Arsenal’s Broken Stones – Unfixable and Unmendable?

Lee Dixon went straight to the top of the hit list yesterday. In case you haven’t heard his views,

“They are not a pressing side,” he declared. The lengthy explanation Dixon’s offered underlined the difference between Arsène’s tippy-tappy and the successful Spanish sides who employed tiki-taka. We didn’t – and still don’t – defend anywhere near as well as we need to.

It’s no good pointing to the officials at the weekend because this is a trait over a longer period of time. Alexis is highlighted as being a worker bee, busy trying to recover possession. That underlines the frequent criticism of the Chilean; he’s always trying to win the ball back as he’s lost it more often than others.

However, it is noticeable that he is doing so as it contrasts starkly with other players backing off and waiting to intercept. Now, maybe they are doing so because he is harrying and chasing. Maybe they are doing so because that is the team instruction and he is in fact ignoring Wenger’s orders.

I know which one looks more effective to supporters. Whether it is or not is depends on which statistics you want to believe.

The point Dixon makes about pressing sides is a valid criticism. I think we’d find more success employing that tactic to replicate the success others have. If you look at City now, they do exactly that; possession is quickly recycled so that the pressure on teams is unrelenting.

That is the position we need to get to but show little sign of reaching. Is it an anathema to Arsène or does he simply not believe it works?

Another Pitch Shatters

It must be a conscious decision on his part because he watches so much football that it is a failing which is impossible to miss. Which suggests Dixon’s assertion that Wenger cannot solve the problems, correct.

To do so would almost rip out his footballing foundations but it’s surprising because we used to be quick to the ball, certainly in the first decade of his reign.

There was something of a queue to knock the current set-up. Emmanuel Petit, suddenly elevated to the status of “Arsenal legend”, believes it’s because we never replaced Patrick Vieira. There’s an element of truth in that.

Granit Xhaka is not the defensive midfielder we hoped we signed but there was more to Vieira’s game. It’s telling that he is the only manager to emerge from Wenger’s ranks. Bergkamp doesn’t want to manage while Henry is an assistant. Who else? Some good pundits and coaches, which I think is very telling.

The leadership, questions about which Wenger greets with disdain, is the biggest issue. On-field organisation is poor at times – again over a long period of time – because we don’t have that focal point. Finding such players is not easy; look at Chelsea without Terry and United without Keane. It’s not a problem peculiar to Arsenal.

Should City hit a bad patch this season – as they did last – then it will be telling how they handle it. You don’t need a captain necessarily in the good times, the easy games. You certainly do in tough sections of games or stretches of the season where champion-defining results are ground out.

Arsène argues he has 11 leaders on the pitch but a focal point on the pitch is as important, the one person to pull everyone together and in the same direction. That’s been missing.

Another Little Bit Gets Lost

Which comes back to Dixon’s original point: can Arsène solve the issues which beset the playing side at the moment?

It depends on whether he sees them as issues in the first instance. A philosophical difference may exist between his footballing vision and others. Maybe he thinks the ‘pressing’ side of the game is over-rated. Certainly, his use of zonal marking at corners highlights that he doesn’t think his defence is good enough to man-mark.

The hipsters love the ‘geigenpress’ of Klopp’s Dortmund but it hasn’t transferred well to Liverpool, mainly as a result of poor buys in the transfer market.

Arsenal fall somewhere between the two extremes of City and Liverpool. Sometimes we are excellent at pressing, to the extent that you wonder why we don’t use it more often.

Maybe we will but I don’t think we have the players to do that. Re-shaping the squad is necessary but a long-term job. The Arsenal board and owner are confident in Wenger doing the job but the numbers who agree with them continue to diminish, with apathy taking a firmer grip.

Some argue Arsenal’s situation won’t change because for every fan who stops going, there are ten to take their place. That may be so now, but will it hold true if we fail to qualify for the Champions League for the next three seasons?

If that happens, does it mean the club has slipped so far that it is too deeply mired in mediocrity for decisive action on its’ part to be taken?

I wouldn’t bet on anyone inside Arsenal knowing how to react in those circumstances. They don’t know how to react now.

’til Tomorrow.

41 thoughts on “Arsenal’s Broken Stones – Unfixable and Unmendable?

  1. Good afternoon folks, I think our problem with regaining possession is the complete lack of anyone in the team being capable of making a legitimate tackle.

  2. I think Dixon is spot on in everything that he said and good post Yogi!

    Its quite interesting that Dixon is saying this and the thing is, its hard to argue with anything he says. Do we have the players to press, I think we do because they have done it before: Sanchez, Ozil, Elneny, Lacazette, Bellerin, Nacho, Kos, Mustafi are all players that have played in some system either for club or country, but I don’t think that its in Arsene’s DNA to press which is why I have always said that tiki taki can be successful but you have to press and pressing is the one thing that Arsene doesn’t do.

    The other thing is that Dixon is also spot on about it not being fixable under Arsene because its ARsene who has created this.

  3. Orson Kaert,

    Think some can tackle but others are good at nicking, problem is our midfielders can’t tackle and if were honest, outside of say Le Coq who is limited and Elneny who most don’t like, none of the rest actually want to defend or close down space. I mean Xavi, Inesta, Messi, Neymar, Pedro, and some of the others in that Barca side weren’t the best tacklers but they were really good at nicking the ball or reading and intercepting passes.

  4. Wenger has always had the same view on how to play football IMO. The difference between now and the first eight or ten years of his reign is that he inherited players that would take a bit of instruction from him but still do what was necessary on the pitch, which they had already learned. Because Wenger gives players a huge amount of responsibility once the game starts the likes of Adams, Dixon and Co. could dictate how we played. They provided the platform and Wenger gave them the additional tools in an attacking sense to build on it.

    Once these players had gone from the club (and Keown was still playing during the Invincibles season, Campbell too both had the skills and learned from his predecessors as did PV4 and a few others) then that knowledge was lost. It’s been said many times but when AW dismantled the Invincibles that solid base was lost. New players looked solely to Wenger, almost untouchable at that point, to take their lead and Wenger does not value the same principles.

    Dixon is correct, the culture comes straight from the manager and will never change while he remains.

  5. An interesting Post, YW.

    [Tho I was intrigued by the title – ‘Arsenal’s broken stones’ – Que? Not repairable or not mendable? – you are deliberately teasing us — did you mean ‘broken bones’ – or maybe ‘broken stones’ as in cojones – or gonads?

    If any of the above – whose? is the next question.

    The Yogi titles like the ‘photo stills are becoming more quixotic by the day!! 😀

  6. C,

    Whilst Coquelin is ever ready to commit to a tackle, most times, it is by no means a legitimate one.

    The problem is exacerbated by officials who view every attempt at a tackle as a foul, and players, Sterling?, going down at the merest puff of wind.

    Others of our players, Ramsey? are far more likely to grab a shirt than actually attempt a tackle.

    When Xhaka first arrived he did make tackles, sadly many of them were a bit late, that resulted in yellow cards. Rather than coach him in the art, it seems Wenger discouraged tackling altogether.

  7. A moveable feast
    with petrodollars from the silken East
    two at every spot
    the English idiom – wotalotigot.

  8. Afternoon,

    I recall highlighting the way Barcelona pressed under Pep as being as critical a part of their game as the skills of their forward players. It’s about discipline and Dixon rightly points out that the team would need to work at pressing week-in, week-out to be able to use it successfully on a regular basis.

  9. Under Wenger, Arsenal slowly decline in the second tier of football. With the KSE ownership, the heady days pre-2006 will never return. I loved watching Arsenal from the North Bank in the equally dreadful 70’s and 80’s, but they were a real club then, and I was young and loved just travelling around supporting them. I even watched every game from the 1979/80 season when Brooking ruined the season’s end….but now it’s just a corporate balance sheet and is soooo boring. Maybe a relegation fight would make it more interesting.

  10. Great post Yogi.

    If you look at our players, other then Alexis and Ramsey we don’t have players who seem to have an abundance of energy and a world class engine. However, I think the bigger problem is that consistent high pressure defending over the course of a full season is just not part of our culture. We can do it for short stretches of games but inevitably we fall back into our old habits. Just like everything I have my theories on why the culture has developed this way. I think the single biggest issue is the culture of satisfaction with 4th place that has developed. The manager has been satisfied with the results he has been able to achieve with his record of consecutive to 4 finishes over the years so why change anything. The fact we always inevitably have a great run of results anytime 4th place is at risk says to me that top 4 finishes are what has motivated Arsene’s squads during the Emirates era. It almost happened again last season but we waited 1 game to long to get started.

    All of that said, I am not a mind reader and I don’t pretend to understand what really does go on between the players and the managers ears. However the one thing I do know is that Arsene has become the heart and soul of the club and the culture of the team revolves around him.

  11. Afternoon,

    That Lee Dixon Interview is a breath of fresh air. Good that explayers (apart from Stuart robson) come clean with their views.

    None of that smoothtalking because they want jobs, training facilities, youth training license etc, etc. Yes, I´m looking at you Robert Pires:-)

  12. In this Emirates its always been completely predictable that we will find someway to finish in the low to mid 70’s in points and that has always been enough to make into the top 4. Last season felt like one of the worst seasons in this century and yet we still tied for our 2nd highest point total since 2008. Even last season, I was confident that we would be able to recover from the miserable run we had in Jan – March and put together an win streak that would somehow rescue 4th place. Unfortunately I was wrong and we waited 1 game too long to start winning and the 8 game run of consecutive wins at the end of the season was not quite enough and we missed 4th by one point.

  13. I am confident that we will find a way to collect 70-75 points this season and we will challenge for the top 4. Our final table position will probably depend on how many points the other 5 teams who are in contention for those top 4 spots are able to collect.

  14. Bill,

    I admire your optimism. Not sure I can mustard that positivity. Faith is a fickle thing and I´m pretty sure most are running on low here.

    Where do you get it from, this rocksteady belief that last season was just a blip and now we return to the mean 🙂

  15. Orson Kaert,

    Agree about Le Coq, it doesn’t help that he immediately goes to ground.

    Ramsey your spot on about. Funny enough people talk about Sterling but Ramsey was awarded a very similar penalty earlier this season.

    Xhaka is the one who I have grown most frustrated with and I’m not sure if its the player or the coaching or both. He was aggressive and physical when he arrived (maybe too much for most but then they love Vieira and Petit so I didn’t understand) and while he wasn’t the best tackler he closed down space and was willing to put in challenges. Since his arrival Arsene has on multiple occasions criticized his aggressive nature and tackling and since then we have seen Xhaka avoid it BUT only in an Arsenal shirt because when I watch him for country he is still that aggressive player.

    Jack likes the revenge tackles while Elneny isn’t a player that goes to ground but like Santi prefers to nick the ball off your feet or because he reads the game gets interceptions.

  16. The thing that probably bothers me most is that people think high pressing is just about having loads of energy and a big engine; pressing is just as much about efficiency and effectiveness as it is about having loads of energy. Look at Barca and the Spanish national team, you had players like Xavi, Inesta, Xabi, Busquets who were nothing short of BRILLIANT at high pressing but they worked smarter, closing down passing lanes and anticipating what was going to happen.

    Sure players like Ramsey and Le Coq have great engines but whats the point of having a big engine if your just running around and the ball is passing you by? Its funny, people tend to forget that Ozil was tied with Sanchez for tackles won and recoveries for most of last season yet one is called lazy and the other called a worker bee.

  17. Bill,

    Points are a relative thing purely based on a year by year thing. For instance when Leicester won the PL we finished with 71 points and finished 2nd, last year we finished with 75 points and finished 5th which was 10 points and 18 points behind the Champions.

    While I think at some point we will be fine, I think the problem comes with trying to reach a point total year in and year out as opposed to looking at how the PL table is trending and adjusting your point totals for that. For instance, most believe that 40 points year in and year out will keep you safe but that isn’t always true. Getting 70-75 points is great if all your aspiration is is to fight for 4th place at best, personally I want a manager and team to adjust and I think again, with talent that we have we should be doing better and fighting for the title.

  18. Welsh Corgi

    I have 13 years of solid evidence to back my optimism about our ability to find a way to get around 70 points and compete for 4th place. You know I am not a fan of Arsene nor am I a fan of what has been happening with the stagnation around the club. However, we have to give credit where its due and Arsene and his players have always found a way to compete for the top 4 spot and before last season they were always successful. You can’t ignore what has actually happened and ignore our record.

  19. Must say, I’ve been commenting for years that the worst thing about Arsenal is the press. The team did rather well at the beginning of last season when it did a lot of pressing. At that time, Coquelin was spending a lot of time roaming forward pressuring the ball. That disappeared around Christmas. Don’t know why.
    In any event, if you’re a possession side you must be a good pressing side and Arsenal is not. I think that’s a major reason why Sanchez has had enough. He’s been in some great pressing sides (including Chile) and can see what’s broken.
    Good pressing though doesn’t require much tackling. It’s about crowding the man with the ball. That requires players, particularly midfielders, whose first instinct is to step forward towards the ball carrier. Watch Busquets. He ain’t quick. But he always arrows straight towards whoever has the ball to create pressure.
    The only two players in the Arsenal side who will do that are Coq and Elneny. If I was the manager, I would think about playing Coq and Elneny together. Sure, Coq will cough up the ball more than you want (tell him not to be ambitious) but he’ll sure as hell get it back in dangerous positions.

  20. Bill,

    Fair enough, can’t argue with that. Well, I can actually, but you’re right.

    Although within context it’s possible that we reach 75 points again and again miss out on top4. As we are standing still while others move forward and the targets change?

  21. consolsbob,

    Oh wise one…..stop being punchy….we are well aware of what preserve means.
    The question of the marmalade was asked of OK….and he did.
    Chilled marmalade is subjective-like the differing opinions on this blog 😉..as Nicky would do.

  22. consolsbob,

    Sugar only ‘preserves’ the product whilst it’s unopened.
    Once it is,and air is introduced,the bacteria get to work…..and bacteria thrives at room temperature.
    And fuck what Paddington says 😂😂

  23. My, my. Marmalade separates us.

    We make it every year along with most other jams, pickles and chutneys.

    All I can say is that we never keep opened ones in the fridge and that ajar of any of them never has time to go off. Our ancestors of only a generation ago did not have fridges.

    However, my intention was not to me peromptery, if some wish to keep their marmalade in the fridge, then so be it. Mine will stay in the larder and I will trust in the wisdom of ages.

  24. Jonnygunner,

    Are you still on the Frank Cooper’s Muscovy? I found it a bit too rich. I’m now dedicated to the Vintage. It was recently on offer in Sainsbury there were eight jars on the shelf, I bought the lot.

  25. Orson Kaert,

    Snap-gone back to the vintage for the same reason Orse.
    I tend to have two slices of toast with Marmite…..and a third with marmalade-Frank Coopers .That would be your fault,I was happy with my Tiptree (Wilkin and son)until you tempted me back to the dark side!

  26. consolsbob,

    There you have it Bobster-it never has time to go off as you eat it so quickly,that’s the problem with today’s society….too many different jars on the go.Our ancestors would have finished one jar before starting another….now we have more choice….and fridges 😉

  27. Jonnygunner,

    I never have Marmite for breakfast, but as a mid afternoon snack it’s marvellous on hot buttered crumpets. Hot toast with Marmite makes an ideal pre-bedtime accompaniment to a mug of cocoa.

  28. Here’s a surprise, Spuds expect Harry Kane to recover from the knee injury, that kept him out of the England squad for this weekend’s two friendlies, in time to face Arsenal on Nov. 18th.

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