Monday night and you’re in front of the television with Gary Neville telling you Arsenal don’t buy any good physical defensive players.
Then you watch the 0-0 draw with Liverpool, see the poor defending on show, and think he must be right. Arsène Wenger disagrees but, as a manager who also wants his teams to go forward, finding a balance can be difficult.
“It is difficult always to find the balance in a team,” Wenger said. “You want a balance between attacking well and defending well and sometimes that depends on one player with specific characteristics. But I think we have had that debate for a long time now, that Arsenal do not buy defensive players.”
The Arsenal manager has used Francis Coquelin in defensive midfield since January, and it is his characteristics he is referring to. He’s a tenacious midfielder and, though he can be rash, doesn’t shirk a challenge – exactly the kind of thing Arsenal are criticised for.
“Coquelin has [some of] the best defensive statistics and numbers in Europe,” the Arsenal manager said. “You watch football like I watch football and you will see that defensively, Coquelin is doing a great job.”
“Since January, we have conceded less goals than anybody else. You know in football you have to accept that anybody can be right. The only thing I want is that when people have opinions, it is documented and worked-out before.”
This is a far comment. It often feels like pundits are basing their opinions on pre-conceptions rather than facts, and use just a couple of pieces of evidence – omitting context – to support the point they’ve come to.
Much like they would accuse Wenger of, pundits aren’t particularly open to having their opinions challenged. They decide that Arsenal are still frail at the back, which hasn’t been true for a number of years now, and that’s that.
Arsenal aren’t really damaged by an inability and lack of knowledge on defending. The Arsenal defence finds itself criticised based on a reputation from five years ago.