On Gallas And Attitudes
Whilst the defeat to Hull was disappointing and it is fair to say that few, if any, of the team deserve to escape criticism, there is an awful lot of oppobrium being pushed onto the shoulders of William Gallas, be it for his role in conceding the winner or for his captaincy or perceived lack of it.
Little doubt that he could, and should, have done better in marking Cousin yet there is a question of whether or not he was actually assigned to mark the Frenchman. The former Rangers striker covered a lot of ground to meet the ball and did so with maximum effect. Given the comments of Ian Ashbee that they had practised set-pieces all week, the question that should be asked is what were Arsenal doing at the same time? It would not have been hard to figure out where the most threat from Hull would likely to have been emerging. Even though that proved not to be the case – they were equally dangerous in open play – the fact is that when playing teams who are of lesser technical ability, it is not rocket science to know that you will have to counter them from corners and free-kicks. Quite how Arsene and his staff will assess Stoke City is open to question at the moment.
It has long been Wenger’s policy to pick his team and tactics to suit Arsenal, with only tinkering around the edges to adapt to his opponents. There are matches of course, where he has lined-up to counter specifics but only the whole, his attitude is ‘let them worry about us‘. That is fine but within that there has to be awareness of their strengths. Accordingly, defending corners ought to be something that is honed to a fine art yet consistently the threat, real or perceived, is greater than it ought to be.
The current central defensive pairing is part of that problem in that neither are consistently good in the air. It is not a new problem nor is it something that Arsene is unaware of. Earlier this season, he played Djourou in the absence of Toure and whilst the defence was not infallible, it did seem secure. That is not to say that Djourou is the solution nor Toure the problem. Equally, Gallas is not solely the problem but whom would Wenger drop and more importantly is that the correct solution?
It is not as simple as it might seem for that could be equally applied to several players on the basis of Saturday and before. Look at the forward line; van Persie and Adebayor, as a combination, have not hit top form this season. They have worked hard in other areas to compensate for the lack of goals. If those standards are applied to forwards then surely the same can be applied to the defence. They have snuffed out teams in open play and now need to resolve the issue of set-plays.
For Gallas though, I sense that it is not just the issue of poor marking. A lot of criticism is harking back to St. Andrews, seemingly creating a pattern whereby his captaincy is seriously questioned. Some of it is true but where are these questions when things are going well? There are none yet that is the time when they should be raised. As it is, Wenger is not going to change that in the immediate future unless there is a tremendous howler from Gallas.
The problem with a defeat such as the one suffered on Saturday is emotions. It has brought those which were suppressed through the squad reaching the top of the table to the fore. And the downer is massive, particularly as it was unexpected, the euphoria surrounding the performance of the Carling Cup squad disappeared instantly as a reality check was handed out. Gallas believes that the problem was complacency:
If we think like this we will not go anywhere. The players were ready to play a strong game. We were not lucky and we have to work more and try to stay in the fourth position. It’s very difficult to accept. We said all the time we wanted to win every game and we lost 2-1 to Hull City.
This is where the captain and manager accept the blame in equal share. There must have been signs before the game that the ‘attitude’ was awry; it should have been stamped upon in no uncertain terms. Maybe they did but if that was the case, the players did not listen. Reports this morning suggest that Arsene will wield the axe for tomorrow, an unlikely scenario. One or two changes perhaps but I would be surprised if the starting line-up contains less than nine of those who started on Saturday. Some diplomatic injuries could occur but seem unlikely.
Whatever the case, tomorrow’s game cannot come quickly enough. A win is vital to erase the memory of Hull yet it will not show definitively that attitudes have been corrected. That will be apparent by the end of October. Five wins by that stage and we will be looking back wondering what all the fuss was about.