Sunderland preview: Balance the back four

Sunderland preview: Balance the back four

A traditional 3pm kick-off today, and what I’d give for a traditional one nil to the Arsenal. Don’t get me wrong, I’d take a 2-0, a 3-1, a 4-3 or any shape of win, but a clean sheet would be nice given how often we’ve conceded this season.

The team news is that Jack Wilshere misses out through suspension having picked up five yellow cards, and I think Mikel Arteta will come into the midfield for him. I suspect we might see Arteta and Ramsey as the two deeper midfielders with Cazorla ahead and a front three of Alexis, Alexisn’t, and Danny Welbeck.

The key decision for the manager is what to do at the back. The latest on Laurent Koscielny is not good with Arsene Wenger revealing yesterday that the Frenchman is going to be out for another month, or so. He said:

I cannot give you any date because we go day by day with him. He may be available after the next international break.

‘May’, that sounds encouraging, right? Today there’s little point criticising the decision making that left us in this position – it’s already been done. Not buying another centre-half was daft anyway, but when you know one of your first choice players is suffering a chronic condition and you still don’t then there’s simply no excusing it. I don’t doubt we tried, but that just leaves us with more questions. The fact is it’s a situation we’ve brought upon ourselves and one we have to cope with.

The choices are a) Calum Chambers and b) Nacho Monreal. For me, we’ve got to go with Chambers. The manager said this of him a few weeks ago:

He can challenge both centre backs and that’s what you want. You cannot play with two centre backs the whole season; that means he will play. Chambers is among the best three [central] defenders I have.

Ok, so there’s the pecking order established. Now, in fairness, this was before Mathieu Debuchy trod on that landmine, but still, he had a first choice pair of Mertesacker and Koscielny and Chambers was back-up to both of them. With Koscielny now out until who knows when, it’s important that we find some stability in the centre of our defence, and I think that is best achieved by playing two players who are comfortable in that position. Monreal, quite clearly, is not.

If the reservations are down to the inexperience of Bellerin, I think it’s still an overly cautious approach. The young Spaniard hasn’t done much wrong in his few appearance and was one of the bright spots against Hull. As for his talent and potential, here’s what Mikel Arteta said about him a couple of weeks ago:

I think he’s a top player. He’s going to be the right back of Arsenal for many years, in my opinion – providing he continues to progress in the way he has been doing.

I get that there’s a probably a certain amount of ‘in-house’ positivity to that opinion, but at the same time he’s sticking his neck on the line a little bit. It means there’s clearly a good player in the making there and these, are the circumstances in which young players often make their breakthrough. Managers in general are usually pretty conservative, choosing experience most of the time, but sometimes it’s out of their hands.

This is one of those situations. Get Chambers in alongside Mertesacker, let them play some games together, to forge a partnership and an understanding, and play a right back at right back, rather than an uncomfortable left back in the centre. If there are downsides to that, they can be traced back to our inability to add the requisite depth this summer, leaving us trying to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

The job of defending isn’t just down to the back four, and Wenger spoke yesterday about how there’s an onus on the team to defend better as a whole, but you can’t get away without some kind of functioning platform. I think the best chance of that happening is making our back four as balanced as possible and playing two natural central defenders, a natural right back, and a natural left back is the best way to achieve that.

As for today’s opposition, having been spanked last weekend by Southampton, you can be quite sure Sunderland will be pretty focused on defending. Some might see that as a bad thing, that we have to break down a team that will get plenty of men behind the ball, but given the shakiness of our defence, if they’re less ambitious than normal from an attacking point of view that leaves our most vulnerable area with less to do (hopefully).

The way we’re playing now you just don’t know what’s going to happen. When you’re looking at a team who can sparkle like they did in the opening 20 against Hull and then play the remaining 70 like a sleepwalking gnu, you just can’t be sure about how things will transpire. All I’m hoping for is three points and a game from which we can take some positives to build on. If that says a lot about where we are right now, then so be it.

We will have live blog coverage of the game for you later so if you can’t see due to pesky things like family and kids and having to do things with them, you can follow the game on your phone, tablet or any other device you might have. Simply check back later on for a post with all the details or bookmark our default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.

Until later, have a good one.

Anderlecht 1-2 Arsenal: lucky Gunners get massive three points

Anderlecht 1-2 Arsenal: lucky Gunners get massive three points

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Ok, I think the first thing to do this morning is to say how utterly delighted I am with the win. Under the circumstances, as the game went into the final few minutes, I wasn’t expecting us to snatch a point, let alone all three, so do that is really very enjoyable.

The goals themselves were fantastic. Calum Chambers put in the best cross of his life and Kieran Gibbs finish was so good I thought it was Podolski at first. Then the German did get on the scoresheet after tireless work from the incredible Alexis. His first touch and finish belied the fact he’s hardly played this season and Anderlecht must have wondered what the hell just happened to them. It was, by any standards, an incredible finish to the game and whether you like to or not, you have to give us credit for that small portion of last night – simply because it had such an impact on the game.

Now, here’s the but, or the however, or whatever qualifier you wish to use: for the previous 89 minutes we were little short of terrible. Shaky at the back, ineffective and wasteful in midfield, and just not threatening in attack. We stunk the place out, and there’s no denying it. Being happy with the win doesn’t mean we can’t analyse our performance and it was worryingly bad against a team who really aren’t that good at all.

If there’s credit to be given to the opposition then I’m always happy to do that but all they did is what anyone would do when the team they’re playing makes it easy for them. Indeed, we can be thankful that they weren’t good enough to take advantage of the ten minute spell after they scored when we were simply all over the place, lost any kind of defensive shape and players who know better just switched off and allowed things to happen.

At the back I felt sorry for Per Mertesacker who did his best to hold things together but was flanked by two players who had poor nights. Quite why Arsene Wenger ever thought Nacho Monreal could play centre-half is beyond me. The Spaniard just doesn’t look comfortable there, and why should he? He’s a left-back, has always been a left-back and always will be a left-back. He was exposed for their goal, took a tumble which almost gave them a second, and looked like a man who just doesn’t understand how to play centre-half.

The reason for this is quite simple: it’s because he’s a left-back and has never played centre-half in his life until this season. Arsene Wenger has a great track record of making a success of players who don’t believe they can play in a certain position, but I’d put good money on this not being one of those feel-good stories. If you want to criticise the player, fine, but the issue is the fact he’s being picked there in the first place.

Outside him, Calum Chambers (despite the fine cross), had the kind of game a rookie 19 year old will have from time to time. Whether it was over-eagerness I don’t know, but too often he was nowhere to be seen and great big expanses of Arsenal space on our right hand side were exploited by Anderlecht. Again, I come back to the fact they were too crap to make the most of those moments, but this happened all night long and better teams would have punished us.

The midfield trio of Flamini, Wilshere and Ramsey just didn’t do it at all. Santi Cazorla had a couple of moments, Welbeck got no service and found it hard to get involved, while Alexis, wonderful, wonderful, Alexis, put in the kind of effort that should have the rest of his teammates staring embarrassed at their shoes if they’re made watch a video of this one together (and they should be). He is a non-stop trying machine, at both ends. At one point in the second period he lost the ball high up the pitch but chased back to help snuff out the danger and was taking the ball away from inside our area. Relentless and brilliant, once again the silver lining to our increasingly thundery cloud.

Their goal: terrible defending. Mertesacker had to go with the man as they played a ball inside the channel, Monreal then came over to cover and the cross was allowed far too easily. It was two v two in the area with Flamini and Chambers marking the Anderlecht men, Chambers misjudged it horribly allowing Najar to head firmly past debutant Martinez.

Ok, it happens, but let’s see Arsenal respond. Again the worry for me was how much the goal took out of us. Like the game against Hull, we didn’t come firing out of the blocks to put pressure on them. Instead we practically crumbled and were lucky not to be further behind. There was the chance I mentioned when Monreal stumbled and Suarez went through, but a combination of a poor touch and Martinez coming out to make a save stopped him.

But when they hit the bar I felt genuinely worried that certain players had just given up or switched off. Watching Jack Wilshere just standing still in our box as the bloke who hit the bar ran past him, that’s just not good enough. I like Jack Wilshere but if there was something to do that was the wrong thing to do last night, he did it. Overrunning the ball, dribbling into crowds, looking for the most difficult pass when there was an easier option, you name it. To just stand there as they almost score again, well somebody needs to have a word.

Wilshere allows the man to run past him, his scuffed shot hit the bar and the rebound fell to an Anderlecht player who should scored. All the time, Wilshere stood watching.

Wilshere allows the man to run past him, his scuffed shot hit the bar and the rebound fell to an Anderlecht player who should scored. All the time, Wilshere stood watching.

We were lucky that they couldn’t make the most of it and I think what frustrated me most was the fact we were reactive to the fear of losing the game rather than proactive about trying to win it. It was obvious even 15 minutes into that second half that we weren’t doing any better than in the first, so why not make a change to try and alter the rhythm of our performance? Instead the manager sat tight, literally just hoping that the players who were playing so poorly would spark into life.

If there’s some credit to be given for the fact that one of his subs scored the winner then equally you have to say that the inaction from the bench before that was a contributory factor in us behind behind. It wasn’t working, we didn’t do anything about that and found ourselves losing.

Oxlade-Chamberlain, Campbell and, eventually, Podolski were thrown on and as I said above, you can’t do anything other than enjoy two late goals like that. Even if you have serious concerns over the performance, which I do, you need to be dead inside not to love when something like that happens. It was so ludicrously not what we deserved, but then the shoe has been on the other foot so many times I’m not going to complain about the end result.

If you want to be glass half-full this morning you could hope that this rather fortuitous win is one which becomes a catalyst for better performances and further good results. Sometimes it happens like that. A team gets a luck of the bounce, so to speak, and it provides some much needed confidence and belief. I hope that’s the case.

On the other hand, it’s very difficult to be anything other than really worried about how poorly we played, what a mess we are at the back, how the manager didn’t see fit to change things before he did, and the fact that a team as poor as Anderlecht gave us so much trouble. If we play like that against anyone half-decent we are going to get a spanking.

Questions about the system and formation remain – we just don’t look comfortable at all and we’re not getting anything close to what we should be getting from a group of players who have far more potential than we’re seeing right now. I think we’ve got to seriously think about whether Ramsey and Wilshere can play in the same team at the same time, and the manager just doesn’t seem to be able to find the right balance with the players he has available to him.

I also think that the team’s struggles this season have been such that very few have played well or shown any kind of consistency and we have to ask why that is. Is it simply that we’ve been unlucky to have so many players suffer a slump in form? Or is it because the formation or the way they’re being asked to play is the root cause? There’s always the need for a scapegoat, and we saw that earlier in the season with Mesut Ozil, but the problems lie much, much deeper than that, in my opinion. There’s a fundamental problem with the set-up, it’s not getting the best out of anybody and until that changes the struggles will continue.

Anyway, I am thankful and very happy about the three points – in the context of the group they were hugely important – but at the same time it’s impossible not to be worried about the next game, regardless of who we’re playing.

Finally for today, congratulations to Sarah Hearnden who was the winner of the Huawei Ascend P7 Arsenal Edition smartphone competition. Well done to you, I’ll be in touch to get your details. Thanks for all the entries.

Right, that’s that. Back tomorrow with an Arsecast. Until then.

Anderlecht preview :: Ospina knackered

Anderlecht preview :: Ospina knackered

Champions League action tonight as we take on Anderlecht.

Having lost to Dortmund and then pulverised Galatasaray, this is a game from which we’ll be looking to take three points. Anderlecht are, on paper, the weakest team in the group, but you suspect they’ll be looking at us and thinking it might just be a good time to play Arsenal.

We have issues at the back with Wojciech Szczesny suspended and David Ospina now gone from injured to crocked for three months (more on that anon). It means a first European start for 22 year old Emi Martinez and it’s going to be quite the leap in quality for him. The last of his whopping two appearances for us came in the 7-5 win against Reading during which he had a first half to forget, but after a loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday, and some time passing, the manager has given him a vote of confidence, saying:

He is two years older now, and has a good experience at Sheffield. He has grown in stature as well. We have to make sure that we make it as comfortable a night as we can for him, and that is by defending well as a team.

I think the final thing he says there is exactly right. If you’ve got a young, inexperienced keeper, then there is an onus on the rest of the team to do as much as possible to ensure he has as quiet a night as possible. The issue, of course, is that there’s probably going to be more inexperience in the back four because of the injuries to Koscielny and Debuchy.

Calum Chambers is back from suspension and he can play at centre-half. Although Nacho Monreal is a more experienced footballer in general, I don’t think he enjoys it in the centre of the defence, and I think I’d prefer balance to experience. That means playing Chambers alongside Mertesacker while Hector Bellerin, who played well against Hull, merits another game at right back.

However, I do wonder if the manager might consider a defensive unit with three players of various degrees of rawness just too inexperienced, in which case Monreal would stay in the middle with Per and Chambers would come back into the team at right-back. Either way represents something of a gamble, but I’m generally more in favour of playing players in their natural position than asking someone to do a job they just don’t feel 100% comfortable doing.

Ahead of them, I think Mikel Arteta will replace Flamini, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere in the midfield, with Cazorla, Alexis and Welbeck finishing off the team. Arteta’s return is an interesting one. Flamini has struggled (and been a bit unlucky), so it’s a chance for the captain to put in a performance which highlights his strengths. If there’s a worry it’s that on his last return from injury he, and the rest of the team in fairness, found Dortmund’s high-pressing game too much to cope with and maybe that’s something Anderlecht will have taken note of.

Again though, as I said before Hull, we’ve got the players at the attacking end of the pitch who can do damage to the home side tonight, so it’s all about finding some defensive stability. It’s easy to look back at the two goals Hull scored and see how we could have prevented them, but like many things in football, conceding becomes something of a habit and it’s not a particularly easy one to get out of.

Tonight would be a good time to start though.

Now, the David Ospina news will have had people rolling their eyes as it was confirmed that the Colombian keeper will be out of action for up to three months with a recurrence of the thigh injury he arrived at the club with. Arsene Wenger said:

He had his first injury in Nice, it was a knee problem and I think he was a bit rushed back. He didn’t use his legs so his muscle became weaker, then he got injured during the World Cup.

So, the first thing is that we bought a player who was injured in the first place. This is known in the game as a Kallstromian manoeuvre. You’d think we were alone in using this, but in fact Barcelona got totally Kallstromed this summer by us when we sold them a gammy-hammied Belgian.

However, the reason for the recurrence of his injury?

I had to bring him on against Galatasaray without warm-up, without being prepared and he had a recurrence of that injury. That means he is out for two to three months. It’s a long-term injury.

At least when we invented the Kallstromian manoeuvre, we didn’t play the chap until he was actually fixed. You have to ask what is the point of having a player on the bench who is in a position where playing them ‘cold’ might injure them? And this is usually the situation with a keeper. Outfield players you send to warm-up because a change is tactical, but replacing a goalkeeper rarely is, and so he’s always going to be liable to tweak his wotsit if it’s there to be tweaked.

Surely, until he was fully fit and recovered and his muscle was built up again, we could have used Martinez on the bench. You can, if you wish, look to find some kind of correlation between that decision and the manager’s words of faith above, but I suspect it might be a tall order.

Either way, the player we had hoped would provide good competition for Szczesny is now knackered, and if anything happens to our number 1, we’re going to have to hope that Martinez is ready for action. Tonight’s substitute keeper is a youngster called Ryan Huddart and he’s just gone 17. Fun times at the Arsenal Injury Parlour, roll up, roll up, see the freaks …

Whether this raises more questions about our injury management techniques (“Ah play, you’ll be fine” – “But doc, I’ve been bitten in half by an angry condor!” – “Well, see how you are until half-time at least!”), or simply reinforces the ones we already have, I just don’t know. Either way, if I was an Arsenal player I’d be shitting myself at the slightest twinge and to have lost another first team player for an extended period is just ludicrous at this point.

Right, that’s about that. Remember, there’ll be full live blog coverage of the Anderlecht game later on. Simply check back here for a post with all the details or bookmark our default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.

You might notice a few things going on around here today too. Or not. But possibly. I’ll try keep disruption to a minimum though. Probably.

Until later.

ps – final thing, if you fancy an interesting event on Friday, Amy Lawrence will be at Lords talking to David Dein and Sol Campbell about the Invincibles. I’ll also be chatting to Amy on Friday’s Arsecast about the new book, but tickets and info for the Lords event can be found here.

Pre-Anderlecht waffle, KSE losing friends rapidly

Pre-Anderlecht waffle, KSE losing friends rapidly

As usual after a disappointing result, there’s been something of a wall of silence. Understandable, how much more is there to say about what happened against Hull? Still, we just have snippets to keep us going today until the manager meets the press in Belgium later on.

There’ll be the usual press conference ahead of the Champions League game with Anderlecht, and we should get the latest team news. Beyond the fact that Ospina is injured and Szczesny suspended, I’m hopeful there’s nothing too difficult for us to deal with. Fears over Jack Wilshere’s absence following his frustrated hack at a Hull player on Saturday (anyone worry he’d Gazza-d himself?) were played down post-game by Arsene Wenger who said he should be ready for tomorrow.

Sticking with Europe very briefly, and we’ve been let off the ludicrous UEFA charge of ‘insufficient organisation’ because Galatasaray fans managed to sneak some fireworks and flares into the ground for the 4-1 win earlier this month. What can we do if they choose to transport their pyrotechnics in Papillon style chargers?

As for Galatasaray they’ve been fined €50,000 and been told to pay us compensation with 30 days for the damage their fans did to the stadium. Seats were ripped up and damaged during the game so they have to pay us for the repairs, or else. That’ll teach ‘em.

We might have Lukas Podolski back in the squad for tomorrow’s game – he missed out on Saturday through illness. It’s been a difficult season for him, having been almost shipped out and then played very little, but as I’ve said before, he’s a happy fella, like a dog with his head of a window.

So, when the BBC reported yesterday that he was a £10m target for Sp*rs in the transfer window, his response on Twitter was absolutely perfect.

Meanwhile, something from the far side of the pond where a journalist covering the Colorado Rapids, owned by KSE of course, lost his job for publicly criticising the team from his position as an MLS journalist. Deadspin have a transcript of some emails between Chris Bianchi and Tim Hinchey, the Colorado Rapids club president. Taking umbrage at a Tweet which sought to pin some of the blame on the Rapids dismal form on the board, Hinchey wrote:

Explain to me your point Chris or don’t ever reach out to me again. Period.

Bianchi wrote back:

That’s fine. My point is – and has been – the lack of depth on the roster, specifically defensively, standing pat at the transfer window, and in not re-signing Rivero has been more to blame than Mastroeni’s growing pains.

Uncanny! Lack of defensive depth? Transfer window stasis? Not signing a former player (the Rivero in question is Martín Rivero, who now plays for Chivas USA)?! All sounds a bit familiar, right? Anyway, it seems Hinchley, the President of a football club who you’d imagine might have better things to do, got the chap fired from his position with MLS Soccer. The pettiness of his last email is really something.

It’s worth noting that the Rapids haven’t won a game since July 25th, a 13 game streak without a win. Then, some enterprising fans, no doubt inspired by Manchester United’s ‘Bring back Ronaldo’ campaign, did this:


Wait until they get the bill for Stan’s Services, they’ll go bat-shit altogether. Anyway, fun times in Colorado right now, and while obviously this particular situation might be more down to Hinchley than Kroenke, it doesn’t reflect well on the owner.

There’s no way he could have such influence over here on a journalist, although to be fair to him, he’s worked it the other way with a few to ensure that he gets pretty favourable coverage. Let’s face it, on countless Arsenal blogs, fan sites and supporter’s association sites, there’s been plenty of criticism about the 3% ticket price rise and the payment to KSE which the board were unable to explain in any convincing way.

Yet, while touched on the papers, there’s been little criticism of it from people who have the largest platform (right now) to do that. Maybe it’s because of the way football is England, that we no longer bat an eyelid at an owner coming in and taking what he want, or running it in such a way that is detrimental to the health of the football club.

Which isn’t to say we’re at the same level of a Portsmouth, or even Man Utd with a load of debt leveraged on the club, but even so, the utter vagueness of that £3m payment was open to questioning from far and wide and instead we were told shareholders were warmly applauding Stan at the AGM. That £3m could have brought in a centre-half on loan, you know. (Thanks to Jeremy for the hat-tip on this one).

Right, final couple of things. Firstly, this week’s Arsecast Extra is ready for your aural consumption, replete with post-Hull analysis and a lively discussion on the best crisps (amongst other things). Secondly, and lastly, if you fancy winning a rather cool Huawei Ascend P7 Arsenal Edition smarthphone, check out the competition here – you have until Wednesday night to enter.

Righto, that’s that, more here tomorrow.



Defensive problems obvious, but is the solution?

Defensive problems obvious, but is the solution?

A famous man once said, “If you defend like a garrulous, gin-soaked wombat, you’ll never win the Premier League.”

Actually, I don’t know if a famous man said that at all, but somebody should have because it’s true. We are a gimlet-eyed marsupial at the moment, conceding more goals, looking susceptible to the counter attack, and I think we’ve got to be thankful that Hull didn’t have the players who could genuinely hurt us when things broke down at the attacking end of the pitch.

On today’s Arsecast Extra (coming later), the subject of where our biggest issue is came up. Is it the fact we’re not scoring enough or that we let in too many? For me it’s the latter. Our defensive platform is not right and until we get that sorted out then we’re going to continue to drop points. That we’re not losing too many games is, perhaps, a small blessing but our defending is obviously the biggest problem we have right now.

Stepping back and looking at it as objectively as possible, the main reason is that we’ve had to chop and change personnel for various reasons. Injury and suspension have played a part, but in thirteen games across all competitions we’ve had eight different back four combinations (not including the goalkeeper).

Compare that to last season when we played Sanga – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Gibbs for the majority of our games. Having to chop and change at the back doesn’t excuse our defensive frailty, but it’s part of why we’re so all over the place back there this time around. Regardless of how well you’re drilled and how much you do on the training ground, having to play a left-back at centre-half and a rookie right back will make it more difficult for your back four to perform as a unit.

With injury we’ve been unlucky in one instance: Mathieu Debuchy. His ligament injury was dreadfully unfortunate but the fact we’ve had to use our only central defensive back-up to replace him is down to the fact we were always light at the back. People ask why didn’t we keep Vermaelen? The reality is that even if we had he’d be another frustration as he’s yet to play this season because of injury.

The Koscielny situation can’t be anything other than a piece of mismanagement though. You don’t develop ‘chronic tendinitis is both Achilles tendons’ overnight. Even if, and this is a stretch, the club only became aware of the seriousness of Koscielny’s problem when he returned from World Cup duty, they still had a month to source a defender in the transfer market. Quite why they didn’t is beyond me, but this is old ground we’re treading here. The fact remains we failed to give our squad the adequate depth in a key area and now we’re paying the price.

Arsene Wenger talks about the need for more balance, saying:

Last year we had 17 clean sheets with the same defenders but we have not started to do that yet. Our defensive efficiency is not there and we cannot survive at the top level by always conceding two goals.

Except it’s not the same defenders. Debuchy for Sagna was a decent replacement, and we’ve been hit badly by his injury, but when you’re playing a 19 year Chambers, 19 year old Bellerin, Monreal as a central-defender you can’t say the situation is the same in terms of the players.

Nor is it the same in the way that the team has set up. Has the formation tweak played a part in our lack of defensive stability? Even if we did look better going forward against Hull (in the opening 20 minutes), by the time the second half came around we looked uncomfortable and it required awareness and defensive dedication from some our forwards to stop Hull’s counter-attacks. Yet in the two games in which we’ve performed best (Villa away and Galatasaray home), we were set up in the same way we did last season.

Villa, by the way, was a clean sheet and Galatasaray should have been but for Szczesny’s penalty concession. And, as well as being effective from an attacking point of view, we looked more sound at the back in both of those games. Coincidence? Perhaps. Two games is not really a large enough sample size, but maybe looking distinctly troubled in all the other games probably provides enough balance.

The other thing that has bothered me somewhat this season is the idea that defending is the sole preserve of the back four, and not the concerted team effort it was. Yes, we’ve had some help from forwards like Alexis and Welbeck for whom hard work is viewed as part of the job and not something that might happen if it occurs to them in time. But if you remember when we went to Bayern and got a 2-0 win which filled a previously jittery team with the defensive confidence to see out a season with 1-0 and one goal wins to secure a Champions League spot at the expense of Sp*rs – that was built on a huge team effort.

Midfielders didn’t look at fat blokes running past them, they chased them down and threw themselves into tackles that might prevent a dangerous cross which might result in a goal. There doesn’t seem to be the same level of effort right now and due to the injury problems we’ve got, and the inability to field a consistent back four, we need to put that right straight away.

Look at Wednesday night’s potential back four. David Ospina is out of the game through injury and Wojciech Szczesny is suspended. That means a start in goal for Emiliano Martinez. Calum Chambers should come back into the centre of defence so that means we’ve got a defensive set up of: MartinezBellerin – Mertesacker – Chambers – Gibbs (the bolded players have a total of 19 appearances for the club between them).

So, what do we do? Do we trust in their potential and ability? Or do we make sure that the we play makes it as easy as possible for them to perform well? Add another deeper-lying midfielder to ensure that the team is better able to cope with opposition attacks and counters? Play the formation that they feel most comfortable in? All possible, but more than anything else we have to drill into them the idea that everybody has defensive responsibility, and everybody is expected to do their bit.

We’re in a precarious situation because so much of football is about confidence and belief, and right now we look like team that doesn’t believe it can keep clean sheets. It becomes almost self-defeating in a way. But, we’ve had these troubles before and found a solution – and it’s vital we do that now. It’s more difficult when you have to chop and change and you’re using more inexperienced players, but that’s life. That’s the position we’ve put ourselves in and until we find a way of dealing with it, results will continue to disappoint.

As I mentioned, James and I will have an Arsecast Extra for you later on – it should be up and ready around lunchtime. In the meantime, any pre-Anderlecht news etc, can be found over on Arseblog News.

Till tomorrow.