Something strange happened in the Liverpool game on Wednesday. Something I didn’t notice because I was too busy being distracted by the clown-shoes defending. Something that I had to have pointed out to me.
A friend on twitter asked me if I thought that Jack Wilshere should take some of the blame for Arsenal’s first goal. My first thought was that was a crazy suggestion. We all know that it was Mertesacker-Sagna-Koscielny-Ramsey who were at fault. So he tweeted me two pictures of Jack: one of Jack walking as Suarez ran past him to the ball at the moment that Sagna slipped, and one of Jack standing at the top of the box 8 seconds later.
I went back and watched the bitesized on the dot com and sure enough, in real time, it’s even more obvious: Jack stood there and watched Sagna slip, then as Suarez raced to the ball, Jack skipped back and left Ramsey to deal with Henderson and Suarez, who combined to score.
I asked the question of my followers and this sparked a lot of discussion on twitter, on my Facebook page, and even over here as Arsenal Letters expanded on the point highlighting that Vermaelen was guilty of a similar thing for Liverpool’s second goal. I watched that goal again and sure enough, Vermaelen gives up the chase leaving Santos and Mertesacker to fight Henderson and not only that but it was him jumping the ball that created the space in the first place.
Many people pointed out that Wilshere was providing an outlet, which makes a degree of sense. As the play started, Arsenal looked solid, despite Sagna’s slip. Why would Jack think that he needed to be the 7th defender on 4 attackers? And to be fair, if any one of the four mistakes that happened were corrected, that goal is never scored, and Jack is in fact in the perfect position to start Arsenal’s counter attack.
I’ve seen this before with our midfielders and I’ve almost never said anything because, like many other people pointed out, I’ve always chalked it up to Wenger’s attack-minded play. This is what Wenger was talking about when he said that “we pay the price for our philosophy.”
So, what is it? Do I think Jack’s a grifter? Was it all just down to Arsene’s attacking philosophy? No. But that possession early in the game does illustrate a problem with this Arsenal team, one that everyone in England knows: Arsenal are imbalanced, lack responsibility, and are quite a bit nervous.
Watch that first Liverpool goal again, Wilshere watches as Sagna slips and doesn’t come to his aid. But just as bad, Walcott, supposedly Sagna’s partner and the player who is actually closer to the ball also doesn’t do anything. Wilshere may be guilty for not following Suarez, but then Walcott is just as guilty. And that’s the problem, it’s more than one player who is not switched on to the danger.
If you go back to the first three weeks of the season, Arsenal kept a wonderful 4-4-1-1 shape on defense. But as the season has worn on, the team seems to be getting less organized and as a result more anxious every passing week. For example, Vermaelen is now breaking ranks to attack players with the ball far too high up the pitch or making one of his forays into offense. This is causing havoc in the defense as players try to cover the gaps. And it’s not just him, it’s all over the pitch; Sagna is caught out of position, Wilshere doesn’t seem to know if he should track a runner, Walcott is not covering, on and on you turn the pages of the catalog of loose Arsenal defending.
This leads to anxiety and frustration, errors, and goals. All of which Stoke will be looking to exploit tomorrow. They thrive on creating chaos. They don’t mind if the referee ticks them off for shirt pulling in the box as long as they get away with it once and it causes Mertesacker to lose focus.
Someone at Arsenal just needs to take these boys and say, “calm the fuck down, keep your shape, and don’t go chasing glory.” In the matchday program both the manager and captain said as much. It remains to be seen if they can follow through.