Arsenal’s improved defensive record provides a platform to build on
Arsenal is a club with contrasting relationships with their defence. The team which housed the famous back four was always known for 1-0 wins and defensive grit. Whilst they retained some of this under Wenger, defensive errors over recent seasons have increased to the point where Arsenal conceded 49 goals last season.
May 28th, 2013
However, the Gunners finished this campaign on an impressive run, instigated by the defeat at White Hart Lane to Tottenham in March – where defensive frailties were exposed – and the team went 10 league games without defeat. This was built on a solid defensive record: conceding only five goals, and keeping five clean sheets.
Comments were made at the start of the season about Steve Bould’s impact on the defence as he arrived as Assistant Manager. Indeed, in the first three games Arsenal did not concede a goal, but the increasing amount of errors made this seem like a presumptive conclusion.
However, overall Arsenal’s defensive record last season was still impressive and clearly improved as the season progressed. The team conceded 21 goals in the first half of the season, but only 16 in the second. This totals 37, which is twelve goals fewer than last season’s 49. This was not only a much-improved performance, but also the second-best goals conceded record in the league last season – losing out only to Manchester City who conceded 34.
The Tottenham game was a key turning point, as the defence analysed their performance as a unit, watching replays of the game together. Clearly these issues were then addressed, and the management team made some brave decisions, including making Koscielny and Mertesacker the first-choice partnership at the centre of defence, dropping club captain Thomas Vermaelen.
The split between home and away records is fascinating, and tells a contrasting tale. Arsenal’s home record saw them score a higher than usual number of goals – 47, but also conceded many more than previous years – 23. The fact that 11 of those goals were conceded in wins, and the high number of goals scored suggests that Arsenal were a little complacent at home, but usually managed to outscore opponents. The remaining 12 goals conceded came in the six home games where Arsenal dropped points, and they scored in four of these – suggesting that improvements are still required.
However, away from home Arsenal had the best defensive record in the league, conceding just 14 goals. Although they only scored 25, this is indicative of the way they ground out away results. Indeed, in recent times they’ve only done better defensively in 2002 and 2004, both title-winning years, with an impressive points haul of 35 – close to 50% of the total points.
Arsenal’s away performance was particularly impressive, though there is still work required to improve consistency throughout the entire season. Additionally, though they managed to ‘grind out’ those results, an improved league standing and possible trophies will require a much more incisive attack, as although Arsenal remain the best passing side in the league, their attacking form has been indifferent at times. Better results against their direct rivals will also be important, as they failed to beat any of the top six, except Tottenham at home.
In summary it is clear that marked improvements have been made in the Arsenal defence, whether or not directly instigated by Steve Bould, attaining the second best defence in the league is a considerable achievement, and the final run to fourth place most definitely encapsulated Bould’s philosophy:
“Everybody has realised that clean sheets win games a lot of the time”
James writes about Arsenal on Arsespeak.com where you can find many more in-depth analytical articles on tactics, statistics and players.