Arsenal Need To Go Back To Basics
Samir Nasri kept his chin up following the defeat by Manchester United, aided no doubt by his recent personal award. His comments about the style of play have echoes of media criticism,
We need to put our suits of lights away in the cupboard at times. We have to get down to working hard for the good of the team. I do not see any problem with us not playing in as flamboyant style, as long as the team wins.
Essentially, Nasri wants to be James Brown but is looking at the moment for the team to be more REO Speedwagon. There is little point in having all of the moves if the ‘boring basics’ are not in place. It is reminiscent of the 1997/98 season, immediately after the nadir of the Blackburn home defeat, coincidentally also on December 13th.
In that season, the two immediate games were unconvincing. A win over Leicester was expected with a draw at White Hart Lane completing a miserable end to 1997. What followed was an Arsenal side concentrating on their jobs.
From January 31st 1998 to the title winning game over Everton on 3rd May, only two goals were conceded, six of the fourteen games were wins by a single goal. They were not boring performances, a solidity in defence which allowed the midfield and attack to crush opponents. The scorelines did not reflect the dominance of Arsenal in those games. It is this mentality which needs to become prevalent in the current squad.
That run over a decade ago was as a direct result of home truths being spoken by the players – Wenger was excluded from the team meeting – amongst themselves. A similar scenario would not go amiss right at this moment in time.
Equally, the statistics for passing from the United game were not of the standard one expects. The pitch influenced that but the players are technically proficient and more than capable of adapting. If they are not, something is seriously wrong.
It is apparent that Nasri believes there has been an element of coasting. Whilst he does not say it, I doubt he is excluding himself from that observation. The forwards need to realise that defending starts with them. Pressurising opponents into quick distribution is the fastest way for Arsenal to regain possession.
There is a dip in confidence though. That is manifesting itself in an unwillingness to take the first opportunity to shoot on goal. Whilst there are occasions when a colleague is better placed – making the pass preferable – that is becoming too prevalent, reminiscent of the campaigns of yesteryear and a problem which seemed to be disappearing from Arsenal’s game.
Wenger publicly protects his players and that is good for fostering belief in the manager, enabling him to develop and nuture players. However, harsh words must be said in private. Arsene has hinted that this is the case in the past, observing that he is his own biggest critic. The players need to listen as well.
If Monday night is really the wake-up call that it should be, all will be well and good. With injured players beginning to return, competition for places starts to put pressure on all personnel. It would be no surprise if three or four changes are made for Saturday, for no other reason than to shake the squad up.
The reaction this weekend is crucial. United and Chelsea clash, a win for Arsenal sends them back to the top even if only temporarily. A convincing win suggests that recent slumbers at home have been shaken from the system. A lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. Talking on the pitch is the only way to shake criticism off and that is the only talking necessary.