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Players Need To Solve Arsenal’s Defensive Issues

It’s that time of year again. The moment in the season when Arsenal’s results leave Arsene Wenger’s tactics open for debate.

Yesterday’s 2-1 defeat to Swansea City shouldn’t come as a complete surprise to Premier League fans. Swansea are a better side than their points total would have led you to believe prior to Sunday’s kick-off against the Gunners. The Swans were sitting on a respectable 15 points after ten matches, despite being the unfortunate victims of some poor refereeing decisions during the early part of the league campaign.

Arsenal, on the other hand, were in the midst of a miniature crisis. Mounting injuries, a frail defense and poor leadership saw the Gunners throw away a three-goal lead against Anderlecht during their Champions League’s group stage match last week.

Arsene Wenger’s refusal to adjust his attacking philosophy against the Belgian club once again left the Frenchman open to criticism from fans and pundits. It’s something that has become an annual event on the domestic and European schedule. There should be a global holiday in honor of this yearly footballing tradition. We can call it: ‘Wenger Must Go’ Day.

Let’s get this out of the way. Arsene Wenger will go down as one of the best managers in the history of English football. The 65-year-old is the longest-serving manager in the Premier League, boasts a CV with a number of major titles and has been credited with revolutionizing football in England.

But Wenger’s strength is also his shortcoming. His unwavering belief in how his team should play – and how football should be played – has led him to refuse to adjust his tactics when the times call for change.

The term “park the bus” will never be used when referring to an Arsene Wenger-coached team. The Gunners’ boss has steadfastly refused to alter his offensive and possession-dominating approach to the game. His forwards and midfielders’ number one job is to attack, and it appears the Frenchman doesn’t lose too much sleep when those players don’t track back or assist his back four.

Wenger does deploy defensive/holding midfielders, but they don’t appear to have the tactical or physical abilities of a Nemanja Matic, Yaya Toure, Steven Gerrard or even a Michael Carrick. And from his transfer dealings – or lack thereof – it seems Wenger doesn’t see a need for that type of player.

On Sunday against Swansea City, Arsenal’s midfield and wide players constantly left their teammates in defense exposed. The worse example of this was Jefferson Montero’s humiliation of Calum Chambers. The Equador international repeatedly left the defender in the dust and ultimately made the 19-year-old part of his personal highlight film.

In defense of Chambers, his primary position is centre-back. But regardless of that, someone at Arsenal should have recognized early-on that the defender was in need of assistance against Montero. But the Gunners midfield stuck to the manager’s philosophy and never made the necessary changes.

According to Sky Sports pundits Craig Bellamy and Jamie Carragher, Wenger and his staff never modified Arsenal’s tactics. The former footballers commented that they were constantly looking towards the touchline to see if someone from the Gunners’ coaching staff was re-organizing the squad during the match – but that adjustment never came.

On Saturday at Anfield, Jose Mourinho saw Raheem Sterling as a danger for Chelsea and he had Ramires on that side to try and stop him. But Sunday in South Wales, Montero was clearly a major threat and was giving Chambers a hiding – but Wenger refused to act.

Former Wales international Craig Bellamy gave his assessment of the situation by saying when leadership isn’t coming from the sidelines, it falls on the players to recognize what is happening and change the approach on their own.

Carragher, a former-standout defender for Liverpool and England, expounded on Bellamy’s point: “You talk about leaders in football, though, and that’s a perfect example. After a ten minute spell in the game, when your full back is up against it, [centre-back] Per Mertesacker should say to Oxlade-Chamberlain, ‘stand there, do not move for 15-20 minutes, until we kill this threat’.”

“You never see that with Arsenal. You can’t always play exactly the same way. Games change. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re behind. You can’t keep playing the same way.”

Arsenal players and fans know what to expect from Arsene Wenger, in regards to his approach to matches and his in-game management. Wenger has tremendous belief in his team and the way they play. But he continually refuses to react or think about what his opponents are doing during a match. It’s something that is just in the 65-year-old manager’s make up.

With the knowledge that Wenger is unwavering in his approach, Gunners supporters are left to hope that Arsenal’s players will solve the club’s defensive issues on their own.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. CelticFC

    November 10, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    I’d still take him at Celtic. Hah.

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