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Arsenal: Gunners Need a More Compact and Organized Defense

...........Correspondent IDecember 31, 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 31:  Gael Clichy of Arsenal and Nani of Manchester United battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester United at The Emirates Stadium on January 31, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

All of the top EPL teams and the best teams in the world can boast that they are strong in defense. While Arsenal may play a beautiful attacking game, the lack of support in defense is often the cause of Arsenal's  losses. Arsenal LB Gael Clichy hopes that they can take what they saw from Manchester United at their recent tie at Old Trafford to improve upon their defense. Ferdinand and Vidic had a very good game defensively and had plenty of support from Rafael and Patrice Evra. “Maybe we should be inspired because that was, from start to finish, a real unit," Clichy told the Official Matchday Programme.

In a recent interview with Andrei Arshavin, he acknowledged the weaknesses that Arsenal have in defense but stated that it is the responsibility of the entire team to support defenders. This support has been lacking and was apparent in the match against Manchester United, where Clichy was often left exposed to Nani’s attack. "It can happen once or twice that your defense is exposed but it shouldn’t be every time, and that’s one point we can improve on;” every Arsenal fan can agree with Clichy on that.

Conversely, when playing against Chelsea on Monday, all of the Arsenal players were able to get back and help in defense to keep Chelsea’s main attacking threat, Drogba, quiet. “I’m not saying teams like United and Chelsea are stronger or better than us," said Clichy. "We know we have amazing players in all positions and we have to keep playing our football—but we must be more compact, home and away.”

Even in other teams like Barcelona, who play a similar style to Arsenal, many of the players pull together to help with the defensive responsibilities. Looking at their example, Clichy added, “for all their good football, Barcelona’s players all work solidly together in defense too.” As we saw in the match against Chelsea, pulling together defensively does not hurt Arsenal's beautiful attacking play. What the Gunners showed us on Monday was that they are fully capable of mixing the physical and the beautiful aspect of the game to maintain their title challenge.

Arsenal's title hopes have taken a blow after the disappointing showing against Wigan. This came only two days after having such a great win against Chelsea, where they showed great improvement in the area that has caused the Gunners to drop points so many times this season. Is this just typical Arsenal? I hope not. We saw vast improvement in the match against Chelsea and now have suffered a serious setback against Wigan.

So many things went wrong. I believe that it would have been better if more starters from Monday were involved in the match. Although the eight new faces chosen to face Wigan are fully capable of turning in a positive result, having more people who were involved in the victory against Chelsea involved in this match would’ve ensured a win and their momentum would have elevated the team performance as a whole. Many of the players fielded for this match have not had many starts or matches this season. This fact could have contributed to the all-around dullness of the performance. While it is not a problem to rotate players and in a couple areas changes were necessary if not unavoidable, it would’ve been better had Arsene included more of the players who had shown such great improvement in the previous match.

That is still no excuse for the all-around subpar performance put forth during the match. Granted there were a few bright spots, but Arsenal had a terrible start to the match with the attack and Arshavin in particular looked woeful for at least the first 30 minutes. The Referees' decisions did not help us any as a borderline penalty was awarded to N'Zobia in the 16th minute putting Wigan ahead 1-0.

At 27 minutes Wilshere was substituted on for the injured Abou Diaby, and immediately made an impact. After a great shot by Bendtner was parried by the Wigan goalkeeper, in a moment of absolute brilliance Arshavin kicked the deflected shot back into the net. Moments later Bendtner brought us ahead 2-1 just before the end of the first half.

The second half did not start as brightly as the first half ended. Chamakh had a very good chance in the 59th minute but other than that Arsenal looked very poor. Wigan got a few very good chances by N’Zogbia in the second half and looked on the verge of an equalizer. The Gunners were not as organized in defending as they were in the previous match, leaving the back line very vulnerable. By the 70th minute it was clear that the team was in desperate need of a change as they needed to finish off the game, but the boss wasn’t sending in any reinforcements.

In the 77th minute it seemed the Gunners lucked out as N’Zogbia, Wigan's main goal threat, got himself sent off for head-butting Wilshere. But as luck (and chronic poor defending) would have it, Wigan equalized just three minutes later with an own goal by Squillaci. This was another goal that came as a result of a corner/set piece situation. The fact that Arsenal cannot handle set pieces shows just how unorganized they are in defense.

In Squillaci’s defense however, the goal that he attempted to prevent was going in anyway. The goalkeeper was poorly positioned and could not have saved it from where he was. To be honest, if you watch the highlights of that you can see both posts are covered—Fabianski had no business trying to cover the post especially when you see where the ball ended up going in. Also in Squillaci’s defense he had stuck on Caldwell well.

A set piece once again cost Arsenal points. The real problem here was the lack of direction and leadership in defense. I've never seen a team more disorganized as they were taking on a corner. This really needs to be addressed. 

The match could’ve been salvaged had Arsenal been awarded a penalty for the handball inside the box, but it didn’t happen. Congrats to Wigan who put in a great effort; they deserved the point.

In a post-match interview Arsene Wenger was asked whether it was disappointing that Arsenal were once again undone by a set piece. The Arsenal boss said, “It is because it looks like nobody takes charge of the organization really. And that is something that is important we need to communicate better more and be more alert on these kind of corners.” No kidding boss.

Highlights of the match (really good quality)

This is my first article so please comment on how I can improve. Thank you.

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