Sideshows, defence + Arsecast 276

Arsecast - the Arsenal podcast

Morning all and welcome to a sunny Friday.

Sideshows. Fun things in their literal sense. There’s the main event but there’s also something on the side to divert and amuse us. It’s little known, but during his Glass Spider Tour, David Bowie provided a number of these, including otter throwing stalls and beat poets who were so androgynous even the great man himself couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl.

They were a distraction, something to take your focus off the fact that even his incredible red suits and LED spider stage couldn’t make up for the fact that Bowie made a song with Mickey Rourke rapping in it (don’t believe me? Look it up). That’s something we’re faced with this weekend.

All the focus is on the fact that the Dutch Skunk is coming back, but the main event is far, far more important than any former player, regardless of how horrendous, traitorous and downright despicable he is. I’ll admit I love the pantomime of it. The guy who, regardless of what else happens, unites the crowd. Sure, there are some who think he was right to leave, others who think that by behaving the way he did he is history’s greatest monster, but during those 90 minutes I don’t think there’ll be too many people pleading his case.

Tim Stillman addresses this in his splendid column this week so I don’t want to go on about it, but underneath the cape and twirling moustache and mwa ha ha ha of it all, there’s a very important football match for Arsenal to concentrate on. While a good result will be made all the sweeter because of the circumstances, the bottom line is we need something from this game as the race for the top four draws to a close.

I don’t think the players will be as distracted as the fans, in fairness. For them players coming and going is part and parcel of professional life. There’ll be some back-slappery and maybe a few jokes but they’ll be fully focused on what needs to be done on the pitch. As Tim, and others have said during this week, perhaps the fact they’ll have to stand and applaud the champions will sting them, give them that bit extra they need to take points against a team that have won 12 games away from home this season, more than anyone else.

At Old Trafford Arsenal played poorly but handed United, and him (of all people), an early lead with the kind of defensive lapse which, eventually, saw Thomas Vermaelen consigned to the bench, and Arsene Wenger says recent improvement at the back has played a key role in the recent good form:

That’s where we’ve improved the most, it’s very important for the confidence of the team that we have such a [defensive] stability. As I said many times, we are an offensive team, but you are only a good offensive team if you have a good defensive stability. In the last two months that was much better.

I’m still not 100% convinced the balance is right but there’s no question being solid at the back is the best platform on which to base your game. For too long this season it was about scoring as many as possible and hoping we could keep the opposition out. When it worked, it was kind of spectacular and enjoyable. The 7-3 win against Newcastle was tremendous fun but the kind of game that would have people weeping into their coaching manuals.

And the issue was that when we didn’t score, or when our attacking game failed to click (not an irregular occurrence), we were banjaxed because clean sheets were hard to come by. It got so desperate that one of the solutions was to throw Serge Gnabry into the mix. A fine talent and obviously a player with potential, but so not ready for first team football at this stage.

The answer was to go back to basics from a defensive point of view. It took too long, and some untimely defeats to bring the manager to that conclusion, but better late than never, I suppose, and the upshot has been us taking 19 of the last 21 points and we’ve lost just once in the last 14 Premier League games. Laurent Koscielny puts this down to the protection offered by the midfield, Ramsey and Arteta in particular, but there’s been an improvement all through the team.

Sunday will likely be the toughest test yet of the team’s new-found defensive capabilities, but with points so valuable, we have to find the kind of efficiency that brought about the win in Munich. We had fewer chances than they did, but took them, and we’ve been a little below par in terms of creativity in recent games. Obviously, there’s plenty more to talk about before kick off and we’ll do that over the next couple of days.

Other than that there’s a heap of speculation this morning linking us to Fiorentina striker Stefan Jovetic, but unless there’s something concrete this, like the return of Sideshow Rob, is a distraction from what we need to do between now and the end of the season.

Right then, onto this week’s Arsecast and I’m joined to discuss the week that was by Philippe Auclair. On the agenda, Suarez and The FA, the United game this weekend, who the manager is going to pick up top and what other changes he might make ahead of the game. There’s some Amaury Bischoff PI and the usual waffle in there too.

You can subscribe to the Arsecast on iTunes by clicking here. Or if you want to subscribe directly to the feed URL you can do so too (this is a much better way to do it as you don’t experience the delays from iTunes). To download this week’s Arsecast directly – click here 21mb MP3) or you can listen directly below without leaving this very page.

[audio:http://podcast.arseblog.com/arsecast/arsecast_episode276.mp3]

Happy listening, have a good Friday, news throughout the day on Arseblog News, more here tomorrow.

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