George Dearnaley

Soft centre will cost Gunners

2008-11-05 11:31
Sport24 columnist George Dearnaley (File)
George Dearnaley

Much has been written and said about the football ability of the young Arsenal team. There is no doubt that on their day they can play the game as well as anyone. They are better suited to playing against ‘footballing’ teams, teams who try to pass the ball around and keep it on the ground. They don’t seem to enjoy it, as do most top teams, when the opposition are flying around making tackles all over the place and resorting to an aerial bombardment of their goal area.

But there is something wrong at Arsenal. They have already lost three league games and their high profile 4–4 draw at home to Spurs, after leading 4–2 with a few minutes to go, suggests that there is a blatant weak spot.

I believe that the central defensive pairing of Kolo Toure and William Gallas is the weakness. I’ll tell you why. Toure is a lovely man, plays with a smile and loves to play football. He makes his fair share of tackles, and he can also pop up at the other end and get a goal now and then. But he doesn’t strike fear into anyone. Gallas wasn’t good enough at Chelsea a few seasons ago. He is competitive and aggressive, but seems to have lost a yard of pace. He isn’t the biggest physical threat either – and so he too doesn’t strike fear into opposition strikers.

It’s not as if there are Premiership strikers out there who are terrified of playing against certain defenders, but if they are playing against United they know they will have Nemanja Vidic hammering them in tackles and in the air, they know that Rio Ferdinand is big and strong and covers the ground quickly – and so there are no immediate weaknesses – although Rio is prone to the odd error and conceding three goals at home to Hull will give everyone some encouragement.

If they are playing Chelsea, they know John Terry will be clattering them, and Ricardo Carvalho will be picking up the pieces in his elegant style. Again, it’s not as if there are any apparent weaknesses up the middle.

Couldn't cope

But all the other teams have a more apparent flaw. It’s either a slow defender, or one who is weak in the air, or prone to diving into tackles and giving away free-kicks. Often teams have two decent central defenders but they don’t have a great partnership, and so this is a weakness that teams will aim for.

I believe that the soft central defensive partnership in the Arsenal team is something that opposition teams will start going for. Stoke bombarded them with long throw-ins and high balls into the goal area and they couldn’t cope. Fulham played a similar high tempo game, and their goal came from a corner. Hull scored from set pieces against them, where they could throw their big men forward and ping the ball into the area.

Arsenal will play better football against the likes of United, West Ham, Newcastle, Wigan and Spurs because these teams keep the ball on the ground and pass it. But when they come up against the likes of Bolton, Blackburn, Sunderland and Stoke, they don’t seem able to handle the physical side of things. I think this will cost them and ensure that they are again out of the top two teams at the end of the Premiership season. They might still do well in Europe where the style of football in the Champions League is more suitable for them.

Wenger’s only hope if he really wants to challenge Chelsea and United will be to go into the transfer market in January and buy himself a big bruiser who can also play a bit. They’ve got the money so expect some serious transfer negotiations in a few months.

George is Media24's Soccer Business Manager.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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