Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat to Bayern Munich at the Emirates last night highlighted a number of this Gunners’ side’s defensive frailties against the very best of opposition.
However, whilst the verve, flair and class of Bayern undid Arsenal for the opening goal, it was, in my humble opinion, their inability to organize themselves adequately for the corner that Thomas Muller put in the back of the net for the German’s second that did the most damage.
At 1-0 Arsenal with 83 minutes to play Arsenal were still very much in the game and the two-legged tie. An away goal conceded at home to last year’s Champions League finalists was no great shame for the Gunners.
But 2-0 down twenty minutes before half-time, Arsenal had a mountain to climb. Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny must be sick to the back teeth of his backline. Arsenal come in for some unjust and unwarranted criticism for their zonal marking on set-pieces but it’s really their lack of organization and convicted that is the problem – even if they stood man for man, they’d be just as vulnerable.
Conceding goals against world-class opposition is not an embarrassment but conceding goals ad they have done all too often this season (and the one before it and the one before that) against lesser opposition in domestic competitions is an embarrassment.
Arsenal’s defending has become a comedy of errors in general - their centre-halves are, on paper, very good senior international defenders, as are first-choice their fullbacks. Yet again and again they go to sleep on set pieces. Pundits and fans alike used to bemoan the lack of height and physical presence in the Arsenal side. This is no longer a cause for concern – or at least, it shouldn’t be.
Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker, and Laurent Koscielny are all 6ft and over. The German giant especially should be throwing his weight around more in the box and making sure his head is on the clearance.
Olivier Giroud has performed well this season in a defensive capacity – time and time again we’ve seen him jostling in his defensive penalty are and make crucial clearances. But that’s not really his job.
Szczesny is a very good young goalkeeper but, from his face and demeanour as he left the Emirates last night; he’s not a happy puppy. He is left so vulnerable by his backline so often. How is he supposed to have faith in his centre-backs when they’re so calamitous on such a regular basis?
At the beginning of the season people were slapping Steve Bould on the back for getting the Gunners back to basics defensively but their run of clean sheets was short lived. When Arsenal struggle to create quality and incisive moves up front, they’re always vulnerable as they were against Bayern because they can’t hold it together at the back.
Weak and inferior opposition visit the Emirates believing they can take some points from the game because they know Arsenal can’t handle a long-ball into the box. They can’t handle a good delivery on corners and freekicks and they certainly can’t handle a tall player with a good head on his shoulders.
Basically, Arsenal can’t handle any opponent with an aerial threat – they’ve produced some strong defensive displays recently against Stoke and Sunderland but their 5th in the Premier League for a reason.
When Manchester City came to the Emirates it was a cross from James Milner that put the game to bed. At 1-0 Arsenal down were still in that game, but when Milner crossed, Carlos Tevez shot and Szczesny saved, Edin Dzeko was there to tap it in. Game over.
When Chelsea hosted Arsenal at Stamford Bridge a week later, a cross from Cesar Azpilicueta landed perfectly on the boot of Juan Mata. 1-0 after 6 minutes and they’re chasing the game for practically 90 minutes, leaving themselves vulnerable to a counter-attack. Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal after 16 minutes.
I spoke to reserve keeper Vito Mannone after last night’s game (most of those who played were strangely uncommunicative with the press) and I asked him if the defensive frailties were worrying him and whether that’s something they focus on in training or in the dressing room.
He told me they don’t talk about it. How appropeaux. Somebody somewhere needs to start communicating. Somebody needs to start organizing. And somebody needs to take charge. Arsenal are not a team of diminutives anymore but they still concede goals as if they’re all 4ft tall.
image: © wonker