I have just watched Arsenal disintegrate against Southampton in a way which takes me back to the worst of our defensive performances i.e. Liverpool, Man U, Man City and Chelsea. Throw in Monaco and Dynamo Zagreb just for fun.
Ironically, as I sat at my PC I noticed Timothy Hargreaves article about defensive discipline. I read the article before I started to write and it was uncanny how Tim identified every player on the Southampton team who could damage us. He also mentioned the weakness of having Mertesacker against speedy forwards like Long and Mane. Tim hoped that our defence would cater for Mertesecker`s lack of pace and that our midfielders would cover for it. Apparently we cannot utilise Gabriel in that role because of language difficulties.
Since we lost Santi and Le Coq the cover for central defence went with them. Flamini and Ramsey have managed to plaster over the open wound in our defence until tonight. Unfortunately we came up against a club and a team which is noted for its football. We have benefited from that club and at one time in the match we had three of their former players on the pitch at the same time. Tonight Southampton had worked out a plan to halt their recent decline and they executed it perfectly. They packed their midfield and defended their goal by nullifying Ozil. They were physical when they had to be and Wanyama steam-rolled his way through our midfield. Flaming (unlike his recent performances) could not land a blow and Ramsey was left on his own to try to deal with their advances.
We were disjointed from the outset and there was a general malaise of poor passing throughout the team which caused us to lose possession. The pressure put on our forwards by their defence was made easier because a lot of the time, Campbell, Walcott and Giroud had to chase wayward balls which failed to reach them. There was no cohesion between midfield and attack and therefore their defence mopped up the loose balls and transferred them swiftly to their midfielders who in turn played long balls over our midfield into the gap left by Mertesacker and to which Long and Mane ran. The tall German was repeatedly stranded whilst Long in particular ran gleefully away from him. Koscielny had to try to make up the ground for him and he was often caught on the turn and desperately trying to deal with a striker in full flight. Does this sound familiar? We thought that we had eliminated this type of play but this was a re-run of our worst performances.
A New Year trip to Barcelona or Madrid for a match – Click Above
It was merely by accident that the pairing of Coquelin and Cazorla came about, but it provided a barrier in front of our back four and in Santi a means of maintaining possession whilst also providing a springboard to attack. The rest of the team learned to play with them, particularly Ozil and Ramsey. Our full backs improved their performances because they were not being swamped by the supporting players who came behind the runners. Monreal has been the most improved player because he has been defending in a defence which was no longer subject to panic and like Bellerin his attacking qualities added to our offensive threat. The Southampton players did not have to be clever. They only had to play the simple strategy that Koeman had devised. It was one dimensional but it worked as it has repeatedly by other teams and the answer to it was in our medical room. Even if Wenger wanted to change the course of the game he did not have the answer on the bench. That was proved because when he did try his subs it got even worse.
It is certain that other managers will have seen this result and will take note. This was to be the occasion when we took over the lead in the race to the title. Instead we sit amidst the ashes of a disaster. It was one which could and should have been avoided. I understand that Wenger now accepts that he needs one or even two defensive midfielders and he will try to get them in the coming transfer window. The world and his dog knew that he should have done that in June. He is now trying to make up lost ground when he should have been cementing our place at the head of the league and we should have won our qualifying group. We beat Bayern at home but we lost the second leg with a much weakened team. We should not have lost against Dynamo or Olympiakos. I suggest that we would not have done so. According to the press we could have signed Grzegorz Krychowiak last year for £22m but as he has signed an extension to his contract since then. He will now cost £33m!
Weger said recently that when he considered the midfielders he already had, it would have cost a lot of money to buy anyone better than he had. I`m not a mathematician or an accountant but how was it good practice to pass on a player for £22m and then go in for him at £33m 6 months later?
A sophisticated, articulate Arsenal Man of Mystery. Aged 70 and a bit.