Year after year, Arsenal has been facing the same problems in what seems like an unending infinite loop. Having all the key ingredients to make a perfect recipe, Arsenal’s cooks never fail to spoil the broth. Arsenal’s defensive problems can be dated back to almost a decade. Their lust of playing free, high paced, passing football have always left them dry at the back.
Much has been debated over the ignorance of Wenger to buy a central defensive midfielder but Arsenal’s defensive problems run far deeper than just this. Buying a Defensive Midfielder will solve only half the problems. The other half lies in the tactically inept defense of the Arsenal back four.
Having lost out on Mathieu Debuchy and Laurent Koscielny to injuries, Arsenal are feeling the heat at the back. Calum Chambers at right back and Nacho Monreal at the center have done little to solve these problems. To top it up, Per Mertesacker’s poor positioning sense and the inability of the wingers to help their full backs adds to Arsenal’s worries.
As if surrendering a 3-goal lead against Anderlecht wasn’t enough, Wenger’s men were at it again when they let Swansea come from goal down to snatch a 2-1 win. With Manchester United on the horizon a lot of work needs to be done by the French manager on the defensive side of the game.
Highlighted below are the pictures which show some poor positioning of the Arsenal players. The first one is of the goal which completed the Anderlecht comeback. As you can see Flamini (with the Yellow ring), being a defensive midfielder has taken up a position to cut the pass to the incoming runner. However, Flamini does not sense the danger of the incoming cross. Anderlecht center forward’s clever run drags Monreal out of position, (shown in blue) thereby leaving a huge gap between the Arsenal center-backs which Flamini fails to notice. Podolski’s inability to stop the cross causes Mitrovic to make the run in the gap left and head the ball home to equalize. Had Flamini been more aware, he could have taken up a position in the gap left and averted the danger.
Another example of Arsenal’s poor positioning sense is shown below. This picture is taken from the Swansea game, just seconds before Montero’s cross was headed in by Gomis. As we can see that Mertesacker (shown in Orange) gets sucked into the action a little too easily. He needs to be aware that as a center-back he needs to be defending between the two posts when a cross comes in. This kind of defending has been perfected by the Chelsea center backs: Terry and Cahill.
Due to this poor positioning by Mertesacker, Monreal too, has to drift out of position to take care of the incoming Gomis. The next frame, as indicated by the second picture, shows us that Mertesacker (in blue) has not yet realized his duties and has left the near post to the hands of Flamini and Monreal. Montero’s change of speed deceives Chambers and the Swansea winger whips in a terrific cross to be met by a powerful Gomis, for whom Flamini and Monreal are not tall enough. Had Mertesacker stuck to his duties and defended the near post, the cross would never have reached Gomis in the first place.
Not only the poor positioning, but also one another thing which has plagued the Arsenal full backs in the Arsene Wenger era is their wingers not working hard enough to help the full backs. Illustrated below is a picture of the move which lead to the Swansea’s second goal. As shown, Gomis has already picked the ball and laid it on to Sigurdsson to spread the ball wide to Montero. Chambers has stuck to his task well of covering Montero. However, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain (shown in red) does not work hard to track back, thereby, leaving Chambers in a 1 versus 1 situation. Had Chamberlain run back to help out his right back (as shown by the arrow), the pass could have either been intercepted or the Arsenal duo could have forced Montero to make a back pass.
A major worry for Arsenal is Chambers’ inexperience. The summer acquisition from Southampton started his Arsenal career decently. However, he has been found wanting on the right hand side on many occasions. As a full back, you are always taught to shift the winger infield and never show him the door to his out. However, Chambers’ inexperience also completely exploited in the first goal which Anderlecht scored.
Andy Kawaya, using his pace, gets to the outside of Chambers and whips in a cross which is met by Vanden Borre. Again Mertesacker gets sucked into the action and doesn’t defend his post. Chambers was also guilty of letting Montero past him. An article by Gary Neville in one of the tabloids had stated that letting a cross come in is a crime for the full back and with Chambers set to face Di Maria on Saturday, things look gloomy for the Gunners.
One more reason, which has been overlooked, for Arsenal’s defensive woes is the departure of Bacary Sagna. Although Arsenal bought an able replacement in the form of Debuchy, Sagna’s ability to sense the danger and track back just in time is being missed by the Gunners. Although Sagna had been accused of being lazy at times, in his last few seasons at Arsenal he had developed pretty well in his defensive duties. Arsenal’s policy of bombarding both full-backs at one time exposes them to counter attacks. Sagna used to make sure to get into a defensive position in time to stop such counters.
Time has come when each Arsenal player raises his hands and works towards improving the defensive shape of the team. As good as Arsenal look going forward, they look equally disheveled at the back. These mistakes have let to the Arsenal downfall for the past decade at important stages of the season. It is quite amusing to see that Arsenal, who, during the George Graham days, used to follow the motto- ‘One nil to the Arsenal’, are being torn apart so easily.
The Gunners will be taking on the Red Devils on Saturday. United have their own defensive problems to sort out too. However, with the likes of Rooney, Van Persie, Juan Mata and Di Maria ready to rattle the Arsenal defense, the clash on Saturday surely promises to be a goal-fest with both sides high on attacking thrust and equally delicate defensively.