Monday 22 November 2010

Arsene's surrender monkeys: my dissection

Having had more time to reflect upon Saturday's events I have come up with a few points that I think are key in understanding why we threw away a comfortable two goal lead against the spuds. Firstly despite what some stupid and deluded spuds fans say, this was a game thrown away by Arsenal, Tottenham were average at best and extremely lucky to have been gifted two extremely cheap goals to level things up.

This is no one off, the parallels with the 4-4 game were all to clear as just one example. Our ability to grind out clean sheets and to hold leads has been distinctly poor for sometime. Pretending this was a fluke or an isolated event is not honest. We have conceded so many sloppy goals already this season and we have let a number of significant leads slip in recent seasons. The question is why does this happen and what can be done to rectify it?

Take Tottenham's first goal. We lost the ball high up their pitch, it shouldn't have been a dangerous situation, the ball was booted hopefully long and the following defensive play of the team was quite pathetic. It is easy to jump on bandwagons and blame individuals, this is the easy option, but it is far harder to see the reality of the bad defending which is more of a collective problem. There was no midfielder challenging for the header, so Clichy moved forward out of position and the better positioned Defoe flicked the ball on. Maybe a bad decision by Clichy but where were our midfielders and centre backs? Notably Cesc and Song were nowhere near play, Koscelielny and Squillaci were also way out of position.

The flick on was then allowed the time to bounce without a challenge, Sagna though about it but there wasn't much cover around so he eased off, Denilson was trying to keep pace with Bale but few can, Van der Vaart then played in Bale who finished expertly. The story of this goal tells a lot of the problem we have in defending as a team. It showed that we were possibly slightly naive in letting Squillaci and Song go so far forward when already 2-0 up, it showed that we have a real lack of aerial ability in our side, this is evident particularly in the midfield, Song is the only one who can win a header.

It also showed rather fundamentally that there was a lack of defensive organisation of the team, we were all over the shop in terms of numbers and shape, the manager must take a degree of responsibility for this chaotic shambles. If any individual is most to blame it is Cesc Fabregas. The free kick was never a free kick, another great dive from the spuds, but the raising of his arm was so utterly stupid and indefensible. There was no excuse for it.

Some people have put a lot of this down to our concentration, or lack of it, and a complacency of sorts. There is a small element of truth in this for me, but I should emphasise the small in this. There was no lack of effort when Tottenham scored their first, there was more a lack of defensive organisation and the correct balance in the side needed to defend a lead. Personally I agree that the problem is deep seated, but I do not think it is correct to blame the mental attitudes of individuals. The blame for this defensive problem should lie at the manager's door primarily, he has assembled this group of players and the defensive balance amongst them is simply not tight, and has not been for a long long time.

The defensive lapses are more the manager's fault in my eyes because they are a recurrent problem that is down to the imbalance of attributes in our squad. It is not the players' fault if the manager puts out a small technically adept side which doesn't have the muscle to defend a lead, it is just inevitable that this kind of side will play pretty football and let leads slip from time to time. As Martin Keown says, it was the defensive lapses which cost us and the lack of leaders in our side is part of this very same issue. Obviously the absence of the key leader at the back Mr Vermaelen has played a part, but this is but a small part of the jigsaw. We need more fighters, more talkers and more motivational personalities.

Wenger may have teared into our players and maybe this makes some of you feel better, however an element of this rage must be down to Wenger unfairly taking out some of the anger he should be directing at himself, for assembling a squad of players that play beautiful football but are defensively light on balance.

We have a goalkeeper that will never dominate aerially. We generally have only medium sized centre backs, Djourou not included, who are more proficient on the ground than in the air. The only midfielder who can defend well is Song, granted Wilshere can do his bit too, while the squad is littered with technical attacking players who are not the best defensively and are weak in the air. The balance of our squad is all wrong and this has been obvious for a fair old while, I am sure part of the problem is the newish 4-3-3 system which can see the back four left horrendously exposed if the front and midfield three are too attacking in terms of personnel, Song's drifting forward on too regular a basis does also not seem wise. Generally I don't think the main problem is individual errors, it looks much more like a collective defensive one to me. The collective lack of leaders, fighters and motivators links in with this, we need to grind out results better, fight better with our backs to the wall.

Having said that we still created enough chances on Saturday to have won the game convincingly, we played some excellent football for periods, we had far more clear cut than the spuds, there are positives as well as the obvious negatives. It must not be forgotten that our inability to defend as a team is a chronic collective problem that the manager has not done enough to fully address.

Let's not get carried away with blaming individuals or mental attitudes, after all if one fielded a team of nippy skillful dwarfs then would one question their lack of commitment when they lost a game to 99 headed goals? This problem needs addressing but it will take a decent amount of time to tinker with the squad to put things right, it will also require the sacrifice of a little of our attacking flair for a bit more defensive stability, not forgetting some better defensive coaching as well. The key question is, is the manager willing to do this in order to win some trophies? Arsene Wenger needs to be thinking along these lines otherwise future similar surrenderings are an complete and utter inevitability.


Anonymous said...

it was Clichy who lost out on the header - not Koscielny. it was also classic Denilson ball watching. not just on Bale but also on Defoes knockdown to van der Vaart. and i think Wilshere is batter defensively than Song because he reads the game better.

Milseán said...

I suggest this:
arrogance is the cause of Arsenal's piss-poor form this season. In fact, arrogance is normally the cause of Arsenal's piss-poor form in any season.
Arrogance, complacency, call it what you like. In all except the Chelsea defeat, Arsenal have succumbed to teams who they considered inferior. It is this attitute which stands in Arsenal's way and always has under Wenger.

I'm all for being positive and having the right frame of mind but when that positivity, that self-belief, becomes delusional then arrogance is the by-product and complacency towards opponents is inevitable.

This manager and these players need to learn humility. Unfortunately, defeats in the past have been dealt with by heads being buried in the sand and a contrary refusal to buy top quality. I don't expect any changes to that mentality this season or, sadly, for the remainder of Wenger's tenure.

1979gooner said...

anon 1459

thanks, have changed

koscielny was a tad further back

what on earth was going on leaving just clichy/sagna/denilson at the back was beyond me, poor stuff

Anonymous said...

hey guys, Clichy's a weak link i wonder if many have noticed... the opposition definitely have, most of them attack down that flank - just pay attention to the games.. defence's okay, squallaci great addition but we don't have a leader on the field, someone senior and can grasp the pulse of the game, footbal is like that, you need to flow forward at times (think when we sat back and everton bombarded us) and break things up sometimes (think the spuds game when we 2-0 up) problem is no such man to do it in the team. Fabregas is NOT that person. Summary - we need leadership and fix Clichy problem.

king gooner said...

i haved today e-mailed the boss begging him to get in martin keown as our defensive coach-doubt if he'll listen-but your peice is spot on-this lot need a good kicking up the arse-shameful-he's the man-then wenger needs to do what thousands have been pleading for this jan& that's a proper c/half,proper defensive midfielder'proper goalie-we live in hope!!

1979gooner said...


thanks for the constructive comments

agree on clichy, much as i like him as a lad, he has been sadly lacking in defensive quality this season, also in recent seasons plural

he is poor aerially, poor positionally and weak in the tackle on occasions

not convinced we need another CB

presuming vermaelen can get fit again soonish

think we need more balance in squad in the midfield and song needs to be kept deepish

we need to bring in one/two stronger midfielders who can defend

arguably the likes of lansbury coming through, obviously wilshere is a given, have more fight and bite in their game than the likes of denilson/diaby

marcus said...

I've lost all belief that AW will ever win a trophy again. Yes it's good that he laid into the players but I blame him more than I do the players. They reflect a culture that he's developed and instilled into them.

It's all about the training -- esp in defense. There's no prioritization of defensive training, a refusal to hire a defensive coach, the lunacy of having Song play like he's an attacking midfielder (esp against good attacking sides like Spurs with the players like Bale and VdV) -- then there's the persistence with a player like Clichy who's even been dropped by Blanc for the national team. Clichy made one of his big errors in the France game that took place before the one last week against England so he was dropped - replaced by Abidal.

There's just no reliable edge, no leadership, no discipline from this team. I love Cesc but he's not a leader. No one is. AW's purging of experienced trophy-winning veterans from the squad stands as staggeringly incompetent. Belatedly he's realized is mistake by bringing in Sol and Squilacci - but those are haphazard attempts to plug a hole that's far bigger. Gallas was an attempt to fix this too but he was not able to fix it due to his own personality issues.

Yet for all the trashing Gallas gets from gooners (some of it deserved) I can fully understand his incredible frustration with these players. He came from a team of strong-willed, tactically astute, professionally discioplined winners and went to one of a bunch of leaderless, weakwilled complacent chokers and cloggers. Of course it drove him mad.

marcus said...

And I think it is inexcusable that AW and the players have offered no apologies. Sunderland apologized to to the fans after being thrashed by Newcastle. But AW NEVER apologizes to us.

1979gooner said...


spot on Sir

agree with a lot of that

i think wenger can still turn it around though, possibly

Rhinogooner said...

I concur with Marcus.

I lost my confidence in Mr. Wenger two seasons ago. I think he lost the plot a while back.

I think our problems are so deeply seeded that a complete restructuring of management is required, along with many of the playing staff, just so we can get the right balance.

If Mr. Wenger is going to stay, the only way we will win anything under him is if he gets new coaches in to work with the defenders and they are allowed to question his tactics.