BFG in the Land of Lilliput
It’s hardly a secret that we’re not exactly the tallest side in Europe but until quite recently it was the case that it tended to cost us in the league and we generally coped well enough in the Champions League, barring rare moments like Alex’s late header in 2007 for PSV Eindhoven. This season in the league we’ve conceded eleven goals, of which five have been headed. The finger of blame has been pointed at Mertesacker for more than one of these goals and it has to be said his form hasn’t been of the same level as last season since he returned from the World Cup. I have a degree of sympathy for him, as he’s currently playing in a central defensive partnership with a 5’ 10 left back. This means that he’s probably quite aware that it has to be him winning headers. The more worrying thing is the ease with which the 5’ 7 Anderlecht winger, Andy Najar, was able to steal into the box and head home the opener. When we last won the league in 2004 we had a team of tall players. Especially down the spine. However our current first choice defence – including keeper – is on average taller than the Invincibles defence:
Lehmann 6’ 3 Szczesny 6’ 5
Lauren 5’ 11 Debuchy 5’ 10
Toure 6’ 0 Koscielny 6’ 1
Campbell 6’ 2 Mertesacker 6’ 6
Our problem is in midfield and back up for our first choice centre halves (Monreal). The Invincibles midfield had Vieira at 6’ 4, Gilberto 6’ 1, Edu 6’ 1, Parlour 6’ 0 and Pires 6’ 2. In fact our only midfielder under six feet was Freddie Ljungberg. Our current squad contains only one midfielder over six feet and that’s the permanently injured Abou Diaby. This isn’t such an issue in open play but it’s a problem from set pieces as was shown against Crystal Palace and Manchester City. Playing Monreal at centre half is the obvious problem when it comes to headed goals in open play as was exposed against Hull and even Anderlecht. I know Wenger wants to use highly technical players in midfield but sometimes you have to be pragmatic. The Premier League is not the most technical league in the world, it’s hustle and bustle and more often than not to counter this you need some robust players in midfield.
Our manager came in for a bit of criticism for his truculent response to Jacqui Oatley’s line of questioning after the Hull game. At first, I thought like many that his response was a little out of order. I have however changed my mind and feel he did nothing wrong. What caused my road to Damascus moment? Seeing Piers Morgan tweeting criticism of Wenger. Nothing will make an Arsenal fan change their mind quicker than realising they share a point of view with this man.
Don’t call it a Comeback
Whilst our performances generally this season have been sub-par and lacklustre, we showed twice last week our resolve to fight back. There have been times in the last seven years or so where we’ve gone away to weaker European opposition, not played particularly well, they’ve taken the lead and then our heads just went down. Braga is one that particularly sticks out in my mind but there are other examples. Against Anderlecht, we didn’t play well for a lot of the game but when we went behind we fought hard and scored twice with two exceptional finishes in high pressure situations. Our team can sometimes seem mentally a bit fragile especially in big games but they do show a lot of spirit and drive at times. In certain previous seasons the team’s self belief would have gone and we would have been subject to much press derision at having lost. Fighting back to level or win – sometimes very late on – has been a recurring theme for us in the last season and a half and this is partially due to flakiness that gets us into situations we shouldn’t be in but ultimately that ability to fight is a strength. We seem to constantly find ourselves saying this but if we could sort out our defence (in the team sense) we’d be very formidable. This is what makes the failure to sign a defensive midfielder and another centre half all the more frustrating.