Instead of trying to find positives from their game (not much), Arsene Wenger stabbed the problem right at the heart. Soft, sub-par defending. He didn’t mention any names, but it was obvious who he was referring to – Laurent Koscielny.
When the offense isn’t clicking, a great team knows how to grind it out through a great defensive game, something Arsenal hinted they might have, conceding only two goals in five matches before heading into the London derby against Chelsea. Turns it, it’s just as soft as ever when under the right kind of pressure.
And that’s the problem with this sport. In general, Steven Bould has done a very good job in his defensive coach role for the team, but toughness is something you can’t teach. Wenger was impressed, too impressed with his team’s draw against Manchester City; especially with Koscielny, who scored the equalizer and had a good match off the bench at the Etihad.
Problem is, one good match doesn’t turn a player around, or at least erase a very basic flaw in his game. Koscielny epitomizes the soft centre back character Arsenal have always been associated with, or at least for the past 8 years, ever since their last league title. The way he allowed Fernando Torres to spin him around; the too eager reaction in Mata’s free kick, which seemed to be out of sync and touch with the rest of the team.
Koscielny is a good footballer, who tackled well and has a good aerial game, but sometimes only two small moments in a match tell you everything you need to know about a player and their limitation. He may be faster than Per Mertesacker, who was left on the bench, but the German defender makes a much more fearsome duo along with Thomas Vermaelen. Wenger, once again, fell the illusion that gentle, “classy” players is the way to go, even when you need a bulldog from time to time to make things happen.
If there’s any kind of toughness in the Arsenal midfield these days, it comes from Abou Diaby. Tough as he is, he gets injured quite easily, and as he left the pitch very early, it felt like a big chunk of whatever it was that gave Arsenal their strength in the midfield was lost. The no-striker experiment did get them a goal, but in general, both Podolski and Gervinho had a bad match. Gervinho got his touches, but he hardly did anything with them in a selfish afternoon. Podolski? Except for one header that stretched Cech, hardly seemed to be there.
The biggest problem for Arsenal besides their defensive gaffes was their midfielders. Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta were completely wiped out by some fantastic and clever defending from John Obi Mikel and Ramires, while Aaron Ramsey was the more mobile and involved of the trio, but not enough to create chances for the players in front of him. Chamberlain was a complete non factor during his 73 minutes on the pitch, and Theo Walcott didn’t do much better in the second half.
Back to the drawing board? Arsenal have a good team, but until Wenger finds himself a striker, there are limitations. Podolski and Gervinho will score goals, but too often Arsenal will find themselves passing around the edge of the box, waiting for that target man to magically appear. Olivier Giroud? So far he’s not up for the job. Maybe he never will be.