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Fresh Start, Same Issues

By George Walker

Arsenal lack "a little bit" cohesion

A fresh season brings fresh optimism: this season was no different. With RvP leaving, would we become a stronger team collectively? Wasn’t he just injury-prone anyway? Would Steve Bould instantly solve our defensive issues? Of course, some of these optimistic theories were plausible, but most were born out of hope - the hope that always swirls amongst the gloom at the beginning of each trophy-less season. Our loyalty never allows us not to have this hope. Despite what we may say about the board, the manager and the players, we want all that they tell us to be true.

The ‘Bould effect’ - Fleeting

For a while, some of our wishes were granted. The ‘Steve Bould Effect’ appeared to kick in, and greater defensive solidity was the result. We kept clean sheets; it looked like all the frailties of our backline had disappeared. The harsh reality is that many issues still remained, and it’s only now that they are beginning to be exposed. Some of these issues have remained ever since the break-up of The Invincibles; some have come about more recently.

Chief of these issues is our lack of organisation. I say ‘lack of organisation’, as opposed to just ‘poor defending’, because I think that anybody trying to justify saying the likes of Verminator, Kos, Sagna, BFG, Jenko and Gibbs are all bad defenders would have a hard time. It is how we defend as a unit, not as individual defenders, that is the root cause of our defensive woes. This is an issue that runs deep in the philosophy of the team. It cannot be solved by simply splashing money on one stand-out centre-half. We already have defenders who possess excellent ability, but it is the mentality of the team as a whole that must change. It must be said that this lack of organisation does not exist purely on the defensive side of our game; our attacking play of late has also lacked some needed cohesion, purpose and structure.

This lack of structure and cohesion has been particularly apparent in our recent games against Reading and Fulham, where we have allowed the games to ebb and flow and turn into frantic, scrappy affairs, not asserting any presence or authority over either match. In possession we do still play some exciting, scintillating football. But too often we give the ball away cheaply, often costing us dear à la Arteta against Fulham. In defence, we see some fantastically- executed sliding challenges and many timely interventions, but too often we switch off from a set-piece, or give away a needless foul. This is not a case of individuals though; this is a case of philosophy.

The work-rate from some individuals in our squad can be below par at some times. Players such as Arshavin, Chamakh or Santos often don’t pull their weight when they play, leaving our team unbalanced and lop-sided. This is, again, an issue which relates to the philosophy of our squad, and its work-ethic as a whole.

Another problem is that we often seem to lack concentration. This is a mix of training, priorities and undoubtedly individual errors. I can’t help but feel that some good traditional drills - especially for the defence - would help eradicate some of these errors, with everyone knowing where they needed to be, what their job was, who they were marking. I strongly believe that this would reduce the amount of free headers and soft goals we allow. Another possible antidote for this may be greater tactical and positional awareness, understanding the formation we are playing, the system we are playing and how we plan to win the game. A ‘plan’ is one thing I believe we lack significantly in some games, which leads me on to my next point.

We sometimes appear to be tactically naïve. If this is because of the manager, the way he communicates his ideas to the players or the player’s lack of tactical awareness, we cannot tell. The reality is it’s probably a mixture of them all. We find a certain system we like, and play with that system, week in, week out, regardless of opposition. It seems that we create an idealistic way of playing, and try to do it every week, with varying degrees of success. This is based on the model of Barcelona, who replicate the same system every week with a lot of success. The problem is, we aren’t Barcelona.

Compare this to United, who constantly change their system, formation and personnel to suit the situation, and it is clear that this may be a major factor in our lack of success and their abundance of it. Remember when they played the Da Silva brothers as wingers and beat us 2-0 in the FA Cup at OT? That worked a treat. Can you imagine us displaying that tactical creativity? I doubt it.

These are some of the major problems and I’m not saying that if they were solved we would win the league, but we would play to our full potential, which I believe means that we could challenge for trophies. In terms of blame, I do not believe one individual is at fault. The players clearly have a responsibility to ensure they are playing consistently at their top level but the manager also has to take responsibility for the way the team are set up to cope with specific challenges. The board could also be blamed for not providing the funds to bring in the necessary players, although as far as many of these issues are concerned, I see that as a lesser factor.

So to summarise, yes - Arsenal have a squad which is not as good as many of those we have had in the past. But if we changed our approach slightly, we might be able to get more out of what we have, which is still a talented group of footballers.

7th December 2012

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User Comment and Reaction

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Honest Tom Fox  9:16am 7th Dec 2012

Fergie subbed Rafael after he was having a poor game at Reading after 30 mins.It would take Santos to break both legs before Wenger would sub him.Wenger is tactically clueless and Bould is no different from Rice a yes man.One striker at home sums Wenger up.I read the other day our chief scout have watched Huntelaar 6 times recently FFS what is there to see he's 29 not 18 he's a proven striker at the highest level but we have to scout him!!!How many times did he watch Santos Squillaci Chamakh and Gervinho???? - Post No. 31906


James  9:36am 7th Dec 2012

How could it be a fresh start?Wenger is still manager isnt he.Last year we got into the top 4 on the back of the best player in the premiership.He could win games on his own.He is doing the same at Utd now.The spine of the team is poor in 2004 we had Sol PV4 and Henry.The game in Greece showed how many bad and i mean bad players we have at the club.All on long term deals.Which brings me on to Sagna our most consistent player since 2007 yet he is rewarded with a one year extension while Silvestre got a two year deal.Sagna will join the long list of good players out the door while Squillaci Santos Djourou Chamakh and Gervinho will still be at the club picking up massive wages. - Post No. 31907


Carlos  9:46am 7th Dec 2012

Good points regarding defensive organisation and the way the team sets up. However, if you think Barcelona always play the same way, you need to look again, - Post No. 31909


Tony Evans  10:04am 7th Dec 2012

Agree with the main thrust of the article in that a new manager would get more out of this group of players I am sure. Wenger is stagnating faster than ever and seems unable or unwilling to vary the shape, tactics or substitutions employed. His famed eye for a good transfer has also deserted him completely (and has done for a good while now) and I worry about how much money he might waste in January, when I would much rather see a new man given a chance. - Post No. 31910


Marky  10:15am 7th Dec 2012

You ask about justifying the merits of our defenders our defenders.Right here goes Sagna best RB in the country,TV had one great season his first but has had two poor seasons,Mertersacker is slow and poor in the air!! Kos has been rotten this season,Gibbs is ok nothing more but is injury prone.We have lacked a commanding CB since Sol - Post No. 31911


Mike  10:58am 7th Dec 2012

Here is my take - I am a Wenger fan but the critisism being leveled at him is fully justified - the back four are individually good, I agree. I feel that Arsenal lack a leader on the field and have done since Viera. Someone who is vocal and respected. I have played a lot of competitive sport and been involved with teams that have benn turned around purely by the addition of a repected captain. RVP, TV, Cesc, Gallas and all the the others tried have not fitted the profile of a captain - Post No. 31914


Alsace Lorraine De Totteridge  11:32am 7th Dec 2012

I note in the Telegraph, that Sagna will not be given more than a year's contract (Sound familiar ?) and that Walcott's money will not be improved upon. So two more reasonably competent players off at the end of the season. When we are down to a squad which consists of players who no longer actually play for us despite being paid by us, perhaps we can get the AKB's to put the kit on and turn out for the club. They will by then be the last human beings on the planet who will play for this manager. Just when you think that the situation cannot get any more depressing, it does. For the love of God Arsene Wenger...GO. - Post No. 31917


Danny  12:45pm 7th Dec 2012

Wenger might have desire to win, but is inept in tactics and organization. Basically Arsenal’s Achilles Heel is Wenger, WEAK and stubborn in changes We need a leader on the pitch and change in MANAGER and a above all, a football person on the board, not a yank, counting his paycheck nd has no clue Bring back Dein!!! - Post No. 31921


CanadaGooner  12:54pm 7th Dec 2012

Arsenal is a team caught between 2 worlds; Wenger doesnt care much for defending, and when he had a strong midfield and offence, things went just fine. Now that we can only attract average players as our profile is now so low after 7 trophyless seasons, there isnt a great deal steve bould or anyone can do to produce a long-lasting impact. quick-fixes wont work at arsenal: sooner or later the club will have to begin a proper re-build, but as we all know, that isnt round the corner. So, I expect we will all carry on moaning on here for quite some time to come. - Post No. 31922


Guy in Jersey  12:58pm 7th Dec 2012

A very fair summary. We have some good players (and some very good players), but the team is not equal to the sum of its parts. We also lack leaders - defensively, in midfield, up front AND off the pitch. Everyone has to share some of the blame, but Wenger is the one who is most at fault. The buck stops with the manager. (There are a number of players in our squad who aren't good enough to play for Arsenal, or are no longer good enough, although neither these or some of our better players are helped by being played out of position - Arshavin, Ramsey, Podolski, Walcott, those centre backs, right backs and midfielders filling in at left back and the hapless Gervinho at centre forward) - Post No. 31923


WeAreBuildingATeamToDominate  13:06pm 7th Dec 2012

Do you remember the days (admittedly before the transfer window came about) when AFC would sign a player simply to "do a job", even if it was only for the short term? Those of you who know your history will recall the signing of Ronnie Rooke in 1948/49, whose goals saved the club that season. Terry Mancini, Steve Williams, Alan Ball, John Hollins, et al. Something similar is required in January.......but, expect another French-speaking non-entity. - Post No. 31925


Bard  14:50pm 7th Dec 2012

Pretty good summary. The difficulty is that there are numerous problems on and off the field and changing our approach wont make the difference. We have had defensive problems for years, Bouldy could sort them but I doubt he is given the responsibility. We sell our best players and buy lesser players on terrific contracts. They dont put in a shift and dont want to move when they get dropped. The fact that stay even though they know they are surplus to requirements tells you all you need to know about their character. The consequence is that there is no competition for places. Add to this Wengers well documented lack of tactical nous and a self satisfied board and you begin to get a grasp of the enormity of the clubs problems. Buying players in the January window however good they are will only paper over the cracks. We used to bemoan the fact that we didnt buy one or two players to get us over the line but the situation has deteriorated since then. I know its sacrilege but being thumped by West Brom tomorrow might do us more good in the long run than an emphatic victory. A comprehensive victory would be all the evidence Wenger needs to start proclaiming all's well, we are back on track boa bla boa and us disgruntled fans are merely a minority. - Post No. 31928


maguiresbridge gooner  15:23pm 7th Dec 2012

The defence was looking good and performing well at the start of the season why did all that suddenly stop ? You don't have solidity, play well keep clean sheets for a handful of games and then revert back to type there has to be a reason for this. All the issues you are talking about are true George and most of them among others still remain organisation,ability,concentration, tactics or lack of them being just a few.I couldn't agree more that some good traditional drills would go a long way and who better to implement them than the assistant manager who played in the famous back four.Maybe that's what was happening at the start of the season.But at the end of the day there's only one person responsible for all these issues and he's getting well paid to see that their implemented, dealt with,put right and he's not doing that. - Post No. 31929


Peter Wain  15:40pm 7th Dec 2012

Or to put it another way we have the worst squad the Wenger has ever assembled. It lacks ability pace passion determinationa and organsiation. Theie is no leadership either on or off the field. Substitutions take place at 70 minutes no deviation is allowed amd the same players play however bad they are. Gervinho is so bad that he would not get into a Sunday morning team but he plays when fit. Gitoud is so slo that it takes 15 minutes to turn round. The defence is a total shambles able to collectively concede a goal at any time. The result tomorrow is a loss for sure if we play like we have been. - Post No. 31930


exiled & dangerous  15:47pm 7th Dec 2012

Not that the PFA or their agents would allow it, of course, but perhaps they could try a new approach for a month or two: if you don't win, you don't get paid. Might see more grit and determination, maybe? - Post No. 31932


Ron  16:02pm 7th Dec 2012

In short youre saying the coaching is poor. Quite true. Its the worst sqaud in 45 - 50 years and journeymen players need certainty and stabilty and need to know what theyre supposed to do.This lot dont and its the first time in all his years that a coaching burden has been placed on Wengers shoulders and hes failed to hack the task.The players of the past coached themselves to a great degree as quality players do.To be honest, somebody like Allardyce would be best placed to coach this lot. Hes limited, hed know theyre limited and he d cut his cloth and tactics accordingly (dont get me wrong, i wdt want him at Arsenal). Wenger doenst know how to coach ordinary players and we ve now got a shed load of them.As for the players you mention. Some are terrible. Koschielny and Vermealen are inadequate. The latter lives on his goals when he first came.Koschielny is weak physically and mentally in my view. There isnt a decent full back or keeper at the Club.Take Wilshere out of the equation and theres not much left. Whether the hype surrounding Cazorla holds good remains to be seen.Disorganised? Totally. These players could be organised though but i suspect not by AW alone sadly. He has inferior players to what hes used to and yet hes telling them to go and play 'off the cuff', 'attack is better than defence', 'let the opposition worry about us' etc etc. Cant work.Got to get tight and well drilled.Hes lucky thats overall its a poor to average league. - Post No. 31934


Graham Simons  17:00pm 7th Dec 2012

Ron's summed it up perfectly - Post No. 31936


GaryFootscrayAustralia  17:42pm 7th Dec 2012

Hang on, I thought it was because "we were lacking a little bit the sharpness"? I must pay more attention to the press conferences. Not a constructive answer, but then again the team and management don't appear to be too constructive at the moment either...more like the equivalent of Peter Nicholas trying to hit Raphael Meade with a long one dropping out of orbit... - Post No. 31938


Debbie  18:59pm 7th Dec 2012

Hi Gooners. Can't wait till the weekend,as I have a real footie fest planned and it's also my birthday this Saturday,so I am hoping my hubby comes good on the treats and pressies.First up it's the Ems on Saturday to watch my beloved Arsenal take on the bing boing baggies.Hopefully I won't get too sloshed during the game in the bar as I hope to be off after the match to the West End to be wined dined and then off to a top club for some dancing. Then on Tuesday Im off to my first away trip of the season with some 5,000 chirpy cockneys to see us play at Bradford.Even though I prefer the comforts of the Emerites and I would'nt give my box up for the world,I love the cheeky humour of the Arsenal away boys.Talking of Away boys I am trying to get hold of the Away boys latest album cannot find it on Amazon anywhere.My favourite track is Ooh Szeceney.Oh I nearly forgot my predictions for the upcoming week.Im going for an 8 goal thriller on Saturday with the Gunners hitting 5.Then on Tuesday, Bradford to take a shock lead but then Olivier to come on in the second half and save the day with a brace and Arsenal to run out 4-1 winners. Have a great weekend Gooners. - Post No. 31940


Moscow Gooner  19:34pm 7th Dec 2012

Ron: 'the worst squad in 40 - 50 years'?? Cast your mind back to the mid seventies or the mid eighties - or even the last couple of seasons under GG. Those squads really defined WEAK. The disappointing thing now is that we still have a half decent sqad but one that is chronically underperforming. The buck stops with the manager. Gven the lack of quality in the Premiership right now we still have a reasonable chance of making 4th - but we all know that would simply guarantee another season of no change at the top. Better we go down to WBA tomorrow, finish in mid table and bite the bullet on the necessary changes: Wenger can be 'promoted' to Director of Football or something similar and we can get in a new, younger, tactically astute manager who can take the club back to where we belongs: the top. - Post No. 31942


maguiresbridge gooner  22:26pm 7th Dec 2012

Yes Ron,he's been consistently found out over the seasons where coaching is concerned with mediocre players.Whats the betting his assistant manager couldn't get the best out of such players (well the defenders at least) as he ended up been part of the best defence in history after been plucked from mediocrity himself and turned into a top defender. - Post No. 31943


Highbury Boy  0:13am 8th Dec 2012

Just read that Wenger is confident that Sagna will stay. I'm a bit worried as he said the same about VP and before him Nasri and before him Fabregas. I just wish he would say that he is confident that Chamakh is staying along with Park,Gervinho,Squillaci,Bendtner,Djourou,Santos,Fabianski,Mannone etc - Post No. 31945


GG89  0:40am 8th Dec 2012

AW never replaced Patty Vieira.... Won nothing since... Its not the defences fault... How many players could have filled his boots... Essien, Alonso for example.... Just pay them the right money and it would all still be OK. Pay structure just one of AFCs problems... - Post No. 31947


Joe S.  0:55am 8th Dec 2012

Pretty much stating the obvious here. Arsene Wegner has got as much as he can from the squad of players he has assimilated. - Post No. 31948


johnnyh  15:31pm 8th Dec 2012

it is the managers job to use and fine tune a defensive system on the training pitch so that it becomes second nature to whichever back 4 takes the field. george graham was able to do it and he wasnt getting the 7.5m million wenger gets. football has moved on tactically and left wenger behind. arsenal fans have the right to expect the team to be coached and drilled properly and it is obvious that isnt the case. arsenal fans have to wake up and look around them. this manager is finished and needs to go before he is allowed to bring in more rubbish players. - Post No. 31951


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