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Defensive stability is not just about defenders; it is about mid-field cover

By Walter Broeckx

When reading the comment section after the article that was partially about Koscielny I found a few interesting remarks. Some which I can agree with and others I cannot. So here are my thoughts about why this impressive defensive performances have been made possible.

Because when you look at the possible partnerships over the last two seasons the one that lost most games was the pairing of Mertesacker and Koscielny.

But I do think that was mostly down to their partnership in the last season. Because as we all know in the last 10 games we didn’t lose and we only conceded one goal in open play. That was against Reading.  For the rest all the goals we got against us were penalties (2 Mu and WBA) and  free kicks. Again two and that was against Norwich and Reading. Both soft free kicks to say the least in fact. Certainly the Norwich one was a clear dive and not a foul.

But five goals conceded in 10 games is a real great partnership and in those 10 games we had nine with the partnership of Mertesacker and Koscielny. Now the talk of the rubbish media town is: Vermaelen should be sold/wants to be sold.

In an interview in the Belgium media they just praised him for the way he handled his dropping to the bench. Vermaelen pointed at the fact that started 25 games out of a possible 38 in the PL and that at Arsenal this isn’t really bad. He also admitted that it wasn’t his best season. Always nice to know that a player is self critical because that is the best way to improve yourself.

And he also stated that in football all things can change very quickly. Pointing at Koscielny who was sitting on the bench for most part of the season and now being called the best central defender we have. It all can change very quickly. Oh and in that interview (taken when travelling with the Belgium national team) he didn’t mention anything about wanting to go away at all. Just saying that he had to work hard and harder than before to get back in to the team.

I know some Gooners are falling for the AAA and media line that we must get rid of Vermaelen. But why? I think you need at least three good central defenders and we now have three good central defenders. Adding another in will give us another good backup. And who knows that if we get another central defender (as is another rumour going around) then we might end up with the perfect situation where we can rotate them at will.

And I think that even rotation will not harm our defensive performances. Because I think that our defenders are not that important for this. No, I have not lost it. Just try to follow my reasoning a bit.

I think the main reason that our defensive record is so great these last 10 games is because of midfielder having changed their style and maybe most important of all: their attitude. And we all talk about how great Arteta has played in the holding role. But he also was playing that role for a big part last season when Song was supposed to do this but always ran forward (with some success up front I must admit) but with leaving too big a hole for Arteta to fill up. And we conceded too many goals.

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But now Arteta is starting in the most defensive role and covers our back four with great discipline and know how. I think that Arteta had the highest passing success in the PL, the highest number of successful tackles and the highest numbers of interceptions. Well that is at least what I read when someone tweeted the official statistics of the PL.  But he also did this at the start of the season and when our defensive record was not as impressive as it was in the last 10 games.

What is it that has changed then? Well I think that for a big part can be attributed to the combination of Ramsey and good old Rosicky. The way those two players have been performing in the last weeks was great to see. Ramsey is back to where he was in the days before he got Shawcrossed.  The only thing missing to make him world class is scoring goals. If he would only take half of his chances he would be a +10 goal scoring midfielder in a season.A real box to box player is what Ramsey was in his younger days and now we are seeing it back.

So I would urge Aaron to do one thing when he comes back from his holiday: start practising your finishing on goal.  Go out on the field and kick the ball in the empty net. Do it one hour each day and get over that fear of having to score. Don’t mind who dies by the way.  Just put the ball between those posts.

And if there is any player out there who can improve himself I think it is Ramsey. The way he has shown tremendous character by overcoming his terrible injury shows what a strong boy he is.  The way Ramsey has recovered from the death of one of his managers who had so much belief in him that he made Ramsey captain of Wales shows that he has a strong head. If he now can overcome his fear of scoring (wanting it too much maybe?) then he can be great at both ends. Then he can be not only a decent finisher but also continue to give cover to our defence.

He has a big enough engine to cover both ends of the pitch. And that is what he has done in those last 10 games in my opinion. While we argue who might be the best pairing at central defence I think it is more important to have the best pairing and the best balance in the middle of the field in front of that defence to give enough cover.

So I really don’t care that much who is in the back four (I think all of them are great) but I want to see that our midfield not only goes forward but also is aware that defending is also a part of their job. As they showed in the last 10 games.

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27 comments to Defensive stability is not just about defenders; it is about mid-field cover

  • Persian gunner

    Very nice article!
    One another brilliant specifics about Aaron is his patience and respect to the manager
    We all can remember the days with Arshavin and Theo on the bench, Ramsy was missioned to play at right wing! And he did it, and despite it was not a good performance at all, he tried his best

    I believe Aaron is the typical player that Mr Wenger wants the most, hard worker, loyal and absolutely, talented

  • Adam

    Whilst I agree in principal Walter, I do disagree with you, that the defensive stability we are looking for doesn’t starts at the back with the four defenders. There is not doubting that all players play an important role in defending as a team, however it has been proven that for stability’s sake, you need your back four to have played together for at least 2 seasons before mounting a challenge on the title.

    The defensive cover from midfield can be brought in at short notice (remember Gilberto 2002/03) and Lehmann 03/04. So whilst agreeing, I do disagree to a degree.

    Anyway I’m starting to feel sorry for the other premiership managers, Arsene’s getting a settled squad.

  • Spottheerror

    Winterburn signed in 1968? I don’t think so…

  • John

    You could have 4 world class defenders and if the team doesnt defend together your f**ked.

    Defending starts from the front it also requires everyone to know their individual jobs when the team doesnt have the ball and be responsible for that. Add to this communication and organisation on set pieces like who is marking who etc.

    Look at Robben and Ribery last night they were tracking back and these are two players I would put into the Arshivan category … thinking they are above doing the dirty work.

    Aaron attitdue has been top draw he is not the most gifted footballer but he gives 110% every game and he busts a gut getting up and down the pitch the help the TEAM.

    He is a great example to any kid playing the game. I dont want to disrespet him by calling him a water carryer but that is in essence what he is … in my mind thats a great compliment… he is the Ray Palour of this side maybe not with the goals but with effort and attitdue.

  • bjtgooner

    Nice article Walter. Over the last ten or so games there was a very obvious determination throughout the team to get the results they needed, all the players tracked back to help the defence – but our center backs did play exceptionally well.

    I agree about Ramsey, he really looked like a class box to box player towards the end of the season and as you rightly point out if he could convert more chances into goals it would be of great benefit to the team – I suspect we may well see that next season.

    We have previously discussed the Kos/Mert partnership, but the Arteta/Ramsey partnership has also started to look significant in giving the team stability and balance.

  • Dennis

    Great thoughts. Exactly my concern regarding Arsenal defensive record. The job is not for defenders or defensive midfielders alone. We have attackers who are too lazy to close down opposing defenders when they lose the ball. In particular, Theo Walcott, Giroud, Gervinho and Podolski do not work hard enough upfront to close down opponents. When Theo loses the ball or is given a little nudge, he just turns and stretch his hands helplessly while the ball is taking away. Arsenal conceded 2 goals to Swansea last season at Emirates purely because Arteta was overworked and tired. A balanced team is one every player works hard to close down opponents, fall back quickly to defend and move up quickly to attack. Consider Bayern Munich vs. Barcelona and how the whole team (Robben, Ribery, Muller, Gomez) all joined Javi Martinez and other defenders to snuff out Barcelona. The likes of Theo, Giroud and Podolski merely ‘escort’ opponents in the guise of marking them. They should mark aggressively with the intention of winning the ball not just to harass. This was against Bayern Munich second leg and Swansea in FA. Commitment to be lacking most times when they play as if nothing is at stake.

  • nicky

    Walter,
    I surely hope young Ramsey takes your advice about his shooting. As good as his outfield play has been this season, his shooting has been amazingly poor for an attacking midfielder.
    Some of his shots on goal were quite diabolical for a professional footballer.
    He gets into such lovely positions on goal at times that he simply must improve his finishing.

  • Gaurav

    Walter,
    Nice post. I thought Ramsey needed to practice shooting last season as he was playing in the whole(the position rosisky is playing now) but I do think practice should help both. Even rosisky at times seems less calm in front of goal.

  • Rufusstan

    The hard thing with Ramsey is to try to remember he is 22. He got so much stick when he was out of form, or played out of position earlier in the season, that it is hard to step back and realise he is still a few years from his best.

    Now he is back on form, his stats are being compared to some of the best midfielders out there, so he is in a ‘build ’em up’ phase. Truthfully he is somewhere in the middle. Everything you hear about the guy suggests that he is completely aware of what he needs to work on, and will put in the necessary effort.

    The Vermaelen stuff is great, because it highlights the stature of Arsenal. So many calls for the guy to go because he isn’t first choice, and has had a bad season, and others commenting that because he is not first choice he wants to leave. At the same time, through the season, there have been so many whinges about the weakness of our bench.

    We need a squad with enough strength in depth that someone like Vermaelen can be on the bench (as was Koscielny earlier in the season) and players that can accept that situation.

  • Valentin

    Vermaelen had a bad season. However the main problem is that he does not fit into any good combination at the back. Koscielny Mertesercker works because one attack the ball and the one sweeps behind. One is slow but huge the other one is big but quick. Also Mertesecker is very vocal and organise the defence.
    Vermaelen likes to attack the ball, but does not organise things at the back.
    With Koscielny they sit too deep and the distance between midfield and defence is too large. that’s we conceded too many goal in counter attacking situation. With FBG, both are attracted to high ball, and with both liking to chase players you then run the risk of one of them chasing the ball and leaving a gap for a midfield player to run into. Th Spurs reverse fixture is a case in point.
    Vermeulen Djourou would have been a better combination but Arsene Wenger has never rotated his central defence in pair.
    If Arsenal buys Williams we would then have three left footed central defenders: Vermaelen, Williams, Miquel. AW has repeatedly said in interview that he would never play two left footed CB, we would be short one right footed CB. One of the left footed would have to leave. williams just joining, and Miquel a youth team that leaves just Vermaelen. That’s why talk of Vermaelen leaving may not be so far from the mark.
    With nobody in the U21 ready to step up as CB, that would leave us really short on right footed CB.

    In midfield, Ramsey has finally developed. But the main difference has been Rosicky. He has harassed players and made quick switch more difficult for the opposition. One of Arsenal weakness has been against team that quickly switch play from left to right by targeting our full backs. As a bonus it allowed us to retrieve the ball higher up the pitch. In some case we even scored from such interception. See the QPR game.

    That’s why us chasing Pogba makes sense. He is a younger, better tackler version of Diaby. That would allow us to free Ramsey or Wilshere and play them further up.

  • malvin

    I am not coming to Wenger’s defence on this point, because I am one of the many gooners who believes that we need to invest, and we need a proper replacement for RVP, but we need to remember just how many other teams are looking, not just for players, but in particular strikers. It will be a transfer merry-go round for strikers this summer, with a whole host of teams looking to get the likes of Falcao, Lewandowski, possibly Rooney and Higuain, just to name a few, and with clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, PSG, Monaco, Chelsea, City and United all probably looking to sign new strikers, there will be stupid money thrown around, and only four of those clubs can have the players I just mentioned, so the rest will have to look elsewhere, at players like Jovetic, Benteke, etc. I want Wenger to show some backbone and actually go out and make sure he gets one of these players, but even ignoring his typical transfer policies, I don’t think Arsenal can afford to go toe to toe with the big spenders. We don’t have billionaires who can fund these sorts of deals because they either don’t want to, or in Usmanov’s case, they aren’t allowed to. My point is that we gooners need to be realistic, and while we definitely need additions to the squad, don’t start next season by throwing hate at the players and staff we have just because we were priced out of at the top of the market once more

  • Paddy Gooner

    Its a very good article. I tend to disagree with one of the comments that our attackers are not defending well. Its my personal opinion that the left side of our defense is somewhat strong because podolski in fact does some good defending too and he supports the left back. Giroud has been exceptional in D-box when it comes to clearing corner kicks. I think this attacking team defends well when compared with yesteryears. IMO, our defense improved because there is a collective effort from (almost) everyone. I think not having Song, Arshavin in fact improves any defense.

  • Asif

    @Walter – good article…

    I think Ramsey has already been practising scoring in the empty net…however with him, i feel that a lot depends on his confidence and as we have seen him grow in leaps and bounds this season, I believe that he is going to score a lot more goals…he surely will…fingers crossed!

  • Asif

    Forgot to add that Rosicky was also huge. Any idea when his contract gets over? If he could play 1 more year with us…it would be great.

  • Gf60

    Two seasons back somebody wrote a blog with the accompanying charts, on why Verm was NOT a good central defender. I thought it was Swiss Ramble but can’t find it or it may have been Desi but now I can’t find him at all.

    Possibly the solution for Verm is as a defensive midfielder. He’s got the engine and could offer a lot.

    Rambo is/will be a revelation to us all…I’ll bet that his confidence factor, now the crowd has got off his back, will see a massive improvement all round.

    Now if we could add a really hot left winger then maybe my pocket money will be invested at Ladbrokes on a double of some description. CL and League champions would be a nice one!

  • bob

    Off topic, but please:
    As I’m giving a sports ethics talk, would anyone have a LINK to the low-lights of the mis-match at Old Travesty on 24 October 2004 which Arsene characterized this way:
    “I think we were a little bit robbed.I didn’t think there was any contact at all…I’m very disappointed because we were the better side. We had lots of chances but the referee’s decision made the difference. From nowhere, Riley has decided the game.”
    I’d greatly appreciate the link or a lead to it. Cheers 🙂

  • Stuart

    Sorry, just realised you meant @ OT

  • bob

    Stuart,
    I’m so grateful! That’ll make my day and
    be exhibit A in pitch perfidy.
    Cheers, mate 🙂

  • Norm

    Just spoiled my bank holiday by watching the above again. Disgraceful officiating and thuggish tackling. This was the Riley/Frigginson axis at its’ most obscene. Can we be sure of its’ retirement? I doubt it.

  • Gf60

    @Bob
    “Ethics”? “Sport”? Most sportsmen seem to think of Ethics as a county somewhere east of London.

  • hartwick89

    WaLter,

    I got to tell you that It takes a keen eye to notice what you wrote about. The same eye I have for what the success is and requires. I saw Ramsay at Wigan. I said to myself why do we need a DM when we have Ramsay. It looks as though he has bulked up to a certain extent. I am very comfortable with his tenaciousness. He also is a great talent moving forward. I think that this is a great position for him.

  • bob

    Gf60,
    yes, ethics (lower case) in sports (lower case). most toddlers know this intuitively, until it sours us as we “mature,” as the larger inequities come stomping in.

    Stuart,
    Thanks again! Invaluable exhibit of all that needs to be changed.

  • bob

    Norm,
    Not only Riley/Fungus, but the willful blindness of ManUre support as a conscious fraud was being perpetrated which, in turn, they converted into a magical blessed moment of Viktory. (To me, a Nuremburg rally out of Triumph of the Will.)

  • bob

    Mike Riley’s brand of refshite is on full display in this amazing carding of a Nigerian player in a major international match (Nigeria vs Brazil):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOTLa4Sv7wU
    Surely this and this stewardship at the OT crime scene helped establish his (on of us) qualifications for heading up the PGMOL.

  • bob

    sorry, ^ “one of us”