Communication Breakdown (It’s always the Same?) or Arsenal’s Defense…
The back line committed characteristics mistakes, but some blame for the 3—2 home loss to Tottenham must fall on incoherent team defense with a nonexistent collective ethos.
Arséne Wenger made it clear during the off-season that Arsenal had little chance of winning the title last season when conceding 41 goals. Over the 38-game season, the average is 1.08 goals/per game. Through fifteen games this season, Arsenal has conceded 17 goals, an average of 1.13 goals/per game. If this statistic is important from one season to the next, then Arsenal, according to Wenger, will not win the title.
But this may not amount to much more than carrying out logic and extending tendency. The league is more wide open than it has been in recent years. Tottenham is combustible. Wayne Rooney is still stinking. Chelsea has been unstoppable, but age and a Ricardo Carvalho-less defense could catch up to them. Manchester City’s serial in fighting is being sold as healthy competition. All three promoted teams have done well so far. Yet there is little doubt that the Arsenal defense needs to be stronger if they are to move beyond getting a little closer than last time.
Arsenal’s defensive overhaul makes it difficult to square with the nearly identical goals against average. Without number one center back Thomas Vermaelen, the central defense has rotated between two players new to the league and a third returning from a sixteen-month injury. There is reason to believe that this season’s central defense is no worse than last year’s, and should almost certainly get better as the season progresses.
Conceding three second-half goals at home to an “of-the moment” Tottenham is not a sign of an improved defense. Two of the three goals exposed the weakness of the back line. The first began with a long upfield clearance by Benoit Assou-Ekotto that Gael Clichy failed to challenge in the air. The second came off a late set piece where Laurent Koscielny determined that Clichy’s failure was worth repeating. Both defenders were poorly positioned behind the Tottenham players, effectively boxing themselves out of the challenge. With better anticipation and positioning, they could have aggressively challenged for the ball.
The outcome of a match like this comes down to “what ifs” and “if…thens”. The defense has to take most of the blame, but not all of it. A stronger back line would not have made Cesc Fabregas’ uncharacteristic handball any less foolish, but perhaps less consequential, or for that matter, Koscielny’s should-have-done-better scoring chance that would have put Arsenal back on top 3—2. In the realpolitik of the game, there is some room for error, every team can expect that they will now and again miss a golden chance, suffer lapsed concentration, commit a mindless act, or momentarily reveal a weakness, but no team has the room for all of them at once, except perhaps one led by a fervent idealist.