2019-20 So Far: Defence Improves But Can Get Better

So, darling, how was it for you?

2019-20 is four games old and we have seven points. Comparatively, we’re two down from the same games last season.

It isn’t a bad start but it might have been better. Should have been better, I think.

Expecting anything from the trip to Anfield proved as naïve as demanding three points from Unai Emery’s first game in charge against Manchester City. Realistically, we were only taking a point from Klopp’s team if Pepe and Aubameyang both took all their chances when the scores were level.

Even at 3 – 0 ahead, I fear we would contrive to lose that one 4 – 3.

The only genuine disappointment came with Sunday’s draw against Tottenham. They came into the game having drawn with Manchester City and having lost at home to Newcastle. Quite simply, they were there for the taking.

That is borne out by their capitulation in the second half. As well as we played then, there’s no doubt their timidity helped us. Sitting back and inviting us to attack allowed us to build up a head of steam; there were no counter-attacks to puncture our impetus.

That we took a point resulted from a compounding series of errors. Emery got the team selection and tactics wrong. We were too narrow in midfield with Granit Xhaka ill-suited to the role of central defensive midfield barrier.

I’m not going to pick him apart today. A word of advice though; deflecting attention from your own deficiencies by blaming others is a sign of weakness. It won’t win you friends in the stands or the dressing room, Granit. Think on, my friend; think on.

It’s the back four which is the first to fall under the microscope, and Bernd Leno gets drawn into this as well.

Defender, You’re A Womble

One aspect of the new season which has pleasantly surprised me is the comfort with which we’ve adapted to the new rules. Playing out from inside the penalty area hasn’t induced the same nervous panic taking short goal-kicks did last season.

At the same time, the players are more confident, I’m more blasé about it; a winning combination for me, if ever there was one.

We’ve conceded two fewer goals this season than last. It’s easy to put that down to Liverpool easing off but let’s give the players some credit; brickbats are surely following.

Keeping a clean sheet at St James’ Park is a key marker. Last season, it took the whole season to record a defensive blank. The millstone is lifted from around our necks; it won’t be a running sore.

However, was it more down to Newcastle’s neutered attack as much as our hard work? The only reason it rears in my mind is the number of individual errors is increasing.

I am struggling to recall a goal we conceded this season which hasn’t been as a direct result of an error. OK, so all goals – even the greatest come from a mistake somewhere along the line – but you get my drift.

The lapses in concentration, judgement and just plain stupidity are proving costly.

All are tough to legislate for. The coach doesn’t know when they are going to happen or who is going to make them. But they all point to vulnerability to the counter-attack. Even Kane’s penalty on Sunday stemmed from a break.

We aren’t defending well enough as a team and that puts pressure on the defence. Emery fielded his narrow midfield in the derby to help solve that issue; it didn’t work, he got the personnel wrong.

Butter Fingers

Leno’s mistake on Sunday set the tone but it was a relatively rare one in that it cost us. It compounded Sokratis’ error in the first place. Two wrongs didn’t make it right; it meant conceding a goal.

The German isn’t a dominant goalkeeper; he doesn’t take complete charge of a situation. I’m not sure that is something he can ‘learn’; it doesn’t seem a natural part of his character. And with the experience in front of him, maybe he feels it isn’t his place.

Trouble is, the penalty area is his habitat. It is his domain; he is the big cat who should stalk every millimetre of it or at the very least know where the prey is.

That is the difference between the very good club player and the world-class international. It feels Leno is just that bit shy. Better than Lloris but not as close to Alisson or Ederson as we maybe want.

Perhaps his awareness that there was a mistake ahead of him at some given point in the game is a hinderance? Maybe he has reached his plateau and like John Lukic, he will prove to be a good goalkeeper for the Arsenal?

What is most disappointing this season is the errors coming from experienced players. The ones we rely on to steady the ship are the ones making the cock-ups. I tried to think of a Dennis Norden quip there but I used up that stream long ago.

It’s no good people pointing to the full-backs as an area of weakness when Sokratis and Sideshow Bob are making more costly mistakes. The players need to take a long hard look at themselves, individually and collectively.

Flying Full-Backs

I do think Tierney and Bellerin will make a difference but is it enough to make the difference we need? Certainly, Rob Holding’s form before injury struck bodes well for the future. He’s got to hit the ground running although not literally; that’s how he suffered knee-knack in the first place.

But who do you partner him with in the centre? Sideshow Bob, given time on the ball, is great at distributing passes all over the pitch. Holding can learn a lot from that.

The same applies to Sokratis and his uncompromising defensive philosophy. His dark arts are something Holding needs to embrace, albeit with a touch more subtlety.

As a back three? That brings uncomfortable questions about the midfield and attacking roles. Ones I don’t think Unai wants to answer.

I can’t see us using a three, to be honest, on a regular basis. Our squad isn’t built for that system; the signings focus more on variants of 4-4-2 or 4-3-3.

We are improving in a few areas, year-on-year. The back line holds its shape better than before; not hard when one of the centre-backs isn’t playing twenty yards deeper than anyone else.

But there is room for a lot of improvement. Maybe the younger heads who are set to return to the first team or make their bow are the answer.

We have a good defence screaming to break free from whatever shackles it is bound by. The question is whether Unai can find that combination and offer it the protection it needs to thrive.

‘til Tomorrow.

25 thoughts on “2019-20 So Far: Defence Improves But Can Get Better

  1. C says:

    Good stuff Yogi!

    Leno is a superb shot stopper who has never been asked to be the dominant box GK that the PL asks of GK’s. In Germany, the CB’s generally deal with those balls and the GK’s play the sweeper keeper role and have the quick reflexes that they do. Neuer aside, Ter Stegen, Trapp and most of the other top German GK’s play that way. Can he learn, sure but you also might be right Yogi, he doesn’t have that in his game vut shouldn’t be the stick with which he is beat with.

    Simply put, Torriera needs to be that player at the base of our midfield doing the job Emery wants Xhaka to do. The errors that are leading directly to goals is down to just stupidity and sure Emery will take the blame, by these are experienced internationals making absolutelt stupid mistakes. Xhaka’s tackles, Sokaritis going for a ball he was never set to win, Luiz’s brain fart pulling Salah….those are things that Emery can coach but those players should know better.

  2. Bill says:

    Great post yogi

    Emery deserves the benefit of the doubt in most cases because he inherited a squad which clearly lacked talent and whose culture had become wengerized. However his first job was to unWengerize the team’s culture and rebuild some semblance of defensive solidarity and he was given 4-5 new defensive player who had never worked under Arsene. Unfortunately the reality is Emery failed to improve the defense last season which was really disappointing. The end of the year meltdown when we had 4th place in our grasp was also disappointing. I am not in the Emery out camp but I have to admit I am not sure he is the long term answer as our manager and if he misses 4th place and/or the defense does not improve then I doubt he will get another contract when this one runs out at the end of this season.

  3. Bill says:

    C

    I think you over rate both Torriera and Leno. Leno was heavily hyped when he first came into prominence in Germany but his performances didn’t match the hype and his stock was falling for a reason. I think he is adequate but certainly not a top 6 GK in today’s PL

    Torriera’s energy and work rate are eye catching and I understand why fans like him but eye catching is not the same as effective and his effectiveness has been subpar at least to date. I assumed the reason we bought Lucas was to shore up the midfield and make us less vulnerable to counter attacks. I know we desperately want to blame Xhaka and Arsene for everything and no one would blame Torriera for all of our defensive woes, the fact that having him in the midfield did not improve our vulnerability to counter attacks even a little last season has to raise some concerns.

  4. Paulie Walnuts says:

    Nice stuff YW.

    I rate Leno as a good keeper but we need a better one. Having said that , there does appear to be a dearth of top quality goalies these days. Even media faves like De Gea & Pickford look dodgy. Ederson & Allison have so little to do it’s difficult to judge. Actually , Ederson may well be a better outfield player than Xhaka !

    Whilst I agree that UE doesn’t want to play a back 3 it certainly suits Luis (& probably all our cbs) & might be an option for certain games , particularly if you want your full backs to get forward. You could then play a narrow three in midfield & have two of our forwards playing down the middle & closer together.

  5. C says:

    Bill,

    Your nuts if you think Leno isn’t a top 6 GK. Edersen and Allison aside, name a GK that is better? Kepa, Pickford, De Gea, Lloris….you can have them and I’ll take Leno. He did come to prominence at a young age in Germany was superb for Leverkusen and then plateaued which can happen but he is still ONLY 26 years old which is only scratching the surface of a GK’s career. You always talk about internationals and what not and guess who got recalled into the German national team…..

    To say Torriera isn’t effective is non-sense. Did he have a dip in the 2nd half of last season, sure he did but he was also learning to play in the PL, happens all the time. Lets see what happens this season because when played this season he has done well. I likr Xhaka but when you have the most errors leading directly to a goal since yiu arrival in a league and your a midfielder, thats telling or am I incorrect? Sure Torriera can do better and year 2 should continue to see progression but to say he isn’t effective for not solving all the midfield problems is ridiculous.

    You seem to have this notion that we are Liverpool or Citeh without taking into account we are not and Emery is still trying to piece this together in year 2.

  6. Bill says:

    C

    I understand your contention that it takes time for some players to adjust to the PL which is the whole argument I made about Ceballos and you told me I was a hopeless pessimist for suggesting that idea. Nonetheless, I agree both Torriera and Leno could improve with time. However, both were in our lineups last season and our defense did not even get a tiny bit better then the year before. You can make all of the excuses and rationalizations you want but that lack of any evidence to suggest our defense was better because they were in our lineup has to raise some concern.

    Leno’s stock was clearly dropping in Germany before we bought him and Torriera struggled in the second half of last season and then it looks like he lost his spot with Uruguay so we have so other bits of circumstantial evidence to add to the uncertainty.

  7. Dukey says:

    Who’s bright idea was it then to drop Chris Woakes?

  8. Arsetralian says:

    Bill,

    Seems to me you are still being a bit pessimistic Bill

    Leno made a great save after that mistake. Top class as I thought it was in.

    He also had a very solid season with some draft CBs in front. I think he is just fine. I don’t really remember many mistakes he has made for goals so let’s forgive him one?

    Yes Torreia dropped off but in my opinion once a player shows really MoTM games he is there but just needs consistency. Some never reach that man of the match level.

    Did he not improve us when he came on?

  9. Damon says:

    If ever we needed Manchester to rain, biblical level, torrential, it is between now and Sunday evening

  10. Dukey says:

    Dukey: No chance.

    Sorry what am I on about. Of course we can.!
    If they enforce the follow on.

  11. HenryNorrisDialSquare says:

    Face it the Ashes is lost. I’ve given that ghost up with Leach’s no-ball. However it is Manchester in September (come on rain, do your job!).

    I can name a keeper better than Leno, Rui Patricio. But even he has his moments. I can forgive Leno that one. I don’t get why every one is being so hard on the lad when we’ve got Sokratis and Xhaka making mistakes week-in, week-out.

    I’m not convinced with UE, but the proof will be when he abandons ship at the end of the season. I hope we go for someone like NES when he does.

    Torreira is a decent player, but he isn’t the midfield anchor C is making him out to be. He certainly isn’t a Kante and not even a Henderson. We have a lot of midfielder’s and hopefully with the contention for places we might see better performances. We certainly not far off of being a top four team again and I do believe that we can get fourth place this season, provided everyone stays fit.

  12. Arsetralian says:

    I bless the rain down in Africa
    I bless the rain

    Ps sorry Bill of course Torriea started but I still think you can be optimistic on hi

    Down in Manchester
    I bless the rain

  13. Bill says:

    We can’t expect Leno or Torriera to be miracle workers and fix the defense by themselves nor do I blame either of them for our conceding 51 goals. However, if they were as good as we had hoped then you would think we should have seen at least some tiny shred of evidence of defensive improvement when we added them last season.

  14. nicky says:

    There is so much chat these days, about the new back four of Bellerin, Socratis, Holding and Tierney. They will be the source of our defensive re-awakening, a long-awaited revival.
    This is all very well but exactly when will these guys put on THE SHIRT?
    And what can we expect from three ex-stiffs? 😎

  15. nicky says:

    HenryNorrisDialSquare,

    I think the most we can expect at OT is a fighting draw. I can imagine the Aussies enforcing the follow-on (they cannot take a chance of having a second innings) and it will then be up to us to prolong our first innings and ditto in our second.
    In any case there are only two days left and the weather is unreliable.
    I can foresee the deciding Test at the Oval with England winning and breaking hearts throughout OZ land!

  16. Arsetralian says:

    nicky,

    Here’s hoping
    Looks like we need another Stokes century
    Also Butler needs runs
    He has been hiding all series
    Now or never for him and the red ball

  17. Tony Ikpo says:

    7 points and 2 points down from last season? I think not! After 4 games last season, we had 6 points having lost the opening 2 games to ManC and Chelsea and going onto a 22 game unbeaten run!

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