So far this season we have seen Man Utd concede eleven goals in their opening ten games, Tottenham fourteen, Chelsea fifteen and Arsenal twenty-one. All had conceded less at this stage last year and for a club like Arsenal the news is particularly grim. They have conceded just under half of the total number of goals they did in the whole of last season in their first ten games this year. Have we got to the stage where the naivety of managers has reached new lows amongst the Premier League’s top clubs?
Manchester United’s figures for this year may not seem too bad at a glance, but you have to consider that they could have conceded a lot more. They have allowed more shots on goal than any other club this season and for a team that just spent almost £40m shoring up its defence with the signings of Phil Jones and David De Gea there defensive display’s have been mediocre at best. Fans might point to the injuries and suspensions to Vidic and Ferdinand but frankly Man Utd endured much worse injury crises last season and fared a hell of a lot better. To be conceding over a goal a game as champions is not what you’d expect and United fans will be hoping for an improvement.
Spurs too have bolstered their defensive options this year with the signing of Brad Friedel in goal and Scott Parker protecting the defence. On top of that they have regained Kyle Walker at right back to give them options that they didn’t have last year and club captain Ledley King has already played as many games as he did in the entirety of last season. However, if they carry on conceding at the rate that they are then they would end up conceding far more than they did last year.
Chelsea has the excuse of a manager new to the Premier League that promotes attacking football. But to go from one of the meanest defences in the league to conceding five at home in one game then we can see that there are clearly problems to be addressed. Villas-Boas has said that Chelsea will not change their attacking style of football and whilst this is admirable and entertaining it also reminds me of a certain stubborn French manager enduring torrid defensive troubles of his own at the moment. Chelsea has proved under previous managers that the players they have can form a formidable defensive force and the subsequent, present frailty suggests naivety from the young Portuguese manager.
The odd defensive faux pas is nothing new to Arsenal fans but even they will admit this season that there are worrying signs. Yes, they have new players who are struggling to adapt to the English style and language. But that is nobody else’s fault but their own. They could have signed these defenders at the end of last season and given them time to settle in but they did not. To concede seventeen goals in four away games is shocking by anyone’s standards, let alone a team playing in the Champions League. Whether the defensive coaching is conducted by Wenger, Pat Rice or another there has to be someone held to account for such meek defensive performances. In over two decades of watching Arsenal I have become used to watching them spontaneously implode as a team but to lose 8-2 at Old Trafford and be the only team beaten by bottom of the table Blackburn this season are new lows. The victory at Stamford Bridge will have gone some way to building confidence but to again concede three away from home is worrying. Arsenal cannot always expect to score five away from home against such tough opposition.
You could argue that these defensive frailties are merely signs that the league as a whole is becoming more competitive but to say that is to ignore the swathes of pitiful defending exhibited by most of the top teams this year. By and large the defenders for the teams in question are the same with perhaps one or two new faces added yet their performances are less convincing than ever. Chelsea Arsenal and Man Utd have all conceded at least five goals in one game this season. Does anyone remember the last time that happened to top teams after only a quarter of the season gone? The fault lies with both the management style and off field preparation. On Sky Sports over the weekend the commentary team, including ex-Gunner Alan Smith commented on the difference in coaching techniques between George Graham and Arsene Wenger saying that under Graham defensive coaching took place every single day – a stark contrast to Wenger’s methods. Obviously we want to see exciting attacking football in our league but sooner or later certain managers will have to look at their defensive performances for the current season and realise that something must be done.
Follow Hamish on Twitter @H_Mackay