Arsenal can't go on defending like this anymore

Julian Finney

Arsenal's defence is the same as it ever was, but with a weakened attack, that's a much bigger problem than it used to be.

As Arsenal rattled home their late equaliser deep into injury-time against Reading, commentators and pundits harked back to the half-time shot of a lone Arsenal fan trudging his way out of the ground, despondent at his side going 4-0 down to a team that looks likely to finish in the bottom three of the Premier League. "That's why you always stay until the end!" was the wise, insightful comment passed around Twitter.

It turns out that said Arsenal fan saw himself being mocked by the football world on television, and incensed, tweeted pictorial evidence that he was in fact merely heading out for a pint, and returned to watch the second-half and extra-time comeback in all its glory. We'll also leave aside the fact that after making this heartfelt plea to those who leap to early conclusions about football matches, the same pundits and commentators gathered to congratulate Arsenal on their 5-4 victory not twenty minutes later. The point is: affirming your opinions before you've allowed things to take shape is a bad idea. When you assume, you make an ass out of Uwe Rosler, or whatever.

Which brings us to the Steve Bould revolution. It's going well. The former Gunner's appointment as defensive coach was responsible for Arsenal's relentless three-game run of clean sheets, in which the solid base also gave their strikers the confidence to work their magic at the other end, scoring two entire goals. Of course, they then conceded against Southampton, but they had to wait just ten short games until they next managed to keep the opposition score to nil - and in fairness, that was a run which did include the irresistible attacking forces of Norwich and Coventry City. Other than the fact that last night Wigan conceded less goals in their 4-2 penalty shootout defeat than Arsenal did from open play, there is no reason to suggest this remarkable defensive solidity is not set to continue, particularly with Laurent Koscielny in the side.

Ah, Laurent Koscielny. Yet another victim of hype. The more critical observer will not have failed to notice that Arsenal found themselves two goals down thanks to a pair of classic errors from the Frenchman, the first losing his man completely and the second casting out a half-hearted leg which diverted the ball past his own goalkeeper when a trap or hoof into the stands were both more than acceptable options.

Such errors from the Frenchman are becoming commonplace: his appearance since joining Arsenal has shifted from being a fine defender, to a fine defender with an occasional error in him, to a defender who will make a horrible blunder every few games, and increasingly, like a disaster waiting to happen. The latter has probably overshot the mark somewhat - he's in bad form, and he'll probably improve and end up settling somewhere around the Jonny Evans\David Luiz "good defender with one calamitous error a game" mark.

And of course, it would be to fall into the same fallacy to assume that Steve Bould has laid waste to Arsenal's defensive cohesion - aside from the fact something has to exist before it can be destroyed, Carl Jenkinson has undoubtedly improved, proving a surprisingly-capable backup for the injured Bakary Sagna, while Thomas Vermaelen has also cut down on his positional errors.

Essentially then, it's Same Old Arsenal - dodgy defending, pretty triangles, keep-scoring-or-we're-doomed as the only available strategy. In a way, it has to be applauded that in such an age of crass consumerism, Arsenal's identity has gone unchanged for so long. There is, however, a problem: scoring one more goal than the opposition to make up for a shoddy defence is a viable strategy when you have Robin van Persie in your team - just ask Manchester United - but less so when Olivier Giroud, Gervinho, and Lukas Podolski comprise your strikeforce. Arsenal's attack has become far less effective, and the result is that their long-running comedy act along the back four becomes more and more problematic.

Signing Giroud and Podolski in the misguided hope that two players could replace one, a duo both below the level ability of Arsenal, or at least the level they purport to aim at, amounted to an admission of defeat - either from Arsene Wenger, or from world-class players who had no faith Arsenal would be able to sustain themselves in the Champions League level. It's the sort of transfer activity you more commonly see when clubs in the relegation zone start signing Championship players in January, because either the manager or better players have no faith in the club's ability to stay up.

An inability to attract players of the level that their betters have recruited means that Arsenal's 'identity' will see them doomed. Dodgy defending could be just about permitted before, but now it presents a huge obstacle. It used to merely hold them back, but now it's dragging them down. Fans might be idiots if they don't stick around to find out what happens in the end, but perhaps they're just learning from Robin van Persie. It doesn't seem to have done him any harm.

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