Defensive Frailties Mask Progress and Win An Emirates Stadium Tour
Arsène was in a reflective mood when talking of the season which is drawing to its’ climax, determined that the prefix “anti” should not be attached to any discussion. The defensive performance of Internazionale at the Camp Nou has drawn unfavourable comparisons with the second leg of the quarter-final, harshly since the Arsenal side was not at its strongest whilst the Italian champions were pretty much able to draw on their full strength squad.
Wenger though was critical of the number of goals conceded, an area which needs to be improved he acknowleged:
Where we want to set ourselves a target next season is we conceded nearly 40 goals, and that is too many to win the League. This is one area where we want to improve
There were no individual criticisms nor should one player be singled out as a major cause, quite simply because it was a collective failure to defend throughout the team. Of course within that there have been individual errors which have been the source of conceded goals, these are issues to be worked on with the individual, eradicating them from their game, improving the collective.
However, there is a crucial aspect which should not be lost sight of. 39 goals have been conceded in 36 Premier League games, the highest of any of the top five clubs. The total though is skewed by the clashes with those nearest to Arsenal. The eight games against United, City, Chelsea and Tottenham saw sixteen goals shipped, two per game; the remaining 26 fixtures has seen 23 goals given away which suggests that it is more of a mental issue with regard to ‘big’ matches this season than a collective defensive failure every week.
A meaner attitude at the back in those matches against the rest of the division would have helped; not letting in three at Wigan would have been more than useful, likewise the lead being dropped at West Ham and Burnley. Arsenal should be able to go to those grounds and expect to keep a clean sheet or at the very least not concede more than once. Points dropped in those matches are as crucial as those in losing to close rivals for the former are supposed to be where compensation arises for the latter.
Perhaps Wenger’s key issue is knowing where who will be here next season. Reading between the lines is a dangerous occupation but his comments earlier this week whilst talking about William Gallas‘ future suggested, to me at least, that Mikael Silvestre will not be offered a new contract irrespective of any comings and goings. Gallas though has yet to put pen to paper and there must be a strong suspicion that he is not going to do so either. Arsène has not admitted that, publicly at least, he is any the wiser, choosing to put a gentle timescale on a deadline.
This year it is vital that transfer dealings are completed before the World Cup, not just from a financial point of view. The tournament will stagger the returns of players depending on how their nations fare, eating into the pre-season. Having new players already at the club, gives them a longer period to become accustomed to the formation and how the rest of the squad interacts on the pitch.
How many newcomers is open to conjecture and speculation about how big his wages / transfer pot is only serves to muddy these waters. The truth is that no-one knows the true amount because of contractual secrecy; authoratative statments on the web and in the back pages are no more accurate than a back of a fag packet calculation.
Recent weeks saw the title dream fade, descending into acrimony, one performance overshadowing the progress made in the season as a whole. That progress should not be lost sight of and wholesale changes are not needed. It seems unlikely to me that Wenger would ever bring in more than two new players, anything above that amount would be as a result of departures. One whom Wenger wants to stay is Eduardo:
We extended his contract because we believe in him. He is very important but I will assess that situation and sit down with him before the end of the season, you want to see as well how he feels. He is 27 years old he wants to play.
It seems apparent that Wenger views him as an important player; the question is how much playing time he will get. Injuries will no doubt play a part in that, not just his own but to others as well. van Persie is the first choice central striker and Eduardo can play on the left. However, would he benefit more from a full season on loan elsewhere, regaining sharpness? It leaves a void to be filled in the Arsenal squad, which is the quandry. It would be unusual for the manager to let him have a season away but in the long-term, it could be more beneficial.
Finally for today, a reminder that A Cultured Left Foot has been nominated for The Best EPL Club Blog at EPL Talk; you can vote here.
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