Emery defence – first calling out…
Don’t get me wrong. I’m firmly Emery In.
But then the latest defeat to Manchester United showed how a critical point in our side is NOT being corrected by “el jefe”, Mr. Emery.
Now, yes, Emery has a number of issues to solve. And the additions of some players have added skills we’ve needed in some time. Sokratis, for one, is very Bould or Keown-esque in his defensive style. Bellerin’s game has improved to his 14/15 and 15/16 levels. And Kolasinac, whilst not strong defensively, is amongst the very best defenders in the league offensively.
But collectively our defending has been very poor. Most goals we concede, seemingly, have been due to our own defensive calamities.
This is an issue, if not corrected, that could severely affect our top four chances. Or in winning the Europa League.
What’s not improving?
There are several points of concern here, namely:
- Off the ball
The 5-1 debasement at Liverpool was down to defensive errors, but also weak off the ball work. A more recent example though is the Manchester United FA Cup defeat. Their interim coach, Ole Gunnar Solsjkear did “out-tactic” us and in doing so managed to exploit some organisational weaknesses of ours.
Kolasinac is excellent going forward – it’s not hyperbole in my view to say he is amongst the best attacking full-backs in the league. But defensively he isn’t up to it. He has been exposed often in this regard, and this also evident in the Wolves home draw.
Due to a mix of our players’ skillsets, and some still weak organisational play, we’re still susceptible to breakouts and counter-attacks. Games vs. Brighton, West Ham, and Cardiff lately all saw us concede goals on the break.
- Midfield balance
Moreover, Torreira is playing in a more advanced position, and it’s possible that he’s not a classic DM. Though it can be further argued that DMs in the 1990s style don’t exist in the current game. Most midfields have a mix of players/attributes, but even Kante (arguably the best in that position on Earth) can pass, shoot, and score occasionally. The likes of a mid-1990s Martin Keown, David Batty, or Claude Makelele, as players who just sit in front of the back four and pass to more technically able players, have passed. It’s like wingers – Giggs, or Overmars, of old, don’t exist in the classic sense anymore. As Torreira isn’t an old-style DM, then we may need another player of his skills, though possibly with better distribution and technical capacity, to play with him. He’s an important step, but we need more.
Of course, this is Emery’s task to fix, but then it’s apparent we still need to ensure we’re not overloaded in the midfield, and thus further improve our balance there.
I often think our defence has got worse since 2016 or so, largely since Wilshere, Xhaka and Ramsey often used to play in midfield. With Ramsey and Wilshere eager to go forward, and Xhaka looking up to see who is open, there was nobody who was more reserved or could halt things on the counter-attack. Our relative defensive record, even in the “banter-era” of the immediate Emirates move, was good.
Flamini in my view was a good player for us in both of his spells. However, whilst he was maligned by some, he provided weight to permit Ramsey, Wilshere, and Ozil, to progress. Arteta too, whilst more technically geared than Flamini, did similarly. Alex Song, whilst not a DM in the classic sense, was very industrious and provided good box to box work. He also permitted Cesc and Wilshere to progress. Denilson, whilst not the best of mids, did serve a role in this regard even if he wasn’t ultimately Arsenal quality.
We need to get back to something similar, or look at what other sides are doing.
Liverpool has Milner and Henderson who are often mocked – but they’re vital tools in their midfield and one reason why their defence is now the best in the country. Even Spurs, with Wanyama, Sissoko, and formerly Dembele, has a good balance. Matic at Man United permits Pogba to go forward, and Fernandinho at City gives more freedom for Silva and de Bruyne.
Once this balance is struck, it would be a vital tool in shoring up our defence. It’s something that we’ve lost in recent years, and I believe our defence was pound for pound better four or five years ago than it is today due to this.
No player, nay human, is perfect.
But then in all of these games, defensive errors have directly cost goals:
- Man United (FA Cup)
- Burnley (H) League
- Liverpool (A) League
- Brighton (A) League
- Spurs (H) League Cup
- Spurs (H) League
- Southampton (A) League
- West Ham (A) League
- Man United (A) League
Now we did win some of the above fixtures. But even then, such as vs. Burnley, an inability to clear a ball allowed them to get one back.
I don’t have any issue in mistakes occurring. Ronaldo and Messi make mistakes – Ron himself missed a penalty with Juve lately, and Messi has missed patent sitters in his time. But they should be kept to a minimum, ideally.
Our defensive errors are not exceptions, but to reverse the cliché, they’re the rule.
This begs the question – what coaching is being done to ensure they stay as exceptions?
Emery is known for being meticulous, and being a strong adherent to continuous development.
So, what is developing? The only thing in this regard is our ability to concede inane and foolish goals.
As fans, we don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes. But then it’s clear that we need to hone our skills and defend more ably, as it’s our major Achilles heel.
Much is said of Bould’s position at the club – but perhaps we’re jumping the gun. Yes, he was a boss defender. But then maybe he’s there to just provide technical input, and not be a defensive coach.
Either way, whatever is being done in training is not being replicated on the pitch. And it needs to be. Prior to the 2nd Feb 2019, we’re currently in fourth. Our once fourth-place trophy may be ours again, even if Poch/Spurs wish to contest the label from us. But the rate of silly goals conceded must lessen, and to call Emery out, he’s not doing enough to do this.
I’m not saying the head coach should go. That’s clearly – in my view – foolhardy.
But then despite some positives, more needs to be done to ensure our defence is secure.
This ultimately could be “el jefe’s” downfall. It’s the major factor preventing us from challenging. Our bad defence is what is making us borderline top four, and not up there with Man City, our “comrades” whose manager hates winning trophies, and Liverpool. Writing before the Man City game, only City and Liverpool have scored more goals than us, but they’ve conceded far less. Spurs have equal GF but a better GA.
It’s just one can support another, but also critique then when required. It doesn’t mean one wants them out, or fired. Emery has the tools to get us back to the top – it’s just on one critical area we’re not progressing as we should in my mind.