Sport360° view: Blame Wenger's defensive blindspot for Arsenal's lack of resilience

Arsenal may have spent money on improving their strike force this summer with Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez signing but should they have invested on some senior defenders? Martyn Thomas argues why their defensive frailties are preventing the club from moving forward.

Martyn Thomas
by Martyn Thomas
6th November 2014

article:6th November 2014

Problems in Europe: Arsene Wenger.
Problems in Europe: Arsene Wenger.

Arsene Wenger was honest in his appraisal of Arsenal’s extraordinary capitulation against Anderlecht, but contrition will not appease the growing sense of unrest at the Emirates.

When Mikel Arteta stroked his side in front from 12 yards there was a brief rendition of an old classic as ‘one-nil to the Arsenal’ reverberated around the stands.

But unlike their miserly forefathers this team cannot be relied upon to hold onto such leads.

Having played nine homes games in all competitions this season, the Gunners have kept just two clean sheets and shipped 12 goals in the process.

On Tuesday night their fragility was on display long before Anthony Vanden Borre poked home, and the panic that ensued has robbed them of any chance of topping Group D.

With just one point needed from their remaining two games, against Borussia Dortmund and Galatasaray, to secure second, there is little doubt they will join the Germans in the last 16.

However, there is now an increased probability that once there, they will face one of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain or Atletico Madrid.

Arsenal would not start as favourites to beat any of that quartet over two legs, ensuring that a sense of foreboding has accompanied Aleksander Mitrovic’s late headed leveller.

How Wenger must wish he could turn back his clock to mid-May. Aaron Ramsey’s 109th-minute winner in the FA Cup final gave the Frenchman a platform, but his own negligence has prohibited the club building on it.

His priority over the summer – especially with the departures of Bacary Sagna and Thomas Vermaelen long forecast – should have been to significantly strengthen in defence and sign a holding midfield player.

Admittedly Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers were both astute additions, but it is almost criminal to start a gruelling nine-month season with only six senior defenders.

Moreover, Wenger has admitted he knew Vermaelen was leaving, and as such his inability to bring in a frontline replacement is reckless at the very least.

Imagine the reaction had a less experienced manager splashed the cash on a World Cup star such as Alexis Sanchez, when he barely had enough defenders to fill a substitutes’ bench.

It is not Nacho Monreal’s fault, of course, that he has been forced to play out of position for the past few weeks, and it is not only the job of the back four to defend.

The team’s frailty runs far deeper than that. On Tuesday night there was a naivety to Arsenal’s play as Ramsey and co refused to curb their attacking instincts even when Anderlecht began their comeback.

At other times this season, such as in the draw with Man City, the team has been gripped with anxiety. Neither Arteta nor Mathieu Flamini give the side the requisite stability at the base of midfield, and thus the Gunners have very little resilience when pressure is applied. 

Fans were calling for an upgrade on the pair long before the end of last season, and many were baffled when Wenger instead decided to put his faith in Abou Diaby. The injury-prone midfielder has played just once this season.

By contrast two former Arsenal midfielders have shone in the Premier League, since both returning from a spell in Spain with Barcelona. But while many Gunners fans may dream of seeing Cesc Fabregas back at the Emirates, it is his former Barca and Arsenal team-mate, Alex Song, who really could have made a difference.

Song has been a revelation at West Ham, and his energetic display against City last month was key as the Hammers won 2-1.
It was a performance that suggested he still had a future at the highest level, and with Arsenal crying out for some steel in the middle of the pitch it is a wonder why he wasn’t coaxed back to north, instead of east, London. 

It impossible to overstate Wenger’s importance not just in Arsenal’s development, but also that of the Premier League. However, he possesses a defensive blind spot that is preventing the club moving forward again.



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