The defensive horror show at Blackburn was shocking, but the warning signs were there in last week’s draw against Borussia Dortmund. They were glossed over because we ultimately earned a good point in Germany, but we were ripped open straight through the middle three times in the first half and only poor finishing let us off the hook.
I want to focus on why the exact same basic errors were then repeated against Blackburn and question how the management could allow that to happen. Here’s an example of what I mean.
The picture above shows a Dortmund player about to play a simple ball between Mertesacker (M) and Koscielny (K) for Kagawa to run onto. In this situation the back four should be in a straight line and you will notice that the full backs and Mertesacker are in decent positions – not perfect, Mertesacker is a little deep, but he’s not playing Kagawa onside. Not so Koscielny. He lacks awareness of what is around him and is a yard behind his centre back partner meaning the linesman can’t put his flag up. You can actually see him applying the brakes and trying to step up, but it’s too late and Kagawa bursts through to (thankfully) shoot tamely over the bar.
Now this poor positioning happened a few times throughout the match. If I could see it watching on TV, surely Wenger and his coaching staff would pick up on it too? I went to sleep that night secure in the knowledge that they had the rest of the week to work on ensuring such a basic error wasn’t repeated against Blackburn.
Guess what happened for Yakubu’s first goal…
Yep, Koscielny is again a yard behind Mertesacker and playing Yakubu onside. I know Santos at left back is even deeper and also playing him on, but that doesn’t excuse Koscielny making the exact same mistake he made in Germany. This time it cost us a goal and would have done so regardless of Santos’ position.
At halftime I was fuming that the same basic error seen four days previously had been replayed right before my eyes. I thought “Surely Wenger will have noticed that one and will now be having a word with Koscielny (and Santos) to make sure we stay a tight defensive unit in the second half.”
Fast forward to the 59th minute, it’s 2-2 and a Blackburn player is just about to play a simple ball between our centre backs for Rochina to run onto…
“FOR FUCK’S SAKE STAY IN LINE KOSCIELNY!” I yelled at the TV. More importantly, why wasn’t Wenger or Pat Rice yelling at him as well? He is once more a yard behind Mertesacker and Rochina runs through only to be denied by a great block from super Szczesny.
On this occasion Mertesacker is also too deep and both centre backs should be in line with the right back Djourou. As for Santos – who knows where he is. His positional play was woeful and my first impression of his defensive ability is not great. However, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt because he will need time to adapt to the pace of the Premiership. Ditto Mertesacker.
Now I’m only picking on Koscielny’s poor positional play because it highlights an extremely worrying situation. Namely, Wenger and his staff DID NOT pick up on or work on the glaring defensive mistakes everybody could see against Dortmund.
Instead it appears they spent the week practising their new zonal marking system for set pieces which cost us two sloppy goals and allowed Samba two free headers at goal he somehow missed.
Time well spent on the training ground then Wenger, nice one. Don’t worry that Koscielny can’t do the basics that young defenders are taught aged 15. Instead spend the week making sure your best headers of the ball are rooted in the centre of the goal for set pieces allowing your opponents’ best headers to run amok at the back stick. Here’s what I mean…
Mertesacker and Koscielny are marking space in the centre of the goal. So Samba (S) and Dann (D) take up back post positions and when the ball comes in…
…Samba has a free header from six yards which flies over and Dann is unmarked right behind him. Mertesacker – our tallest player and supposed saviour of set piece vulnerability – is kicking his heels in the centre of the goal. What’s the point of that? Mertesacker marks Samba, Koscielny marks Dann. Simples, as Arshavin might say.
If we aren’t even working on getting the basics right and employ a counter productive zonal system at set pieces, what chance do we have? In the aftermath of the defeat, Wenger said:
“Obviously we were not defensively solid enough. We will try and put things right on the training pitch.”
Well why the hell weren’t you doing that before the game? Excuse me if your promise doesn’t fill me with confidence Arsene. Based on what I’ve seen so far, we need to promote Steve Bould to First team defensive coach and let him drill the defenders George Graham style over and over again until they hate the sight of him.
Only then might we start to get our season back on track.
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