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Are Arsenal Satisfied with Being Third or Fourth Best in the League?

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Are Arsenal Satisfied with Being Third or Fourth Best in the League?
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Two of my articles over the weekend (see here and here) dealt with Arsenal's defending. I focused on the lapses in first-half performances that have cost the team dearly.

Appealing to Josh James' analysis for Arsenal.com, I restated the fact that Arsenal's position on the Premiership table would be different right now if the team's first-half performances matched the second. According to James’ analysis, Arsenal would currently be leading the table.

Stats of Arsenal's second-half performances: courtesy of Arsenal.com

I also highlighted the fact that part of the problem stems from lack of responsibility for personal mistakes from some members of the Arsenal team, mistakes such as losing the ball or misplacing passes.

I observed that whereas Barcelona players (at least under Pep Guardiola) would scamper to correct their mistakes, Arsenal players often behave as though their mistakes do not matter.

I observed how these mistakes put undue pressure on the Arsenal defense, a defense much maligned. Many of Arsenal's conceded goals are not the result of mistakes by the back four. Instead, they develop from up front and in the midfield.

I concluded that if a number of the up-field players would take more responsibility for their errors, or contribute more defensively, many of the cheap goals that Arsenal conceded would be eliminated.

One other fact I highlighted is the status of Arsenal's defenders—international players who seem to fare well outside Arsenal, but struggle when they don the Arsenal jersey.

I said that the foregoing fact—the said individual errors—often leave these defenders exposed. Furthermore, I opined that Barcelona defenders aren't even the best in the world. But because the team has a collective approach to defending, its defensive record is one of the best in the world.

There was one sentence in the first of the referenced articles that stated quite categorically that Arsenal do not know how to defend as a unit. I also said that defense appears to be Arsene Wenger's Achilles heel.

I did, however, observe that when Arsenal's offense is at its best, it more than makes up for the team's defensive weakness.

In the second article, I spoke about ineffective pressing up front by the Arsenal players. I said staggered but concerted pressing is necessary if the opposition is to be made to surrender possession.

The stats that defend Arsenal: courtesy of EPL Index

A day later, I came across an article, the aim of which was to debunk the notion of Arsenal's defensive lapses through the use of statistics. I couldn't decide whether its appearance was merely coincidental or rather purposeful. It did mention bloggers that perpetuate myths.

In the main, I agreed with the thrust of that article, since it addresses the broad bias against Arsenal, which is, by and large, cultivated by the media.

Armed with statistics, it was the purpose of this author to debunk “these myths." The only problem was that in trying to do so, it seemed the article only succeeded in perpetuating a different myth, one that appeared to imply that all is well with Arsenal's defense.

That article has since been referenced in a number of quarters implying just that—that contrary to opinions about Arsenal defense, Arsenal have the third best defense in the league.

 

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
If Santi Cazorla is intercepting balls up field, it doesn't mean that others aren't losing possession in the same area of the pitch and causing Arsenal's defense undue pressure.

A few things need to be considered.

First of all, when people such as myself point to errors that have caused Arsenal games, it is never in lieu of the positives that are quite discernible in the team, positives like the team's placement on the table at the moment.

On the contrary, it is in the face of this very fact that my analysis stands. This analysis has been based on an "If," to wit: if Arsenal performed or defended better in the first half, their league placing would be higher at this time.

There's nothing in this statement to suggest that Arsenal's defense is entirely woeful.

Second, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. It is the same almighty statistics that show that Arsenal would be leading the Premiership table at this time, bar their woeful first-half performances.

I do not believe that there's anyone with eyes that can deny that Arsenal's first-half performances this season have been less than desirable.

Third, referenced statistics that show that Arsenal are the third best defensively take a census of Arsenal's entire performances, but the point of analyses such as mine is to look at individual matches in which cheap errors have been committed and say, "but for those errors this would have been a better season for the team."

My analyses seek to suggest ways to eliminate these obvious problems. I do not see that I need to justify the obvious defensive errors. I do not also believe that it serves anyone right to hide behind "Arsenal are third best."

What does that prove?

Stats that matter show Arsenal in fifth place and in danger of losing out of the Champions League: Table courtesy of Eurosport.

If anything, it proves that Arsenal are still second best (or as the case may be third or fourth best). If that were the point, then no one would even point to the defensive problems that the team is having.

Rather, it is exactly because Arsenal fans are not satisfied with second, third or fourth best that this topic has garnered concern.

Fourth, if someone points to statistics, I will point to cheap goals conceded against Liverpool, against Chelsea, against Manchester United, against Blackburn Rovers, against Bayern Munich and against Aston Villa (to refer to the most obvious cases).

In all but one of these matches, had Arsenal not given away cheap goals, they'd not only be better placed in the league right now, they'd, in fact, still be in the FA cup, and they'd still have a realistic chance in the Champions League.

If you point to one player and say that that player wins possession up field, does that translates to saying the entire team is pulling its weight up field? When one says "some players," it means exactly that.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Players like Arteta and Wilshere have conceded the fact that the team hasn't done well in first-half performances this season.

In any case, one's point still stands: if the entire team would defend better, then Arsenal would be leading the pack right now rather being third best at something or sitting in fourth place.

If the statisticians want to say third best is okay, then, of course, there's no reason to point to the obvious peevish first-half performances that the team has produced all season long, a fact supported by other stats.

If instead the point of any criticism is to say, "how can we improve on where we are right now, a position that is not the best, but the second or third best," then I do not see the reason to appeal to superfluous statistics that obfuscate rather than illuminate the glaring problem that is costing Arsenal a season.

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