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Defensive Problems for Arsenal Start And End With Wenger

 • by Andrew Gibney
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“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” – the words of former American president Ronald Reagan and a piece of advice for Arsenal boss Arsène Wenger after another disastrous performance at the back.

The Gunners lost 3-0 to Crystal Palace on Monday night and Sam Allardyce, much maligned for his style of football has taken the Eagles up to 16th in the table, six points ahead of Swansea City with a game in hand.

At this moment in time, the former Sunderland and Bolton manager has inspired another group of players to come together and work towards one goal.

Arsenal Beaten by Big Sam’s Efforts

Arsenal fans must envy that level of coaching. Without a whole host of players worth £30-40million, it seems to not matter who ‘Big Sam’ has in his squad, he finds a way to get the best out of the XI he puts on the pitch and they fight to the death.

“They wanted it more. You could sense that from the kick-off,” admitted Theo Walcott after the game. An unacceptable comment from a professional footballer after a game. If you sense that an opponent is up for the match you should be motivated to go one better, raise your game to a level that would be too much for them to cope with.

This malaise flows through the team and it starts from the top. This is not just about the ‘will he, won’t he’ saga regarding Wenger staying at Arsenal beyond the summer, this goes much deeper and is a problem that has plagued the team for much longer. Yet, the issue has reached it’s peak.

Arsenal Players Given Up

Arsenal will need new midfielders this summer

“That takes me back to a performance last year on Monday Night Football against Leicester, when we said afterwards that the Chelsea players chucked it for Jose Mourinho,” Jamie Carragher explained on Sky Sports after the match.

“It looks like the Arsenal players have chucked it. That’s four (away) games on the bounce conceding three in all of them.”

“People will always talk about Arsene Wenger and I don’t think the fans are split. I think more of them want change.”

“It’s now looking like the players want change.”

Losing to Arsenal, Bayern Munich, West Bromwich Albion, Manchester City and Crystal Palace isn’t good enough. Perhaps if the games were close, and the players and coach were battling, competing and looking interested, you would be able to defend them, but this couldn’t be closer to the opposite.

“The club is Arsene Wenger’s from top to bottom because he’s been there that long, and rightly so,” Carragher continued. “But now the whole club looks a problem. On the pitch you can see it and with the leadership from the top of the club.”

“This acceptance of top four has spread throughout the club.”

You have to go back to the 1997/98 season for the last time Arsenal failed to play in the UEFA Champions League, but as the former Liverpool defender explained, this is not because they have been chasing titles and competing with the best teams, but they have build in a belief that coming fourth is what the club should be aiming for.

“When this man came in it was titles right away and competing against Manchester United. If they finished second it was a nightmare season.

“Now there’s an acceptance of fourth. There’s this thing of losing tonight and where it leaves you for top four. Forget top four. It’s got nothing to do with it in my eyes in terms of Arsenal. It’s been a nonsense for five or six years.

“Go for the trophies, not top four. That has affected the whole club. They’ve lost that something special they had.”

Top Four is Not a Prize

Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal scores his team's third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City

Finishing in the top four would be acceptable if it was a consolation price for just missing out on the championship, rather than aiming for it as a prize.

Steve Bould is Arsène’s assistant coach, the former central defender was supposed to beef up the back line, help with improving that position. Although it seemed to work at the start, there are many now that are questioning Bould’s work, or whether Wenger has just stopped listening to the former defender.

“George [Graham] drilled us into very knowledgeable individuals, and a defence that could almost play with its eyes shut,” said Lee Dixon when asked about Wenger’s merits as a defensive coach. “I don’t know whether Arsène could do that. Well he couldn’t. That’s not his style, he is not that knowledgeable about the defensive side of the game. He doesn’t push people around on the training pitch; he creates environments.”

Then, the former right-back told a story of how it was partly his team-mates that drilled the defence, not the French coach.

“A perfect example of that is Ashley Cole. Ash couldn’t defend to save his life when he got into the Arsenal team – and he’d agree with me. But he had arguably one of the best coaches around for him in Tony Adams standing next to him.”

“Tony had Cole on a piece of string. Arsène didn’t coach him once. Arsène doesn’t particularly know whether the left back is in the right position or not. But he knows that Tony knows. So he put Ash next to Tony and said, have a look at him. That blend of experience is the perfect platform for Arsène to do his stuff.”

Wenger’s Defensive Failings

It will be a very busy summer for Arsène Wenger

Regardless of what you think of Laurent Koscielny as a centre-back, Wenger no longer has the deputies in his squad to take the reigns defensively. He no longer has the leaders the squad to take that role. That leaves the defensive job to the Frenchman and this season it is as clear as day that he just isn’t up for the task.

Just watch the Palace goals back, you see a team that is dragged and pulled across the pitch. For the opener, Mohamed Elneny fails to win the second ball, shows no effort in trying to win the ball back and then is out of position when the cross comes in from the right.

An inability to coach full-backs where they need to be can be translated into how Hector Bellerin’s form has suffered this season. Still excellent going forward, he has been exposed out of position a number of times, but Wenger doesn’t perhaps received the criticism he deserves.

Some began to question what Bould actually brought to the coaching set, but Stewart Robson, a former Arsenal employee, questioned the Frenchman’s attitude, not has staff.

“Arsene Wenger, because he has got a massive ego, because he’s a dictator when it comes to Arsenal Football Club, he’s not allowing Steve Bould to do any work,” the now commentator revealed five years ago.

“He’s got a reputation for developing players. Maybe he did that six, seven years ago. He’s actually putting players backwards now”

In 2013, BBC’s David Ornstein reported that the former Monaco boss had put a stop to Bould’s extra defensive training sessions.

That breakdown seems to have continued and now the defensive recruitments that Wenger has made have struggled to improve and develop.

In the last two years, Arsenal have conceded 36 goals, but the loss on Monday took them beyond that, sitting with 39 with eight games to go. The Gunners are conceding 1.3 goals per game on average, that could take them to 50 this season.

Since Wenger arrived, their worse return defensively is 49 – during the 2011/12 campaign. That is the marker, if not, this, regardless of where they finish, will go down as one of their worst ever campaigns.

That is not good enough and when you are admitting to everyone that other teams wanted it more, Wenger staying shouldn’t be an option.

Arsenal’s problems start at the top and this club needs a fresh look from top to bottom.

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