I was right, but I was wrong: defense matters, but Arsenal didn’t go to Wales and close up shop, they played Swansea in their “expansive” style. I was also wrong in that Swansea didn’t control possession, Arsenal did, and also was exactly backwards in that it was Swansea who hit Arsenal in the counter-attacking style that I had expected Arsenal to try. But I was right in that defense wins cups because in the 83rd minute, Arsenal had the game in hand, up 2-1 thanks to a superb volley from Gibbs, and all they needed to do was play defense for 10 minutes.
They couldn’t do it and conceded one of the softest goals off a corner kick that you will ever see conceded in a cup game.
But that’s the story of Arsenal this season. A season of split-personality play where one minute a player will be brilliant and the next minute he will make a basic error and the opposition will score. Maybe that player will “switch off”? Maybe he will miss an assignment on a corner? Or perhaps he will decide all on his own that he is not going to play in the position that Arsenal need him to play in, thus essentially abandoning his post and leaving his teammates hanging out to dry? This Arsenal team can do that and so, so, much more.
I’ve been harping about this for weeks but at this point, I’m going to say that Arsenal have a full-blown wide player crisis. No one on this team, save Aaron Ramsey and the two fullbacks, wants to play wide. And I dare say that Ramsey doesn’t want to play wide because he is not a wide player but he is so dedicated to the Arsenal cause he will do anything that the manager asks — I bet he’d even play fullback. Meanwhile, Theo Walcott is asked to play wide, like yesterday against Swans, and he simply abandons his post.
That’s the thing about Theo. One week I want Arsenal to give him the moon and the next week he plays like he did against Swansea and I want Arsenal to sell him. Make no mistake about it, Sagna’s dip in form yesterday and in recent games is a direct result of Theo Walcott’s play.
If you remember, Jenkinson struggled when he played with Theo on the wing. So much so that Wenger often had to switch Theo to the other side of the pitch. From what I’ve seen of them on the pitch together, they do not get along. Theo also struggled when Sagna was out injured. Which is simply to say that there’s clearly a connection between Theo and Sagna that works well.
In the last few weeks, however, Theo has either been moved inside or (like yesterday) has decided to move himself inside. This has left Sagna all alone on the right far too often and we are seeing teams catch him in possession and pressure him to create mistakes.
I guarantee that if you put Bacary Sagna in any team with tactical discipline he is still one of the best right backs in the world. There are few right backs who win as many headers, who are as solid in the tackle, who read the game as well, who can pass like a midfielder, and who have the engine that Sagna has. But Sagna is being abused by a 23 year old who is angling for a better deal and a manager who is allowing it to happen, because he needs that 23 year old.
And that encapsulates the split personality of this team perfectly. Arsenal need a wing player, someone who can form a good partnership with a teammate like Sagna, and they have one but he wants to play somewhere else on the pitch and will do so whenever he pleases. In fact, Arsenal need partnerships all over the pitch and judging by the way that they have played so far this season, they have precious few. Yet another schism in the personality of this team.
I wonder who you think are Arsenal’s most effective pairing? Anywhere on the pitch. Name one that Arsenal can say have been consistently good together and play with understanding. Giroud plays well with everyone, un football salope, but other than that there’s little in the way of small, two-man teams that the bigger squad relies on.
Now that Theo and Sagna have had a break, I don’t think there are any natural pairings left. That’s why Arsenal conceded the first goal, Mertesacker and Koscielny didn’t have that understanding that the center back pairing needs. That’s why Cazorla, Wilshere, and Arteta struggle in midfield — there’s no natural understanding between the three. That’s why Gibbs and Podolski get criticized, they don’t seem to know how to cover for each other. And that’s why Sagna has struggled recently, Theo has left his post and Ox is too inexperienced.
Like I’ve said all along though, this team has the components to be a great one. But they are all on little islands right now. If they can link up, they could be very very good. How many teams can boast a fullback that can score like Gibbs did?
But it’s all part of the split personality that’s a feature for this team this season.
Other split personality moments I have noticed this season:
- Play one half at a crawl, play the second half at blinding pace
- Play one game where they have 1 shot on goal, play the next where they have 12
- Control possession, concede a soft goal on a simple ball over the top.
- Per Mertesacker, tallest player on the pitch, unable to win a header.
- Win a header, gift possession back to the opposition in a dangerous position.
- Lukas Podolski, Arsenal’s most clinical finisher with 9 goals on 39 shots, misses sitters.
- Kieran Gibbs, scores a striker’s goal off a volley, fails at basic defensive positioning.
- Podolski, willing to play defense, actually kind of crap at it.
- Arteta is the defensive midfielder, doesn’t close space and allows Danny Graham time to take a shot in the box
- Defenders just as likely to score a magnificent goal as they are to concede an own goal (or make a huge cock-up)