Swans take advantage of Arsenal’s split personality

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.

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.

Throw me a bone here

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)


21 thoughts on “Swans take advantage of Arsenal’s split personality

  1. +10 Vote -1 Vote +1Top_Gooner

    Couldn’t agree more with your assessment of the Theo Sagna situation. Sagna, when paired with a player that is disciplined and plays WIDE on the right is an absolute beast. When he’s constantly playing on his own against 2 on the other team he is bound to make some mistakes.

    This is the Theo that I remember. This is the Theo I expect to see after he signs a new contract, and this is the Theo that has kept me from jumping on the “sign him up at all costs” bandwagon. The last two matches (Southampton and Swansea) is the Theo that had people asking for him to go in the summer. A player playing for a new contract is different than a player that plays for pride. Give me Ramsey over Theo any day. I have far more patience for a player that never hides and tries to leave it on all the pitch for the badge (Ramsey) than a player who walks around (Theo was caught on camera multiple times yesterday letting Swansea players just walk past him with the ball) and is ill-disciplined because he believes he deserves more than he is currently getting (Walcott).

    I’d say our best partnership is probably Gibbs and Poldi or maybe Poldi and Cazorla (statistically) but I agree that consistency isn’t a staple of either of those partnerships.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1FCArsenal

      “Give me Ramsey over Theo any day”

      You just saying the first thing that comes to your head. Brain fart.

      Ramsey is a totally different player, box to box and central.

  2. -1 Vote -1 Vote +1Jack King

    Jenkinson told Theo to “fuck off” during the 8-2 last season, and they’ve never seemed to get on that well since. Even an after match interview with the two of them following the (I think) 5-7 at Reading was rather strained. But how unprofessional to allow personal differences to affect performances on the field of play. The partnership with Bacary was good before his leg break and they looked to be getting something like the one between Cole & Pires which in itself took a while to establish due to Bobby’s unwillingness to track back.

  3. +7 Vote -1 Vote +1Zeddington

    No team in the top places will play Theo as a striker, at least not in England. Man Utd are stocked, Chelsea just got Demba and probably aren’t done, Man City are quite well stocked as well and won’t replace Balotelli (should he go) with Theo. Liverpool just bought Sturridge! I suppose he could go to Spurs, but if he is that kind of character then we could do without him. Everton? Would be a strange choice. How about abroad? The top two in any of the other big leagues wouldn’t bother with him as a striker.

    As a winger, he has options. I think many of the top teams would be interested. Surely he knows this. If he doesn’t want to sign for us where he’d be almost guaranteed play time as a winger, then he’s clearly looking to play as a winger elsewhere, and is using this striker card as an excuse to get out. In which case, we seem to be handling the situation quite well.

    My wish is obviously that he signs and continues to develop as a winger, with perhaps some opportunities in the middle. And doesn’t disrupt the team. But is that realistic?

  4. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Ickenham Gooner

    I could not agree more with your assessment. Sadly, I have come to the conclusion over the last couple of months (mostly last 3/4 games, which I think you have too Tim, that Theo needs to go. He is becoming far too big headed, and his lack of tactical discipline is unprofessional and one of things I used to dislike in Song.

    He’s a good (when the situation suits) player and my previous arguments to friends that I would prefer him with us than against us no longer hold true. Yes he may damage us when he plays us (as all ex-players seem to do), but his attitude is poisonous to the wider squad.

  5. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1shotta

    Have got to hand it to you Tim. This Theo business is so vexing. He has Wenger in a box. The manager is damned if he sells him and, I suspect, in a continued negative spiral if he doesn’t. The failure by Gervinho to grab the opportunity literally thrust upon his bald pate did nothing but cut the ground under Wenger when he tried planting Theo’s ass on the bench earlier in the season. The situation isn’t helped by restless fans who are on edge with the recent departure of key players who, imo, also happen to have elements of the same fixation with their own personal needs and desires. Add to that the likely pr nightmare if the club sells or benches Theo. Even Wenger has to be accommodating him, singing praises of his future as a central striker. The situation is sickening when you consider Theo’s performance in the last two matches. It was nothing short of disappointing especially in the after-glow of the hat-trick vs Newcastle.

    The only short-term solution is getting an accomplished winger this January so we can start moving on. I hope Wenger has some targets.

  6. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Arsenal Letters

    Watch again the 2 minutes that led to Swansea equalizer starting from the set piece that Arteta conceded. From the set piece, it is Arteta’s header that flicks the ball to Swansea players in the box, then Szczesny makes a save, but instead of clearing the ball, Sagna attempts a girlish backward header that keeps it alive. Then it is a corner and it is Poldi’s defensive header at the near post that flicks the ball to the back post to Ki. His pass to Graham, and Arteta turns his back at the shot.

    Is that what Bouldie coaches them to do?

  7. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1Arsenal Letters

    I am no fan of Walcott and I find it personally painful that he became so damn important to Arsenal all of a sudden, but I would disagree with you when you say Sagna’s recent bad form is because of Walcott.

    Sagna had very bad games against Southampton and Newcastle, and yet Walcott was not stationed on wide right in those games, he was played Central striker. So unless you expect the central striker to protect the right back, I do not see how you can reasonably relate Sagna’s dip in form to Walcott.

    Walcott, in my humble opinion, causes other defensive disorders when he plays CF as I tried to discuss in my Southampton match report. He stays too high up the pitch and stretches the midfield area (increasing the distance between our forward and defensive lines) and given Wilshere’s lack of defensive nous (Wilshere charges singlehandedly against passing triangles), opposition attacks bypass our midfield cover easily.

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

      Theo moving centrally is exactly the problem whether it’s done intentionally (by Wenger) or because the player chooses to abandon his post.

      Maybe I was being a bit unclear: when Theo wants to play wide, he’s not bad at it. Thus, when he stays wide, he and Sagna hook up very well. Better than any other combination for Arsenal.

      But Sagna and Ox do not hook up well because Ox doesn’t know how to support the fullback just yet, leaving Sagna on an island and (because of the system Wenger plays) all alone high up the pitch. This is partially why Sagna had a poor match against Southampton. The Newcastle match was different and Sagna and Ox played well together but they are inconsistent together.

      I’m not blaming Theo in those games, it’s not really his fault Sagna and Ox had a poor game against Southampton, (other than demanding to play centrally). What I do blame Theo for is how he simply abandoned his duties as a teammate yesterday, that really riled me.

      Does that make more sense?

      1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Arsenal Letters

        Yes, I see your point now. You are just against breaking the Walcott/Sagna partnership.

        I am seriously at a loss that Walcott’s own failure to develop in 6 fucking years the necessary skills to become a world class wide player (learning few dribbling skills with the ball, making his crossing more consistent, developing the stamina to make the right flank a 6-lane highway) brought us to the point where we are dealing with the issue of whether he is better if utilized as a center forward.

        As if the only damn skill required from a CF is the ability to run behind defenders and finish one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Other skills like fighting the centerbacks for a random long clearance, holding the ball until midfielders move forward, providing one-twos in front of the box using your body, having a fierce shot on the turn with both feet, attacking crosses under pressure, helping defensively in the air in defending set pieces, those qualities are all optional.

        Walcott lacks more qualities as a CF than he lacks as a winger.

        I am not even gonna start with what I think about Walcott taking all the set pieces in a team with Cazorla and Arteta.

  8. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Runcorn Gooner

    In what other club would TW14 be allowed to dictate his playing position particularly as he is not great in the position he demands to play.
    He hasn’t got the strength or nous to play striker unless the opposition
    rollover like Newcastle.Against Wigan,Southampton and Swansea he was clueless.
    AW may have to look seriously as to whether it may be better to let him go and suffer the short term backlash.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

      I don’t even think that Bolton would try to appease Walcott with a central role. Arsenal are really bending over for him on this.

      1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Zeddington

        I think that whatever concessions the club are making for him would soon end once he puts pen to paper. I personally hope that happens, even at 90k/w. There will be games where he would be a decent choice for CF, maybe, but if we chose to play him on the wing after that his petulance would fast result in a place in the reserves, or a neat 20m profit after flogging him to someone else. And he doesn’t seem the type to be content to be deadwood, he’d want to move (he’s ambitious). Either way, as long as he signs, we have some leverage afterwards.

      2. Vote -1 Vote +1Shard

        Arsenal probably can’t afford the PR fallout from losing Walcott. Especially if no one else of equal or better ability (as a winger) is bought. But who? Anyone would cost as much, if not more, than to pay Theo, and would also be a gamble in terms of fitting into the league and Arsenal’s system. As Zeddington says, I too hope this pandering to Theo will stop after he signs (if he does), but as of now, I guess we have to accept that Walcott holds the cards.

  9. Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

    Tim, on the basis of yesterday’s game you could blame Theo for Sagna’s performance but Theo played CF against New Castle and Sagna still had a nightmare. He looked lethargic and was given a torrid time by Obertan in one on one situations. By fucking Obertan – the ManU reject! I agree with pretty much everything else though. I think a lot of it comes down to what you said a couple of years ago – that if Cesc left, Wenger would blow up this team. Well he did. He pretty much went jihad on this team. Given all the players we have lost since Cesc’s departure, it’s not surprising that consistency is a real issue. The team is totally bipolar but I think it could be overcome by a good wide player and a proper MF enforcer. Another striker would be a bonus but it’s not going to happen. Those players could be the glue that the team needs. Will Wenger do it? There was an article in the Guardian by Amy Lawrence saying that apparently there is willingness at the board level to add to the squad but it’s Wenger’s call. I can’t believe there is no one of quality who’s available in January. Somehow it’s only Arsenal who can’t find players to buy in Jan but everyone else and their mothers are adding to their squad. It’s infuriating.

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

      It’s pretty clear that I was unclear about how I’m “blaming Theo” for Southampton and Newcastle. It’s more about his demand to play central and Wenger capitulating to that demand.

      If he stays wide, he and Bac have a good understanding and Bac doesn’t get hung out to dry as often. Yes, Obertan beat him but I’ve seen worse players beat Bac. It’s the overall play that is suffering down the right and that is absolutely a direct result of Arsene Wenger playing Theo out of position and Theo choosing to play himself out of position.

      1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

        Oh absolutely. Theo’s demands are having an impact defensively on the right side because so Theo + Sagna is our best unit on the right. We are caught between a rock and a hard place with Theo. If we give in to his demands, we are weaker on the right – plus like Giroud better as our current 1st choice CF. If we play hardball with him, then he leaves which gives us the same old problem of squad continuity and worse, he pulls a Nasri in the 2nd half of the season (which he still might btw). Normally I would say fuck him, but the problem is we keep on replacing outgoing players with players of lesser quality. Giroud is a downgrade over RVP, Arteta is a downgrade over Song and let’s face it, Cazorla is a downgrade over Cesc. More the reason why I think it’s so important to get a good wide player this Jan along with the MF enforcer. Then we could bench Theo and show him that he is not irreplaceable.

    2. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1Shard

      Completely unrelated to football, and I know how you meant it, but the (mis)use of the word jihad, and calling terrorists ‘Islamists’ is something I can’t help but get agitated about. It just legitimises their stand that they speak for Islam, when they obviously don’t. It’s something I blame the media for. Jihad is not the same as blowing things up. Though I appreciate the humour in linking that connotation with Arsenal post-Cesc.

  10. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1jop

    The second goal had a lot to do with Laudrup instructing his players to stand at the back of our line of zonal markers. Overloading the back zone and lofting balls into it. They did it on both corners and free-kicks, and it clearly paid off. The Arse weren’t prepared for it nor did they respond to it after the first time.

  11. Vote -1 Vote +1HASH

    I think Arsenal is over coached and it stifle the players creativity. The other thing is that they are so afraid to lose possession that they hold on to the ball too long and slow in making the short passes. They play with no urgency whatsoever. Look at Manure. 3 touches and the ball is in the penalty box and bang, you got a goal!!!!! Arsenal, you can go and got yourself a beer and finish it, still nothing happens and the ball is still in the middle of the pitch

  12. Vote -1 Vote +1santori

    1) We played a 4-1-3-2 partially as an experiment and partially to placate Walcott’s contract final push. And we paid for it with a narrow team. Swansea exploited this to great effect and Gibbs particular was left often exposed against Dyer/Tiendellit. Ramsey again to me a perplexing choice out wide granted he had a better performance. But with (Arsharvin) and Rosicky available, I’m struggling to understand Wenger’s choices these days.

    2) We took too long to rectify our poor shape. The comparisons in stats between first and scoend half for us is astounding (surprise no statistics mentioned). We played about 243 passes first half and 260 second. but we took only 46% possession first half against 60% second. why? We pushed Walcott further wide at start of second affording Sagna better possession. Then Podolski came on for Ramsey giving us better threat going forward.

    3) Alas out common mistakes leaving men unmarked in the wide areas is not rectified as obvious with their second. Also late on, Tinedelli I believe could have scored them a winner untracked on our left.

    4) Michu. Signing of the season. A clever player who seems more mobile than our Giroud. What price paying for him this January. @2m + 100% mark up, still reasonable considering if Wenger moves quickly in the next ten days, there will be less chance of him scoring against us in the rematch.;)

    5) Swans played really well and indicative of an excellent side put together through meagre means by Laudrup. Dare I say the Dane seems to possess the ethos that Wenger has with teams playing tight possession based footy but carries along with it better tactical acumen. A near distant replacement? That they were competitive even with 3 of their better players warming the bench is indicative of the quality they have.

    6) Arteta looks leggy. He played hard but seemed one step behind in the second half. Particularly he could have stepped up quicker against the second. We should really ink in an alternate quickly unless of course…Diaby is fit (egads!):P

    7) Podolski took his goal well. I think he has been lost somewhat in all the furor about Walcott having to play through the middle (at detriment to the team). An instinctive finish by the German who puts them away low and hard. Certainly worth a try in the middle. More importantly, I think the original plan to have either of Walcott or Podolski drift in field in support of Giroud should persist, if anything for familiarity issues but also because it affords us a double threat when play comes in from either opposite flank.

    8) Gibbs took his goal very well. He was a bit more exposed defending. Jack put in a good shift once again driving us forward innumerable times. Some improvements second half when we got the shape right. Just a massive mystery to me why Rosicky was not played in lieu of Ramsey who is improving but clearly does not offer as much dynamic as the Czech.

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