The Arsenal Defence: To Bouldly Go…
Soap, soup and salvation
Tired hearts sing in jubilation
Restoration at the rescue mission
Steve Bould and Neil Banfield took up their new roles at the club yesterday with the former being far from the ill-fated sort who slept in doorways and in alleyways. He is however being hailed as the saviour, the panacea to all of the ills which beset the Arsenal defence last season.
An uncompromising centre back as a player, the theory goes that Bould will instil that discipline and defensive fervour into the current generation of defenders at the club. That theory may be proved to be right; it also may be wrong and I wonder in those circumstances, just how much goodwill does his elevation to Assistant Manager carry? Will those who demanded his ascension to the seat to the right of the throne be as unforgiving and quick to blame Bould as they were Pat Rice? Or would their ire and wrath turn on the manager himself?
We shall see and none of the above should diminish Bould’s career in coaching or his abilities but there is a huge burden of expectation being put on his shoulders and you wonder if he is aware of it. I am sure he is, although whether he knows the depth of feeling is open to debate. And what yardstick will be used, what realistic improvement can be expected in the space of one season?
Arsenal tally of goals conceded has been steadily increasing since 2003-04. Nothing extraordinary in a particular season but incrementally. This season is high but part of that can be put down to Old Trafford but even if you halve that scoreline, the total increases again over the previous campaign. Using 45 against as a benchmark, is it a realistic expectation to believe that ten goals less be achieved in 2012-13?
I think so but not through stopping the high scoring matches; the improvement has to come through an increase on the thirteen clean sheets. From 5th November to 31st December 2011, Arsenal conceded five goals in nine matches, never more than one in each game. It was perhaps the least effective goalscoring phase of the season as well, with only fifteen scored but yielded six wins, two draws and a solitary defeat at Eastlands.
Move on two months and the nine match spell beginning with the draw at Bolton swapped a draw to the win column, ending in defeat at Loftus Road. The run saw eight goals conceded but twenty three scored. Half of the season in total, the games saw just thirteen goals shifted. It indicates that contrary to popular belief, the basis is there for defensive solidity without necessarily impacting on the attacking displays. The second run saw three clean sheets gained. That’s seven in total out of nineteen games. When you are winning that is not too much of an issue; when you are not, there is a huge problem.
Looking at the remaining nineteen games, only two were lost by a margin of more than one goal – Liverpool at home, United away. One less goal conceded in matches not won would have yielded ten more points. No improvement in league position but third would have been more comfortable and the gap to the top just nine points. Probably a fair reflection of the squad.
It is a simple calculation and theory; one that is difficult to implement as it requires – to a certain extent – a change in mentality. That is the size of the task, can it be used as a yardstick to measure his performance against?
Observations by those around the club portray him as a man of strong beliefs, something quickly picked up on as a strength. It is and the relationship he and Arsène have will be interesting to see. The manager has strong viewpoints, you do not get to be at the top of your profession without being true to your beliefs. However, the great leaders have the strength of character to take on board other perspectives and adjust blueprints accordingly. The underling needs a thick skin as well; not every idea is going to be used, believed to be the correct path to follow.
Wenger will have known what Bould’s philosophy about coaching was, what his views were or if he was not certain, he would have a very good idea. Appointing a contrary No.2 for the sake of it is not conducive to progress; both of them would be aware that improvements can be made, weaknesses nullified. It seems strange to me that there is that air of expectation, that Bould will be a radical progressionist overwhelming the Luddite Wenger. Simply, it is not going to happen – everything about the manager’s reign has been evolutionary once the initial revolution had occurred upon his appointment.
Elsewhere, the smell around the Eden Hazard story yesterday became stronger with an apparent denial issued whilst Marouane Chamakh’s time at the club looks to be ending with the Moroccan as makeweight in a deal for Olivier Giroud. Who might be Robin van Persie’s replacement as well. Or not, depending on who you ask because frankly no-one has a clue, publicly at least, what the Dutchman has decided with as many people who claim to be In The Know contradicting themselves, as those of us Not In The Know – or normal as I like to think of it.