Last season Arsenal conceded 44 goals; that’s more than Manchester City, United, Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool or Everton. That they finished third is an impressive feat considering their defensive problems. That works out 1.15 goals conceded per game. The same stat for the two teams ahead of Arsenal equates to 0.76 goals per game for Man City and 0.86 for Man Utd.
Arsenal fans might be the first to admit that they are not quite at the level to challenge for the league title in their current state but were they to shore up the defence then anything is possible. Last season they scored a reasonable number of goals but, ultimately, finished the season 19 points behind the champions.
If Arsenal could properly organise their defence then by reducing their goals conceded by 20 to reach City’s total then perhaps Arsenal could gain those 19 points.
Clearly it’s not quite as simple as that, but the prospect of Arsenal having a mean defence is not totally unreasonable. People often say that Arsenal have poor defenders, it’s not true. They don’t necessarily have exceptional defensive strength but their first choice back four are good enough, even though they are clearly not as well organised and well coached as they could be.
Change in tactics
As much as Arsenal fans respected Pat Rice’s efforts during his 44 years at the club, the general consensus was that perhaps the way he coached the defence needed a bit of a shake up.
This season will be Steve Bould’s inaugural season as assistant manager and the same goes for Neil Banfield as a first team coach. That they should bring fresh ideas and a renewed energy to the training ground is a likely scenario; that Arsenal’s defence will greatly improve as a result is not necessarily the case.
Steve Bould may have been an excellent defender but that doesn’t make him an excellent defensive coach. His under 18 side have suffered from the exact same defensive mishaps as the first team. One of the problems with Steve Bould, being such a good defender, is, as Helenio Herrera, the former Barcelona and Inter manager who invented the famous formation Catenaccio, said, “Big star players are models of presumptuousness when they become (coaches)…They do not know how to teach someone what they did naturally with so much grace.”
This might appears a little unfair on Bould considering that he hardly seems the sort of man to be presumptuous about anything. However, the point is still valid. It is perfectly understandable that good players finder it harder to teach those skills they were so good at because it took little or no effort to acquire them when they were players. It also explains why many of the best managers the Premier League has ever seen (e.g. Ferguson, Wenger, Mourinho) have been underwhelming footballers themselves.
Inter’s collapse, and in particular that of their defence, after Jose Mourinho left for Real Madrid epitomised the effect that team organisation could have on the defensive solidity, regardless of the players. So there is, in theory, no reason why a coach couldn’t do the same at Arsenal. The two problems that arise are that a) Arsenal doesn’t seem to possess such a coach and b) They could do with better depth in defence.
That Arsenal showed interest in Jan Vertonghen at all indicated that they appreciated the need for a new central defender. That is one way of interpreting the situation. If you look at Arsenal’s reserve centre halves you have: Per Mertesacker (slow but should improve in his second season in England, just as Koscielny did), Johan Djourou (On his best days he has kept Messi and Villa at bay, on his worst days he is a complete liability), Squillaci (why do Arsenal always have at least one abysmal defender, at least this one is supposedly being sold) and Kyle Bartley (on loan at Rangers last season, young and reasonably good but perhaps not destined for the top).
So, maybe they do need a new centre half. To have two defensive partnerships in which you have faith would make a stark change for Arsenal, who have been lucky to have had one partnership they trusted over the last few years.
However, it’s always difficult to read in to transfer rumours and you could argue that Wenger was also looking for a defensive midfielder and some cover across the back four and Vertonghen could play in all of those positions, therefore making him an attractive prospect.
Arguably, what Arsenal need is not a new defender but another defensive midfielder. Alex Song, for all of Arsene Wenger’s efforts, does not like playing as a holding midfielder. His tackling, reading of the game and physical presence are all exceptional but he just doesn’t have the discipline to play the position properly.
Therefore Arsenal’s defence never really receives the protection it deserves. Frimpong and Coquelin are both good prospects but are both too young to really deputise properly for Song and with the African Cup Of Nations approaching in January Arsenal may not even have the ill-disciplined Song.
Considering ill-discipline is a common theme in Arsenal’s defence with marauding full backs as well as centre halves and a complete lack of defensive positioning from Alex Song, you wonder whether the off-field indiscipline of Yann M’Vila is really what Arsenal need. Whatever the case, whether it is new players or new coaching that is in order, Arsenal cannot expect to concede so many goals next season and finish quite so high.
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