No apologies, but this is a slightly misleading headline.
Regular readers will know that one of my bugbears is the way media coverage of Arsenal is so often ill-informed, sensationalist or plain biased.
But that’s not the kind of “press” I want to talk about today.
After watching our attacking endeavours thwarted – yet again – by a defence whose recent record is leakier than Julian Assange’s outbox, it’s clear that there is a problem in search of a solution.
Aston Villa had conceded eight goals in the two games before we rolled into town. Afterwards they had conceded eight goals in three games.
We were similarly impotent away at Norwich, who had shipped nine goals in their two fixtures immediately before meeting us.
We’re like a travelling tube of Super Glue, ready to lock tight any previously gaping defence.
Why is it happening?
Many reasons, no doubt. But one of them appears to be the fact that we are struggling to create chances when other teams press us in our own half.
“The Press” is a tactic that requires lots of discipline, concentration and hard physical work from the team employing it. Barcelona, of course, are the highest profile exponents (although their version often entails the two or three players closest to the opponent with the ball swarming him until he loses possession).
The way The Press is being used against Arsenal is best illustrated by the away game at Old Trafford.
The ruby conked Hibernian ordered Wayne Rooney to man mark Arteta, who normally receives the ball from our defence. Arteta was suddenly not available. Other United players applied pressure elsewhere in midfield and our defenders had to play higher risk passes to get the ball away.
It’s safe to say that if Aston Villa had strikers of Manchester United’s quality, they would have completed the job against us, having nullified our attacking threat by snuffing it out at source.
When Arteta is given time on the ball, we look fluent in attack. Players move, passes travel quickly and openings are made.
But when the Spaniard’s influence is limited by the opposition pressing him deep in his own half, the opposite happens.
If we can’t get the ball to Arteta, or he receives it and is immediately under pressure, there is less time to move the ball quickly on to Cazorla or one of the other midfielders; when (if) it eventually finds its way to another midfielder, that player is also already under pressure so their chances of making an effective pass are similarly reduced.
I was very struck during the Villa game how little movement there seemed to be from our players not on the ball. One of the hallmarks of Arsene’s Arsenal has been the dangerous movement of our midfielders and strikers – and it’s worrying to see them so static. It was as if they weren’t moving because they didn’t expect to get the ball.
Some of our best moments – and our very best chance of the game – came when Laurent Koscielny surged forward from the back, breaking The Press and causing confusion among the Villa players.
The Premier League being what it is, other managers are going to look at what has worked against us and try the same thing themselves. The worst part is that you don’t need high quality players to make it work, so all the mid to low table teams can give it a go. They just need lots of effort from their players. So it’s up to us – or rather, up to Arsene – to find an answer.
Using the wings is one obvious alternative: it was noticeable on Saturday that we looked better when Oxlade-Chamberlain stayed out wide. Unfortunately, whether under instruction from the manager or whether from youthful inexperience, The Ox drifted infield far too often. Podolski sometimes stays wide, but always gives the impression of wanting to head inside.
Walcott and Gervinho will certainly help in that regard and it’s good to know both should be available for Everton.
We could try hitting long balls up to Giroud, with our other forwards and midfielders looking to get closer to him to pick up knock-downs and lay-offs, although this does not seem a natural Wenger tactic.
Or we could look to shift things around in midfield. Perhaps it’s time to give Coquelin a run in the holding role, with two of Santi Cazorla, Wilshere and Arteta ahead. Coquelin would play that role differently to Arteta, and the two other MFs would have to drop a little deeper to collect the ball and start our attacks.
Those of you who are better at tactics than me may well have some other ideas – it would be great to hear them.
One way or another, Arsene has to find a way of overcoming The Press and getting his team’s forward threat back to what it should be.
Right now, it’s the biggest challenge he faces in terms of keeping us in touch with the top four in the table.
There was a debate in the Arsenal Arsenal comments yesterday about whether it was time for our manager to step aside for someone else
How he tackles this latest dilemma will go some way towards telling us whether he still has what it takes.