Plenty of criticism for the defence yesterday and tempting as it is to set up a one-man barricade to defend them, it is difficult to do so, in part at least. Arseblogger made some good points about leadership on the pitch being conspicuous by its absence which is very true. There was no-one player shaking the team from their complacency, probably because the Captain was having a very rare off day and conscious of that fact. Were there any others who should have stepped up to the plate instead? Probably. Did they? No. Unfortunately that is not something that can be corrected on the training pitch; it is a decision taken in the heat of the moment and something that highlighted the absence of Gilberto more than anything else in the centre of the park where fundamentally the game was lost, the failure to stop the supply of passes to the wide positions once possession was surrendered. However, there is nothing to be gained from contemplating navels on that point. The match is gone; the players and coaching staff have to put it right this week tactically ahead of the West Ham game and shhh, don’t mention it too loudly, what is being missed is that the better team on the day deservedly won.
What is astonishing to me about all of this though is the calls for wholesale changes to the squad, if everyone’s wishlist came true, there would be an even more threadbare squad than we already have at times and the Club’s coffers would be considerably emptier. This summer is about buying to bring experience in as far as the first team is concerned. Too much of that has left in the past two pre-seasons and whilst the youngsters are gaining it by playing, they will not be at the level they are replacing in the short term. Arsene has to enable himself and the squad to grow but also to challenge for trophies at the same time. There has been a party line this season of rebuilding, consolidating in the top four and improving on last season. Despite one howlingly bad result at the weekend, there has been exactly that. It is not written in stone that the top four place is sealed but considering last season and the chase that was involved in claiming fourth place, to be there already is a step up.
The management needs to work on the squad preventing the muscular injuries that have depleted the squad to the point where probably even Arsene cannot tell you his favoured starting XI at the moment because they are out injured at some point. There has to be something in the training that is causing this because too many have been suffered. Kicks on the hip in internationals is uncontrollable from the clubs point of view but hamstrings and groins is something else. These are injuries that can be controlled, something the club should be addressing. It is all very well blaming internationals but they account for perhaps a dozen games a season, ordinarily. May be next season will be better in that respect with the players having more time off although the scheduling of Internationals in June beggars belief.
Improvement next season is a must. Tactically things have to change as well. Keep the flowing football but be more aggressive in attack, more direct for want of a better word. Crucial to this though is instilling discipline in the players. Not keeping their tempers but following orders. Cantona dismissed Didier Deschamps as a ‘water carrier‘ years ago but he had a role in the team and he stuck to that role, freeing up others to add the flair. Fair enough, there are players in the squad who can do this already yet on Saturday, it was evident that they are all geared to attack and when as an example, Eboue does that on the right, he ought not to be receiving a pass on the edge of the opponents area from Hleb because the majority of the time the Belorussian should be behind him closing the gap. A defensive discipline away from home is crucial to avoiding the defeats to the so-called ‘lesser‘ teams, the ones where you have to win the matches to be taken seriously as a contender for the title; eradicating the results suffered in recent years at such luminaries as Fulham, WBA, Middlesbrough, Manchester City is the imperative. Beating the other top three sides is not; taking a point is sufficient away from home. It is the other sixteen teams that matter in terms of title challenges and that is where the discipline comes into it, something we have not had this season. And that is Arsene’s biggest challenge between now and the start of next season.