Clean sheets or maturing attacking talent? Arsenal’s continued good form
On Tuesday night Marseille proved no competition for Arsenal as they succumbed to two excellent Jack Wilshere goals. Though Arsenal could not ensure qualification for the second round of the Champions League, they now have four wins from five games and top the group. Avoiding defeat away to Napoli in the final game would see them qualify for the next round.
November 28th, 2013
Arsenal’s continued form, notwithstanding the blip of a 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford, now reads 19 games (Premier and Champions League fixtures), three lost, one drawn, 15 won. Even considering the 1-0 defeat, the team have recovered to overcome a troublesome Southampton side, keeping a clean sheet in the process, and another against Marseille. There may be more arduous fixtures to come, but maintaining competitive form across such a number of games is an excellent achievement.
Keeping those sheets clean is another aspect of Arsenal’s game that seems to be improving. For several seasons, the side’s achilles heel was defensive confusion, preventable errors and a propensity for conceding goals that negated their attacking threats.
Much was made of last season’s improvements in this area, particularly on the run from February which eventually sealed fourth place and Champions League qualification at the expense of Tottenham. This blog made that point at the end of the season, noting the impact of Steve Bould’s philosophy: “Everybody has realised that clean sheets win games a lot of the time”.
Defensive areas have only improved this season; a strong unit of Mertesacker, Koscielny and Szczesny at the core, with further strength in depth: Vermaelen is left on the bench, as are Monreal and Jenkinson. The overall organisation of the team in the defensive aspect is improving, though they are still liable to concede to teams on the break. While Arteta provides discipline in midfield, the addition of Flamini has provided another excellent option for a more defensive, organisational role in midfield.
In this light, Arsenal’s defensive record seems to be improving. Only Southampton have conceded fewer in the league this season, with seven goals against to Arsenal’s 10. Furthermore, the number of clean sheets is increasing. After conceding four goals in five PL and CL games in September, and the same in October, Arsenal have conceded just one in five games in November. That is representative of the fact that Arsenal have kept four clean sheets this month, opposed to two in October and just one in September.
Arsenal leave themselves in a much stronger position when maintaining this organisation and discipline, which allows the array of attacking talent to build towards the win. Arsene has a range of attacking talent as a result of his team-building efforts over the past few years, and this includes the British talent, oft-mentioned this season. Attacking midfield configurations including Ramsey, having the season of his life; Wilshere, returning back to full fitness; Rosicky, Cazorla, Ozil, as well as Walcott, Podolski and the Ox, all returning from injury, provide enviable choice for Wenger. Many of these are still maturing, and as seen in Ramsey this season, Wenger has been vindicated for keeping faith in them. Giroud is also maturing into a world-class striker, but remains an injury worry, with only the pool door-damaging Bendtner as real cover for now.
Arsenal’s season now enters an absolutely pivotal phase, with games every three to four days against challenging opposition, including Everton, and the crucial Champions League decider at Napoli, ending in a trip to Manchester City; surely the toughest team to visit this season. This is followed nine days later by possibly the other closest title contenders, Chelsea.
How Wenger’s team fares over this period may become a microcosm for this season. Arsenal have stood up to several challenges so far but must still continue to prove themselves.
James writes about Arsenal on Arsespeak.com where you can find many more in-depth analytical articles on tactics, statistics and players.