Jan Molby

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

Jan Molby

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Once again we are talking about Arsenal's defending following a damaging defeat to Tottenham. It was criminal to concede two almost identical goals in the space of two minutes, but it is almost what you have come to expect from Arsene Wenger's side.

The two goals conceded on Sunday came from the obvious strength of Spurs: quick runs from deep. We all knew they were capable of that; Arsenal must have been aware, yet they played a high line with no pressure on the ball. It was suicidal.

Gylfi Sigurdsson and Scott Parker were given too much time to pick out the runs from Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon, and a lack of tenacity in midfield is Arsenal's big problem. I noticed the first time Spurs had any real possession, after about 10 minutes, that Arsenal struggled to get the ball.

They are not physically strong enough to wrestle possession back and they don't have the right type of midfield players to put the opposition under pressure. Where is their Scott Parker? It's not only closing down, but communication as well, telling each other when and who to press.

Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey are both very good when in possession and you could see what Arsene Wenger was trying to do: keep the ball away from Spurs. It worked for prolonged periods of the game, but when Spurs did get on the ball and approach the final third, they were allowed to play their passes through. It was a big gamble to have two players of that kind in the deeper roles and it didn't pay off.

Years ago, when Arsenal had the best team in England and a strong and aggressive defence and midfield, they could play on the half-way line. But they don't have those players any more. Sometimes you have to swallow your pride and adopt a more cautious approach. It is all about getting the result.

Wenger won't consider playing a more withdrawn strategy with men behind the ball. They only know one way to play. But sometimes you have to compromise your ideals, and to concede twice like they did in two minutes is totally unacceptable.

When they approach matches, Arsenal's strategy is simply to be better than the opposition. Unless you have better players, though, you can't always bank on the fact that this will happen, and you should find tailored ways to combat the XI put in front of you. But Arsenal don't have that flexibility.

Wenger claimed in his pre-match press conference that he wouldn't be making any plans for Gareth Bale and I think he is genuinely honest when he says that. I don't think Arsenal have that mentality. Focusing on your own strength does have merit as an approach but when you come up against superior teams - which Bayern Munich and Spurs are - then you have to be flexible.

If Bale sticks one in the top corner from 30 yards then you just have to admit there is nothing you could do about it, but the two goals yesterday were very predictable. To allow Bale to run from deep with no pressure on the ball is ridiculous.

You have to have a structure in your play - not just with the ball but without it too - and you have to take defending seriously. It's all very well planning to dominate possession and restrict the number of chances your opponents create, but you have to be able to cope when they do attack.

There doesn't appear to be any communication in that Arsenal back four. For the first goal Per Mertesacker is completely out of line with the other three; for the second, Lennon runs past Nacho Monreal and Thomas Vermaelen isn't even looking. There should at least be a shout for him.

Vermaelen has had a very difficult season and he appears to have lost sight of what kind of centre-half he needs to be. He tries to be aggressive but he comes out too quickly from the line and causes problems for his team-mates. You can't tell me that playing such a high line is what Mertesacker wants to do either. Put him on the 18-yard line, where Jamie Carragher has spent most of his career, and he is fine. But once you run past him it is over for him, so he must feel very uncomfortable with his current role.

Laurent Koscielny suits the high line but he has had a poor season after looking very good last season. The further you can keep him away from the penalty area - where he is a liability - the better. On the half-way line he is an asset because he is quick and reads the game well and I think there is still a future at Arsenal for Koscielny and Vermaelen.

Arsenal need to drop another 10 yards and at any time keep three defenders back. There's no need for both full-backs to bomb on. Keep one back and keep organised. Always have a man spare. But they gamble so often and leave themselves two-on-two at the back. If you have the best in the world then you can get away with that. But they don't, and it's reckless to keep playing in that manner.

To be brutally honest, you can't harbour realistic ambitions of reaching the top four if you defend like Arsenal did on Sunday.

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