Lee Dixon went straight to the top of the hit list yesterday. In case you haven’t heard his views,
— BBC 5 live Sport (@5liveSport) November 6, 2017
“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.