So what do we mean by defending better?

So what do we mean by defending better?

Richard Bedwell

For most people the answer is simple – concede, across the season, fewer goals than you did last season.

However, judging by comments on the vast majority of blogs, people don’t think over such long periods as a season, or certainly not while that season is in progress. Individual games (or even short periods in games) are the currency of debate even if managers who are paid to plan over long periods have to think differently.

The concession of fewer goals is only worthwhile if it leads to the winning of more points. What if the concession of 10% fewer goals is achieved only at the expense of scoring (say) 20% fewer at the other end? If that combination of statistics actually leads to a decline in the number of points won then it was a bad tactic employed to achieve, what was on the face of it, a perfectly reasonable target.

A while back Arsenal had a reputation for conceding goals at set pieces. Many of those goals, if you actually looked carefully at them, involved the blocking off of our goalkeeper or even a more obvious direct foul. Fat Sam was particularly adept at getting his teams to do this but others were swift to copy.

Somehow or other, presumably behind closed doors, discussions were had and that tactic now seems to have been all but eliminated from the EPL. Whether refs have been told to clamp down on it or it’s just by ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ we can’t tell – but it’s undeniably the case that it has come close to disappearing.

Arsenal also bought themselves the BFG who, much more regularly either won the high ball put into the box or indeed simply made opposing managers think twice about even trying to engineer the circumstances that gave their team the opportunity to exploit the perceived ‘weakness’.

More recently we have seen the introduction of another change in the way Arsenal manage the game on the pitch. The, for the most part, non-tackling midfielders/forwards such as Arshavin, Gervinho or Podolski have been phased out and replaced by players who not only can create and score but who also work like stink to close the opposition down further up the pitch (often intercepting rather than tackling)  thus reducing pressure on the defence.

This tactic, if it works well, means that we don’t concede as many free kicks close to our goal (which for all his attributes Song used to do) and also we set up our own attacks further up the pitch and maybe end up scoring more goals ourselves as a result.

Go back to the beginning of the season and you’ll find that Wenger’s summary of last season was not that we conceded too many but that we didn’t score enough. When you think of the psychology of man management it’s pretty obvious that the best way to get forwards to work harder defensively is not to tell them that the defence needs to be improved but to tell them that we’re going to go out to score more goals. And, by the way, we’re also going into the market at a very high level to bring in someone like Sanchez to help you. Can you think of a better example of what we mean?

All this takes time to bed in. It’s requires changes in personnel, a change in the way we play and requires injuries not to get in the way of its application. It may also permit a change in the style of the most defensive midfielder and, maybe, the defenders behind him.

The, much derided, packing of the squad with small/skilful/busy midfielders (derided because it didn’t match what outsiders thought was ‘needed’) now makes increasing sense. Playing what most commentators now describe as 4-1-4-1 requires four such players on the pitch with probably two on the bench and another two to be unavailable for some reason at any one time.

I’m not going to tell you that the Man City result is the proof of all this; in fact we dropped off too deep at times. But those midfielders showed their willingness to do what was necessary on the day and, thanks to their skill levels, didn’t just ‘put it row Z’ but tried all the time to set up attacks with great individual skill and forward running.

Statistically the proof comes across the whole season in the reduction of the chances given to opponents to score against us and this is working. In turn  this should lead to fewer goals conceded and may lead to more being scored by us – or at least no reduction of that number.

Watch those numbers!

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17 Replies to “So what do we mean by defending better?”

  1. I cannot share your view, Richard, “that we dropped off too deep at times”.
    In fact,IMO it was this tactic among others that contributed to our victory.
    I feel that in the past our invariable use of the high line defence has often resulted in failure to cope with determined breakaway attacks.

  2. @ Nicky, I agree.

    @ Richard, the numbers (giving opponents less chances) might change due to a myriad of factors, not just implementation of a new system and/or getting important players back from injuries.

    More importantly, though, is that despite a logical correlation between “allowing chances” and “success” – it is not a definitive one. ManUnited springs to mind, as well as other matches where we had more chances and still not won.

    The explanation, among other things, is the type of chances a team gets and/or gives away. I think that some of the criticism we suffered was due to giving away “unforced” chances (in a similar way to unforced errors in Tennis). One can contend that all chances are created due to some mistake – be it a lose ball in midfield, an incomplete pass, or whatever, that had enabled the other team to build up an offensive move. However, when you think about the goals we conceded v. Southampton I think you understand my point.

    I actually think that one of the things that lead to the change you describe is the emergence of the Coq and the fact that we have our loyal CB pairing together. The rest kindov works itself out as far as I can see.

    Sorry to say it was a very nice read but I don’t really agree with you analysis.

  3. We beat Man City because we wanted to win a big game and the team gave a big game team performance with individual brilliance by Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Oliver Giroud, Per Rhinosacker and David Ospina as a stand out. What is important for Arsenal now is to build on this latest success by winning another big game at White Hart Lane on the 7th of February. To win another big game will increase our believe to win the title. I think the boss wanted to play Aaron Ramsey back to form. Hence he was handed a start in a 4-4-2 playing formation. I had prefarred a 4-3-3 formation that comprises of 2 CDMs of Flamini and Coquelin with Cazorla in their center. And Walcott and Sanchez at both sides of Giroud. I think the boss should try my formation and start the same defence line but Cazorla should be rested for the visit of Villa. And Ozil should start in the centre of Flamini and Coquelin for our visit to the Amex playground to engage the Seagulls. I hope the boss will agree.

  4. @TommieGun
    I agree. I feel most of the problem we had were due to “Post-World Cup Blues” from our BFG, injuries of Koscielny and unwillingness of Wenger in investing in another CB knowing he had Montreal and Chambers to work with.
    Now this period is passed, we have 3 excellent CBs and one building up.

  5. “The, for the most part, non-tackling midfielders/forwards such as Arshavin, Gervinho or Podolski have been phased out”

    Not really. We still have Walcott and Ozil, and to a lesser extent The Ox, who you’d imagine are an important part of the team. The players you name just weren’t considered Arsenal quality by the manager.

  6. Goals conceded is not a good measure. Last season we actually conceded very few against the weaker teams but got ripped to shreds against the better teams. Our overall goals conceded were not bad but watching every game against the big teams no one could say we had a good defence. At times they were embarrassing. I agree with many that say it is because of the lack of cover the back 4 get and not because our defenders are not adequate. The City game proved that when protected the back four can be solid. That is they way Arsenal need to play in big games especially away from home . I hope Wenger continues with this strategy when faced with teams that are stronger than us.

  7. I have seen this type of performance before from us, and i now want it to be a constant and not just when the reputation is at stake. This should be the mindset of the team every game, and i hope AW does not play any player who under performs in training again.

    Why we got ripped by the better teams, and some lesser too. We were too eager to get the first goal and attack attack attack, like a hare on the tracks. If we score then we made the mistake of relaxing too much.

    Individual mistakes were not corrected on field, there was no one brave enough to take command and shout at his fellow players, and usually we ended up losing.

    100% concentration 100% of the game, leave the complaining to the ref until later, it usually changes nothing except distracting the team at that moment.

    All in all this team is going to be another SUPER team by AW, mark my words.
    Brilliance is never just a flash in the pan, and it also takes patience to build something good.

  8. There are no stronger squad compare one and another. The stupid media just use such measurings with players price tag. The Man City and Arsenal game proved it. The so-called best defender in the league, Vincent Kompany was given a lesson in football by Arsenal players. The problem is the emergence of tactically novelty. That’s why Mourinho is selling his tiny sacks behind a defensive line and the media stupidly and corruptly bought it. Just look at Southampton. Ronald Koeman is not exactly a tactical genius but an extraordinary leader, just like his playing days. He brought together a group of hungry players and made them tick. The Arsenal team which shamed MC was a team with hunger and perfect balance. A good base to work with. AW will improve it as seasons goes by. As long as tackles like Kompany gave Sanchez will go punished, Arsenal won’t have a critical injury issues again.

  9. I guess its safe to say that $ity’s back 4 was not protected. It must have been the same reason when the AAA’s beloved chelsea lost at newcastle

  10. Interesting read. I agree that people do judge our defensive soundness on the past few games, our performance against the big teams and our work on set pieces. I would add whether we concede on counters. But, overall I would say people judge our defence on when we concede or rather the importance of the conceded goals. People don’t get bent out of shape when we concede while leading 3-0 but do at 0-0 or against a close rival and most importantly when we are losing.

  11. Defence is not just intercepting the forward momentum by the opponents but also the curtailment of creativity. Man City were not able to create their usual chances and that was critical. There was also a share of luck – two miskicks by our defenders went into touch fortunately & not into the back of the net. Every team has its own method of attack and Arsenal has to adapt just as our opponents adapt (& kick the seven bells out of our best players). We had to cope with Man City plus their extra midfield general Dean. He was not passive by any means. There were several attempts to interfere with our momentum but thankfully our passing was good. Many of our moves broke down because of quick interceptions (& some foul play). It is the knowledge that City has of how we play going forward. There were no through long balls as our attacks were quick & didn’t build up slowly to give players time to run into space. We were fortunate not to concede because our defence was compact.

    Looking forward to Theo & Ozil for pace & creativity.

  12. Sorry for repeating myself, I’ve used this in another article. But my take is that it’s the job of a defence to restrict the opposition to as few scoring opportunities as possible. Well here are the facts about shots by the opposition so far this season.

    Man U allowed the opposition 244 shots
    Man City 229
    Chelsea 227

    ARSENAL 222

    Enough said……

  13. The proof of Sundays win will be when we travel to that mob up the road on the 7/2

    Not sure whom to compliment other than the players on Sunday , but hang on its not rocket science is it the art of defending ?

    Historically the last few years we have had scant regard for the defence with all players bombing forward like a school playground playing rush goalie??

    If it’s bould or Wenger , at least now , hopefully they have now re found the way to defend like the early days ….fingers crossed .

  14. Well this is truly amateur night on UA with all kinds of speculation and opinions about how well or badly we defend and what is or is not important, but here are a few things to consider before we jump to any conclusions:

    1)The Arsenal play unified Football where the midfielders play an important role in clearing their defensive lines and feeding our strikers. It has always been AW’s approach to emphasize this homogeneous and balanced playing style…unlike Mourinho.

    2)We have, as yet to play 3 or more games with the same defensive back 4 or defensive midfield, or for that matter the midfielders and attackers, due to injury and rotation. Most of the other top 4 teams have had far less changing of their essential players.

    3)The Arsenal traditionally keep control of the ball in most games at a 55-70% possession rate. Yet we have done equally well or better with only a 35-45% retention rate. Why? Probably because we have been very efficient in creating chances for our strikers and reducing chances for our opponents.

    4)Many people claim, in their arrogant absurdness, that Wenger doesn’t have a clue about defense and that he doesn’t adjust his tactics. Well, in short, we have seen his expertise and adaptability over the last 10-12 games, and his skill over the last 5-6 seasons despite the absence of a few key defenders.

    5)Wenger’s view that the best defense is a great offense is without doubt fundamentally correct. When we are pressing the opponents and creating chance after chance, the opponent cannot focus on attacking and is distracted by the mobility and threat of players like Walcott, the Ox,Sanchez,Cazorla, Ramsey,Giroud etc. As well, when these same players defend in numbers and with commitment (like Rosicky can do so well) then our opponents are literally tied in knots.

    6)As accurately mentioned in the above article, when we get fair officiating, like we did on Sunday last, we can really upset even the best defensive teams with the billion dollar players.

  15. Goonermickey, shots are not all there is about defense. The issue is where those shots are taken. So if most are taken from 30 yards out that is very different than ones taken from 6 yards. 244 to 222 is not that much a difference between Manu and the Gunners. The key issues is distance of the shot from goal. Do you have stats for that?

    Defending starts at the front. So as soon as a team loses the ball the players closest to the ball have to react and begin to defend. I think that is what needs to improve and become consistent.

  16. Mark – I agree with what you are saying but there are also sections of the pitch & creative players that need to be blocked as soon as possession is lost. Arsenal do most defensive work well but against City had only Silva to block as Nasri was injured.

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