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Wenger: has he done it again?

By Walter Broeckx

As everyone is again and rightfully focusing on our great attacking play I thought it would be a good thing to have a look at our defensive game.

As I pointed out in my early season comparison and like Wenger pointed out at arsenal.com at first sight we tend not to concede as many goals as we did last year. Even in the first Champions league game last year we conceded 2 goals. And I know as I was in Liège that evening and was with the rest of the away supporters stunned after those first minutes.

Let me start with our much maligned goalkeeper. Almunia was under a lot of pressure last season and even up until August 31 his career at Arsenal was in doubt. A big majority of the fans wanted him out. I was not one of them. I would have liked it if a world class keeper would be in our goal but world class keepers are rare to find these days and even the best in the world have their moments of comedy capers.

Yesterday Almunia had a very quiet game. In fact almost nobody noticed him. But when he was called upon he was there and he was impressive. I remember he had to come on 2 crosses in the second half which could have lead to a dangerous situation if the keeper would have stayed on his line. At one occasion he was fully outstretched and punched the cross away in front of the arriving striker and in to safety. The other time it was a cross shot and he claimed it and kept it in his hands. As a former goalkeeper I know how difficult those shot-crosses can be to catch and to hold on. I think so far in every game Almunia has shown that he is having a good season until now. So let us stay behind him and back him as much as we can.

Our full backs Sagna and Clichy are part of the furniture at the Emirates. In fact they are the longest serving of our defence for the moment. We all know what we can expect from them. Sagna a solid and reliable defender who is good going forward and who has said that he is working on his crossing, and you can see that he is very comfortable for the moment. I think Chamakh will score a few this season from a Sagna cross.

Clichy is a more impulsive player who at times can lose his head. He can run out of position or make a slip at an unfortunate moment. But he is always playing his heart out. His eye and his speed make him able to intercept some move from the opponents and he can launch the counter attack and is quick on the other site.

In the middle we have the French partnership Koscielny-Squillaci for the moment. The absence from Vermaelen was a disaster last season. We had to take Campbell and Silvestre on board for those final games and well we all know what happened.

Vermaelen looked still his own self in the first games. A man you can take to a war and you know he will fight like hell. Aggressive, attacking but also I think he didn’t run forward as much as he used to do last season. In an interview he said he got greater enjoyment from keeping a clean sheet than scoring a goal. It was visible in his play and I hope when he comes back he can find the balance between scoring a few and not conceding goals.

But now let us turn to our new boys. Koscielny, unknown and unloved by most of us before a ball was kicked. They made a big fuss of Braga making a debut in the CL but so did Koscielny and I must say he just was brilliant. His interceptions will not get the highlights of MOTD or any football show but he just is a very sneaky player. He sticks out a foot just when the attacker wants to play the ball but Koscielny has won it already. And he does this without conceding many fouls and free kicks. His heading is very good and he wins a lot of aerial battles during a game. And for the rest he mostly keeps focused on his main task: defending. I think we will rarely see him in the other penalty box in open play as he knows that his first job is to stop the opposition.

And then our even newer boy from France (or Corsica if you like), Squillaci. The way he has come in the team is very, very impressive. He also is strong and he also wins a lot of balls. Rarely commits a foul, is solid and he also is a player who is sitting back a lot. Wenger said he is a real defender when he bought him and I think this is the same for both centre backs.

Vermaelen on the other hand is a centre back who could play in midfield or even in attack if needed because he has the skill and technique like a midfielder. Koscielny and Squillaci don’t look to be such kind of players you could put them in other places. Who knows maybe Vermaelen will be used as a backup for Song in front of Koscielny-Squillaci at some time in this season when Song needs a rest or is injured?

Since the start of the season we’ve look good attacking but that never has been the big issue for Arsenal. It was the letting in to many goals that cost us games at times. So far it looks like we have improved it and we can only think and hope that the partnership between our back 5 gets better each game.

Has Wenger with his buying and selling in the last two transfer periods done the trick again?

Is Carlos Vela too old for the job? Tony Attwood’s view from Block 99

Arsenal, Braga and the issue of the missing apostrophe. Phil Gregory’s preview

Arsenal vs the Arsenalistas. Billy the Dog’s match preview and commentary on the issue of the players’ car park.  And he almost got the score right.

Have we really improved? An early comparison between seasons

How Arsenal promoted themselves in 1934

What Arsenal was up to in 1910

34 comments to Wenger: has he done it again?

  • LRV

    Walter, You bet Wenger has done the trick, contrary to the blinking burnacles of le moan de groan.

  • RedGooner

    I think Wenger has done the trick and by placing a very good defence infront of Almunia shown the our keeper is possibly better than many realise even if its early days yet.

    Last season many fans slated silvestre etc for their performances but forgot Almunia had to play infront of them.

    I think this Arsenal team is head and shoulders above last seasons all over the pitch.

    If we can win a trophy and that trophy gives cesc encouragement to stay I can see cesc and jack becomming our iniesta and xavi for many years to come with Arsenal winning more than one champions league.

    The fact that Arron Ramsey could become an amazing replacement for resting those 2 when back and fit gives me goose bumps.

    I still think Gibbs is better than Clychy but was delighted to see Clychy do well last night.

  • RedGooner

    Sorry meant Almunia playing behind silvestre last season.

  • IndianGooner

    Spot on, Walter.

    We got couple of ‘real’ defenders this time. The good thing about them is they are ball players and they fit the Arsenal Way perfectly.. Yesterday the back 5 played like they have been playing for a long time..

    Our scouting system does work…

  • Bio

    A momentary lack of concentration by a defender can be very costly against more ruthless teams- Clichy gave me a couple of heartburns yesterday. There is definite evidence that AW is well aware of our defensive naivety from last year and has set out to address them, our real tests will come when we set up against the “top” teams. The defensive discipline was so evident yesterday- Sagna and Clichy were very aware of a counter-attack.
    Like I have always believed, most of the derison heaped on Almunia were not deserved as he had to play behind a shaky back line, and I never thought Shwarzer was an answer.
    There is not much to say about Wilshere and Fab but marvel at their sophistication.

  • Fem Dee

    So what happens when Verminator becomes fit? Who goes to sit down on the bench? Great thing to have that type of a headache for a change!!
    Something you said also made me think: here we are looking for a back-up DM for Song at the onset of the season. However, it may not be a bad idea and is not beyond Prof. Wenger to line up Kos,and Squil and bump Verminator in front of them. I think, at that time, even Blackburn will complain that what we have in NO DEFENSE but a FORTRESS!!

  • Bongo

    So far so good for our defence, we snuffed out anything Braga tried when they had a chance.

    Bolton was a much sterner test of these two, keeping davies, lee et al at bay was far more impressive. It took a mistake from Koscielny to give them their goal. The only mistake they made and unlucky to have been punished for.

    So we’ve seen now how they handle high crosses and snuff out ground attacks before they materialize, one moment against Braga stood out for me, when Kos went to meet one of the Braga player son the left side, be basically just pressured him into the corner for a good few seconds before slipping the ball out for a throw in. You could see Braga were trying to expose our left side, it seems a lot of teams are trying that lately, knowing Clichy can be slow to get back into position and kos playing that side went out to meet danger very quickly.

    Bent will be a different prospect this weekend and will provide a different kind of test, as he feeds off any loose ball in the box, and can score in even the most crowded of boxes. He has a good eye for goal and can pop up out of nowhere with a shot. If they keep him at bay then frankly I can see them doing really well this season.

  • Am I right in thinking that if we take the two on show last night, and add Djourou and Vermaelen we have two left footers and two right footers?

    And while thinking of the overall team we have Song who can play there, and there’s always Eastmond in the reserves.

  • IndianGooner

    Tony,

    We have 3 right footers(Squillaci, Kos and Djourou) and one left footer (Verma). Kos can play well on both sides. He is soo versatile.

    Moreover you are forgetting the often-forgotten-Norwegian Nordtveit. But for this season atleast He has been shifted to the right-back position for gaining experience.

  • Good to be a GOONAH!!

    Fat Sam has come out from under his rock to rain on the Arsenal parade.

    “Wenger is deflecting attention from the situation which says the game of football is a contact sport. You have to try to win the ball at all costs and if someone doesn’t get it quite right people get injured,”

    He actually said. At. All. Costs.

    But what I like about all this is that everyone is talking about us… they’re worried. And should be.

  • Dark Prince

    I think its too early to come to any conclusion. We do have excellent defenders in koscielny, vermaelen, squillaci, sagna and clichy (though clichy is very nervy at times) but I think we still have to compare on how our defence performs against the likes of Chelsea and United. If we hav to win the league, then we have to beat the best sides in this league and that is Chelsea and United.

  • Cape Gooner

    In addition to the players already mentioned we have Eboue, Gibbs and Nordtveit.

    Walter, will you do an article on the referee? The commentators gave the opinion that the first tackle on Cesc at the edge of the area was a penalty – but it was too early in the game to give it! However, they did not think the second incident with Cesc breaking into the area in front of the goal was a penalty.

    The defender on Cesc’s left got the ball, but it was the defender on his right who was pulling him back. Surly that was a penalty and a card?

    How do you think the players feel when the ref allows the opposition to get away with this kind of cheating?

  • DFG

    Am I out of line if I say Fat Sam is a total prick…..The scary thing is that this clown believes he is the next one to lead the England team. It is sad because the English team is total shit right now so what would happen after he takes charge.

  • Waleed

    Almunia has looked better with better headers of the ball in front of him. Kolo and Gallas were both a bit lacking in the aerial department. Now we have defenders who can all challenge well in the air.

    Chamakh has improved our side defensively too. He comes back for corners so that gives us another player who can win the ball in the air, and takes pressure off Almunia.

    Another important defensive change has been a switch to 2 holding midfielders. Against Braga we played (technically speaking) Song and Wilshere behind Cesc. Tony’s right, this is sort of a 4-2-4 when we attack. While defending it is more of a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Last season it was a 4-1-4-1 and that left Song with too much to do at times, with him being the only one in front of the defence.

    What is amazing is the interchangeability of our players. For example, if you play a midfield of Diaby, Wilshere, Cesc – that is 3 players who are strong tactically and defensively, but also extremely good at getting forward and scoring goals.

  • Jonny

    I think we are stronger in every area this season – even Almunia and Fab should be stronger and should have learnt from past errors.

    If Almunia does get injured is still a question mark though – Fab will need to be very strong minded to overcome the personal doubts he he must still harbour. If he can do that the rest will follow but we most of us will remember occasions in life like this and been unsure if we will stumble or succeed.

    Goalkeepers have to be very strong mentally – it’s the nature of the job. I think of the number of times I have cleared a pool table and missed an easy black. In goalkeeping terms that would constitute a bad game – that’s a tough world.

    If he does falter we should be there as supporters – but I am afraid that we already know that would be unlikely to happen for our Fab.

    Stern tests await, though this team is starting to look ominous, no one will take us seriously until we despatch a Man Utd or a Chelski at home.

    Sunday 3rd October will be a monster fixture.

  • Good to be –

    Not only has the slug come out, but so have his supporters. Somehow they have found the article I did about people putting Arsenal players out for a long time, and are writing in a few comments to the article. Four or five came in within a couple of minutes of each other half an hour ago from Bolton fans on http://blog.emiratesstadium.info/archives/7688

    I’ll do an article on the sluggish comments and also on the comments of those bolton fans (comments which are as worrying as the slugs comments)

  • Richard B

    It may also be worth mentioning that, in addition to the twi new defenders, Wenger has (it would appear) successfully introduced a new centre forward and a new (to the first team) midfielder for the total transfer fee outlay of about £15m. Given that the sad departure of Eduardo brought in about £6m and that Gallas, Silvestre and Campbell were probably earning more than any of the new boys, it’s been another outstanding financial coup for the manager as well as improving the squad on the pitch and reducing its average age.
    And they say he’s not a genius!

  • Gf60

    @DFG No you’re in line…but behind me. And I’m number 324765 in the queue 😮

  • critic

    everything looks rosy until the injuries(more)..people like fat sam will try their best to break some1 leg….

  • Paul C.

    I see Squillaci as the immediate partner for Vermaelen. Koscielny will be given the luxury of learning and getting stronger at a nice pace. Squillaci is an established international defender with experience all over Europe. I am a massive early fan of Kos, who I think looks great, but surely Squillaci plays alongside TV when everyone is fit.

    Isnt it amazing how utterly comfortable our team looked last night. It was as if the team had grown up playing European Football. Oh, thats right, this team has grown up playing European Football.

  • walter

    Cape Gooner, I was not going to do an article on the referee as in the CL we always will have refs from different countries. On the other hand it could be interesting to see if there is any difference? Not sure about this to be honest. As my reply was beginning to look like an article I think I might write one and yes then we can see how the CL refs can be compared with the EPL refs.

    But the notion that it was too early for a penalty left me speachless to be honest. It’s never too early and never too late for a penalty.

    But more on that later….

  • Clerkenwell Gooner

    I wasn’t at the game, but saw it on ITV, and what impressed me about the defence was that I didn’t particularly notice them.

    Sagna and Clichy bombed up the flanks as usual, and Kos seemed more to the fore than Squid, but the nicest thing was sitting there thinking, “This really isn’t going to be a problem”.

    Because it was obvious Arsenal were going to score in the first ten minutes, and after that, well, a rout. Portuguese teams are not going to like having to turn up at the Emirates in future, that’s for sure. Proto, Braga, who are ya?

    One thing I wonder about, not just for the defence but for the impact it appears to have had on the whole squad is that WM GALLAS IS GONE. From the few bits and pieces that leaked out, there seemed to be a dreadful working relationship between him and almost everyone else in the squad (except for Sagna, whose recent wedding ceremony Gallas attended) eg Samir Nasri is on record saying they couldn’t bear to talk to one another.

    So, even though Kos & Squid are excellent additions for us, I wonder if selling Billy G on to Tottenham is really Wenger’s best bit of business in all of this?

    Onwards to Belgrade!

  • munawwar

    the vermallen as a defensive midfielder is a terrific idea… losing frimpong was a sort of a blow… but if he could play in there it would be great. i would like him more than say densilson… but he is also doing alright these days… team looks great…

    i am only praying this form continues till 3rd oct for chelsea away… that is going to be epic if this form continues…

    on some other topic of the 25 rule… chelsea dont have extra players who could play the champions league as that has no such rule… but they have only 19players… of which 2 are keepers… and they have some regular game guy sturridge… so thats 18… these 18 guys have to play almost all the epl and champions league and some carling cup.. before the fa cup in jan…. its a huge gamble.. they have to burn out. they have no depth.

  • Bio

    Tony:
    I actually took the time to check out the link posted by one Owen Coyle to the “Wanderers site” after reading their comments from the archives. My first reaction:whoever designed a site like that?! I did not even know such clubs have supporters based on their brand of soccer!

  • gunner 71

    As you already know I have been very critical of some of our playing staff over the past couple of years, even on this blog. Particularly last season I have been crying out for experienced players, and Wenger got 3, who have started very well. My only major issue have been with the goalkeeping. Unlike you Walter I have not been a favourite of Almunia, and I dont think Wenger was either otherwise he would not have said during pre-season, the number one position is up for grabs. When Almunia sulked about it that he will leave if another goalie was brought in I believe Wenger expected him to take criticism like a man. Now for the past 2 seasons Almunia has been poor compared to many other premiership keepers. Almunia now understands that his performance is on the radar, not only by insignificant me, but by his own manager, and he is playing for his Arsenal career. If he does well we will all be happy with him, but if he spoils what is looking like a very good Arsenal squad, I will not be happy.While I respect that people should be given chances, at the end of the day as a footballer you should live and die by your performances.

  • Draco

    It is not easy being a excellent goalkeeper if you have shaky defense. This season is the only season after the famous back-four that the defense look strong both in the AIR and Ground, minus the off-side trap. With shaky defense, most of the time it make playing goalkeeper even more difficult as you have to watch out for the ball from all over the place. I will not say Almunia is the best but still slightly above average GK in BPL. Almunia still a pretty good shot-stopper, he needs to build his aerial ability and positioning plus his confident. We need him to be consistent, I think that is the key. I do not think bringing GK from Fulham will help. I think getting rid of Gallas is the best. Now the morale of the team seems so much better. I hope consistency of the team continues.

  • Waleed

    Munawwar, playing Vermaelen at CDM will not work. Although Vermaelen is very good on the ball for a defender, he is still not trained or experienced as midfielder. Midfielders, as I see it, need to be able to pass the ball accurately, move it and protect it in tight areas, turn their markers, have good awareness of their position as well as their teammates, and they have to run a lot.
    We can’t say if Vermaelen has those skills or the stamina needed to play in midfield.
    We have better, tried and tested options there.

    Denilson, Diaby are good replacements for Song. We started Anfield with Diaby and Wilshere in the holding midfield positions, and we dominated the midfield. So we can be confident in our midfielders’ abilities and we don’t have to create a makeshift replacement for Song.

    And besides all that, why wouldn’t you play Vermaelen in his best position, and in the position he is needed in the most?

  • Ronnie Brown

    I think Arsene has done a fantastic job in the transfer market….

    Chamakh, so far has been world class in my opinion, link up play has been nothing short of beautiful, he is alreayd my favourite striker here and I would say maybe he has to start even when everyones fully fit IF he keeps this up, this signing will go down as GREAT in my opinion… and I do mean great…. if we win something Chamakh will have played a big part I feel. Please don’t get injured lol.

    Squilaci or however it is spelt lol, so far looks solid and experienced, he looks quite in game sbut this is very good, for the most part he just gets on with his job effectivly, he has experience which is needed, I can see him in big games doing an effective job.

    Kochielny, so far I think his potential seems absloutly fantastic and he could be a future player here in the next 10 years, his resiliance , desire and attitude seem impeccable, it’s true he is not fully developed, has has room to improve, but this is the first time since Campbell/Keown that I have been reminded of them by our current CD and reminded of the legendary old CB’s.

    So this tramsfer window could go down in history…. especially if we win something, if not it could still asit could factor in future trophies, Chamakh is here to stay for a 2- 4 years, not sure about Squilacci, maybe 2-3 plus, Kocheiny as I said possibly 10 plus, so these players will be here for some time contributing.

    I feel Wenger has improved the team greatly this term, I congratulate him for that, I’m excited about this season.

  • Ronnie Brown

    *Chamakh 2-4 years plus.

  • Terence McGovern

    Ladies and Gentlemen! I give you the new sport of……BOLTON BAITING!! Try to use small words eh, wouldn’t want their fans to be as confused as their players are when shown a football.

  • RedGooner

    I think the FAT walrus and coyle are complaining in the papers to take the spot light off their own teams poor tackling and sub standard performances.

    It wasnt Arsenal who had a player red carded, It was Arsenal who had a player leave the pitch injured shortly after comming on.

    pair of wombles both of them.

  • Ronnie Brown

    Sam Alladyce’s comments were ridiculous, we actually do not get enough protection from blatant excessive challenges, the challange on Diaby was a red…. and it was no booking, that is wrong, plenty more like that.

  • AnonymousGun

    Is it me, or did everyone voted Clichy with the “whipping boy” tag this season?

    It starting to annoy me 6 games in the new season already… WTF are these so called fans?

  • Paul C.

    No, it isnt just you. I have noticed that as well. I think it might have a little bit to do with Gibbs (an Englishman) pressing hard for his spot. I think a lot of us would love Gibbs to be the no.1 and that is nothing against Clichy. So Gael makes a couple of mistakes and he is “error prone and defensively naive” and people clamour for Gibbs, who is a sensational prospect but, as far as I can see right now, even more defensively naive than Clichy.

    I think Clichy has looked terrific so far. Yeah, there have been a few mustakes but he covers an enormous amount of ground every game.

    I have been really excited by the overall energy levels of the side so far. Everyone seems a year older, a year stronger, a year more aware of what it takes to shut down teams, weak or strong. It starts by having a very ruthless and professional attitude against weak teams at home. If you cant be ruthless and professional against the weak teams, then you definately cant be that way against stronger teams. Last year, even in many games we won big, we still looked nervy against so many “weaker” teams. Against Balckpool, Blackburn, Bolton and Braga we have looked comfortable. There have been very, very few nervy moments. That is a great sign for the weeks ahead.