Before the Bolton game I wrote a piece (Oh Kolo, where fore art thou?) on the poor state of our backline in particular our centre backs. The article opened with the line “We will win nothing with this defence” and it would be fair to say that the article did not receive the best of feedback. Many comments questioning not only obvious lack of football knowledge but also my very commitment to Arsenal football club and even my state of mind. Writing a football blog is easy but writing a good one is difficult. ArsenalInsider, I feel is up there with the best of them in the way that allows a vide variety of contributors to submit pieces pretty much censorship free. I haven’t contributed a piece since that last one but I have watched as we (the fans) have talked the team up far beyond our actual level.
Its easy to be smart after the fact but having no one in the middle of the park capable of chasing every ball from kick-off until full time (players note: a match can often last well beyond the ninety minutes!) combined with a backline that seem willing to allow the ball bounce before they attempt to win it is really a recipe for disaster. And it’s not just during the Spurs game. We were all over the place away in Turkey yet we talked it up as a great attacking performance (which it was) without really spending too long looking at how poor things were at the back. The three or four great saves that our keeper made from one on one positions were looked upon as signs that Alumnia was finally ready to make the step up from a good keeper to a great one rather than a sign that we had more problems at the back then maybe we wanted to stay.
Unfortunately that night in Turkey was not the first time that our keeper has shown how much he has improved. But I am beginning to wonder now if maybe we are noticing how well our keeper is playing is because he is being called on more than he was last season? Stick with me here, Shay Given always looks a great keeper but no big team ever made a move for him. Is Given that good or is it simply that he takes up so much time on the Match of the Day highlights show? When we watch Newcastle play we think ‘their defence is all over the shop’ rather than ‘Jez, their keeper looks good’. Now substitute the Newcastle backline for our own and our Spanish (or maybe English?) keeper for the Irish guy and you may begin to see where the problems are.
I have been supporting Arsenal since I was about four, ever since I got a record (remember them?) of commentary from the 1979 Cup Final and in all that time Wenger is without doubt the best thing that has happened to the club, maybe the best thing ever. Almost on his own he has built our fabulous new stadium and upgraded the training facilities to world class standard. Our play is the envy across all Europe and young players from around the world want to come to play in the famous red.
We have produced some sublime attacking performance but we have gone the sublime to the ridiculous at the back. Despite some glaringly obvious problems that were shown up last season we have the same problems. In fact not only have we not improved in defending but with the loss of Big Phil (a players who’s contributing to the team was greatly underestimated and misunderstood) we have actually gotten worse.
There is a big white elephant that has been standing in the room all season, hell it was there for most of last season too, but we have been too spellbound by the emergence of Theo, the passing of Cesc and the sheer unpredictability of RVP to notice. Or maybe we have just chose to ignore it, quoting the old “Wenger knows” and nodding sagely at anyone who dared question otherwise. We have 29 games left in the league this season. We have only played nine but have lost to Fulham, Hull and also dropped points against Sunderland and Spurs. All those were games that we should have won, games that any team with serious intentions of challenging for the league should have won. What is even more worrying is that we have yet to play any of the big three (I say three as we are quite rapidly breaking up the big four).
Your strikers are going to have off days, the style of football that we play makes simply impossible to be perfect in every game. In the games where your front line doesn’t quite click you need your backline to produce the goods and maybe get a little bit of luck along the way. Our defence is simply not capable of winning games for us. When we play to the best of our ability we are the best team in the world to watch. But our team needs to look at itself and decide how we want to be regarded. Newcastle under Keegan (particularly the first term) were the team that everybody loved to watch. They attacked constantly, played little in the way of tactics and laughed at the very idea of negative football. Their games from that era will always make it onto the Sky Sport game of the season type shows but they ultimately won nothing. We are pretty much heading to be a carbon copy.
I would love if points were awarded for style or like rugby you got bonus points when you scored more than two goals in a game. I would love if the football league only allowed one long ball pass in every five and at the end of the season the team that provided the most entertaining football got a bonus five points. I would love it if that was the way things were but things are not like that in real life and no amount of wishing or thinking otherwise is going to change it. I said in the last piece that we would win nothing with this defence and I standby that. Now want to hear something even more depressing? I think that Villa are a good shout to take next season’s Champions League spot from us. We also need to buy big in Jan or risk losing Cesc in the summer. His body language is all wrong at the moment and I don’t think playing him and Denilson together is working.
Maybe Wenger has become so focused on showing the world how it is possible to win beautifully that he has lost track of the actual aim of football. Maybe when he is picking defenders he judges them on their technique, style and class rather than their ability to actually defend? Maybe he genuinely thinks that Gallas is a good captain, a good leader or maybe he is just too stubborn to admit that he is wrong. Or maybe (say this one quietly) he has simply been at the club too long? My admiration for Wenger puts him on a par with most Gods and I have never questioned his judgement. Never until now. The style of football we are currently playing is not working. It will work for a game or two or maybe even for a few months but it will not win us the league.
I love Wengerball but I sometimes miss a bit of the George Graham style.