Written by Gooner in Exile
Yet again after the weekend result it is the defence that has been called into question, the cries of weakness are again heard and the calls for a return to the glory days of the famous four of Adams, Bould, Winterburn and Dixon. Add to those four Keown and yes we had an impressive back line available. Put behind those legends, the one and only David Seaman and we looked unbreakable.
Fast forward to the current generation, our first choice back four, Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, and Clichy, with Vermaelen waiting for permission to rejoin the trenches. I honestly think this defence is one we can build a successful side on. I also believe that in Szczesny we have a keeper who will be one of the best in the world. Suddenly this defence is looking solid, assured and dominant.
The media continue to point to our weak defence for a reason why we won’t be succesful. I think most of us who have seen games this year would agree that Kozzer and JD are forming a good understanding, Kozzer is as fearless as any Centre Back I have seen at the Arsenal for some time, and JD is becoming a considerable force dominating opposing centre forwards for entire games. In Sagna we have probably the best right back in the league and Clichy is becoming a better defender every game (5th most tackles in EPL this season with highest success rate of the top 5 tacklers (78%)).
The team went 4 Premier league games without conceding through January, when we did concede in the league in 2011 it was to a Mason assisted goal by Saha, then came Saturday and our trip to St James Park. Up until then I really believed that we had turned a corner, Szczesny providing confidence and communication to an improving back four, so what went wrong, where did this new found stability disappear to?
We went down to 10 men, but that does not guarantee the opposition a route back into the match, so scratch that as a reason.
JD got injured and on came Squillaci, one change to the back four however hopeless some Arsenal fans think he is (he isn’t by the way) should not cause a problem.
The midfield were asked to defend and dig in……now this is where I think the problem lay and is often a problem for any footballing side, but more often than not for us. Our inability to defend as a team.
I am not talking about the pressing and harrying up the pitch at 0-0, we have done this really well this season, I am talking about when the opposition start to have more possession, and push themselves into our half for long periods. Sooner or later if we are under pressure our midfielders start to give away needless free kicks and so invite more pressure.
This leads to the biggest problem, defending set pieces, this is also why I get annoyed with the criticisms of the defence, as they are not the only ones defending set pieces, watch Chelsea, and you will see Drogba, Lampard, Essien, Mikel, Malouda all doing their jobs in their own box, could you really say the same of Cesc, Samir, Jack, Theo and Arshavin? They will never be able to win a ball in the air against the Premier League giants.
We need to change the way we defend from set pieces, we need to hold a much higher line. For now I’m talking freekicks in the final third, too often we have conceded goals as the players hold the eighteen yard line and just before the ball is struck you will see them drop five yards and invite the opposition into our area and make it very tough for our keeper to come and claim the ball.
Look at the video below, the Newcastle goal and the Chelsea goal over Christmas were the two best examples I could find of this.
For Andy Carroll’s goal the defence takes up position on the edge of the D, by the time the ball is kicked we are already on the 18 yard box, and by the time it has travelled to 10 yards from goal both Newcastle and Arsenal players are in the 18 yard box making it very difficult for Fabianski to come and claim.
Even worse is the Chelsea goal, again the defence hold a position of the 18 yard box but before Drogba has struck the ball we are almost on the penalty spot and the ball can be delivered in to the dangerous area just outside the 6 yard box.
In both situations we would have benefited from holding a much higher line and when I say hold I mean HOLD, not follow runners, let them run offside. For the Newcastle goal if we had taken up residence 10 yards further forward there is no hope in hell that Carroll would have time to reach a ball played onto the penalty spot and stay onside. Again with the Chelsea goal ask yourself whether Ivanovic would make contact with that ball if the line was held on the D, the pace Drogba plays that ball it would be in Fabianski’s hands (hopefully) in a split second, with the whole area free of bodies.
Dropping deep from set pieces before the ball is kicked is a pet hate of mine, I would never allow my defenders to come that deep into my area, it was mine I took responsibility for it, I think Szczesny might just have the confidence to do the same, then we can say goodbye to being petrified everytime the opposition has a freekick in the final third.
Anyway this is a tactical issue one that I think Arsene Wenger and Pat Rice are more qualified to put right, the main reason for my post was to stress that this current defence is not as bad as everyone would like us to believe, sometimes we have to look at the rest of the team (and not just the normal scapegoats) to dig in and help them out on occasion.
Afterall even the great Tony Adams admitted that he had to talk Wenger in the early days to explain that they needed the midfield to provide a screen for them, and break up attacks, they couldn’t do it all on their own either once the shackles had been taken off the rest of the team.