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. Wenger’s defence has not underpinned the attack since the great back 4 retired.

    His assistant was part of that back 4 but is treated as a YES MAN. Please God don’t let Wenger stay for much longer.

  2. Judge Yogi: “In the matter of the People versus Arsene Wenger on the charges of wilfully and flagrantly failing to ensure an annual title challenge for the past decade; the abject refusal to procure or develop a secure back four over a 20 year period; and the inability to zip a coat, can we hear from the accused’s Counsel…..”

    *Silence

    Judge Yogi “Where is the Counsel for the defendant?”

    *Sniggers from the press box

    Heckler: “There is no defence!”

  3. Well that was quite a piece there Yogi my man.

    Europa and Carabou Cup should be the sole focus and both are obtainable and should we win Europa then CL is guaranteed for next season. I get the fallout from the PL but I would imagine that, unlike it seems in England, the other European clubs want to win this competition simply for the fact that its a European trophy leading you to play another match for the chance at another trophy.

    I think though that the biggest difference between the CL and Europa League is that the Europa League is MUCH more attacking with clubs focusing more on attacking and much more open as opposed to the more tactical defensive matches of most CL ties. Its why I think if we can get Lacazette’s confidence back up then he will view it as a legitimate shot to not only stake his claim at Arsenal but also for France.

  4. I see that there is another unwanted record on the horizon for AW. With 8 defeats so far this season, our worst during his reign is 11, which was during 2005/06 when we still managed to finish fourth. I think we are safe from the 1994/95 low of 17 defeats, but that was before bar was raised between 1996 and 2004. That was also a 42 match season.

    Our final eleven matches include Citeh at home, United away, plus a whole host of banana skins. It would not surprise me if we lose another four PL matches this season.

    Could the final home match of the season, vs Burnley, be a shoot-out for 6th place?

  5. Usually when Wenger talks of a player’s lost confidence it puts him on the top step of the departure helterskelter. Soon to spiral down through the loan stage and onto the mat marked sold at the end of the slide.

  6. Not for nothing but I wonder how long Lacazette has had a minor problem and it could be part of his confidence problem because he isn’t fully confident in his knee and there was something going on we didn’t know about.

  7. Wenger reminds me of a French dish:

    Just Escargot…Go now before the Club is left as a hollow shell.

  8. This wasn’t leaked by Agent Cross of the Mirror was it? Expect to see him in Miami with Ozil over the next few weeks, both suffering in the sunshine.

    YW:
    According to some sage of social media, Lacazette has been suffering from this since we signed him…

  9. Thinking about the Europa League and surely it doesn’t make a difference now but I wonder what Arsene and Arsenal would have done if Dortmund was still in the CL because the UEFA rules state:

    “For all matches from the start of the round of 32, a club may register a maximum of three new eligible players for the remaining matches in the current competition. Such registration must be completed by 1 February 2018 (24.00CET) at the latest. This deadline cannot be extended.

    “One player from the above quota of three who has been fielded in a UEFA club competition group stage match for another club in the current season may exceptionally be registered, provided that the player has not been fielded:

    a. in the same competition for another club; or

    b. for another club that is currently in the same competition.”

    Meaning that Arsenal would have had to decide between Mhkitaryan and Aubameyang. O well though, now but it could have been interesting and awkward.

  10. West Brom have released a statement:

    Chairman John Williams and Chief Executive Martin Goodman have been given notice of termination of their contracts and have been placed on garden leave with immediate effect.

  11. Matches Lacazette will miss:

    Feb:
    15th – Orstersund (Europa)
    22nd – Orstersund (Europa)
    25th – Citeh (Carabou Cup Final)

    March:
    1st – Citeh (PL home)
    4th – Brighton (PL away)
    8th – Round of 16 Europa
    11th – Watford (PL home)
    15th – Round of 16 Europa
    17th – Leicester (PL away)

    April:
    1st – Watford (PL home)
    5th – Europa Quarterfinals
    7th – Southampton (PL home)
    12th Europa Quarterfinals

  12. YW,

    True, I do wonder though if its a recent thing and with Arsene’s constant denial of actual injuries and timelines; maybe Arsene in his mind thought it would be a week or two and he would be fine. I mean he told us Santi was only a 1-2 weeks and that was even when the rest of the reports said otherwise.

  13. YW,

    I’m being optimistic, they said 4-6 weeks

    Figured your all gloom and doom according to most so I will be the bright light 😉

  14. Watching Juve v Spuds will be fun because I think Spuds don’t have nearly the chance that people think they do.

    In midfield, they can press Pjanic all they want and he will boss the match .

  15. C,

    Interesting to see how well we ‘ease’ into next round of Europa League with Welbeck as our only recognised striker. Our only two genuine goal scorers are out of the running now, with Lacazette recovering and Aubameyang being ineligible.

  16. Not sure we will ever hear the true story on when Lacazette’s injury was spotted. If it was known during the transfer window you would have to say that someone should be sacked. It is ridiculous to think that the club would knowingly sell one of our strikers given the availability of experienced players for the EL.

  17. Wavey,

    I was talking more about our Round of 32 opponent being the “ease” as opposed to the other possibilities that were out there for us. This is Welbeck’s time to go ahead and if he ever was to have one of his purple patches then the Europa League is where we need it.

    What will be interesting is to see how quickly Lacazette comes back because I think week 5 is when the Round of 16 starts, so the question is will he be ready then……….we will have to wait and see. Luckily Aubameyang will be our undisputed and most of our next group of fixtures are either PL or the Carabou Cup Final (Aubameyang showing his worth as the Final’s hero)

  18. Interesting, my mate (who we talk futbol quite regularly throughout the day) just about strikers and he told me not to worry because people forget that Suarez struggled in his first season in a half at Liverpool because in his 2nd full season he then scored over 20 goals and then won the Golden Boot the next season.

    After doing a bit of looking up, Suarez’s numbers are really interesting in the PL:

    10/11 (he joined in January): 13 matches, 4 goals
    11/12: 31 appearances, 11 goals
    12/13: 33 appearances, 23 goals
    13/14: 33 appearances, 31 goals

    So the notion that goals scorers don’t struggle when they first come to the PL is false.

    Have just taken a look at Aguero, he acually hit the ground running and then struggled in his 2nd and 3rd season before returning to form:

    11/12: 34 matches, 23 goals
    12/13: 30 matches, 12 goals
    13/14: 23 matches, 17 goals,
    14/15 – 17/18: basically averages 30 matches, 25 goals.

  19. Wavey,

    Honestly, I’m not even that bothered with selling Giroud because if it was done to get Aubameyang then I’m okay with that, I think the player that would have truly helped would be Theo on the flanks especially since we have gone back to a back 4 where he could be that goal scorer opposite Mhkitaryan with Welbeck at CF. Theo would have also been able to help in the PL especially with teams having to focus more on Aubameyang.

  20. Juve scores 1′ ! Pjanic on a cheeky free kick and all the talk about Kane and who scores, Higuain!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111

  21. Dembele gets away with a lot of fouls in the PL and he won’t get away with the same fouls or without getting a yellow and it was his foul that led to the free kick that led to the goal.

  22. Was reading the Lacazette story on BBC and stupidly clicked through to the comments. There are a lot of snide comments from Arsenal fans regarding Lacazette and that is sad. Strikers do sometimes struggle to adjust to the PL and in some cases it can take a while to settle. Perhaps Lacazette never settles in a Wenger set up, or in the PL but we will have to wait and see. Knowing that he is a class finisher, I want to give the guy as much time as possible. The concern for me is that Welbeck, who has been given plenty of game time, is now our only option up front. We haven’t even got goal scoring options which would allow us to go with a false number 9. I’m expecting Wenger to play Ramsey in the starting line up on Thursday, as he is still convinced that Ramsey can score a hatful of goals from midfield.

  23. Wavey,

    Its probably the same people who think that Giroud is a great CF and after 1 assist says we made a massive mistake but they forget that he had 5 chances for really good balls for him to attack and he wasn’t close to scoring a goal

  24. Juve with a penalty and Higuain buries it with 8′ of the match!

    Higuain said, for all you talking about Kane, watch this, 2 goals in the first 8′ of the match

  25. Its funny that so many people were talking about Spuds and yet they forgot that Juve were in the CL Finals 2 or the past 3 seasons, they haven’t allowed a single goal since the start of 2018, they have players who have not only class but loads of experience, and Higuain and Pjanic are two of the best at their respective positions and Allegri is better tactically over a longer period of time than Pochettino.

    Spuds are doing their Spudish thing now that they are down by trying to get more physical with Juve

  26. Juve looking to put this tie to bed in the first leg. Wondering what the good and the wise of the English football journalists will report on the destruction of the darlings of the English press.

  27. Wavey,

    I think its most interesting what they will say when its Higuain who has the brace when all the talk is about how much better Kane is than all the rest of the strikers in Europe (funny because well I would take a couple above KAne including Aubameyang).

  28. Funny thing is, the English media will say Spuds dominated this game and they will all be COMPLETELY wrong because this is what Juve does and outside of that chance, they have really not even bothered Juve.

  29. Jonathan Pearce talking about a 2 goal lead from the first leg not meaning that the tie is all over. What a complete idiot. Apparently Spurs are now asking all the questions. If so, why haven’t they had even a decent sniff at goal yet.

    The big chance finally comes and it’s straight at the keeper from Kane.

    Juve are awesome at soaking up the pressure and catching teams out. In the perfect position being 2 goals to the good already.

  30. Spurs have 62% possession so far. Maybe Potch should ask Wenger what that means. Higuain should have had his hat trick.

  31. Juve just defend, Spuds don’t know how to break it down and Juve is bossing this match and the dumbass English media don’t even realize it.

  32. Have to disagree c. No way have juventus bossed this match. Spurs have been well in this but the first 10 minutes.

  33. Dukey,

    This is what Juve does mate, outside of those two chances for Spuds, they haven’t even had a half chance. I have watched quite a number of Juve matches and honestly, they play this way against most teams where they let you pass it around the box but they are in control.

  34. C,

    Until Spurs scored their goal I thought that Juve were handling them. Since then it really has been all Spurs, much as I hate them. Higuain made a complete mess of that pen.

  35. Wavey,

    Sure, Spuds scored and got on top but then Juve did what Juve does and if Higuain doesn’t mess that up, its 3-1 Juve. I’ll say this, this is what Juve does and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Juve get a 3rd and see this out at 3-1.

  36. C,

    Not convinced that Juve are handling it that well. If the Spuds keep the pressure up I can see them scoring again. Juve have not been dealing with the pressure too well since the goal. Without a doubt, Juve can catch them on the break but it’s not all going their way.

  37. I’ll say this, if Juve takes a 3-1 lead heading to Wembley when they will get back Matuidi, Dybala, Howedes, Cuadrado and Barzgli; it could be an even stronger Juve side since Matuidi has been superb for them, Dybala comes in and pushes Costa back to the flanks to run at Davies and Cuadrado either starts in place of Manzudiac or comes on for him.

  38. Basel goal keeper is awful. Flat footed for all three goals. Can’t believe he doesn’t move for Aguero’s goal. Would take him off at half time to try to ensure they don’t concede any more.

  39. Wavey,

    Juve did drop a bit more than I have seen them but its possession means nothing and if Spuds were bossing this match like I think will be reported then I think people need to remember that Juve could have been 3-4 up if not for 2 very close offsides and Higuain’s missed penalty. Kane had the chance he scored and buffon making a Buffon save.

  40. C,

    If the Spuds score a second I’m not sure which way the first leg goes. Could easily nick it away from home. Big pressure on Juve at Wembley then.

  41. C,

    I agree that Juve were in control early on and should have scored more, but the Spuds have definitely been the better team since their goal. Juve had a great chance to take back control of the game with the penalty, but didn’t. They need to crank up the pressure again in the second half, as the Spuds will be looking to take advantage of the let off.

  42. Wavey,

    If Juve get a 3rd surely they will feel even more confident when you consider that they will be getting back Cuadrado, Dybala, Matuidi and either Howedes or Bazagli; all of whom are starters.

  43. Wavey,

    I’m not disagreeing with you but I think people, and you even alluded to it, need to remember that Juve are a team that soaks up a SHIT ton of pressure and its just the way they play so them defending doesn’t mean they are being bossed. It feels like Juve just took their foot off the gas but they seem to be turning it back up thus far in the 2nd half.

  44. C,

    I agree on that, but I’m not convinced on their performance since the Spuds’ goal that they are the team in charge. They have taken more control of the game in the second half so far, but they needed to.

  45. Lloris got down well for that. Looks like some of the Juve players have woken up in the second half. They sat back too much in the first half after they conceded.

  46. C,

    Didn’t he come out in the press before the game claiming that he had turned down moves to both Arsenal and Spurs?

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