Pressing Issues In Defence

It was a night to forget in Dortmund as The Arsenal lost 2-0 to the impressive Germans, and it could have been a whole lot worse, but for a couple of good saves from Szczesny and some poor finishing from the men in yellow.

Captain and vice-captain look on

@Orbinho’s timeline (a good follow for Arsenal stats which I highly recommend) made for some grim reading on this occasion. At half time our passing accuracy was only 72%, with Arteta, Ramsey, and Wilshere only completing 58%, 60%, and 73% of their passes in the opposition half respectively. By the end of the game our collective figure had risen to 77%, but still well below what you’d expect from an Arsene Wenger side, with Mertesacker, Ramsey and Gibbs only completing 30%, 53%, and 62% of their passes in the opposition half respectively.

Of course after a performance like this it’s inane to name or blame individuals. Those listed above have purely been mentioned to help illustrate how much we struggled in possession, how it felt like we could barely string two passes together. The fact of the matter is that we were poor from one to eleven and we paid the price, as Arsene stated afterwards:

It’s very difficult on the night to go into any individual assessment of any players because as a team we were not at the requested level.

For me the most concerning thing is our new approach to defending this season. It seems we’re pressing much higher and trying to get much tighter to the opposition. In theory not an unreasonable idea, but in reality I’m not sure I like it, I’m not sure it works, I’m not sure it suits our style of play, and I’m not convinced it suits the players at our disposal.

With the naturally attacking nature of our full-backs we’re already left exposed on occasions, so is it really wise to have our whole midfield and centre halves pressing high up the pitch as well? Mertesacker was probably our best defender last season; a composed figure who reads the game well, intercepts and blocks (rather than being last-ditch), and leads from the back. Now we’re taking him out of his comfort zone by asking him to press? As a result I think I’ve seen more players turn Mertesacker, and seen more passes played in behind him, in his five appearances this season than I did in the whole of last season. Their first goal was a prime example with one long ball from deep leaving Koscielny one-on-one.

Koscielny gets beaten for Dortmund's first goal

And what I can’t seem to work out is why have we changed our approach so drastically? On the whole I thought we improved last season from a defensive stand point, with our heavy away defeats skewing some otherwise decent defensive performances and figures; it’s not just a coincidence that Szczesny won the ‘Golden Glove’ award. Some fine tuning on the training field and a more sensible (conservative) approach in the big games seemed the only tinkering required, but instead we seem to be trying to start from scratch.

And that those heavy away defeats that clouded our judgement were largely a result of pressing too high, over committing in numbers, and leaving Arteta and our centre halves too exposed makes it all the more bewildering as to why we would now adopted that exact approach to our defending this season. It just seems so illogical to me; I can’t get my head around it.

Whilst I won’t blame individuals for tonight it is clear that some are struggling for form in general. Özil in particular is going through a tough patch and you have to wonder if taking him out of the spotlight for a game or two might be a wise move, with Cazorla or Oxlade-Chamberlain coming in to provide some much-needed spark.

Out of form Mesut Ozil

What’s most noticeable for me is the difference in Özil when we’re leading a game compared to when we’re not. In the brief spell we led City I thought he perked up. He had more space to manoeuvre in and his timing of runs and passes were clever. But when we’re level or trailing it’s as if he feels too much of the burden to set the attacking tempo and create openings, and when you’re low on form and confidence these things come less naturally.

Of course another complaint people have with Özil is his work rate and defending, or should I say lack of, but I don’t buy into this. It wasn’t an issue when he was performing early last season and it wasn’t as much of an issue until people saw Alexis Sanchez running around like a man possessed. Furthermore I don’t recall people complaining about how little Robert Pires used to defend or tackle. Because the fact of the matter is that if you score goals and make assists then people will be more forgiving. When Özil rediscovers his touch I look forward to hearing the same amount of noise about his work rate.

But what’s done is done; Dortmund is in the past. We must now focus on Saturday and a potentially tricky trip to Villa Park. I say potentially because on paper you’d be expecting three points, but Villa have started brightly this season as evidenced by their victory at Anfield, so it will inevitably end up being a tough fixture as it so often is. Hopefully the team will be determined to put things right, none more so than Özil. Over to you Mesut, and up The Arsenal.



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