It is said that games are won by strikers, by league titles won by defences. And that is often right. The majority of time throughout history, they league is won by the team who concedes the least goals.
Last season, Manchester City scored 10 goals more than Chelsea, yet conceded 6 more. The result? Chelsea won the title by 8 points. We only scored 2 goals less than Chelsea, yet finished 12 points behind. We conceded 6 more goals.
A defence is the foundation to build from. You can not build a palace without first putting in a solid foundation. No matter how extravagant the palace might be, it will simple collapse without the foundations. And a football side is the same.
There is not point being able to score 83 goals like Manchester City did last season, if you are conceding a lot the other end. You can win the league title not scoring bucket loads of goals if you are tight at the back.
And the importance of the defence is continuity. Look at Arsenal in 1998/99 (ok, we came 2nd, by a point), we conceded just 17 league goals:
David Seaman – 32 League appearances
Lee Dixon – 36
Martin Keown – 34
Tony Adams – 24
Nigel Winterburn – 30
The main back 5, bar Adams, played nearly every game. And when Adams did pick up his injury, he was replaced by Steve Bould (14 starts), a man with 372 Arsenal appearances to his name. The back 5 (plus Bouldy) knew each others games. Individually they were not all the best in the Premier League in their position, but collectively they were.
Last year, when Chelsea ran away with the league, a key aspect was how often they used the same group of players. And this is highlighted in the appearances of their defence:
Thibaut Courtois – 31 league appearances
Branislav Ivanović – 38
Gary Cahill – 31
John Terry – 38
César Azpilicueta – 28
Two key players playing every game of the season. It is an amazing show of continuity. And it also highlights where they are going wrong this season:
Courtois – 3 from 7 games
Ivanović – 7 / 7
Cahill – 5 / 7
Terry – 4 / 7
Azpilicueta – 7 / 7
Mourinho’s chopping and changing at centre back is clearly damaging the side as they have already conceded 45% as many goals as last season, just 7 games in. In fact, only Sunderland have conceded more and if they continue conceding at their current rate (they surely won’t?) they will end up having 76 in the goals against column. That is 3 more than bottom of the league QPR conceded in 2014/15.
This is an Arsenal blog, so that’s enough about Chelsea.
This season, in all competition’s 11 games in total, Arsenal have had 7 different back 5 combinations, and played the same back 5 in just 2 consecutive match’s.
This chopping and changing, is the key reason as to why we have now lost 4 games in all competitions.
It does not allow for continuity, for players to get a run together, to continue learning each others game, to build a solid foundation.
If we continue to change the defence, the simple errors which lost us the game against Olympiacos will continue to rear their ugly head. Against Leicester we also made some horrendous errors. Lukcily we scored 5, but the 2 conceded were not good enough, and not every game will we be able to score 5.
With just 3 clean sheets this season, Arsenal have conceded 2 or more goals 4 times. Stats like these are simply not conducive to becoming a successful team.
For Arsenal to be successful this season, and remember we can go top this weekend, and still have both domestic cups to fight for, Arsene Wenger needs to stop mixing and matching his defence. He needs to pick the best back 5 and stick to it.