I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks as I’ve just returned from a lovely holiday in Portugal. I was able to watch the latest calamity at Shite Hart Lane from the back of a Portuguese bar, but without internet access I couldn’t do any blogging. Just as well to be honest – I’m getting fed up with writing the same criticisms every week. My match report would’ve been an elaboration of the following key points:
1) We were good in possession, but Friedel didn’t have one save to make.
2) We’d be in the relegation zone if it wasn’t for the brilliance of Szczesny (shame about their second goal).
3) The number of times bad refereeing decisions have gone against us this season is ridiculous.
4) We can’t defend properly.
That’s all I’ll say on the matter, let’s move on.
The good news ahead of the Sunderland game on Sunday is that we have defenders coming back from injury. The bad news is our best two are still injured – Vermaelen and Sagna. Koscielny, Djourou and Squillaci are now fit and available, but I doubt that will help improve our woeful defensive record.
Squillaci is fit for the Sunderland game... whoopee!
It seems that no matter who plays at the back, we fail to do the simple things right. So far this season we’ve fielded Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Djourou, Koscielny, Miquel and Song at centre back. Traore, Gibbs, Santos and Sagna have played left back while Sagna and Jenkinson have played right back. That’s a lot of personnel and many teams have been lucky enough to have the same back four every week. Injuries and suspensions have robbed us of that luxury and I believe we will improve at the back when we can field our first choice back four each week. With Sagna’s lengthy absence though that could be a while.
However, the lack of a settled line-up does not excuse some of the comical defending we’ve seen this season from almost all of our defenders. Song and Mertesacker leaving the ball to each other allowing Bale to go clean through; Koscielny’s own goal at Blackburn and Djourou diving in rashly on Olsson during the build up; Santos playing Yakubu onside twice at Blackburn; Jenkinson getting caught the wrong side of his man at Old Trafford and being sent off; Chris Eagles of Bolton finding himself clean through against Szczesny literally seconds after we’d taken a corner up the other end of the field.
These are all poor, poor mistakes and you have to wonder whether the problem isn’t simply one of personnel. Don’t forget that Vermaelen played in the first four games of the season, including the home defeat to Liverpool, so don’t assume his eventual return will cure our defensive woes. It’ll help, but the problem goes deeper.
I don’t have the answer, but my point is there is something fundamentally wrong no matter who plays in our back four. A lot of it is concentration and motivation which is down to the manager. This would explain Pat Rice’s dressing room outburst after the Spurs defeat, as reported in the Daily Express:
“Pat went crazy in the dressing room. He left the players in no doubt they have to improve – and quickly. He told them to look at themselves in the mirror.”
So whether it’s Koscielny, Djourou or Squillaci partnering Mertesacker on Sunday, I fear the same mistakes will be repeated. Throw in the inexperienced Jenkinson at right-back for the next three months and we’ll need to outscore our opponents if we’re to start winning matches again.
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