The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

More Villa-Arsenal Thoughts

I’m typing this on a borrowed computer with a bad hand a day after the fact, so I’ll be brief.

– The big blog topic today as per Arseblog & Gunnerblog has been Arsenal’s shambolic defense. They are, of course, correct. The interesting thing to me is that what they’ve written could have been said any time in the last 2 years really, following the Paris run which was heavily reported to have coincided with Martin Keown’s coaching of the defense. The awfulness on that side of things was occluded a bit last year by a very good midfield and it’s certainly true that this year’s defenders would look better behind that group; but most of the basic issues with the defense aren’t a product of that directly or indirectly. A better midfield won’t save them from constant personnel changes due to injury, or from the awful habit of the defenders of being beaten one-on-one at headers from set pieces, or from the lack of communication which sees many of them beaten one-on-one during play because they don’t trust each other enough to play as a unit and maintain position, or from their inability to handle direct runs with pace a la Robbie Keane.

The fact of the matter is, without help in the coaching ranks and a different philosophy about how defenders are selected in regards to height and injury resistance, this is just going to be the sort of defense you get from an Arsene Wenger team at this point. It isn’t really good enough, but it’s also not bad enough that it can’t be covered for a bit as it was last year. But that cover has to be exceptional, because as soon as it lapses what’s behind it gets exposed. Over the course of a season the effect is a bit like a fat man sucking in his gut to run a marathon.

The other interesting thing is, I think most Arsenal fans know this. Wenger’s comments for years and years have indicated that he simply does not respect defense, or at least not the ways it’s traditionally been played in England. His characteristic complaints about “kicking” even in the most mild-mannered game, his tendency to identify dominating possession with “deserving” a win which implicitly suggests that solid defending and counterattacking is an illegitimate strategy, the signing of Mikael Silvestre- you can add to the list yourself, I’m sure. So why criticize him now? Some of it, as noted, is that the cover has been blown away and the team’s flabby gut is now flapping in the wind for all to see, which makes it a rather larger concern than it was last year. But, and let’s be honest, a lot of it is that fans, even the biggest supporters of Arsene, are walking up to the line of thinking it may be time for Arsene to go. Criticizing him for what’s essentially an integral part of the way he sees football is criticizing him as a manager, not just for a decision here and there. It leaves a legitimate window for him to fix things by, say, bringing a defensive coach like Keown back aboard; but it makes it clear that, absent real changes, Wenger’s philosophy is open to question. That, I suspect, is why an issue that’s been going on for years is suddenly a hot topic. None of the big blogs (and few if any of the little, myself included!) are ready to say Wenger should go. But for the first time in many years, people are mulling over Arsenal without Arsene, and seeing more than just a couple of extra letters.

– Sagna. A wonderful performance.

– I will echo what Sean said yesterday about Almunia. I’m not as large a fan as he is, but Munia had a wonderful day, obviously could have done nothing at all about the goals, and generally turned in another of those performances that make it clear that he’s just not the biggest problem this team has. No, he’s not Petr Cech or even Shay Given or Insert World-Class Keeper Here, but there are plenty worse out there and Arsenal have bigger issues to fix in defense and midfield than they do in goal.

– I will be alone in this, and it’s petty, but Denilson’s goal celebration drove me nuts. He caught a lucky bounce and flailed it in and decides he needs to point to the back of his shirt like he’s Thierry fucking Henry and “Denilson” were associated with anything other than expensive transfer flops and/or not making the senior selecao. Compare and contrast to Diaby throwing himself into the travelling support after scoring a remarkably skilled goal that demonstrated real ability. This is very much my version of other peoples’ obsession with boot color, but as far as I’m concered it says something.

– And speaking of Diaby (and Eboue), what a goal. God knows if or when they’ll ever repeat it, but they have every right to be proud of that one. It was one of those moments where you can actually see what Wenger sees, why he continues to persist with players long since given up on by most of the fanbase. The potential is there, enough to make you wonder what could be if they were in a situation where they could learn from experienced professionals, and where they weren’t being asked to carry the club on their backs.

– So where are we now? Once again, this is another result which is not awful in and of itself- an away draw against one of the 5 best teams in the country isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, devastating. The worry is that Arsenal were simply outplayed for huge stretches of the match, caught lucky with Denilson’s goal and all of Villa’s efforts which found wood, and yet still managed to throw away points at the death. You’d hope that after Pool and Villa back t back, the next several fixtures would give the team a chance to get healthy and pile up some points; the trouble is, it’s been against exactly these sorts of theoretically easier sides that Arsenal have been most disappointing this season. Here’s what ‘s upcoming in the next 3 league games:

12/28- Portsmouth home.

1/10- Bolton home.

1/17 Hull away.

That’s one win, one loss, and one not played yet against that lot so far this year. On the heels of 3 straight draws and yet another weekend of lost ground against the other big 4 + Villa, that’s just not going to be good enough. 7 points are probably essential here to avoid crushing pressure for something to happen in the window, if that’s even avoidable at this point. Here’s for hoping.

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December 27, 2008 - Posted by | The Arsenal

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