Urgently Wanted: New defensive coach for large Premiership club

Like many Arsenal fans I am still reeling after Sunday’s defeat in the Carling Cup final.  The winning of finals and trophies is usually something that does not govern my motivations to watch football but even I was left depressed.

I am also one to have rarely doubted Wenger.  His aesthetic brand of football has kept me entertained and enthused for years.  However, seeing yet another big game lost to a nervy performance topped with a serious defensive error has left me wondering whether something more inherent to the set-up at Arsenal may have led to the latest example of what Wenger has called “a little misunderstanding.”

It is rare to find a manager whose tenure at a club has lasted as long as Wenger’s.  Since joining the club in 1996 he has enjoyed huge success and contributed massively to Arsenal becoming financially stable and developing a progressive youth policy.  In addition, he managed the mean feat of keeping the club at the top level for years while under severe financial restraints.  There must be a worry, though, that at some point his powers will start to wane, due to either age or possibly a lack of ideas.

Other industries provide illustrations of this.  One of the main arguments for term limits for Presidents or Prime Ministers (like in America) is to avoid having ageing, declining leaders who no longer have the energy or the will to work at a rate needed to run a country effectively.  This was apparent with the old Soviet rulers and some say that the previous two governments in Britain have been guilty of this: in power with the same group of ministers for too long and by the end running out of ideas and struggling to produce a vision for the future.

Andropov: too old with no new ideas?

The same detriment could be ascribed to pioneering industrialist Henry Ford.  Ford founded the automobile company of the same name and developed the mass production assembly line that revolutionised the production of goods and allowed cars to be produced for the mainstream.  Ford refused to relinquish control over the company as he got older and as a consequence it went into decline, losing more than $10 million a month by the time he died.

Now I am not suggesting that it has reached that stage for Wenger yet.  His philosophies on football,  acumen in the transfer market and ability to develop young players are first rate in my opinion but I think this concept of the need for fresh energy and ideas is quite interesting.

The other long-lived manager in the Premiership is Alex Ferguson of Manchester United who has been in position for 24 years.  Ferguson has managed to reinvent his side on a number of occasions and has enjoyed success throughout.  This would suggest that it is possible to maintain a level of management without suffering decline.  What Ferguson has had around him, however, is a regularly changing coaching staff.  None of the four members of Manchester United’s frontline first team coaching staff have been in position for more than 5 years.

Compare this with Arsenal’s coaching staff and you find that the newest member of the staff, the goalkeeping coach Gerry Peyton, joined 8 years ago in 2003.

The biggest example of the difference between the two clubs comes in the position of Assistant Manager.  While Pat Rice has been in that role since Wenger started as manager, Alex Ferguson has had four different Assistant Managers.  Pat Rice and the other coaches have been very faithful servants to Arsenal and this says something about the positive environment that has been created at the club.  Loyalty is something that is to be applauded but is it possible that there might be a certain complacency among the staff and possibly an exhaustion of ideas?

Arsenal’s defensive problems just won’t go away.  Suggestions have been made that it is due to the personnel involved or that it is possibly an issue with mentality.  Whatever it is, it has not been dealt with properly by Wenger or the coaching staff.  I believe it may be time to bring in a specialist defensive coach who may be able to help identify the problem and create a solution.  This might have the bonus of adding some ‘new blood’ into the management team and prevent it from becoming stale.

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14 Responses to Urgently Wanted: New defensive coach for large Premiership club

  1. George mith says:

    I think the comment about the backroom staff is spot on.Could it be the personnel deployed by Wenger have been too comfortable in their positions and hence become
    yes men.?
    I am inclined to think so.

  2. Ole Gunner says:

    You’re a bit slow. Man Utd have conceded the same number of goals as Arsenal this season. Despite the fact that; Arsenal have missed a first-choice centre back all season, have 2 centre backs new to the team and to the Premier League having lost 3 centre backs last Summer.

    Man United need a defensive coach then?

    • Graham says:

      Thanks for your comments.

      George – I think yes men might be a touch harsh on them. Wenger has been nothing but full of praise for them (although I guess that doesn’t really mean they are not yes men) and they are widely respected coaches but I think you are right in fact they are perhaps too comfortable and haven’t been able to adapt.

      Gunner – I think you have missed the point slightly. The problems with Arsenal’s defence is not about the average. Under normal circumstances they are fine, there have been lots of clean sheets this year. Problems seem to occur in the so-called ‘big’ games against other large clubs or in pressurised circumstances. This was also the case when Vermaelen was in the squad. I hope you are right and a bit of experience to the new players will solve the problem but I fear that we have heard this before.

      • Ole Gunner says:

        Actually Graham, you miss the point. Arsenal’s defence is not as bad as people make out by any means. They can restrict Barcelona to 1 goal, surely they can “so-called ‘big’ games against other large clubs or in pressurised circumstances”.

        You all fall for spin. When Smalling conceded that penalty against Chelsea in a big match, and Vidic was sent off, nobody spins it as Man Utd succumbing to pressure in a big match. Afterall, Man Utd have let leads slip more times than Arsenal this season.

        Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny as a partnership concede less than 1 shot on target per league game when they play together.

        Arsenal have had some defensive collapses, usually when Squillaci has been paired with Koscielny. The problem is that the two don’t mesh. Each one of them plays very well with Djourou. Vermaelen has been missing all season long.

        Bacary Sagna is easily the best right back in the league and playing as well as any in the world on current form. Alex Song has been as good as any defensive midfielder most of the season.

        It’s a silly myth that Arsenal have overwhelming defensive problems.

    • Calum says:

      Ole Gunner – in fairness to the writer, Arsenal were very obviously ‘overwhelmed by defensive problems’ on Sunday.
      While your statistic about Djourou and Koscielny’s miserly concession of shots on target is correct, it refers to the eight games they played together prior to the Barcelona game (in which they allowed an impressively low total of 7 shots). In the two games they have played together since that they have allowed 1.5 goals per game, which is almost double the amount of shots on target (.875) they had allowed in their eight previous outings (as well as a total of 10 shots on target).
      This shows, I’m sure you will agree, that their defensive performance worsened in the two big games. Of course, it is more difficult to play against a great team like Barcelona than a lesser one like Ipswich (for example), but then they only scored one goal. Birmingham City are not a great team however, and Koscielny and Djourou didn’t just allow their goals they pretty much presented them – witness Djourou going missing for Zigic’s header and Koscielny tackling Szczsezny to gift an open goal to Martins.
      I’m sorry (and I’m an Arsenal fan too, I wish as much as you do that it weren’t the case), but there really is no other explanation for what happened on Sunday.

      • Ole Gunner says:

        Birmingham’s winner was the freakiest of freak errors, the like that’s so much of an error that you can’t read much into. I’ll liken it to Luis Figo scoring from 35 yards against England with the ball going through Sol Campbell’s legs. Or I’d compare it to Seaman conceding that goal against Zaragoza in Europe.

        To try to pass it off as systematic is laughable.

        I don’t know what 2 games you’re talking about, Arsenal’s last 2 games were against Birmingham and Stoke.

        As I said, it’s simply a myth that Arsenal’s defence is very bad. By any measure Arsenal have one of the best defences in the Premier League.

      • Calum says:

        Figo’s strike went through Tony Adams’s legs.

        I said the last two games in which Djourou and Koscielny played together. Squillaci started against Stoke, and in the other intervening fixture (against Leyton Orient) neither Djourou nor Koscielny started.

        Neither Graham nor myself say that Arsenal’s defence is ‘very bad’, if we had perhaps you would be right in calling us ‘laughable’.

  3. Potter says:

    Pat Rice’s position is best described in the picture of him consoling Wilshere at the end of Sunday’s final. He is a favourite uncle figure to the younger ones , Wenger being their Dad. However we do need a hard look at our defending even if our goals conceded record is similar to others. For a team that in domestic games has the lions share of possession it means that we ship more goals pro rata in the short time that our opponents have.

  4. Calum says:

    Bring back Tony Adams?

  5. John Burt says:

    The defence has been a problem for years and it is no good trying to pretend otherwise, although of course, as long as we outscore the opposition, does it matter that much? Recently however, the goals have been drying up as opposing teams pack their defence and rely on break aways for their goals. Part of the problem is with the holding midfield player and whereas he was brilliant last season, Song has not been so good this and Denilson is frankly useless at it. I agree with Calum – Tony Adams would be great. Another posibility would be Lee Dixon.

    • Calum says:

      Lee Dixon would be good. I’m not sure that my Match of the Day experience could stand his removal from the sofa though. It would only lead to more Shearer and no tightening of the defence is worth that price…

  6. David says:

    Thanks for sparking the healthy debate Graham!

    I too was utterly depressed on Sunday evening but what is even more depressing is that I wasn’t surprised. Arsenal’s defence isn’t bad and doesn’t leek many goals. However I disagree with Ole Gunner that the error against Birmingham was a freakish error. Arsenal are coached to pass pass pass and not to just give the ball a boot out of defence. On Sunday Koscielny seem ready to use his last resort and hit the famous row z, but given a shout from his keeper he was presented with a more elegant solution. In keeping with his training he pulled out to let Szczesny collect. Although Szczesny had clearly called for the ball he was also clearly surprised when Koscielny left it and from there we all know the result. It was neither elegant nor productive.

    This is where the balance of attractive football and winning football is tipped. At critical times in defence (in a game you are trying to win) a clearance is by far the best option. As entertaining as it is to see a defence weave passes around the strikers to get out of a tight spot sometimes a clearance from your six yard line is necessary.

    Are Arsenal defenders coached the “when it doubt give a clout” mantra? I doubt it.
    Could very conservative use of this tactic be benefitial to Arsenal’s chances of winning? I think Sunday’s “little misunderstanding” points to the affirmative.
    If Koscielny had booted the ball away would any Arsenal fan be bemoaning the lack of attractiveness of Arsenal’s play due to his clearance? No (and I include myself in that comprehensive survey).

  7. Pingback: Barsenal – A Barcelona vs. Arsenal preview | Good Feet for a Big Man

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