Welcome to a brand new month on TremendArse. Whatever your thoughts on Danny Murphy as a pundit, and mine are indifferent; he’s not as insightful as Gary Neville usually is but then he’s no dreary dolt, like Michael Owen, either, I thought the former Liverpool midfielder summed up our recent defensive displays perfectly when he spoke on talkSPORT today:
I’ve watched Arsenal in their last two games and I must say, defensively, Arsenal have been absolutely all over the place. Naive, gung-ho, thoughtless – it’s really not that difficult to play a bit more defence minded. With the players they’ve got going forward they will create chances.
Naive, gung-ho and thoughtless – exactly my sentiments about our defending when the full-time whistle blew on Tuesday night. If five goals had glossed over our frailties at the back last Saturday at Leicester, there was no similar attacking camouflage against Olympiakos and the brittleness we’re so often accused of was evident for all to see.
So what can we do to improve? The two central defenders likely to play in our next game at home to league leaders Man Utd on Sunday, due to Laurent Koscielny’s hamstring strain, have been discussing the debacle against the Greek champions and offering their views on what we need to do better.
First up is Gabriel, who has urged calm and remains confident we can still qualify from our Champions League group despite still having to face Pep Guardiola’s currently rampant Bayern Munich side twice in our remaining four fixtures:
It was a complicated night [against Olympiacos]. We were in a good place in the first half, defending well, we were happy. But the three goals were our own fault. We only have ourselves to blame for conceding them and now we have to rest, work harder, and then on Sunday come back and have a good game. We just need to be calm. We have to work hard and focus on putting in a good performance [against Manchester United]. I am sad that we lost an important game at home. But we can still qualify. We have a very strong team, with some very good players. We now have to try to win the remaining matches in the group.
Our vice-captain Per Mertesacker was similarly forthright in his appraisal of our last game and says it will take a while for the players to clear their heads before they can refocus and try to produce a far better performance against Louis van Gaal’s men at the weekend. He told Arsenal Player:
First of all, we are disappointed because we started quite well, especially on the break after they had set-pieces. We lacked that concentration and it is not understandable why we drifted and did not do the job we are used to doing. That is not acceptable and we will be punished [for that] in the Champions League. We need to get behind the ball and play better defensively. We lacked discipline, even when you get a goal back don’t rush yourself. Get your discipline back and with possession you get your chances. If we are not disciplined and do not chase the ball we have got no chance. We have got a couple of days to look back on that performance. I think everyone will have regrets and it is good to take that away. It will take a couple of days to recover and to think about Manchester United and play in a different competition, which will be a good opportunity to come back to the Emirates and play our football with possession and dynamism.
At least the players seem to have recognised their mistakes, evaluated where they went wrong and are clear in what they must do to improve. Or so you would say if this was the first instance of us f*cking things up to such an outrageous extent, but it’s not. It’s about the 151st time in recent memory, so I don’t blame any fans for yawning at Gabriel and Mertesacker’s words and switching off from the subject. To be honest, I’m not sure how we improve our squad’s collective mid-set and intelligence but that’s the issue I think here, brains, not ability.
The old ‘lack of leaders’ cliche certainly gains an awful lot of credence after results like Tuesday’s and as much as I lean towards the ideal of pure football, having the right mix of steely characters in combination with an easy-on-the-eye game-plan is crucial of course. Looking at our squad, only Francis Coquelin strikes as a player with the requisite organisational qualities. The rest of them to a man, including our captain Mikel Arteta and his deputy Mertesacker, have proven themselves lacking in that department.
Even if our football can be improved on the training pitches at London Colney, I’m not convinced character can be developed in the same manner, so the next time we dip into the transfer market, rather than focusing just on ability with the ball at a player’s feet, perhaps we need to scour the market for the kind of individuals who can make us a bit more of a savvy side when the sh*t starts hitting the fan in the midst of a game.
See you on Friday.