This may seem like an odd discussion point.
But then how many goals should we concede?
In 17/18, only City, and Liverpool scored more goals than we did. We scored as many as our good friends from the Borough of Haringey.
But our goals against tally was poor, especially vis a vis the top six.
Tottenham, Liverpool, and Chelsea, had similar GA tallies. Ours was far worse, and it showed. We lost almost double the amount of games compared to these clubs, and it showed via poor defending.
The defeats at Newcastle, Bournemouth, Swansea, and Brighton, were all down to poor structure. It’s thus imperative that we take our time to improve our defence, as this has been our prime negative for some time. And in any event, to solve an issue, one must analyse and eliminate the root of it. With a better defence last season, we would have got top four last season.
So defence is the issue, largely. Scoring goals, especially with PEA and Lacazette, won’t be an issue one would think.
Though with defence in mind, I’d want the following targets and goals set:
– No more than 45 goals conceded
It’s very simple, and not very insightful. But the less goals we concede, the more games we can win and points we can amass. Yes, it’s very simple logic, but then 45 goals for me is a reasonable limit, and something the other top six may well look to emulate too.
Football in my opinion is a simple game really. The best teams have the best defences and the best organisation. This is often measured by goals conceded, and it’s apparent that our mistakes in previous seasons have been caused by bad organisation.
45 goals is a reasonable metric, since the other top six team holds great structure at the back. Spurs, City, United and Chelsea all do. And Liverpool look to be shoring up. The signings of Allison and van Dijk of late show this intention.
We need to follow suit.
The accountability of mistakes was, apparently, not forthcoming in the latter Wenger era. Cech, Mustafi, Koscielny, Bellerin, etc. were all culpable of making mistakes last season, and often the same mistakes continually (or continuously?) Either the defenders/gk were poor (which I doubt, even under Emery and the departure of Wenger), or they were not being developed properly.
Emery is noted as being highly meticulous, and he needs to bring this trait to ensure mistakes and poor structure are kept to a minimum. If this means, given the story of his training in Spain, calling out a player for not seeing his thumbdrive, then so be it. A good defence comes via training and accountability, and this applies to all pitch areas.
– Off the ball structure
To concede less goals, we need to stop being soft in midfield. If looking at the Newcastle and Swansea games away, it was due to being hit on the counter attack, and them dominating our midfield.
Our balance in the area between now and then is different. And this may be the key. With playing a two or three (Xhaka/Ramsey, Wilshere/Xhaka/Ramsey, etc.) we had several progressive players, and not a balance. All top teams possess this, and we with the signing of Torreira and Guendouzi,and the departure of Wilshere, should hopefully rectify this.
There is no good team that doesn’t possess a midfield balance. Creativity, doggedness, and strength are all facets of top midfields. Vieira/Petit/Gilberto, Keane/Scholes/Butt, or more contemporaneously, Matic/Pogba, Modric/Kroos, Rakitic/Iniesta, and Fernandinho/de Bruyne/Silva, exhibit this balance.
– Instilling the press
We need to press consistently, and get into position the most that we can.
Pressing is a skill that needs to be taught well, and consistently, and let’s hope that Emery can do this often with his new style and coaching methods.
This video shows how pressing can be implemented, and I’m sure that Emery has his own philosophy on how to do this.
With better pressing, we can better limit space in other teams, and thus ensure we win the ball back and provide pressure when others have the opposition.
This is from the club’s website, vis a vis Emery’s views on pressing, after our recent 5-1 friendly win vs. PSG:
No, no. It’s the first match for Mesut, Eleny and Iwobi. Tactically, we’ve been working all week in training and watching movies. The first idea we are working on is without the ball and the right place to be pressing. I am happy with how the players played for the first time for these three players.”
“When we do have the ball, we can press with the striker and a No 10 almost like a 4-4-2 in a press. It depends because Mesut can play on the right and go inside, driving in to open up space for the right back.
“We want to find a space for him and the other players where they can use their qualities through good positioning. I think in the first half today we played good with quality players, but I want to improve this pressing.
“In the second half they were tired, but the young players gave us the pressing back and allowed us to change our positions and play with three in midfield.
Emery referenced Ozil’s role, and this is telling of his ideas in how our attack and midfield can function. This degree of meticulousness is what is needed to succeed in the contemporary Premier League, and it’s exciting what can be done to ultimately shore up our defence.
– Looking at past eras
Things change and evolve. But the story of how George Graham moulded our defence is an example of what it takes to win. It requires hard work, graft, and dedication.
It’s said that Graham got the players to play with an imaginary rope, in which they were all connected. This ensured they knew where their positions were at all times, and thus could remain static as a unit.
In this sense, Adams, Bould, Winterburn, Dixon, and Seaman, all knew where each other stood (literally), and were drilled in limiting space and naturally defying opposition scorers. And it worked a charm, given the success we had with this unit.
We need something similar in the current time. It’s imperative that Bould the coach relays his experiences from winning titles with Arsenal, along with the other coaches, and enabling a new defensive learning and development structure.
So we have a new path now, and this can develop well for us.
Let’s see how things unfold, and after years of bad defending, the pendulum may swing the opposite way.