This week Vidic has said it, Cesc said it, Adebayor is saying it 24/7 on ESPN’s annoying automatic video load crapola, I’ve said it countless times, and it’s probably the most over used and least understood phrase in all of sports: “defense wins championships.” But it’s true.
There have been quite a few comments in the blog and elsewhere about the state of Arsenal’s defense of late and much has been made of Silvestre and Gibbs at the back and the prospect of Arsenal facing United with such a “depleted” squad, but I just want to point out a few things.
Gibbs is not better than Clichy, I’m not even going to try to make that argument. Gibbs is slightly faster than Clichy and Gibb’s attacking ability is far superior (he already has 2 assists this season) but where he lacks is in experience defending. So, yes, I am a bit nervous about Gibbs facing Ronaldo, Tevez, Rooney, and Bobblekopf.
Silvestre is… well… batshit crazy. His defensive style is best described as desperate: he doesn’t just get a foot stuck in and clear the ball, it’s always, and I mean ALWAYS, some kind of acrobatic, falling down, desperation clearance. I like a player who plays “110%” like that and normally I would forgive him and let him play his own style. Except there’s the batshit crazy part. The part where, for some ungodly reason, he feels it’s ok to backpass the ball and give up a free kick to United. For a defender with his vast experience, at the level he’s played at, to make such mental errors is unthinkable. I would think his body would break down, not his mind, but it just seems like he’s not in the game, or maybe he doesn’t remember how to play football having had his mind erased by Sir Alex Ferguson’s technicians in the Old Trafford dollhouse.
But I want you all to take heart: Arsenal beat United 2-1 back in November. Granted, Arsenal we’re up for that game and United were in a bit of a slump at that point — having let Hull City get up their noses a bit when United eked out a 4-3 win which they followed by a 1-1 draw to Celtic. In fact, United might look at that period and see that as on of their low points of the season. So, you could blame that.
But, while United might look at that as a low period, for Arsenal there is no doubt that the month of November was nearly catastrophic — this was a team coming off a devastating 4-4 draw to Spuds, not to mention the 2-1 loss to Stoke, followed by the 0-0 draw at home to Fener. The dressing room was a disaster, any belief that team had in their own ability was being trampled by infighting between Gallas and half the team.
But worse than the state of Arsenal’s dressing room was the state of the injury room. Arsenal went into that match missing Adebayor through injury, van Persie through insanity, and Toure through “injury.” The state of the squad was so bad that Arsenal fielded Bendtner up front with Diaby, Cesc with Denilson in the middle, and paired William Gallas with Silvestre at the back. If I told you that Wenger was going to field that lineup tomorrow, you’d shit yourself. And the funny thing is that that team damn near did shit themselves: Denilson could have been called for a penalty, Silvestre had the back pass, and Clichy had a hand ball, any of which could have spelled disaster.
So, under those circumstances, for them to come out and get a 2-1 win, even if at home and even if United were a bit down, is pretty amazing. Arsenal fans the world over should look at that day and remember that on our day, no matter who we field and no matter how we line up it just takes a moment or two of brilliance to get a win. Brilliance which Samir Nasri provided on that day and which I expect will be provided by at least one player tomorrow.
As for the defense, this is not just a league game at home in November. This is a game against the defending champions and our last chance for any silverware this season. Man U are going to be up for this game and there are going to be multiple serious challenges of our defense tomorrow. So, as much as I’d like to bring them along slowly, there’s no chance of that and it’s time for Djourou and Gibbs to show the world what they got. What sent Eboue from mediocre defender to “great” defender were his performances against Ronaldo and there is no doubt that SAF will be sending the entire Man U attack in to batter and deep fry Arsenal’s two young defenders. This is their chance to shine.
I think they have the talent to do it and I think Wenger will get the tactics right to help support them the best he can. But if they cannot do it, we all need to have realistic expectations and not get too down on them: Gibbs is only 19, Djourou is only 22, and both have a lot to learn before we can jump on them or abandon them and start calling for their heads. If we lose badly, then so be it, they have done an amazing job and defied all expectations to get us this far. If we win, or get a famous pulsating draw like everyone expects, well… then…
Well, there’s only an upside then, isn’t there?