run the box to box CM role and adequately cover the defensive DM role. (SEE MY POST at end of Norwich game review). Those are very very sturdy, combative yet attacking midfields…BALANCED. Lets hope we see it cause i think it will solve a little of our leaky defense on the counter. And then we have depth and rotation potential.

    • Prince says:

      Actually I think its more of Rosicky than Ramsey. Ramsey turned back after the Song header but Rosicky was still ball watching

      • santori says:

        …but Ramsey was slow to track back as he was on numerous other occassions and his positioning was suspect. Rosicky was too far away to cut Hoolahan off.

    • santori says:

      M’Villa will be very useful.

      Lot sof permutations for us to play (even the occassional Diaby can be thrown in the mix)

      Positioning. Song wasn’t great but ramsey showed no ambition to get back to help.

      I’ve defended the young fellolow but right now, he is not playing with the fullest of conviction and is a liability.

  9. Scott says:

    Without Arteta,there is not a midfielder who reads the play well enough to cover for Vermaelen(and others) who venture forward……who’s at fault???

  10. Tom says:

    Its fine for cb to go for a forwerd run as long as the deffensive midfielder slots back into the back for cover its as simple as that

    • santori says:

      But is it necessary for the CBack to go bombing forward so early on in the game? Particularly since we know we’ve lost Arteta and need to be careful at the back.

  11. AFEEZ AKANNI says:

    wot ‘we’ the arsenal fans need 2 know is dat arsenal lost out of all cups as a result of ERROS 4rm our center backs.take 4 instance we lost 2 mancity in carling as a result of counter attack,i don’t just know if vermalen is told 2 take up an attack 4 me he is marking a crucial position and dat position should not b toy with.I AM USING DIS AVENUE 2 TELL ARSENAL FANS DAT IF VERMALEN STILL JOIN D ATTACK IN OUR MATCH AGAINST WESBROM;WE WON’T QUALIFYY 4 CHAMP LG.

  12. Alex says:

    I believe that Vermaelen should keep bombing forward, his goals (most notably the one against newcastle following that magnificent run) are a great asset. However, there needs to be a midfielder that can drop deep when he does that. Song is not disciplined and defensive-minded enough and without Arteta we don’t have a person that can cover for vermaelen. Hopefully M’vila (if it is true that he has signed) well help plug the gap, although when it comes down to it what Arsenal need is better communication particularly between Vermaelen and Gibbs who both tend to make forward runs. Gibbs should cover for Vermaelen and vice-versa, but I think we won’t have many problems once the defensive-minded M’vila steps in! 😀

    • santori says:

      It’s not a problem with Song alone.

      Song is leggy. he has played a lot of matches this season and we have been fortunate to say the least that he has been fairly indestructable.

      The problem was he wasn’t getting adequet cover from Ramsey.
      Ramsey added nothing to Song’s game because he lacked conviction.

      No surprise that when he was taken off, we were more effective and Song better (Apart from the monumentous lapse of concentration for Norwich’s third of course)

  13. Aussie Jack says:

    What a professional analysis Desi you must spend hours watching replays.
    Outside of van Persie and possibly Arteta we`re pretty goal shy and I reckon the leadership instinct in Vermaelen tells him to show the way and he loves it. Ofcourse the wing/backs must retire the moment he goes over half way in anticipation of a counter should things go wrong. So I don`t attach any blame for conceding on Vermaelen. Just a word on Song. To me he`s a bit of a log and not as lithe as I would expect a modern day athlete to be, bit of a plodder slow to turn and doubt he can jump more than a foot off the ground, so it`s imperative he reads the flight of the ball. Messi is a shorty but his body automatically reacts to the ball trajectory and puts him in a favourable position. Point made.

    • AP says:

      Just kidding, it seems not everyone equally understood the class on parabolic trajectory due to gravitational pull 🙂

    • santori says:

      Again, people are now getting on the wrong horse.

      Song has always been slow.

      What has helped with Arteta (no speedy gonzalez himself)was the BAsque’s paositioning.

      With Ramsey, Song gets no cover from a player who is further hampered by confidence issue. Why were we playing him and why did we persist with him for so long.

      When Ox came on for the period he assisted in covering for Ramsey, what he lacked in know how, he made up for in speed and effort.

      Either that or the midfield duo (If we switch to a 4-4-1-1) has to play slightly deeper and more compact.

  14. 9jagunnerdoc says:

    Good analysis as per usual Desi. However, you have totally removed the focus on Vermalaen’s forward runs, which i think should be the main aim of this piece.

    Your analysis has focussed on just one situation in the whole game, that consequently makes it questionable because you ought to consider the whole game, then your analysis would have been more balanced.

    We all love our center backs to burst forward and score a crucial goal, we also accept that our team, in that match, completely lost all defensive shape, but it was also obvious that Vermalaen completely forgot he was a defender. I think he got carried away by his past runs and goals, just the way gets Song gets carried away by his designer passer and thinks all passes must be like that.

    I have yet to see a center back in the EPL play the way TV did on Saturday. Forget the goal and look at his whole game Desi, starting from the first minute, he just had to go forward. He was principally responsible for the loss of defensive shape in that game, no one else.

    So Desi, irrespective of your beautiful analysis of THAT goal, you or someone needs to tell TV5 that he is a central defender first and he should take care of his primary duties instead of leaving it for others.

    • santori says:

      I think it is a good review of a particular case but misses the woods.

      And conveniently avoids the Ramsey isue.

      Again, I like to state that I think highly of Ramsey but just think he is not the most confident out there at the moment.

      When he loses the ball, he makes poor effort to recover it at the moment giving it up as almost a lost cause.

      This does not help Song who is nominally not the fastetst and currently sloghtly leggy with the number of games played.

      Why were we keeping him on for so long when the problem was quite obvious?

      Why are we analysing this one instant when the game changed in our favour once we pulled Ramsey off???

  15. Mike the max says:

    Fantastic post vey well balanced. I like your analysis. I think that it’s easy to throw the baby out with the bath water on this subject. We can be special going forward because of the assistance of defenders but some players reading of the game is not as good as others particularly when we lose the ball going forward. I don’t want TV5 to stop going forward I want him to be adequately covered when he does.

  16. HashGun says:

    What struck me most about this goal was how slowly, very slowly Ramsey moved back to assist! He was slower than a snail. With a little bit of pace Ramsey could have turned this debacle around. I just fail to understand Ramsey’s lack of pace. I like the lad, but hell, his game has actually retrogressed

    • santori says:

      Spot on.

      There is a concious effort by Desi to avoid recriminations on Ramsey. I feel this does the entire analysis a diservice.

      I don’t think Ramsey is too slow.

      I just think he is not at his best at the moment and is now affected by all the jeering we have given him and lacks confidence. He does not press his effort tow in the ball back enough granted Song is also not on top of his game.

      But keeping Ramsey out there in this condition is a liability to us.

      yes Vermaelen should have been covered but Song is not getting the support he needs with ramsey at the moment. To avoid this issue (which Wenger did for an entire half) would be detrimental.

  17. A very good article man.
    I am also emphasizing about our defensive faults and the coaching errors since a long time but could not get this much better.
    But seriously for our game against Norwich the 1st goal can be blamed completely on the goalkeeper, i would not expect even Almunia leaving that one and we had enough defensive cover to deal with it that is why the shot went straight to his hands but he missed it.
    For the second goal i would like to make a point about TV here. See the reason why most of the supporters are blaming him for the goal is that he is our CB and i would expect him to read the danger from these attacking runs more than Gibbs. If it was him staying at the back and Gibbs in front as you explained(i must say is a terrific analysis) we would not have conceded that second goal because him and Koscielny both are great tacklers and you can not expect that from Gibbs.
    The third was the whole teams error and the goalkeeper can be blamed the most for it as it was very easy to judge at that he will be left alone after the striker passes Koscielny, he should have made a run forward. And he has done that a lot in the past i do not understand why did’nt he do it this time.
    Anyways i really hope there is no such repeat performance on Saturday. All should go well otherwise i am sure Totts will win their match and we’ll be left to wait till May 19th for everything. New players, RVP actually its a lot.

  18. Raffi says:

    Guys… Song is the key. He is the DM who forgets his role…
    Petit, Flamini, Gilberto never forgot what their jobs was.
    Yes, he put a few passes to RVP recently but his primary role is to protect the back four and he has done a bad job.

    • Redcore says:

      ‘Few passes to RVP’ – is quite the understatement mate. His assist count is 15 now. That is more than what our AM’s – Rosicky, Ramsey and Arteta’s combined assist count. Even in the Norwich match it was his assist that got us level.

      AW definitely encourages Song to get forward for this very reason. If a defensive mid who has 15 assists get forward, I would not consider that as an issue. If his teammates are not alert enough to drop back, cover and track runners when he does go forward then that is the real issue.

      I guess you can say the same about TV5s runs – It is risky but as long as he gets enough goals it is definitely worth the risk.

      • cupsui says:

        well said…you are 100% spot on. the problem is a lot less evident with arteta in the team (and again i’m sure it would be with Jackie boy too) so it is clearly a problem with Ramsey and to a lesser extent rosicky (as he has been the AM but i still feel he has some resposibility to do some covering)

      • santori says:

        Finally some sense.

        Rosicky is nominally too far forward to be counted to cover.

        With Song and Ramsey back, there should be enough bodies to handle the situation.

        Song wasn’t having a terrific first half but this is in part due to Ramsey not being able to cover properly.

        Granted some of the other players are even less experience in the position but if they are willing to at least put in more effort in winning the ball back, it would help Song tremendously.

        Ramsey did not do that enough.

  19. Passenal says:

    Wow, I knew Vermaelen was popular, but to construct a whole post to defend him and blame the popular scapegoat? Well done!

  20. Nero pet says:

    Well said but ramsey was doing nothing while song head the ball tv5 made run as usuall to add more number to the attack ramsey was brainless forgeting that most times ur work rate off ball is more important than on ball careless training from wenger blunt techniq i wonder some time when players need inspiration our coach ll be clueless HOW CAN U PASS BALL FOR 90 MINS WITH OUT PURPOSE our problem is more
    1 why buy gervino to win free kicks and no one to take it (ADVANTAGE GONE)
    2 we don’t have stratagies for corners kicks (ADVANTAGE GONE)
    3 no tricks for ref favour (ADVANTAGE GONE) too many to write

  21. asimtechno says:

    when a defender ventures forward its the responsibility of the defensive mid fielder to organise on a counter. and with arteta out we lack leadership and experience to do so. Rosicky at times does a good job with his well time sliding tackles, but, Song needs to be smarter with his moves.

    • santori says:

      Song did the right thing in attacking the ball in the air.

      What right move did you expect him to do?

      Ramsey needs to anticipate where it may fall. He was caught in no man’s land.

      he did not track Hoolahan either and made no effort to get back quickly.

  22. JW says:

    I was thinking about Vermaelens surging runs forward and how he has been prone to the odd mistake (being a little over-agressive, think of QPR mistakes) and then i remembered that the lad regularly plays LB for Belgium, and played LB for Ajax in his final season there. This is a position where such characteristics are highly valued. Now im not saying definately put him there, but it could be a good option if say Mertesacker comes back next season and Gibbs and Santos dont look too convincing. Thoughts?

    • santori says:


      Gibbs and Santos are far better out at LB. they have more speed (Gibbs at least) and therefore a better recovery rate.

      Bould is coming in as assistant. hopefully he can iron out some of Vermaelen (and the rest of the team’s) prechant for mistakes at the back and in midfield.

  23. Arsenal1Again says:

    It’s the precise reason I hated William Gallas. This guy was rarely near the defense when we conceded and when he eventually backtracked after it was too late, he proceeded to blame Clichy or Senderos. I still hate the player, he was ALWAYS trying to be an attacking Midfielder.

    Now Vermaelen is doing it, this can’t a coincidence. I think Wenger has told him to push up and keep a too high defensive line which, as we know leaves us exposed on the counterattacks. It only needs 50/50 decisions by the linesman to go the way of the opposition and our players are sprinting like Bolt, or wishing they were.

    The team is frequently blamed for results, but I see the tactics at fault time and again, I see the retarded team selection, the weird substitutions , the players out of position and stubborness from the manager to leave players on the bench when the supporters cry out for their inclusion.

    Why was Chamberlain on the bench instead of on the right side of Midfield from kickoff – while Gervinho plays on the left side of Midfield from Kickoff. PLEEEEEEEASE, for the love of God, tell me what the possible reason can be to leave it too late before putting these players into their NATURAL position.

    So Yossi scored a goal, good lad, but what better time then to pull him off the pitch. Why for the love of God couldn’t Wenger see that their was no right winger for almost 60 mins because Yossi naturally kept orientating into the centre of the pitch.

    Scunthorpe would have beaten us with that team selection BUT NO, it wasn’t Wengers fault, it was the team’s fault. That silly time again to pick out useless players to blame, such as Ramsey who shoukd not be made to play so deep. Talk about putting a ball and chain on players.

    If you want a Fabregas-esque player in the formation then you put one there. If you haven’t one available you change the formation to suit the qualities of the players you do have – you don’t try to change a player to suit your poxy formation.. When does it end? Geez, defenders in midfied, strikers on the wings, attacking midfielder being DMs and for what, to make Wenger look smug after a game is won by one of Van Persie’s let-off winning goals. Why keep seeintg this good fortune as tactical nous instead of what it really is, a lucky result. We came so close to have many tied games and if Van Persie was injured this season like he was in many others, we would be mid-table now.

    Rant over, sorry. .

    • santori says:

      Why did it take so long for Wenger to spot that Ramsey was whilly ineffective and to switch things round before the half?

      Why was Ramsey on in the first place. Would have preferred young Coquelin who is more technical and doesn’t panic when on the ball, able to get back for last minute tackles.

  24. Beekeeper says:

    Ramsey was replacing Arteta in the lineup versus Norwich, who is more of a holding /defensive midfielder. Yet again Ramsey ran around the field all day like a chicken with his head cut off. Not supporting teammates, not tracking back, just running around like a six year old.

  25. JJ Pittman says:

    Probably your best post ever. No doubt Arteta was the best addition to the team this season. Rotation, awareness are the keys to proper cover of forward runs. A lot of this is basic, but your detailed analysis of the one situation truly did lay open the general problem. Nice job!

    • santori says:

      I beg to differ.

      This is a case of seeing the trees but delibrately avoiding the woods.

      The problem is Wenger sould not be persisting with a player that is out of form and now suffering confidence issues.

      It does not help Song one bit.

      We are a bit stuck now because Coquelin sould cover at RB (don’t trust jenkinson)

      Therefore we can play someone like Santos RB and have Coquelin partner Song for West Brom or maybe the 4-4-1-1 with Chamakh up top, RVP roaming just behind, Song and Rosicky keeping things slightly tighter.

      • JJ Pittman says:

        @ Santori: semantics, maybe? Do think this instance illustrates the general case. And, no doubt, the specific “tree” Ramsey is often at fault. We are better without him, but Wenger sticks with him, anyway, so maybe he(AW) can’t see the forest or the tree.
        I hope he did see two consecutive positive, if limited, contributions from Chamakh. Once again, the next game is the most important match of the season, for the last time this season.

      • cupsui says:

        I think you should start trusting Jenko Fett. He is big strong has a good ticker and crosses better than anyone else. He is still learning a little his positional sense but it comes with games and he was showing huge promise and improvement during his stint in the 1st team. He should be RB with Le coq starting in the middle:

        Jenko Fett..King Kozzer..TV5..Gibbsy
        Sing Song
        Le Coq
        Lil’ Mozart

        thats my team with a direct approach but some restraint from mids and rosicky can use the excuse of being to far forward he is a midfielder and must also cover, but obviously the majority of that load goes to le coq and song

      • cupsui says:

        *rosicky CAN’T use the excuse of being to far forward…he must cover too…AWARENESS

  26. Gedion says:

    In as much is i like TV5 runs, i always fear coz each time we loose the ball on such occasions we end up with the ball on the back of the net. Put it this way the goals we scored were scored by forward players. It if we did the defending job properly, we would probably have won that game. In another nut shell, in a game where a team defends very well and stop the opponent from scoring, even if they don’t score any goal, they will share the points. Any time arsenal start a first eleven, all the positions are covered and i simply don’t see why defenders should always keep on attacking without a break. I agree with most of the comments here in the sense that we have conceded this kind of goal for so long and wenger as the manager should address it once for all or call for somebody else to address the defensive part of our game, its really wanting. One last note, if we loose to WB, add to dropping points against Norwich in our home game, i don’t think we deserve to be playing in Europe.

    • JJ Pittman says:

      Well, no matter what, we will be playing in “Europe”, but Europa League is a bigger joke than the”Careless” Cup. No offense, but it is a second rate competition, makes some revenue, occasionally has an enjoyable match, but it’s never on tv, is it? Where would you go to watch a match?
      So, your point really should be: we won’t deserve to be in the Champions League, if we lose to Baggies.
      How about if we salvage a draw which ensures 4th place, we then have to count on Bayern to save our place in the Champions League?
      We have not won a match since Arteta went down. That is one of the corollaries of Desi’s post.
      I am in New York to be at the Blind Pig for the 3rd time this season. Live 150 miles away, but have to be here. Almost 50 years a Gooner, and this has been the most exhausting of all.
      Still, I honestly believe this is a better team than last year.
      Kosc and TR much improved, Song maturing, AOC coming into his own, and, oh yeah, the captain scored 30!
      c’mon you Gooners!

      • santori says:

        Another area where this article should focus I feel is how we lose focus and seem unable to close shop having done the hard bit in (getting rid of Ramsey finally), coming back to 3-2 .

        Enough instructions from the bench to keep ourselevs in check and level headed as oppose to being affected by Adrenalin?

        I wouldn’t mind some analysis on this end.

        To that end, I would say Ramsey is not wholly culpable as the team was overall poor but he was not an extra man for us throughout his time on the pitch.

      • kaypeenator007 says:

        @Santori The irony is that it keeps happening year after year which puts the coaching in poor light…

      • cupsui says:

        Agree ramsey is not wholly culpable…Song and rosicky gave it away too much after 3-2 and TV5s tackle at the end was embarrassing. As i said he stays and pushes morrison wide. we win 3-2 and we secure 3rd place…but didn’t happen.
        I think wenger must take a little blame for starting ramsey in the CM role, if he has to play move Rosicky to CM ramsey to AM although i think rambo can be effective off the bench which he has been this seaon.


      • cupsui says:

        But wenger must also take some praise for changing shape and lifting the side…tactically aware…interesting to know if he told them to shut things up a bit or to push for the sealer?

  27. Foolishgooner says:

    Wow. Very impressive Desi. One thing I might add is the lack of defensive awareness of our midfielders is alarming! Hustle (non wing/forward) can prevent such problems. I saw Coquelin running back a full speed from the right wing once the attack broke down. He prevented a clear shot on goal! Rosicky and Ramsey do not have it In them. Defender helps attack, central miss do not cover or Hustle all the way! Far too many times.

    • santori says:

      Spot on. We put Coquelin in on and you can see the differance.

      He should have subbed off ramsey in the first place. Pity he had to come on for that horrific Sagna injury.

      Buut what is the gaffer 9and PAt) doing? We could all see the alarm bells through the match and that Ramsey had no fight in him.

      Why keep him on all that while? Why even start him?

      Bad bad decision by Wenger and bench. Sorry.

      To see it otherwise is IMHO missing the point.

  28. kaypeenator007 says:

    Top post Desi and thats why Cesc is not getting enuf games at Barca as he is still acclimatising to their defensive system. I hope Bould can do this job for us as Wenger has failed and failed again…

  29. […] Song being so involved going forward is also a reason why Arsenal have been susceptible to the counter-attack this season, as Desi Gunner highlights very well […]

  30. Bayonne Jean says:

    Fine analysis, Desi. Your sentence starting with “The opponents could still goof it up, and indeed many do so…” brings to mind the home Villa league fixture, where Albrighton had two easy chances early on from similar circumstances to the Norwich goal but fluffed his lines. You sweep these aside when you go on to win a match comfortably vs. a dire side, but it does underscore the systemic nature of the failings.

  31. passthesugar says:

    do you agree with having alex song as the player of the year? I think he’s so underrated – and hope he doesn’t make way for m’vila…


  32. HuieuWam says:

    Going through all the posters here, I thought the mighty Arsenal is on the verge of relegation. The last time I checked, we’re still 3rd. Calm down, Mr. Santori. We have heard you loud and clear. You do not have to bash Ramsey and the Manager repeatedly. By the way, it’s much easier to be a Monday morning quarter-back.

    • JJ Pittman says:

      Hey, we’re nervous! Being “relegated” out of Champions League would be not only a financial disaster, but would severely diminish our chances of keeping RvP.
      We have had a lot of help in the last few weeks, and needed every bit of it.
      When we know how well we can play, we want to see a clincher, not depend on Bayern Munich.
      I’ll be rooting for them anyway, but don’t want to need them to beat Chel$ki

      • cupsui says:

        I agree with you both…it is a bit nervous but yeah settle down too we are only in this position from the unity and both physical and mental toughness of this squad…coming back from where they were at the start of the season. Wenger needs a huge applause for what he has done…BUT
        Job is not over we MUST beat WBA cause i can’t see Tiny totts slipping to a depleted fulham…its in our hands…lets do it…SUPPORT THE LADS!

  33. nikkogunners says:

    Great piece! They should take you as a defensive critique at Emirates Desi. I think Vermaleen is not wrong to once in a while venture into attack. What we lack is leadership in the middle of the pack. I had issues when Henry was made captain and i felt that a striker is often watching upfront to benefit from the mistakes made by the opponent or attack brought in by the team. Other than provide inspirational support a striker upfront cannot command when defense is needed. Desi, how many squads with strikers as captains have won titles? very few. We need a strong defender or midfielder with responsibilities. i think it time Song or Konsienly is made Vice Captain with executive responsibilities to stamp his authority in the defensive formation. The Goal keeper looks a good candidate but he remain transfixed in his goal mouth and may never have chance to communicate against developing threats early on. He would have been issuing instructions and would take responsibility when the defensive formation falters. No doubt, our attack side has had more captains in the recent past and RVP is a good inspirator but some in the middle of the park must be given real responsibilities to instill discipline in the team mates to take responsibility. His duties should be communication of threats and movements to cancel such threats. In the case where Norwich got the ball, The defensive captain if you will in the middle of t5he park would have shouted to Rosicky and Ramsey to to cancel out the threat. Come to think of it we may have three Captains – A defense captain – Szczesny would be my vote there and Midfield Captain – I would give Song and then RVP attack Captain and the overall Captain. The defense Captain would ensure we defend first then attack to win the game – The midfielder would be responsible for transition – defense to attack and attack to defense, The attacker would be in charge of goal getting and tracking back in case of lost of opportunity. Patrick Vierra played these roles all rolled into one for the invincibles (Man City have already recruited him to assist with defensive organization there) and Roy Keane was the same effective captain with all three roles combined into one huge role too for Manchester. Desi, it’s about leadership in the park for me and Arsenal is a team of many captains and perhaps those dynamics play into the communication gaps in a game…

  34. […] Unlike Almunia or Fabianski, Sz13 oozes confidence, a good trait for a goalkeeper, and any human being for that matter. He also comes across as someone loyal to the club, a true gunner, something that has endeared him to the hearts of the fans, so much that we are willing to overlook his flaws (see also: Vermaelen). […]

  35. […] Watching throughout the season I noticed frequently huge gaps between the Arsenal lines, which the opposition would regularly take advantage of when counter attacking. Combined with the team’s often lackadaisical attitude to tracking runs, this was often our Achilles heel. A very good blog post by Desi Gunner examined the Norwich example in detail (click to read). […]

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