Right now Arsenal sit 3rd in the league. With a rather poor goal difference of +20. We’ll all agree that this isn’t one of the greatest Arsenal teams in history, having gone through some very poor periods this season.
But it’s become a bit of a cliche that Arsenal are poor defensively. The fact seems to be that Arsenal can’t defend, and they certainly can’t defend a lead. We’re not only bottlers, we’re bottlers who can’t defend. Lee Dixon says it on MOTD every week. It must be true.
I think we’ve had plenty of problems this season, but our biggest problem in my opinion has been lack of true technical ability (apart from RvP) in attack. The lack of creativity and precision in the final third is why Henry was brought in in the first place.
Our defending has certainly been part of the problem (we have the 10th best defence in the league, having allowed 39 goals). But we are not as bad as people make us out to be. We actually have some very, very good defenders at the club, who despite being ridiculed so often have performed better than most in the league. So lack of quality is not the problem in our defensive third. I think that we actually have a good defensive base on which to build a good team next season, but there’s no denying we have, at times, just been bad at defending. Let’s look at the statistics to see what the issues are.
The first thing is home form vs away form. Away from home we have been poor defensively. Languishing in the bottom half of the table with the 7th worst defence in the league with 27 goals allowed. That is 6 goals worse than Aston Villa, the team we completely thrashed on Saturday.
At home we do amazingly well. We are joint second with Liverpool with just 12 goals allowed. That is 5 goals off the leaders Man City.
That makes sense, because our performances at home have been a lot better than our away performances. The Emirates is turning into a real fortress, while away from home we still tend to wobble. And this leads us into the next issue, which is that of our two periods of poor runs. First in the beginning of the season. The second came in January.
In August and September we conceded 14 goals in 6 games. 8 of them coming in the one match at Old Trafford.
In January we allowed 7 goals in 3 games.
In both those periods we allowed goals at a rate of 2.3 goals per game.
The rest of the season we have allowed 18 goals in 21 games, at a rate of 0.85 goals per game.
Now that proves something that I had known was true. We defended badly in August and September because we played poorly overall, because of the state the squad was in early in the season. Wenger did some very late transfer business. By the time it was done we had already had our Old Trafford drubbing. Players like Arteta and Mertesacker came in and needed time to settle into the team. The reason we defended badly in that period was that the team didn’t work well enough as a unit.
Once the team had had time to gel, the performances improved, and we went on a good run in the league. Until January. That was the month of no fullbacks. The lack of fullbacks not only made our attack weaker, it made our defence weaker as well. Vermaelen and Djourou are good center halves but they are not equipped to play in wide defence. When United visited the Emirates, they targeted the flanks, and won the game because of our poor defending in the wide areas.
With the team settled down, and our injury problems eased, I believe we are a very good defensive team. One thing that makes us so good is that we tend to control the games through our possession. Against Villa, for example, we had 73% possession. Barcelona like. And that allowed us to restrict Aston Villa’s attack and keep them to 0 shots on target. But the quality of our defending is such that even without complete control on the game, as was the case against Everton, we still manage to keep our opponents out. Everton, despite their dominance at times, couldn’t create any clear cut chances, and forced Szczesny into just one save.
Conclusion: If we can avoid another turbulent summer, and avoid more injury crises, we should be one of the best defensive teams next season. Boom goes the dynamite.