This morning’s media seem to suggest that the problems besetting the squad at the moment have baffled the brains of the outfit. So much so that this morning sees the news that Arsène and the coaching staff are contemplating with returning to 5-3-2 or 3-5-2, depending on your inclination.
It isn’t a new formation for the club, Rioch used it during his season in charge, George Graham to greater effect in the 1988/89 title run-in. It seems a radical solution for Wenger to be thinking this way, focussing on the defensive duties, the myth has been built that he never bothered with defensive work during his time at the club. Which is curious given the playing careers of himself and Pat Rice. It was something I never bought into although I would not have argued if someone had said that they appeared to be not very good at this aspect of training.
Goals conceded has been steadily rising each season for the past few years and whilst it is easy for the blame to be apportioned at the feet of the manager and coaches, the players are as culpable. My memory fails me on occasion but I can’t recall that many goals which have been as the result of outstanding football on the part of our opponents. I can think of plenty where the defence has been at fault, collectively or individually.
With the personnel that he has, 3-5-2 might be the best solution. Each of the centre backs has attributes that, on paper, suit such a set-up. Mind you, each of the centre-backs on paper is an outstanding defender with little reason to believe their fallibility is as much of an issue as it is. Perhaps if we took the best of each and put them into one player we could build a perfect defender, a Robocop defender if you like. I quite like the idea of Arsène as Emmett Brown, having this sort of “Eureka!” moment in the dismal cellars under Highbury House.
The full-backs seem suited to this change with preferences to attack, or in Andre Santos’ case, do anything but defend. Hints of Kieran Gibbs return are welcomed not just for the release of pressure on that side but also for the necessity to address the central issues this creates. Podolski will possibly benefit as well, his relationship on the left side with Gibbs was a reason for the relatively strong start to the season, something which seems a distant memory. Gibbs growth as a player is reminscent of Alex Song’s. For a long time, the youngster was condemned as not good enough. Now on the verge of an England call-up, he is seen as something of a saviour.
Changes to formation are going to help solve some problems but the players need to improve their concentration as well. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t concede many great goals but we do seem to fail to stop a great number of sloppy goals. Look at the matches this season, the goals conceded against United, Chelsea, Schalke, Fulham. Lapses of concentration pulling one player out of position or goalkeepers not keeping an eye on the ball. Once one link in the defensive chain fails, the rest become kinked or rusted themselves, unable to fulfil their own functions without compromising the situation further.
It is my view that the players lose concentration, almost like a poison slowly seeping through the body of the side. Collectively those mistakes are punished and to some extent there is a lag, with the defence used to being bailed out by a forward who scored for fun. There’s a mental issue that they have to address but more importantly, if genuine title challenges are to happen, they need to get to grips with their focus. The problems which beset them at club level are seemingly forgotten when they turn out for their national teams although it might be that the individual cracks are papered over. However, when they come back, so do the problems.
All it simply underlines is that there is much work to be done to restore the fortunes – and I use that term relatively – of the club. Do I have the answers? No, otherwise I’d be working on a training pitch at Shenley rather than sitting typing a blog.