Of late, Sky ‘pundit’ Jamie Redknapp has become infamous for his misuse of the word “literally”: Wayne Rooney has been “literally” on fire; Fernando Torres has “literally” torn the defence to shreds; Spurs have “literally” come back from the dead. Like most things that come out of Redknapp’s mouth, this is pure nonsense. But I’m prepared to go out on a limb, with my own use of “literally”:
This team is literally careless. They play, seemingly, without care.
Watch our attempts to ‘defend’, and that becomes entirely evident. Yesterday we had defenders in the team who have won titles and cups at Arsenal, Manchester United, and Chelsea. And yet, watching the game, you never ever felt that we could hold on to the 2-0 lead we had somehow established. The past suggests that these players are capable enough – the problem is a footballing culture that does not value the defensive side of the game.
It’s a point that’s been made many times, but what made Arsene’s early sides so successful was the fusion of his gallic attacking flair with a pre-existing set of British defensive values. The likes of Adams, Keown, Bould, and Campbell have long since departed, and have never been replaced. Now we’re left with a team and a club where defending is not held in any great esteem. There is no pride in the art of keeping a clean sheet – at this club, defenders want to dribble their way out of trouble rather than just clearing the ball from danger. They seem more interested in scoring goals than preventing them. Hell, some of them even insist on wearing the number 10 shirt.
They have forgotten what they were brought here to do. And the manager seems incapable of reminding them.
There is an exception. Bacary Sagna is an outstanding right-back who would make any team in the world. This stunning clearance off the line, as well as the width of the woodwork, is what kept us from going in three or four goals down at half-time. But the rest of the side is littered with problems.
We are in a position now whereby after we went 2-0 up yesterday, I recieved a couple of texts from people saying, “Need one more, really”. That, frankly, is ridiculous. Arseblogger today pulled up this statistic:
“In 19 league games this season we have conceded in 14 of them, a total of 23 goals. Not good enough.”
It is shocking. Appalling. The players need someone who is passionate about defending to sort them out. To make them feel like it matters. To make someone step up and pull players into position and tell who to mark who and slap players on the back for making a good block or a good clearance. We need to create a culture whereby a towering header or a crunching tackle is rewarded as much as a fancy backheel or inch-perfect through-ball. If no-one in the coaching or playing staff seems capable of that, then those personnel need to be brought in. Now.
Both goals we conceded yesterday were tragically typical. First of all, a simple through-ball split Gallas and Toure, and the former got the wrong side of Agbonlahor, who out-muscled him. Panicking, Gallas stuck out a leg and brought the striker down for an absolute nailed-on penalty.
And then, in injury time, came the equaliser – a catalogue of errors:
- When the throw-in was taken, Eboue’s back was turned, allowing Petrov to cross
- Abou Diaby was literally marking no-one, just casually wandering around the centre-circle
- The back four were too deep
- No-one was tight to Ashley Young, who had drifted inside from Silvestre entirely untracked
- Denilson seemingly didn’t notice/care that Zat Knight had gone up front, leaving Villa with three players against our two centre-backs, despite the defender being ‘literally’ yards from him
Crazy errors, in injury time of a game that only a minor miracle had seen us leading. We were thrown a lifeline by fate, but were careless and fumbled it. If it wasn’t so sad it would be funny.
I speak of a minor miracle – in fact what had put us infront was a combination of luck and brilliance. Luck in terms of Villa striking the woodwork three times and the ball breaking for Denilson to slot home, and brilliance with Sagna’s clearance, some Almunia saves, and a wonderful goal from Abou Diaby. On Diaby: is that goal celebration the first time he’s appeared to care about anything? The guy is outrageously talented, and seeing a goal like that makes his tenative performances all the more frustrating.
Then, of course, it all came tumbling down. We weren’t helped by an injury to Alex Song – the only midfielder who takes his defensive responsibilities remotely seriously. And yet, one can’t help but feel he only does so because he has no choice: he lacks the basic technique to engage in the attacking aspects.
I’ve always thought the top four’s places were assured, but without Cesc I’m no longer certain. If we are to qualify for the Champions League things need to change. A proper defensive midfielder needs to come in, who will shield and help-out the back four. Would Knight have been left alone had we been fielding either Flamini or Gilberto? The answer is simple: no.
Then the back four have to be organised. As I said earlier, if we need someone new to do that, either on or off the pitch, so be it.
Portsmouth tomorrow is an early chance to start puttting these things right.