Monday 1 February 2010

The featherweights will always fail.

The last time Arsenal were thrashed 3-1 at home by United, the result was triggered by an unfortunate slip by Keiran Gibbs, deputising for an injured Gael Clichy. Cristiano Ronaldo then fired in a thunderbolt free kick past Almunia. 2-0 nil down and the game was over after 20 minutes. That result followed an appalling performance at Old Trafford, and an abysmal lack of will in the FA Cup semi final against Chelsea.

Several people have said that there is no comparison between those Utd games and yesterday's encounter. Well I think the similarities are stark. Ronaldo did not beat us by himself last year. Fat Wayne was there last year and he did us again yesterday. Ji Sung Park is now well on the way to being a specialist anti-Arsenal player. He was terrific in both games in terms of workrate and commitment. Fletcher, as well, epitomises everything that is missing in Arsenal's team.

We should also look at the abysmal defending against Chelsea at home in November, against Everton at home in December. The sheer number of times we concede goals due to "individual errors" is quite incredible. So I am going to throw my tuppence into the hat on Arsenal's problems at the back. The answer, I think, is blindingly obvious - we only have one good defender. We just don't want to admit it.

A good back 5 (4 defenders plus keeper) play as a unit. They communicate almost instinctively, a nod of the head, a flick of the hand is all that is required, because they spend the entire game reading the threat posed by the opposition and collectively moving against it. Watch Chelsea's back line next week for guidance.

The only defender Arsenal have who would interest Chelsea or Manure is probably Tommy V. And he is our only "proper defender". But Tommy's clear ability as a defender has led us to believe this season that we are better defensively, which we are clearly not. We have conceded more goals this year.

A defence starts with its keeper. And Manuel Almunia's time is up. Forget the own goal yesterday, just ask the basic question - does Almunia inspire confidence? The answer is a resounding "no". And that applies to the fans as well as his team mates. When was the last time you saw Almunia "high fiving" with another player after a miracle save. Exactly. Its never happened.

Gael Clichy and William Gallas I am going to lump together. They are both potentially very good footballers, potentially world class. But neither is a great defender. Neither is good in the air, neither is particularly physical, but both are excellent on the ground, like to get forwards. We might be able to cope with one player like that in the team, but we struggle with two. Ashley Cole got away with it at Arsenal because he had Sol Campbell and Keown at centre-back. The first thing Mourinho did with Cole was tell him to stay at the back and defend.

Bacary Sagna is a mystery to me. He started off looking like a good player after a season of Eboue mistakes. He seems solid enough defensively, I guess, but somehow seems to make a lot of mistakes as well. For a big strong lad he seems quiet, well behaved and a bit reserved. Which are none of the characteristics that make a good defender. People like Lee Dixon and Lauren knew that occassionally you need to just pole-axe your opposite winger. But the same accusation could probably be said about Clichy and Gallas as well. We are far too polite in our defending.

Those defensive frailities are then compounded by the fact that of the midfield, only Alex Song knows how to defend. Denilson is beyond bad. And Nasri and Cesc seem to treat the 4-3-3 system as a free pass to skip defensive duties. Frankly, I have no idea what Nasri does. Rarely have I seen an Arsenal player who is so anonymous for large parts of the game. Only Rosicky seems to have a clue about getting back to tackle, and he is hardly diligent at it.

So when an opposition team counter-attacks us, if they have a decent runner or two in their team, then you can virtually guarantee them a good scoring chance against Arsenal. Because if they evade Song and Tommy V, then our defensive ability is very, very suspect.

We have all been saying for some time that the balance in the team is completely wrong. The line-ups in our title winning seasons are immensely strong compared to this rag-tag bunch of lightweight midgets. I would swap the technical ability of Clichy, Gallas and Sagna for the blood, sweat and tears of Keown, Dixon and Winterburn at a drop of a hat.


Anonymous said...

Humiliation. Maybe now Gunners fans will lose their arrogance and stop shouting "Hoof" every time an opponent plays a long ball - its schoolboy stuff, because for all your pretty football you will win nothing - again!!

K man said...

Here here, top notch analysis of the defensive problems. Our full backs are very poor defensively and this gets exposed against teams with quick wingers.

Next artcile Ted: you need a striker to be able to play 4-3-3. In fact, you need a striker to win football matches.

Should be very interesting to see the reaction against Chelsea and the Scousers - it will tell us a lot about the character of this team.

Rhinogooner said...

I agree with your analysis Ted. But I would add that I think our defenders are all tremendous athletes and potentially excellent at tight defending as a unit......with the proper coaching.

But therein lies the rub. Our coaching staff and training regime must be pathetic. Our players are devoid of certain fundamentals that are essential at this level.

There are players that have come to the club with certain valuable abilities that we didn't possess before. But once Mr. Wenger and his coaches have had some time with them, they drill those abilities out of them.

Take Van Persie for instance, did you know that prior to joining Arsenal, he was actually very good in the air? He could score with his head. But Arsenal doesn't play that way. Mr. Wenger doesn't like that type of football. So he trained it out of Van Persie.

Why do none of our wide players ever try to get to the bye line and cross it in or cut it back? They always cut infield when they get to the 18 yard box. Must be trained that way.

Vermaelen is an excellent defender. But over time, not being coached and trained well, he will lose it.

Bendtner is another one who isn't being coached well. He should be trained to be a battering ram type of forward. Instead, he thinks he's Messi, attempting all those dribbles and running at players in low percentage situations.

Do I even need to talk about our corner kick taking and defending. Our ineptitude in these areas must stem from training.

I'm sure our defenders look good defending corners in training, when the kick taker repeatedly cannot get it beyond the first defender.

Bottom line is: our coaches are not good enough and we don't work on certain fundamentals in training. But the coaching staff is protected from scrutiny in the same way that the players are rarely called into question.

I wanted Mr. Wenger to be the one to turn Arsenal around. But he has to change himself first. His pride is overshot and his stubbornness is an obstacle to our progress and his own. He is going to have to become more ruthless with players and staff that aren't cutting it (even though he hired them), and admit his mistakes.

Major surgery is necessary at the right areas. We can buy top notch players. But still might not win anything. Because the environment inside Arsenal isn't the right chemistry.

I actually think we have a load of talented players at the club. Players that could win things. But they need to be coached correctly, inspired to give everything to win, gain mental strength and a winning mentality, and get their attitudes and perspectives in line.

1979gooner said...


The goalkeeper and defenders aren't the problem.

As Hansen pointed out, something I agree with and have also noted, both out centre backs played well as individuals yesterday.

The problem is our defending as a team.

This must come down to the manager for the tactics/coaching and the players that he fields in the eleven.

For one there is no way near enough defending being done by our midfield and strikers.

Secondly the way which we leave one/two back so frequently so early in games is nothing but stupid and suicidal.

If the opposition break you needa good three players back minimum, and that needs to be drilled into the team.

If defenders go up then they must be covered by other players.

With us at the moment, TV, WG and AS all go up and there are one or two full backs left to deal with three four attacking players.

Playing like this is like sitting on a f*cking time bomb, it's been coming for a while.

Our full backs are not poor defensively, in particular Sagna has been playing well the last few weeks.

The problem is that with 4-3-3 they are left completely unsupported by the midfielders, they are often left two on one or stuck between staying central or being pulled out wide which then leaves a big hole between full back and centre back.

It is a team problem on the whole for me.

A big problem is that Cesc and Arshavin are brilliant players, but Cesc has to play central midfield and doesn't do that much defensively, while Arshavin is also not the best defensively.

If we then play two attacking players with him up top then we are shafted, Cesc, AA and two other very attacking players leaves often Song and Diaby to do the defending and that's a tough task for those guys.

Personally I think our squad balance is all wrong, we have a plethora of attacking midielders, and a shortage of proper strikers and midfielders who can defend.

Wenger needs to sort the squad out and sort out the way we defend as a team.

Ted said...

Rhino - i agree with you. The threat posed from an Arsenal corner is minimal. In fact, we are more likely to concede than attack.

1979 - i think i agree, but there is dilemma in what you are saying. Yes, we need to defend as a team and the midfield needs to do more. But its a fuck of a lot easier to defend if your back 5 is basically solid in the first place and isn't missing up field half the time.

We might be able to get away with a lightweight midfield if we had 4 defenders who spent 95% of the time defending, then our midfield could have more licence to go forwards.

However, we have an attack minded defence and an attack minded midfield. You can't have both.

I struggle with Gallas, Sagna and Clichy, I really do. None of them are "bad" players, in fact they are bloody good at times, I just don't think we will be solid at the back with all 3 of them in the team. 1 we can get away with, possibly 2, but not all 3.

Its the same in midfield with Cesc, Nasri, Diaby, Ramsey, Rosicky etc. You just cannot make a solid team from that bunch of lightweights.

Anonymous said...

we are way to lightweight as a team .. arsene swallow ur pride and sort it the fuck out i cant take any more hideings by man ure at the grove

1979gooner said...

Sagna has been solid in my opinion in recent weeks.

I agree that Clichy is not our long term left back, Gibbs is a better defender for me.

Gallas has been decent this season, maybe he's not the long term answer either, but he is a good player and not the root of our defensive problems.

I do maintain it is more the lack of cover from midfield and the systemic lack of communication resulting in the lack of cover.

Diaby is a solid all round player for me, when we have Song and Diaby fit it does make a big difference in terms of how solid we look.

Wenger seems to have become carried away with having lots of flair and creativity in the side at the expense of the defensive solidity of the side.

He must be able to see this problem, and I reckon he does, if not his time is running out.

Ted said...

I think that has to be right. Most of them are individually good players, but collectively too weak.

This back four might look excellent playing behind Pires, Vieira, Edu and Ljungberg.

Wenger's midget army is a massive mistake. Goooners have all been saying it for several years.

Perhaps it is time for a change?

Obsinho said...

The squad isn't balanced, and the tactics do not suit the squad we have. And that suggests the manager is getting everything wrong.

You can play 433 with a front 3 that don't defend if the middle 3 sit deep. We do not. Or you can play with one striker if you have one who can play with his back to goal and allow the wide players to get ahead of the ball. RVP has learned this, but he has been injured for ever.

So the front 3 or 6 we have are not able to play the system we play. Balls up by Le Boss.

To play 433 you can have attacking full backs if the wide players track back. We don't. Or you play with defensive full-backs and allow the wide players absolute freedom in the opponents half. We look for the full-backs to overlap at every opportunity. Balls up by Le Boss.

So he has got it wron tactically. For a long time.

I understand the challenge that managers have faced in the transfer window (nit a single transfer of note) but we have known for a long time we needed a striker and or a defender/dm. So we should have got something set up much earlier on. And to my mind that has been Le Boss' biggest balls up.

That and backing a keeper in whom no-one has any faith.

1979gooner said...

Ted and Obs,

I agree.

If Arsene doesn't change things in the next year then it may be the end for him.

marcus said...

1979 is spot-on, it's wrong to focus on individual players, our defense, etc. It's the team's collective defensive responsibilities.

So here we are again.

Our annual dose of humiliation from the mancs and the chavs. Prepare yourselves for another dose this coming weekend.

Season after season, humiliation after humiliation — and now both the chavs and the mancs have made our home ground their playground.

I recommend two excellent blogs on the game. Gunnerblog offers a short, spot-on analysis, esp. the last couple of sentences:

He focuses on the point It is this point I’ve been banging on about for 2 seasons now, closing down opponents, fighting for the ball. What exactly happened to that high pressure, collective closing down of opponents that we saw at the start of the season? Why can't the coaching staff instill that mentality into these players so that they play that way CONSISTENTLY?

Second, Little Dutch at VitalArsenal has a superb in-person match report here:

It really is extraordinary to watch these players just stand back and do nothing on our home ground, and allow a mediocre Utd side to score at will. As LD says, neither Nasri nor Rosicky seemed to do anything all game long - neither attack nor defend.

There is something fundamentally wrong with this team mentally, and their training. Gooners should stop fixating on buying new players, that is not the main problem.

Ted said...

I think what you say is basically correct, namely that the whole team needs to work harder and be rebalanced, but ultimately you have to make a choice between whether the 11 players that AW likes to pick can be coached to play more defensively, or whether he has the wrong 11 players in the first place.

Rhino makes the point that its the coaching that turns our good defenders into bad ones. Its an interesting question and if that is right, then we are wrong to place our confidence in AW.

I prefer the view that AW has got his screws loose on the 11 players he wants. To use Obs' example of how you set the team up, I want defenders who defend, and attackers who attack. I'm simple like that.

I remain of the view that Arsenal simply do not have 5 players at the club who can make a strong back line. Manure looked better at the back than us on Sunday, and they did not have Ferdinand or Vidic.

Alternatively, if you are not going to sign some tougher defenders, then you have to play a screening three in midfield, a la Song plus two more, such as Fellaini and Behrami. Even playing Cesc in there is, in my opinion, exposing yourself defensively. But thats debatable and going two strong lads plus a pretty boy in midfield is an acceptable compromise.

That said, Chelsea pick from Lampard, Essien, Mikel, Ballack for their screening three, who are all hard lads. Manure played Scholes as their creative player, and he is a dirty little cunt. Only Song compares.

Since we have a plethora of lightweight midfielders (Cesc, Nasri, Rosicky, Ramsey, Diaby, Denilson etc), then AW would have to admit he got it wrong, sell at least half of them, and buy two or three big lads to tighten up the team. Which he simply is not going to do.

So I go back to my post - the obvious way out of this for us to to forget the idea of an attacking back 4, sign a couple of proper defenders, a better keeper, and the front 6 can then basically stick with what we have.

1979gooner said...


Even with the best back four in the world, they would struggle with the six in front of them that we had on sunday.

We played cesc, nasri, rosicky, denilson, arshavin in the same side. That's the problem.

These days you need all ten outfield players working hard defensively and we simply didn't get anyway near that on sunday.

Watch Barca play, they are the perfect example of the fast pressing game that makes it very hard for the opposition to build anything constructive at all.

We need to press better, we need to defend better from the front, we need a better balance of attacking/defensive players in the team and we need to work out who stays back when defenders go forward so that we are not left short at the back.

The players in the back five are not the problem strangely enough.

The manu back four were poor, we created quite a few chances against them, it was just a comibination of better defending as a team and our wasteful finishing that kept the score down to 1 goal to the Arsenal.