It is time for our defenders stick to the day job – Yes Sagna I mean you

Where is it all going wrong? You may well as Bac!
Where is it all going wrong? You may well as Bac!

A short and to the point blog this week which in essence centres around the way we are defending big games. I have been thinking about since I heard Lee Dixon talk ahead of the Bayern away game about how in his day the fullbacks were instructed to stay within 5 yard of the centre backs for the first 20 minutes of so in big away games. Basically keep it tight, allow no gaps through the centre and force any attacks wide.

Well it might appear that whatever advice our current fullbacks are getting it is quite obviously not the sensible advice that Dixon recalls or they are simply ignoring it. By guess given Bouldie was in the back four with Dixon is that ill discipline or adrenalin in the heat of the moment is more likely. Not that that should be an excuse at this level.

Now I personally accept that our current system encourages our fullbacks to overlap and provide crosses and this has perhaps been heightened on the right with Walcott missing. What I don’t necessarily accept is that it needs to and it most certainly does not need to in the big games we keep under performing in.

I favour a variant of 442, which is no secret and I fancy that with a solid and less adventurous back 4 in the key games we can normally manage to put out 6 players ahead of the back line to hurt most teams. In short in the real crunch matches against key rivals or superior teams like Bayern or more pertinently Manchester City we need greater discipline. Can we not just have a back 4 who defend and foray less on the flanks and allow the width to come from a Chamberlain, a Gnabry, a Cazorla or as we saw to great effect on Tuesday from Lukas?


Giroud applies a finish to a ciross from Podolski not Gibbs.
Giroud applies a finish to a ciross from Podolski not Gibbs.

We have seen or at least in the main we have seen the difference it had made having Koscielny retaining discipline alongside Mertesacker had improved us. The problem previously for me was not the quality of Vermaelen as a footballer but his recklessness and ill discipline. It was his rampaging runs up field which when possession was lost left a slow defensive midfielder and an even slower centre back exposed and hapless. Perhaps it is time to apply the same logic to Gibbs and Sagna at least in the big games? I am still weeping from Sagna being the furthest player up the field when we lost at home to Dortmund thus relinquishing control of our qualifying group.

Two conversations I have had this week, one with a journalist and one with an ex-player have highlighted this problem in my mind and prompted this article and the above rant.

On Tuesday before the match I interviewed Steve Stammers of the Sunday Mirror. The conversation went way of piste but I am glad it did because he told me a funny story with a serious point and it goes something like this:


Scene – Late 80s Weds training session at Colney.


Tough Boss
Tough Boss


As was always the way George Graham was coaching solely the defenders whilst the midfield and attackers were coached separately. In the last 10 minutes of training Theo Foley is concluding with fun time. All the strikers and midfielders are taking crosses for strikers to attack, shoring rockets at the keepers and generally having a ball. They are all howling with laughter; £10 to £50 pounds bets are being offered and taken by keeper and shooters alike. Crossed are flying in for volleys and diving headers and the players are generally behaving like kids in the part.


Meanwhile Graham is still working his defenders hard until one of them plucks up to approach the boss!

Lee Dixon:  Great session today gaffer.

George Graham: Thanks Lee you have all worked hard.

Lee Dixon: I was just thinking boss because we have worked so hard do you think we could go and join in with that lot.

George Graham: So let me get this straight Lee. You want to go over there, do some crossing and shooting with that lot. Is that correct?

Lee Dixon: Yes Boss that would be really cool.

George Graham: But Lee let me ask you will you be crossing and shooting come Saturday?

Lee Dixon: No boss of course not boss.

George Graham: So if you are not going to be crossing and shooting on Saturday why the fucking hell would I let you do it on a Wednesday?

Now Steve Stammers relayed this story with an extremely amusing and passable impression of George, which had me laughing out loud. Sadly my talent as a writer, such that there is, does not extend to bringing swearing in a Scottish brogue to live but I am sure you are getting the point.

Is there any need at all in the matches against the stronger opposition for our fullbacks to be so adventurous? Is the crossing ability of Sagna or Gibbs?

The Frenchman in dispute over a contract had averages an assist every 10 games this season and the England World Cup hopeful about one in every 8. Does this contribution to our attacking prowess truly justify what on occasions as appeared, not to put to finer point on it, Gung ho?

Time for great defenders to concentrate on being just that?
Time for great defenders to concentrate on being just that?

Ivanovic and Azpilicueta have 89 appearances between them for Chelsea this season and have only a sorry 3 assists to show for their efforts! Oh yes and they are part of the defence that had the best record in the top 4 and has conceded only 32 goals in the Premier League.

I am not saying Gibbs or Sagna are bad payers here as I rate them both very highly but I am wondering why in the games we need to be tight in and defend well they are often so advanced on the pitch. Particularly early in the games when keeping it tight is so crucial. We all know how the games at City, at Liverpool and at the Bridge were lost and over inside the first 20 minutes. The question is if we all know that why are we still making these mistakes and pushing the fullbacks on so much?

I also had the fortune to chat for ages yesterday to a delightful 78 year old from Northern Ireland. He was at the match on Tuesday as well. He was a guest in the Executive 100 Club and he was so angry at Bacary Sagna he was unable to curtail his language.

He introduced the subject along the lines of “and that Bacary SagNA if he wants 3 more years at the Arsenal he can fucking sing for it.”

He was screaming at the Frenchman to get back at the end of the game “We are 2-1 up at home, winning the game and still in the title shake up and our right back is up for a fucking corner. What the fuck is he thinking of?”

 I happen to agree with the angry Irish Arsenal guest but what do I know? He on the other hand was Billy McCullough who played over 250 games for the Arsenal at full back and 10 games for Northern Ireland.  He played behind two of the greatest in George Best and Geordie Armstrong so I will take his word.

So in conclusion all I am saying is that in the truly huge games shall we just let midfielders support our attacker/s when we are on the attack support our defenders when we are defending and just let our defenders stay in defence.

Too radical??

Call me old fashioned but getting beaten 5 and 6 is a habit we can break just by getting back to the basics surely?

I can’t remember the last time we were second favourites at the Emirates in the Premier League but checking just now we are for the visit of Manchester City and as a Gunner I don’t like to see that. It is crucial particularly with Vermaelen playing alongside Per that all 4 defenders keep it disciplined. There is no need to try and win this match in the first 10 minutes because we will leave gaps and they have the quality to punish us. As Dixon said both fullbacks should be within 5 yards of the centre backs in the opening periods. Push City wide and make them cross the ball as we can deal with the aerial threat and don’t allow them to exploit spaces through the inside channels.

Listen to Boudie please
Listen to Boudie please

Bouldie knows this better than anyone and I a certain he is telling them. The question is will Sagna and Gibbs listen and remember?


Until next time

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  1. I would love to see our back-stay home and defend, even if this blunts our attacking options. If Gibbs and Sagna venture occasionally towards the final thrid, fine, let the game’s circumstances suggest it. I’m tired of seeing Sagna on the edge of the opponent’s box or even just drifting forward, leaving our right-flank exposed. It’s happened too often, and Sagna especially is getting too old/slow to track back with the urgency that he himself sometimes creates with his forays.

  2. For too long our players have been I’ll discliplined, particularly Vermaelen. Either the players are ignoring Wenger completely or there is no restraint placed on them when it comes to tactics. Notablely after Saturday, Sagna is still bombing forward. Against Munich, after releaving the pressure on our back four as the game wound down, Koscielny ventured forward and within 60 seconds, bang 2-0 game over. I would say though that whenever a FB bombs on, on of the centre midfielders HAS to drop in. They are the back up but often can’t even do their own role adequately enough. It’s mind-blogging and only Arsène Knows on that front. Nice piece though Dave.

  3. Though i am not a coach nor an ex player, this article makes a lot of sense. There is no need to be too adventurous with attacking teams like Liverpool, Man City or Chelsea. If we could keep it tight for Bayern Munich, we should be able to avoid heavy defeats like the one against Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City. Even though it is good to win, a draw is always better and more respectable than a loss.

  4. I think this situation of full backs bombing forward may be due to lack of true wingers. Most of our attackers are more than willing to play towards the center often overcrowding. so what we have here is huge space left on wings for FBs to cover. Remember our first match against chelsea, maureen made two players mark walcott and instructed others to crowd the center midfield. Against lesser opposition its been quite effective.
    Even cazorla said they leave spaces so that the FBs can charge forward. Its not entirely the FBs fault, rather lack of true wingers has been detrimental.

    1. agree this is most due tha we dont have good pacy winger (exept theo dont tell me ox and gnabry as they boss promissing but not first team material)
      and someone could tell me why since reyes ( who was alright) dont we have a decent left winger.are they that much a rare species. we pass our time moving CM there and podolski and none are much convincing. its the same at youth level winger are inexcistant (well we just sign this young portuguese there) . i suppose thets why wenger try to get Draxler

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