On Fragile Confidence and Defence Underpinning Attack

Football does love a good cliche and ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ is a favoured one. Except in Arsenal’s case, that’s exactly what we should be doing. The stated aim of the club every year is Champions League football; we don’t want to win any trophies, just qualify for the feast at UEFA’s top table.

Chelsea’s 3 – 0 win last night pretty much confirmed what we already knew: the top four for this season is out of reach. We’re not good enough to scale that peak and you’d question whether we’re good enough to make progress in the Champions League as well. Everyone hopes we are; we’re the fodder for the elite clubs in the knockout stages; the team everyone wants to draw.

If that’s the aim, it’s no good bumbling along in the league and hoping for the best in Europe; our full attention must be on the Europa League. No second string XI’s, just the best XI we have available. The Premier League can look after itself and we’ll go all out to win the European trophy.

It’s not going to be easy; there are some pretty good teams in there and a few who can teach us a thing or two about defending. Most Sunday morning teams could teach us a thing or two about defending so I’m not sure it’s that great a claim.

Will Arsène dare to put the Premier League second on his list of priorities? Dare he not? It’s an intriguing position for a manager who put great store in the fourth-place trophy down the years. His highest aim now is the top six and I’m sure we’ll soon be regaled with tales of how we over-achieved by finishing fourth. This despite having the 9th most expensively assembled squad in Europe.

You’ll Never Wait So Long

One significant factor in that valuation is Alexandre Lacazette. It’s fair to say he’s endured an underwhelming goal return this season. Adjustment to a new league is never easy and a club in disarray makes the task all the harder. But players need to adapt. It’s not as if Lacazette didn’t have opportunities to score; he simply didn’t take them.

Ask him why and I doubt he knows. Arsène’s attitude toward him hardened when negotiations over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came to fruition: “I don’t reassure people. We are in a competitive world. “We have chosen a job where there is competition, you have to fight for your place.”

For a £52m man, the situation is bizarre and maybe unfathomable. Had Arsenal moved to sign a wide player who could score freely, then the move for PEA made sense. Now, it’s further evidence that there is no cohesive squad-building policy at Arsenal. PEA and Lacazette are not a duo who fit naturally together, even if Wenger were inclined to move toward a formation with two strikers.

We also have more problems defensively than up front. Yes, a lack of goals is an issue but barren runs end. At Arsenal, defenders don’t improve. Or the defensive unit doesn’t. Individually they might but in terms of how they play together, it is still reminiscent of a group of strangers.

Thierry Henry observed that Wenger struggles to spend big money on defenders. £35m on Mustafi wasn’t small change; it might be compared to a forward but defenders rarely command those fees. Van Dijk is the exception but also included Liverpool paying a significant financial penalty for the summer’s shenanigans.

We might not want to move in those circles but needed to address the issues we face at the back.

We Wait ’til Face Turns Blue

We certainly had the funds to spend but instead of landing key players quickly, we waited on Alexis as if it were the only game in town. Don’t tell me we didn’t have the money available. We’ve made a transfer profit of around £15-20m this season despite signing £108m-worth of strikers, so there’s that and the ‘war chest’ from last summer available to spend.

Had we the will to sign defenders, we were certainly in a position to do so. Failing that, we should be looking at the unit and training them almost as rigidly as George Graham did. Getting that tactical understanding right is vital. Where Wenger is a free spirit, Guardiola is quite prescriptive in what he expects of the team in midfield and defence. It’s only in the final third that his teams are given free reign, according to players whom he has coached.

That’s the missing link in Wenger’s sides. We focus on zonal marking and that’s your lot. If a player moves into your zone, that’s your man. If two get there, alarm bells ring and the ‘confused’ signs drop over defenders’ eyes.

It’s a conflict Wenger can’t resolve. He wants the attractive, free spirit football but forgets that the best sides have a strong defence which allows them to play freely further up the pitch. You can’t win trophies just by hoping to score three or four goals every game; there must be a solid base to build on.

If we had that, I wonder how much of a lack of confidence Alexandre Lacazette would be suffering?

’til Tomorrow.

127 thoughts on “On Fragile Confidence and Defence Underpinning Attack

  1. Sorry C, it was definitely looking like the Spuds could get a second. Juve looked like they might have weathered the storm in the second half.
    Think I’m going to throw up if I have to listen to much more of Pearce and Houghton though. Could see Pearce down on his knees unzipping Potch after the game. Tossers!

  2. Wavey,

    Yea, Spuds looked likely to score but Juve had their chances.

    Sorry, I refuse to get in on the Spuds lovefest and having watched Juve all these years and realizing they are missing Cuadrado, Dybala, Matuidi and Howedes; its a completely different Juve side that we will see.

    Lets also think about this though, Aurier should have been booked for the penalty then saw his 2nd yellow to start the 2nd half.

  3. C,

    No lovefest from me. Just saying it as I see it. And I know Juve should have taken their chances, but they didn’t and they handed the momentum to the Spuds.

  4. Tottenham are a lot better than us now. We can only wish for a mature display like this against a European giant….away.

  5. C,

    Spuds deserved that C…..you called it too soon.I’m not attacking you mate-I speak as a fellow Gooner-but you are sometimes very opinionated…and wrong…tonight you were both.
    Take it on the chin-you are sometimes too much.
    Goodnight

  6. Great post Yogi

    Bad news for Lacazette. Its the wrong to top off a bad season for him and us.

    I did not see the game and I can’t comment about how or why it happened but credit to Spurs. They certainly are adding more evidence to back the contention that there has been a power shift in North London. No way we could go to Juve and get a scoring draw. Spurs have given themselves an excellent chance to advance with the 2 away goals.

  7. Yogi

    Regarding your post today. We first started complaining about our team defense around the time when I first joined the blog in the fall of 2008. Back then most of us still believed Arsene was almost omnipotent and we believed him when he told us that as long as we controlled the midfield and kept ball possession that defense would take care of itself or playing his brand of attacking football we could simply outscore our opponents. How crazy do those rationalizations Arsene used sound almost 9 years later.

    This season we are on a pace to concede almost 51 goals which would be the worst defensive season since before the George Graham era. Its truly amazing that despite spending plenty of money for defensive players Arsene has still done nothing whatsoever to fix our chronically leaky defense.

  8. Yogi

    There is no controversy regarding the lack of effectiveness of our team defense. There is not much more you can say about our defense because everyone agrees

    The other main topic of your post is fragile confidence and I am sure that is a much more controversial subject and may be we can talk about it more tomorrow. By far the biggest single reason players lose confidence is because they don’t perform as well as they or the fans or the manager had expected them to play. A lot of the time we as fans don’t want to accept that a player we really want to succeed is underperforming and we look for excuses for their struggles. The jury is still out on the long term prognosis of Lacazette and Kolasinac but there is no doubt that both have been underwhelming. The idea that Lacazette has lost confidence because he has been substituted around 75 minutes in several games is a very lame excuse. The reason he has lost confidence is because he has only scored 1 goal in the last 3 months. Kolasinac isn’t getting any minutes because Nacho is a much better LB and our easily our leading scorer in 2018. There is no place for Sead to play when we go 4 at the back.

    The bottom line is there are sometimes good reasons for a player who is not meeting expectations but the players have to be held responsible for their own form and trying to find excuses is something we have been complaining about Arsene doing for a long time.

  9. Is the bubble about to burst? BT and Sky are cutting the amount they will pay for Premiership broadcasting rights during the next contract period covering three seasons from 2019.

    With the two main packages sold the Premier League are hoping the two remaining lots will get the total somewhere near the £5.14 billion in the current deal.

    The bubble hasn’t yet burst but it just might have a slight leak.

  10. andy1886,

    Alternatively, the prize money for winning will become an important part of overall revenue again and owners will need the clubs to actually win things.

  11. Lacazette’s knee problem required surgery. It must have been a reason for his poor shooting and Wenger says so too.

  12. Wavey,

    Wouldn’t that be great? My suspicion however is that at first they will just start increasing ticket prices again, it’s the easy option.

  13. Bill,

    I feel that a big part of the confidence issue is down to players needing to know what their specific jobs are on the pitch as a team. All the evidence seems to suggest that they don’t and that is most obvious when something goes wrong on the pitch. You have talked in the past about having experienced players, but that simply means they know what they are meant to do. If there is no communication on a player’s role within the team, how is he meant to know what those around him doing? Just playing them together in practice matches on the training pitch doesn’t shape them into an organised unit. That lack of organisation shines through when let a goal in, especially when it appears to be against the run of play. How often do we see the team appear to go into self destruct mode after conceding a goal?

    In the case of Lacazette, we clearly don’t play to his strengths in our approach play. Our slow build up ensures that there is limited space around the opponent’s penalty area, whilst Lacazette seems to work better with a more dynamic attacking approach. He has shown himself to be a clinical marksman in the past, but struggles with the rushed efforts he has had to make in congested penalty areas. Maybe Lacazette is one of those strikers who just isn’t cut out for the Premier League, but we certainly don’t make it easy for him at Arsenal.

    What is interesting is that so many (including you) are willing to write him off so quickly when we have seen in the past that it can take players coming from other leagues time to settle. Maybe having Aubameyang as well will give Lacazette that time, but we will need to play both together or give up on one of them. I think its too early to draw the curtains on Lacazette’s Arsenal career and hope that his rehabilitation period won’t prove to be the opportunity for Wenger to phase him out of the team.

  14. Wavey,

    Yeah, I haven’t been this season, tough on my boy who would like to but I can’t face watching this mess any more. I’ll go back when Wenger’s gone but not before.

  15. Jonnygunner,

    I never said they didn’t deserve it but lets be honest, the match is different if Higuain buries that penalty, he didn’t and Spuds take their chances and did what they had to do. Trust mate, I have no problem with being called opinionated or wrong as we ALL are.

    I’m not sure why you said I’m too much or I didn’t take it on the chin. Personally, I could give a rats ass who won and having watched Juve throughout the years, it just felt like a typical Juve match especially when thry are done and injured.

    O well and so beit it.

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