Most pleasing in the win over Chelsea was not goals or silky combination play but grittiness, compactness and the second half Defensive performance. Watching it back, the pressing and volume of interceptions, tackles and headers was a sight we don’t often see.
In the context of conflicting reports appraising our defence first half vs second half there is still something bothering me which is the trend in media reports questioning our Defenders on their ability to defend. Our players are often labelled “not able to defend properly” or “not at the level needed” by media however it should be considered that any defender (including Ramos, Silva, Boateng or Pique) would make mistakes if exposed continually to players attacking them directly. It’s not always about the defensive personnel but sometimes the way a team plays. Arsene effectively makes a conscious decision that he will accept the risk of leaving our defence exposed to offer freedom to our attackers to effectively go and outscore the opposition. Conte doesn’t accept such a risk often fielding two holding midfielders which low and behold usually leads to Chelsea’s defenders being heralded. Maybe it’s not only about a defender’s overall ability but the system in which they operate.
Let’s remember Arsenal don’t even employ one Defensive Midfielder most of the time with Xhaka a deep lying playmaker who merely fills the space in question but as we know he doesn’t think like a defensive midfielder. Other teams employ narrow midfields, defensive wide players, midfields that shuffle side to side and defending from the front via a high press all with the aim of making life a little easier for the back line. Our defenders are afforded no such luxury.
Arsenal do not put enough emphasis on a defensive strategy preferring to focus on attacking combination with the intention of outscoring the opposition. It’s therefore impossible to compare our defenders to Chelsea’s who have a more robust defensive strategy in front of them. Arsenal’s defenders who are are not up to scratch whilst at the club whose form miraculously picks up when they leave isn’t a coincidence. Monreal, Koscielny and Mustafi were all exceptional second half assisted by a better collective defensive display in front them.
I would stress this doesn’t make Arsenal’s strategy correct however it is what it is. Arsenal should still invest in a commanding centre back to compliment the sweeping skills of Koscielny and Monreal and a real defensive midfielder offering the option of a more defensive approach however any incoming needs to be world class. Elneny is proving he can perform a perfectly functional job in winning the ball and giving it simple so any replacement needs to be a real upgrade.