Saturday’s match between Chelsea and Arsenal was a joy to watch. Arsenal deservedly won the game thanks to one of the best performances I’ve seen from Theo Walcott in a Gunners shirt. But it was one of the most bizarre Premier League games I’ve watched in years. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen two teams playing with such a high line. While defensive coaches might have shuddered at the tactics on display, the end result was a beautiful wide open game that could have easily ended 6-8 or a similarly devilish scoreline.
The cavalcade of goals going into the net this season has been wonderful to watch, but the level of defending in the Premier League is becoming atrocious. If you go down the list of teams in the Premier League, there have already been so many appalling defensive displays. A few examples include Manchester United getting beaten by Manchester City 6-1, QPR losing 4-0 at home on opening day against Bolton, Arsenal getting undone 8-2 by United, Wigan’s 3-1 home loss against Bolton, and QPR getting thrashed by Fulham 6-0. And there are plenty more where those came from.
I can only imagine what Italian tacticians (and journalists) such as Gabriele Marcotti must think about what they see on the pitches of England week-in week-out.
The poor defensive performances by Premier League sides may get overlooked by many in the 38-game season, but those type of frailties will get exposed in the Champions League where there is little room for error. We’ve already seen how Manchester City got ripped apart by Bayern Munich in Germany. Carlos Tevez’s antics papered over a lot of cracks in the back for City. But similar displays by any of the English teams in Europe will get severely punished.
So while the goal fests we’ve seen in the Premier League season so far have been eyeopening and exhilarating, I won’t be too sad if we see teams start to play a better balance between defending and attacking. After all, Chelsea and Arsenal’s defenses were playing with such a high line today that it almost looked like there was no defense at all at times. The back four for both of the London clubs lined up as if they were midfielders near the halfway line. All it took was an inch-perfect pass or a quick run past a defender, and the striker would find himself in a one-on-one opportunity against the goalkeeper. It was the sort of defending you’d expect to see on a high school pitch, not the hallowed grass of Stamford Bridge.
Having said that, I can’t place all the blame on the defending. Formations have played a large role too as managers such as Wenger, Ferguson and Villas-Boas have put out teams with a much more attacking mindset than in previous seasons. Maybe part of that is due to there being no Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez in the Premier League anymore, so clubs don’t feel like they have to play a chess match trying to outwit their opposing manager? Whatever the case, I’ll continue to enjoy the goals going into the back of the net while at the same time knowing that these type of matches can’t continue. Enjoy the goals while you can. We’re sure to get a lot of nil-nil games sometime soon to even things out.