GRANIT XHAKA got a lot of stick for Watford’s late winner against Arsenal last weekend.
But the midfielder’s role in the goal was only the end of the movie. There was a lot more to the storyline before that.
There were five or six individual defensive errors committed before Xhaka was slow to react on the edge of the box, allowing Tom Cleverley to nip in ahead of him and slam home for Watford.
We can go through them. This isn’t to single people out or to apportion blame. But simply to point out that Arsenal’s defensive issues are a collective problem – and that hammering Xhaka is not the solution.
Watford’s attack starts with Abdoulaye Doucoure in the centre of the pitch, playing the ball back to right-back Kiko Femenia.
Now, Mesut Ozil is next to Doucoure but after that pass, he wanders off upfield. And remember, this is the 92nd minute, away from home and a point is not too bad.
The ball’s then pumped towards Arsenal’s box. Rob Holding wins the header under pressure from Cleverley and it drops to Doucoure.
Ozil now tries to track back to where he was, but it’s too late.
If he had stayed in the first place, rather than seeking a counter-attack without Arsenal ever winning the ball back, he can intercept that header. ATTACK OVER.
Then, as Jose Holebas lines up to shoot from distance, Nacho Monreal takes three steps forward to the edge of the 18-yard box, playing a high line.
Per Mertesacker could move up with him. If he does, Troy Deeney’s either offside as the shot comes in (ATTACK OVER) or has to follow Per back to stay onside. ATTACK OVER.
Then, as the shot comes in, Per drops three steps. This allows Deeney to get in the face of Petr Cech.
It upsets the keeper, who spills the ball – otherwise: ATTACK OVER. Then, when the shot comes back out off Cech, Holding could react but Etienne Capoue, two metres behind, gets ahead of him and shoots.
If Holding reacts quicker: ATTACK OVER.
Mertesacker blocks and it breaks to Cleverley and, as we’ve said, Xhaka was slow to react. Otherwise: ATTACK OVER.
There were too many Arsenal players not sensing danger, too many with the wrong mindset.
It’s a team problem not an individual one. The goal was the snowball effect of lots of errors.
Look, this all happened in two seconds. Mistakes happen – or no one would ever score!
That’s why you need to be well-drilled in training so if you lose the ball, or you are in certain situations, your instincts kick in, telling you where to be.
I don’t know what Arsenal work on at the training ground – I’m not there. But I’m sure they have discussed it.
These guys are World Cup winners, long-time internationals.
We’re only eight games in but Arsenal need to sort out their defending as soon as possible.
They’ve shipped seven goals on the road already and scored only one – a header at a corner!
That’s very unlike Arsenal.
They have Everton at Goodison today and there will be spells when they are under pressure. They need to stand firm.
Arsenal can defend properly as a team. They did so against Chelsea.
But we need to see that more often.
There are different ways to control games. When I was at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola liked to control the big games by having the ball.
Jose Mourinho said he controlled last week’s draw at Liverpool – even though Manchester United gave up possession.
Arsenal need to get that control back and today is a good time to start.