Arsenal - A Case For The Defence
Our defensive performance last season has been rightly criticised for its failings. Curiously though our goals conceded record doesn't look too bad. We let in 35 premiership goals last season, which looks ok when compared to the 36 we let in when winning the competition in the 01-02 season or even when we finished 2nd in 04-05 when 36 goals were also scored against us. Of course these statistics don't tell the whole story. It isn't so much the number of goals we score but when we concede which shapes the outcome of the match. Too often we have conceded the early first goal or the late winner or equaliser which has lost us valuable points. In a season where our attack has struggled this has clearly been very costly.
We have conceded a similar number of goals in previous seasons but usually these have been at a time when we are in front and the goals scored has covered any defensive frailty as in 01-02 double season when we scored 87 goals though conceding 36. Usually we tend to single out individuals for collective failures in defence, notably Cygan and Senderos both suffering the scorn of supporters. These failings have also highlighted weaknesses in dealing with set pieces and closing down long range howitzers perhaps. But while defence has to be able to deal properly with these challenges the answer may be a little simpler.
Our best defensive performance under Wenger was 98-99 when we conceded just 17 goals. In this season, the 4 players generally acknowledged as our first choice back four at the start of the season started in 83% of the premiership matches. In our unbeaten season 03-04 we conceded 26 goals, our next best performance, and here our first choice defenders started 88% of the games. We then finished the following season 04-05 in 2nd place having conceded 36 goals with 78% of our first choice four starting. Since then we have finished 4th in successive seasons and in the first of these 05-06 though our goals conceded was a respectable 31 our first choice defenders managed to start only 55% of the matches and last season still only 69%. The lack of familiarity inherent in inconsistent selection may not necessarily result in that many goals conceded if the defenders individually are good but collective lapses can mean the loss of crucial goals.
A consistent defence collectively will minimise individual failings. The famous back four of Dixon, Adams, Bould and Winterburn always claimed that their strengths included understanding the others weaknesses. Confidence in the defence permeates through the whole team as midfield and attack can focus on the job in front of them and improving overall play.
Good defence includes the whole team but rather than big signings, not that they aren't welcome, maybe what we should all be wishing for next season is that our first choice back four, whatever that might be, starts in at least 80% of the premiership matches.
Article submitted by Amos.