Focus must be on defence if Arsenal are to stem the flow of goals

There was a depressing familiarity about the way in which Arsenal huffed and puffed their way to a draw at Southampton on Sunday.

The Saints are far from the side they have been in recent seasons and, in truth, should not really have posed a problem for an Arsenal side which aspires to make it back into the top four this season.

But, such is the way of things these days that the Gunners were again out-witted by a lesser opponent, who, like so many others these last two or three years, all seem capable of learning from our mistakes before we do.

On countless occasions this season, Arsenal have been woefully exposed by teams who go man-for-man in our final third. Opposition managers have worked out that if you press Arsenal high enough and in an organised manner, they will offer you up a chance.

And not just any old chance, and not just one – Arsene Wenger’s men offer up two or three gilt-edge chances in almost every game.

You only have to look out our results against the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, and Manchester United to realise that the very best teams will punish that sort of fallibility.

The only thing that prevented us losing against Southampton was the host’s own lack of quality in the final third, coupled with some good work by Petr Cech.

At the back end of last season, when our defence had fast become a joke, Wenger relented and employed a three-at-the-back system in an effort to mimic the sort of stability and flexibility that was enjoyed by a number of our rivals.

Initially, it papered over a few gaping chasms but, as this season has progressed, it appears those paper bridges are rapidly beginning to tear once again.

The only question now is whether that is because of a lack of quality from the players or simply an inefficient and ineffective application of the system.

Common sense would suggest it is probably a combination of the two.

Don’t get me wrong, when the system works, it is spectacular. Arsenal are as good an attacking side as any in world football. When mistakes are made, however, the Gunners are second-rate at best, and at the moment a hell of a lot of mistakes are being made.

It is simply not good enough, and especially so away from home where a sort of timidity creeps in that makes the likelihood of mistakes that much greater, as if the howling and jeering of the opposition fans cows our players into becoming simpering children.

Southampton’s industry and bustle was a case in point as, once again, a fast-starting opposition forced Arsenal into a mistake, just as it had done the previous week against Manchester United. The Saints had seen our weakness and predictably exploited it. Arsenal, meanwhile, had learned nothing.

That Olivier Giroud was able to get us out of jail late on owes as much to Southampton’s wastefulness as it does to our good fortunate and, who knows, it may turn out to be a pivotal point in the grand scheme of things.

If one thing is clear, it is that Wednesday evening’s opponents – West Ham – will attempt to do the exact same things that most teams have attempted to do to us this season.

To prevent a repeat of some pretty farcical defensive performances in recent weeks, Arsene Wenger must find a way of restoring some modicum of stability to our defence and midfield. That may start with not allowing everyone in front of the back three to attack with gay abandon.

All 11 players must attack and defend as a team, just as they did against Tottenham barely a month ago. Quite why they aren’t doing that anyway is a mystery but that has to be the blueprint if we are to prevent our away form descending into fresh farce.

Fingers crossed!


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