On Central Defensive False Dawns and Misplaced Confidence

This morning’s headlines in the world of Arsenal focus on the centre of defence.

Tony Adams, a fine centre-half himself, argued that Unai Emery hasn’t changed the club much since taking over. Mr Arsenal thought we’d be a lot tighter at the back than we currently are, a more cerebral way of agreeing with Paul Merson labelling us as playing “testimonial football”. Adams’ solution is to drop one of Mustafi or Sokratis, and bring in Rob Holding.

Football is a simple game from the keyboard and the pundit’s sofa. Our proclamations are back of the fag packet football management. Tone reckoned that “If I [were] a new coach coming in, I would have made us tougher and hard to beat.”

When you’re hamstrung by a budget and the remnants of last season’s squad, there’s no chance of that happening. I don’t care how many slick dancefloor moves you bring to the training ground, with this squad, any manager would struggle to make us “tougher and hard to beat”.

With Mustafi in the centre of defence, that’s not easily achievable but the solution is: “Holding has got talent and potential. Stick him in and work with him.”

Which leaves us with two alternatives: stick with Mustafi, his foibles, mishaps and all, or let a young man learn on the job, with the attendant slating every time things don’t go to plan. Curiously, Adams doesn’t mention Mavropanos. I thought he did reasonably well in pre-season and was looking to push for a starting line-up place.

Emery, rightly, kept the youngsters out of the firing line against City and Chelsea. Last weekend, there were signs that Sokratis and Mustafi were beginning to gel. The youngster may be forced to wait a little while longer, with the Europa League and Carabao Cup games those likeliest for he and Holding to shine.

Ruthless Arenas

Meanwhile, claims emerged that Laurent Koscielny was on the verge of doing one before injury struck. Apparently, the process began when it became clear Arsène was leaving. Stéphane Courbis, Koscielny’s agent, claimed Lyon, Monaco and Marseille all offered him the chance of returning to France.

“He could not see himself playing for another English team other than Arsenal, ” Courbis said. “Since the approach from Marseille least season, the notion of returning to Ligue 1 entered his thinking. It was a genuine possibility.”

Which is no surprise. The Premier League is a ruthless arena for any centre-back let alone one in his early thirties. Seeing how Per Mertesacker struggled with the pace of attackers would surely have prompted questions in the Frenchman’s mind. I’m sure they are still there and will only be answered when he returns to full fitness.

I’ve got to be honest, I’d have reservations about Koscielny returning to the Premier League. The injury he suffered always used to, in old football parlance, take a yard of pace off a player. We’ve seen this season that the high line means we can’t afford that luxury.

I assume that if he came back into the XI, it would be at Mustafi’s expense. Their pairing last season didn’t inspire confidence in fans or each other and two experienced centre-backs such as Koscielny and Sokratis is surely a better idea?

However, would Koscielny bring a calming influence across the defence. Possibly but he couldn’t rein in Bellerin’s attacking excesses last season so why would that change now? The only way Bellerin’s form gets better is through the painful experience of matches and coaching. Lichtsteiner will have the most impact of any player, I’d venture. Also having a bit of defensive cover while Bellerin is buccaneer and buccanthere on the wings.

Deep Pockets, Short Arms

It’s too early to say whether we have the solutions to our defensive problems at the club already or whether we must wait for transfer windows – probably next summer – to present the solutions. We’ve got an ageing backline with Monreal 33 next year, taking the total of our first-choice defenders who are the wrong side of 30 to three, as well as Cech.

It’s major surgery for us to resolve. One new goalkeeper, a centre-back, and a right-back; is youth going to be given a chance because Stan will dipping into his pockets if we’re buying our way out of this situation.

Maybe it will all come good in the coming months and we’ll plough on with our mix of youth, experience and Mustafi. I think there’s a bit of work to do before we reach that stage though…

’til Tomorrow.

16 thoughts on “On Central Defensive False Dawns and Misplaced Confidence

  1. It’s going to take a few windows before we can get to look more solid at the back. With the age of the principals and the inexperienced youth. More ughhhs are to be expected.

  2. @LSG

    Personally, I like Aubameyang outwide because the runs he makes, even as a CF, are from wide positions to those inside channels and its also why I like Lacazette as a CF because he will either occupy the CB’s or drift into the space that Aubameyang just vacated. More than anything with those two, I think they need to occupy 2 or the front 3 positions and have the ability to move and play freely and less in a ‘stagnant’ front 3. When you consider that the other 2 positions will be filled by Ozil, Iwobi, Mhkitaryan and/or Welbeck and the one thing that is evident is that we have attackers who are at their best in a system that allows them to be interchangeable.

    I guess ultimately I like some of the idea but I also much rather prefer that my 10 isn’t neccessarily my 1.a or 1.b finisher but instead somebody who can chip in but also takes up positions that forces the oppositions DM to focus on. For instance, at Citeh when Pep plays both Aguero and Jesus, he makes sure that he always has a 10 who occupies the DM and also presses the DM.

  3. Good stuff Yogi but is it fair to say that sure Sokaritis has had some good moments but both of Chelsea’s first half goals fell directly to his school boy defending?

    Kos…..no thanks! Thank you for your service you have been quality but you never seemed to shake that one mistake each match. Kos’ biggest and best qualities were his pace and quickness and between his chronic back or his Achilles, the signs were there even before last season.

    I’ll take Mavrapanos over Holding.

  4. C,

    I think Auba isn’t as effective outwide. Our best play vs Cardiff was when Laca and Auba played narrow with Ramsey and ozil swapping places. Personally, I feel I see what Emery is trying to do, but I feel he needs proper RWB and LWB with serious pace for attack and defensive duties. Bellerin has pace but is struggling defensively. Cost us vs Cardiff I actually thought Mustafi and Sok were solid but was stupid mistakes that cost us.

    Bellerin not shuttjng down crosses, Xhakas stupid Hollywood pass on 46minute, ramsey marking their tallest.player for second goal.

    These issues we have aren’t going to disappear over night. We need time.to adjust to a new system. Emery needs to get his players in, which I expect over next 2/3 Windows.

    Personally, I think Mavrapanos will start seeing more time and eventually I can see him usurping either Mustafi or Sok. Maybe not this season but possibly next. I anticipate new wing backs, we tried to get mendyl in and failed due to work permit. Shows Emery wants more pace, bellerin perhaps will adjust I hope as offensively he’s been good this season.

    I can’t see Mkhi, ozil, monreal, xkaha or Ramsey making it 2 more years with us. I feel Ozil will be cut loose for his wages unless he really starts to blossom under Emerys system.

    I really hope Guendouzi keeps developing, same with Torriera as both have been good. I sensed emery was reluctant to start both in case vs West Ham/Cardiff as it could have backfired and we needed the win.

    I expect to see them together vs europa teams. AMN when he’s back as well. Something about AMN has me with a lot of hope. His energy and passing is really good particularly for Emerys system.

  5. Great post yogi.

    I know that we have to continue to be patient but I suspect if we are honest most would admit they expected the pace of defensive improvement to be faster. I would have thought Emery’s first 10 priorities would have been to fix the defense but I scratch my head every time I see our fullbacks bombing forward even though we all how that is going to cause problems especially on Bellerin’s side of the pitch. We expected the players to be energized and we hoped for a high energy pressing style but that extra energy has not really been evident so far. I think the reality is we don’t have the right group of players to be effective at high energy pressing. Time will tell how it all plays out.

  6. MesutsLeftFoot,

    Your saying exactly what I’m saying about a front 3 including Aubameyang, Lacazette and Ozil…that interchangability and Aubameyang playing best in those channels, but go back and watch his movement and its from wide where the CB’s and DM don’t pick up his movement and really can’t because Lacazette is occupying the CB’s and Ozil the DM thus freeing Aubameyang and make a run from wide into the left center channel(narrow) and combine. Having watched Aubameyang for years(I wanted him when he left Ligue 1) and sure he transformed into a devastating CF but even at Dortmund, so much of his movement is from outside in and thats because he can get upto full pace starting outwide and by the time he is on the shoulder of the CB’s he is at full tilt and we all know what happens next.

    I have to FULLY agree with Yogi, Bellerin is taking loads of criticism but when he pushes forward, one of the midfielders is suppose to cover that space until he can recover and the biggest difference is that when Xhaka is on the pitch he doesn’t and when Torriera is on the pitch he does. The other thing with Bellerin is that people forget that he only just turned 22/23 this year and all of his development defensively was under a manager who didn’t care about defending. I think if any player we will see a difference come May, it will be Bellerin because he has defended better than last year.

    Mustafi and Sokaritis I do think they played better but the errors for the goals were still unacceptable. Mustafi over the past couple of seasons haa been crucified but rarely his partner but Kos has been barely above average and without his pace, he is actually a bang average CB who has never gotten that one mistake each match out of him. I like Sokaritis and think he and Mustafi can form a good CB pairing but they need time and Sokaritis needs to show the leadership because it was both of his errors that did us in against Chelsea (1. Switching off when Morata ran behind him instead of dropping off, 2. Simply ignoring Pedro’s run across his face).

    Mavrapanos, I do think he has the qualities to turn into a really good defender but time will tell with his development. I could see him getting much more match time especially in the Europa, CC and FA cup

    Guendouzi and Torriera, I think they could develop into a brilliant partnership similar to what Emery did with Raboit and Verratti at PSG or Banega and Nzonzi at Sevilla. Both of them, along with Leno, not starting together feels like Emery wanted to get to the international break and then have more time to work with his players.

    Ramsey, Mhkitaryan and Nacho I could see leaving in Jan. Ozil will be interesting because if Emery can get the best or even him being more consistent, then I could see Emery letting him run his contract down. The big thing for me will be how the RW shakes out.

  7. C,

    i can see quite a few players coming in over the next few windows. Mendy from Lyon would be a good choice for a LWB! Perhaps, but if Guendouzi and Torriera don’t work, what will the fans say, give them more time together, drop one of them in which case which one they’re both fan favs…

    Out of interest, how many of our players are actually away for international break?

  8. MesutsLeftFoot,

    When we didn’t get Mendyl’s work permit he signed for Schalke so that option I would assume will cost much more than originally stated. I think we do give them time but at the sametime I think Torriera and Xhaka could prove a good partnership and Elneny and Maitland-Niles provide more depth.

    Welbeck, Aubameyang, Torriera, Elneny, Lichtsteiner, Xhaka, Sokaritis, Ramsey, Mhkitaryan along with loanees Asano(Japan and playing well for club), Ospina and Nwakali

  9. Hello all, thanks for the post.

    Agree that it seems ‘easy’ to fix our problems and i am guilty of this all the time. Have to admit though you would hope something looked visibly ‘different’ but we still got the yips back there in defense. Definitely need time to gel and figure each other out it will be tough for a while!

  10. Have to agree , we have all seen the starlets come and go but Ainsley has done decently for himself i think, in a variety of positions. He seems to have the coaches trust, at the very least.

  11. Hi all,

    I can’t help but think that improving our defence relies on all 11 players and not just the back 4 or 5. We will never be fully stable at the back as long as our pressing is not in order. Missed assignments further up the field inevitably means pressure on our defence because the press stretches out our defence. Emery seems to want to have the back 4 in tight which means that the wingers absolutely have to track back…or another covering midfielder. The first goal on Sunday was because their winger had several Sundays to put in a cross.

  12. C,

    We should have bought Digne. Looks a good LB.

    The point is we want Laca and Auba to play together and Auba doesn’t help with build up wide. He can cut in for his runs but he needs to stay high up the pitch. RvP characterizes his play as a 9.5. I think Laca fits that very well. A false 9 or Firmino type who can make space for Auba’s runs, link up, create and score himself. That’s what a 10 originally used to do.

  13. I agree with Limestone. We want Pea and Lacazette playing together upfront. To me whether we call them #9 or #10 does not really matter. Those 2 are the one single advantage we have compared to the other big teams and our system should be built around taking best possible advantage of them.

    If we get the ball forward as quickly as possible into the attacking zone it will give our forwards more time and more open spaces and then we don’t need to wait for our creative players to make that final killer pass. Pea and Lacazette are both highly experienced professionals who have been successful are their other clubs and if we give them the freedom to move around they should be able to instinctively find pockets of space no matter what their starting position in whatever formation we have drawn up on paper.

  14. Ah Anders Limpar, such a beloved player, the modern equivalent would be Santi Cazorla, both of them a joy to watch, and just thinking about them makes you smile ☺ 10 years earlier Liam Brady inspired the same devotion. Before that I suppose Charlie George. This club sure has some greats!

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