Quote of the day: “A society that does not honor the people who lived before, is not one that will survive.” Arsene Wenger talking about the Poppy Appeal.
Arsenal host Fulham on Saturday and there is only one thing that you can count on for this game, nothing.
Statistically, Arsenal have the best defense in the League having conceded just 8 goals in 10 games this season. This is a significant improvement over the 21 goals conceded in the same period last season. And not only that but Arsenal have played three of the top teams in the League and they had played just United and Chelsea last term.
The problem is that the goals Arsenal are conceding are coming off player errors. That is the main reason why so many Arsenal supporters feel nervous about this Arsenal defense in spite of the stingy goals allowed number.
In attack in that same period last season, Arsenal scored 20 goals. Five against Chelsea. And this year they have just 15. Which isn’t terrible, but it’s a bit strange for an Arsene Wenger lead team to look like they are having difficulty scoring.
But worse than just profligacy in front of goal, this Arsenal team is having a hell of a time even generating shots over their last few games. Going large stretches of games passing the ball around in defense before a scramble at the end of the game to try to get a result.
I used to describe the Arsenal defense as 88 minutes of boredom and 2 minutes of panic. I think it’s fair to say that describes Arsenal both offensively and defensively at the moment.
Some of this difficulty scoring and with defensive lapses is down to injury. Last season Arsenal went through a difficult period where all four of the Arsenal fullbacks were out injured and the critical importance of fullbacks in the Arsenal system was laid bare. Vermaelen and Djourou deputized in their place for several very difficult games but ultimately did ok considering the demands of the position at Arsenal and their unfamiliarity with the role.
This season started with Jenkinson at right back and Gibbs at left back, with Sagna just a few weeks away from a return and Santos lauded as a capable backup. There was cause for optimism after the first few weeks as Jenkinson did outstanding and Gibbs played at a very high level. But now, Gibbs is out injured and Santos should have taken the reigns but instead he’s been such a bust that Vermaelen played left back in his stead against Schalke in the Champions League. Somewhat predictably, I suppose, Vermaelen scored an own goal. Gunners can’t wait for Gibbs to return from injury.
It’s not just Gibbs who is out. Szczesny’s been injured, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain went out a few weeks ago, Ramsey had a hamstring pull against United, Rosicky still hasn’t recovered from injury this summer, Diaby…, and Gervinho is out. And of the players who are playing, some look completely knackered, particularly Cazorla who has played 25 games since May.
Podolski is another player who looks like he might do well with a rest. He started the season well but hasn’t finished a single Arsenal match and is struggling to adjust to the demands of a left wing player in the English Premier League. Poldi can’t even get any shots at the moment, which has to be infuriating for a striker. Doubly so when he is being asked to do so much defensive work as Arsenal have adopted a 4-4-1-1 in defense this season. And tripply so as teams are targeting the left side of Arsenal’s defense because they perceive Santos as a weakness.
Again, that 2nd Schalke goal is illustrative. Vermaelen gets a lot of blame for not dealing with the aerial threat and for sticking his foot out to score but if you watch the buildup again, the whole team is out of position.
It’s a 7 on 8, Arsenal have numbers, but the Arsenal players all drift toward the ball, leaving the two players unmarked in the left back position. As an aside, if you don’t believe me that Arsenal play a 4-4-1-1 in defense, here’s your proof. As you can see from his position it’s Podolski’s job to cover left back.
And yet, here he is, at the top of the D, ready to spring the counter attack, not defending #12.
My original point was that injury and fatigue have caused problems with Arsenal’s defense and offense. I should amend that to add, players also not playing their positions properly. It’s not a position that he’s unfamiliar with as he’s got 100 German caps playing on the left. But it could be a case that he’s just a bit lazy. His former coach, Berti Vogts, warned that could be the case.
So, on both ends of the pitch Arsenal are dealing with “issues” at the moment but they are issues which I think can be dealt with.
Fulham, meanwhile, have the third best offense in the League with… drum roll… 21 goals! Fulham lost leading goal-scorer Clint Dempsey this summer and you wouldn’t be blamed to expect them to struggle scoring but they have replaced Dempsey with goals from midfield: Duff and Sidwell have scored 3 each, which ties forwards Berbatov and Petric. This is a team that can be an offensive threat.
That said, the threat mainly comes at Craven Cottage where they have scored 12 and allowed just 4. Away from home Fulham have scored 9 goals and have allowed 12 — second worst record in the League.
But that’s the thing, right? With this Arsenal team, I’m having a real hard time trusting my instincts about these games. Who knows what could happen tomorrow?
Will Fulham attack down their right? Perhaps. If Santos plays, probably.
Will Wenger pull another surprise out of his hat and play Arshavin? Maybe, Cazorla does need a rest and with a Spain trip to the Americas slated for mid-week and the Spurs game at the end of the week, now would be a good time to rest him. But if Podolski is a bit of a defensive liability, Arshavin is a complete defensive nightmare.
And really, which Arsenal team will show up? The one that gives maximum effort for 90 minutes or the one that is content to pass the ball around in defense for 50 minutes, allow the opposition to have the ball for 40 minutes, and try to steal the game at the end?
I don’t know. I guess we’ll have to watch to find out.