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.