Arsene Wenger spoke of a ‘new cycle’ before Arsenal’s loss to Blackburn on Saturday – their third Premier League defeat of the season. Wenger had hoped his side had recovered from their humiliation at Manchester United on August 28. Alas, he was wrong – as he has been with repetitive regularity for the past seven seasons.
Let us start by stating the obvious. Arsenal’s defense not only displays amateurism but show continuous ineptitude. Arsenal’s collective maelstrom-esque and lethargic-like defensive frailties will be the cause of their inability to finish in the top four if action isn’t taken.
At the root of the problem is Arsenal’s lack of leadership at the back. The average age of Arsenal’s backline against Blackburn (including Wojciech-Szczesny) was 25. Manchester United’s average age against Chelsea was 22 (they went on to win 3-1) – showing that a lack of experience is not the real issue. What does matter, however, are the leadership and organizational skills at the back.
Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones (who all started on Sunday) may be at the inchoate stages of their career, but they were supported by Patrice Evra, 30, who brings a sense of security and leadership to the backline. Bacary Sagna, 28, who also plays at right-back, doesn’t seem to exude the same sense of aplomb as his United counterpart.
Arsenal fans may complain that their best defender Thomas Vermaelen (who many believe should be captain), is injured and therefore leaves a gaping hole in their defense. That may be true, but Manchester United seem to manage without their two best defenders – Nemanja Vidic (club captain) and Rio Ferdinand (England captain).
Last season Arsenal conceded more goals from set-pieces than any other team (53.5%), according to Opta Stats. Poor organization can only be to blame.
Chelsea, who fielded Petr Cech, Jose Bosingwa, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and Ashley Cole against Manchester United on Sunday, have an average age of 29 between them.
Although Chelsea’s defense put on a pretty mediocre display against United; in the first six games of the season, they’ve only conceded three goals.
Manchester United’s and Chelsea’s leadership and organizational abilities clearly demonstrate why they came first and second in the Premier League last season respectively.
Manchester City nudged Arsenal down to fourth place at the back of last season. However they’ve been found lacking in defense on occasions – but is that really a problem? Mancini’s team have proved this season that goals won’t be a problem – especially with Sergio Aguero’s devastating form. City are also anticipating the return of the solid, former Arsenal centre-back Kolo Toure who will bolster his side’s defense.
But to condemn Arsenal to doom and gloom this season would be a premature assumption. Szczesny has already shown that this could be his season; Laurent Koscielny has proven his expertise when keeping Lionel Messi at bay last season and the Gunners confidence will be raised if Vermaelen returns and remains uninjured.
Blaming Arsenal’s defense alone for their holistic failings is shortsighted. Arsenal have won nothing for seven years so undoubtedly lack confidence. They also lack what Mancini admires about The Red Devils: “a winning mentality.” Moreover, they seem to suffer from a plethora of bad luck – last season they hit the woodwork 22 times – more than any other team.
But as they say ‘dust yourself off and try again’ – this should be the Gunners attitude. The Gunners next three games are at the Emirates Stadium and present another opportunity for the “new cycle” Wenger spoke of the other day. Things can only get better.