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By DJ Dragonfly
The squad has been used extensively this season, especially defensively where the likes of Eboue, Gibbs, Fabianski, Mannone, Traore, Gilbert, Cruise, Silvestre and Bartley have been called upon and have performed admirably in order to cover for injured/rested first team players. This goes to highlight the strength in depth we do within the squad. A fact that a minority of Arsenal supporters and the press have failed to recognise.
I still think however that the defensive part of our play hasn’t been addressed accurately enough and with a week until we play our next game away to Bolton, now is the perfect time for the coaching staff to work on improving this flaw (in regards to looking to sign a forward in an area, where I feel we are already overstocked with talent).
The team is making too many defensive errors for my liking. We have too many players attacking at the same time. You will see time and time again, the likes of Gallas and Vermaelen, constantly bombing up field to join our attacks, whilst Song would drop back to cover for them. When Song is not playing, a huge gap is left between our defence and attack, when we are on the offensive. A situation which Everton took full advantage off at the weekend.
We had a midfield line-up against Everton which consisted of two attacking players (Diaby and Ramsey) and Denilson (a player who has traits of Fabregas and Song’s play in his game). The midfield balance wasn't right for me. In order to cope without Song, Wenger must instruct Denilson to be more defensive minded, whilst leaving Diaby and Ramsey to create our offensive opportunities from midfield. If this was the case, then Denilson would’ve been a position to stop Everton from hitting us on the counter attack, which led to their goal.
I also think that Wenger needs to inform Gallas and Vermaelen to curb their runs up field and instruct them to concentrate more on their defensive duties, a tactic which he relayed to Clichy and Sagna at the turn of 2009, which saw our defensive record improve dramatically. In conjunction with this, I think Wenger should also look to dropping Manuel Almunia.
Now people may say that the goalkeeping position is a very delicate area to chop and change players, however I feel Almunia is one of the main problems why we haven’t been defensively solid this season. He has constantly put our backline under pressure with his poor distribution, whilst his judgement when it has come to intercepting crosses into the box has been very meagre at best and he doesn’t provide a calming influence to the defence.
Our defence tended to struggle with high balls coming into the penalty area over the last two seasons, yet Wenger managed to bring in Thomas Vermaelen to help reduce this problem (and deploying Alex Song in central midfield on a regular basis), so I am pretty certain that there are a number of goalkeepers out there (or within the club) who would be able to provide a better goalkeeping presence than what Almunia has been producing over the last 18 months.
I really believe that we are within touching distance of picking up a trophy at the end of the season, but until the coaching staff have addressed the above issues (particularly in goal), then I feel we will fall short once again.
Do you think I am overreacting in regards to the team’s defensive faults or do you feel this is cause for concern? I look forward to reading your feedbacks in the comments section.
Mean Lean's Response
Good article DJ Dragonfly and you have some very valid and conversation worthy points. Towards the end of last season and the summer, Arsene spoken continuously about addressing the balance of the side, finding the right mix between attacking and defending. In certain games I feel that this has been resolved. Everton on the opening day was a fantastic example of how to press the opposition and stop them from creating chances. It was the same at Celtic when we won 2-0, even against Manchester United at Old Trafford we really restricted them to a limited amount of attempts at our goal, even if we managed to create chances at our own goal ourselves.
I think our defensive side of the game is often linked to our work rate. It is almost impossible to maintain such a high tempo all action pressing game for every single game in the Premier League and the Champions League and I think for this reason we have conceded more goals than we should have. It would be easy to just blame that, and sure there are many factors like not stopping crosses going into the box or at times not picking up the man. Wolves and Everton quickly fly through my mind.
Another reason for the lack of balance has been the injury to Denilson. His defensive attributes are often overlooked but he contributes enormously to the defensive side of our midfield with his many interceptions and positional play. Abou Diaby has grown defensively and is showing that but it is hard to keep that going when our players are in and out through injury.
Wenger has built his side to score goals and attack which is shown with the team remaining as the top goalscorers in the league even though we have missed several strikers for large periods of the season so we are bound to leave spaces in behind.
If we can keep most of our players together without injury then I think the team will start to tighten up. In some games we have looked stable (Anfield for example) and on other occasions we have looked suspect so we know it can be achieved. It is just a case of consistency.