Tuesday 1 December 2009

Back to Basics

The fact that Arsenal took yet another beating at the hands of Chelsea on Sunday is hard to take, especially coming at home. 1979's match report is spot on, and whilst I tend not to blame the ref for everything, several key moments decided the game. Arsene Wenger has promised to unveil to the media today his statistical analysis that shows the gaps between Chelsea and Arsenal were very slim, and I look forward to seeing what he says, but i think the stats really only tell a fraction of the story of the Chelsea game.

The stats on the Telegraph's website say that we had 55% of possession, 50% of the territory, but only 4 shots to Chelsea's 8. What the stats don't tell you is how many times did Chelsea waste possession when in a good position (very few), how many times did Chelsea get out of position defensively (none)? In contrast, how many times did Arsenal - a number of times on both counts. And narrow margins win these kind of games.

However, what I have found very telling since Sunday is that the Chelsea's first XI has played together a great deal over the last 4 or 5 years. Of the starting XI on Sunday, I think only Ivanovic and Anelka have been at the club for less than 5 years. Their team is not just packed with talent, but its talent that has been playing together for years and years.

In contrast, I would be amazed if Arsenal's starting XI has ever played together before. It simply can't have done. But the only one of them that I would not describe as a "first xi player" is Armand Traore, who put in a respectable shift down the left side.

Its not just that the Arsenal team has not played much before, its that there is such a massive gap. Cesc has made 220 appearances for Arsenal, which is not bad, but then it falls off very fast - Almunia 136, Gallas 127, Sagna 100. Its really not great. Our front three of Arshavin, Eduardo and Nasri have only 106 appearances between them.

However, why does our lack of experience count? Surely if the player is good enough then thats it. No doubt many Gooners will spend most of the next month screaming that Wenger needs to get his chequebook out in January.

Well I don't think so, at least so long as Bendtner comes back to fitness by January. And thats because I don't think splashing the cash on any new players will make the smallest bit of difference to the basic problems in our team.

The first major problem at the moment is that we take a huge amount of time and possession to fashion any sort of chance. Without wishing to pick on Eduardo, he could easily have scored against Sunderland and Chelsea, but he seems utterly reluctant to chance his left foot from less that 6 yards out, especially if there is defender in the way, or a keeper, that he can try and skip round first. The answer is to just fucking shoot. If it flies in then you are a hero. And if it doesn't, then at least you tried. Good strikers are invariably slightly selfish - they want the goals and accoloades. So long as it goes in enough times, then fair enough. Truly great strikers just mix it up with some assists as well. Shite strikers pass to someone else in a worst position when they could have scored.

In addition. Not shooting regularly from distance plays right into the defenders hands. If the attacking player has no intention of shooting, the defender maintains composure, stays up right, stays tight, and waits. Waits some more. And then either tackles or blocks. Arsenal's failure to shoot means that we have to conjure the most ridiculous series of one-touch passing moves to engineer a situation which is now deemed by Arsenal as a "good chance" - usually an open net tap in. Otherwise, we seek to recycle possession and start again.

And its mind bendingly infuriating. Especially when you see Denilson score from nothing from 30 yards against Standard Liege. Especially when you see Manure and Liverpool score from nothing rebounds time and again simply becuase one of their midfielders chanced their arm from 25 yards.

The fear in a defenders' mind as soon as someone like Gerrard or Lampard is 25 yards out, in front of goall, with the ball at his feet, means that every single defender looks to rush in. Which is exactly what Gerrard wants - the defender has just left someone else free, so maybe an easy pass is now on. Its almost an apology if an Arsenal player shoots from distance. A failing of the system. And that is a nonsense.

The second massive difference is that Arsenal leak goals like a sieve. The replays of Chelsea's first two goals on Sunday make me despair at our defending. Yes - Drogba's first was a great finish. But it came from a series of bloody awful bits of defensive play from Arshavin, Sagna and Gallas. The fact that the same trick worked twice in 5 minutes, the second involving Nasri rather than Arshavin, is a complete and utter joke.

William Gallas is a great player on the deck, top class in fact. But not much else. The fact that he is almost useless in the air meant that Drogba knew he was in for an easy afternoon. But make no mistake - the fact that Gallas did not make any contact with either cross from Ashley Cole is the reason why Chelsea scored both times. I would forgive Gallas if he accidently smashed the ball into his own net trying to block the cross - that is bad luck. But to not play either ball with Drogba lurking on your shoulder is a recipe for disaster. The fact that the second went in off Vermaelen is bad luck, but that cross should have been cut out by Gallas or Sagna.

What is worse, is that judging from the replays, Gallas actually backs out of playing the crosses. And these were not the most viscious in-swingers the world has ever seen. He doesn't even miss the first one - he just does nothing. So Chelsea just had to put two decent balls into the mixer on our six yard box. Twice. And yet again, after a decent first spell, its 2-0 down at home to Chelsea.

When we tried the same tactic against Spurs, it worked and RVP scored. But that goal infuriated Harry Rednapp because he knew that the ball should have been dealt with. When we did it against Chelsea in the second half, any one of Ivanovic, Carvalho or Terry made sure they got in the way. On the odd occassion when Arsenal did threaten to shoot, two or three of them made desperate blocking tackles from all angles, not trying to play the ball or man, but just trying to get in the way of the shot. Arsenal just don't defend like that.

Arsene Wenger is basically right that Drogba did not have to do much in the game. We made it so bloody easy for him.


Anonymous said...

Arshavin was supposed to be our saviour this season.

Its just not working.

Anonymous said...

great article ted. spot on.

the only part i disagree with is Gallas. He's been having a great year, had a bad game, etc.


Ted said...

Fair point Rahul. I think everyone knows that we are not defensively solid, and people variously point to the keeper and the midfield as being the reasons.

I think that Gallas' excellent abilities as a footballer mean that he gets given a lot of credit as a defender that he does not really deserve.

He would probably be awesome in Spain, where it is less physical, but I just don't think he is tough enough for the premiership.

Put it like this, I don't think Fergie, Rafa or Carlo would touch him. Whereas I would expect they all quite like the look of Vermaelen.

1979gooner said...

the sieve like nature of our defence is a big worry for me,

gallas may have done ok this season but really he isn't a long term option for us at centre back,

i really think we need to address this in the next close season, at his age he is not going to get any better either,

he is not strong enough, does not command the box at all and is out-muscled far too frequently,

having said that he has been pretty good this season,

the form of sagna and clichy has also been a concern, neither has been defending solidly,

had gibbs not got injured he may well have made that spot his own,

i wouldn't mind seeing the back four changed a bit just to kick some people up the arse

Uncle Mike said...

All this talk about signing a new striker in the JTW... I guess the desire for a better back four is "the love that dare not speak its name."

Then again, if a Chelsea fan were asking for "a better back four," then we'd let fly with the jokes.

I hate Chelsea. I hate everything about them. There is not one player on that team that I respect. The ability, maybe; the man, no.

Anonymous said...

Defensively the problem is a team problem. we don't play defense as a team. Chelsea does.

We can blame gallas or vermo or almunia, but it all adds up. everyone needs to contribute and track back.

just look at how great Chelsea played. it was as a team. everyone pitched in. there was some point in the 2nd half that Anelka tracked back and played at the goalline.

gallas will be leave during the summer, at least thats what the tabloids say.

i don't know what happened to sagna and clichy. they were so great in 07-08. the last 1 1/2 have been so so.

maybe eboue should get more play.


Uncle Mike said...

Well, the Man City Carling Cup game didn't provide any defensive answers. Although I can't blame Fabianski. He had some good throws and a couple of good saves, and none of the goals was especially his fault, especially the laser beam that Wrighty's kid hit.