Inability to do the basics worrying

Morning all, and it’s into the Interlull we go.

One of the worst things about our form at the moment is that it makes Interlulls seem almost welcome. It’s a chance for some re-grouping, for players to go off and clear their heads a bit, and for the manager and his staff to reassess where we are. The headlines this morning are about Arsene Wenger writing off our title chances already. Asked if it were still a possibility, he said:

We are 12 points behind Manchester United and Manchester City – so it’s not realistic to say that we will win the league. We have to fight to come back into a much better position, that’s the reality.

And clearly there’s no chance of winning the league this season. I’m all for happy miracles and all that but it’s just never going to happen. That’s not to say we should write the season off. There are still 31 games to go and lots of points to play for, it’s whether or not Arsene Wenger can turn this team around that’s the real issue.

I wonder if he has doubts about it himself. I know he talks all the time about how he believes in the potential of the players but we also know that much of the public backing of the team is for the team’s sake, to try and instill confidence. He can’t look at a team which continues to make fundamental mistakes, that professional footballers at this level just should not make, and not have doubts, can he?

It’s not a case that we’ve been desperately unlucky to come up against teams who have, on the day we’ve played them, turned in scintillatingly good performances. We’ve lost points through a self-inflicted combination of ill-discipline, spurned chances and, let’s face it, abysmal defending. And that abysmal defending continues not to be a problem simply of the back four. How often do we speak about it being a team effort yet Sp*rs second on Sunday was preventable, through nothing more than simple concentration.

If we were more detatched from this situation, watching a team whose current league run is as poor as Arsenal’s, and whose manager seems unable to correct the basics, we’d probably suggest in that footballing way that ‘he’s lost the dressing room’. The fact is players don’t get to this level of football without being able to do the basics. If Arsene can’t get that much out of them, at a time when it should be the very least we can expect, it’s very worrying.

People will talk of a lack of confidence, and that’s clearly an issue too, but you don’t need to be confident to track a man running through your midfield, you don’t need to be confident to close a guy down when he’s about to shoot, and you really don’t need to be confident to hump the ball 50 yards to a 6’7 defender trying his hand as a striker in the last 10 minutes of a derby.

The Express has an interesting quote from an ‘Arsenal source’ who said Pat Rice went mental at the players in the dressing room following the Sp*rs game. This source apparently said (link contains annoying autoplaying video):

Pat went crazy in the dressing room. He left the players in no doubt they have to improve – and quickly. He told them to look at themselves in the mirror. It is quite out of character for Pat to be so outspoken with the players, but it shows how passionate he is about the club.

You don’t spend as long at Arsenal as Pat Rice has without feeling the pain of a defeat against Sp*rs, and one which was entirely preventable. And who knows, maybe it’s just what the team needs. Arsene’s quiet contemplation might be effective when you’ve got a team who is experienced and doesn’t need to be told where they’ve gone wrong, but with younger players, and players who repeat the same mistakes again and again, maybe they need to be told.

Yet youth isn’t much of an excuse when you look at the team that played on Sunday. There were no rookies, no debutants, no real kids. There were a couple of thousand first team games between the starting XI, I’d say, so the players out there knew that when you switch off at the highest level of football you very often find yourself punished.

I listened to a bit of Martin Keown on Talkshite yesterday and he suggested communication from the defence to those in midfield was an issue. He said:

At the moment it doesn’t look as if the defenders demand enough, and give enough information to the players in front of them. When the ball went out of play yesterday for the 2nd goal it’s inexcusable that players switch off like that. If the ball went out of play when we were playing, it was red alert.

It was almost as if someone had drawn a gun on you, you didn’t turn your back on the gun, you didn’t turn your back on the ball, because you’d get punished. Players have to come alive in those situations and that’s not happening.

So, a lack of communication and organisation, and that’s a genuine worry. No doubt this will spark further calls for a defensive coach, for someone like Keown to come in, but a) we know Arsene doesn’t want to do that, he’s been quite clear, and b) this isn’t something that you should need a defensive coach for. Any manager worth his salt ought to be able to organise his team to deal with something as simple as a throw-in.

Pat Rice’s words are interesting in that they might also apply to the manager. Maybe as much as the players, he needs to take a look in the mirror to try and find solutions to the problems that we have. The current methods are not working, the lack of consistency remains a real problem, and if, as Stan Kroenke says, the manager won’t be changed, then the manager has to change. Arsene is an old leopard at this stage though and I doubt his spots will undergo any transformation.

In other news, Bacary Sagna underwent surgery on his broken leg last night. Interestingy, in as much as these things are, it was to stabilise his ankle. There’s no addition to the length of time he’s expected to be out so that’s a good thing. How we go about replacing him for those three months is another but that’s something we can look at another day.

There was better news regarding Thomas Vermaelen who appears to be on the road to recovery, while Wojciech Szczesny misses out on international duty with a ‘back problem’.

I get the feeling this is going to be one long Interlull. Till tomorrow.

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