Arsenal Depot

A depository for musings on Arsenal FC

Bouncing Back, Fullback Promise, Ox To The Rescue

The disappointment from Saturday’s defeat lingers and Olympiacos’ visit to the Emirates can’t come soon enough. After a poor performance, it’s always good for the players to take the field as soon as possible and put things right. It’s Arsenal’s first setback of the season so it’ll be interesting to see how this team responds in midweek.

Arsene Wenger feels they will bounce back strongly.

I think we will recover from it. It can happen in the season, but they are disappointed because they lost a game they should not have lost.

Last season, Arsenal’s resilience in the face of adverse results was heartening to see. While there are obvious areas where the team can improve (read defending set-pieces), it will take dollops of determination and team-spirit to leave Saturday’s disappointment behind and focus on the games ahead. Wednesday will provide a glimpse of how this team can cope with reversals.

Speaking of everyone’s favorite topic at the moment, Arsenal’s set-piece defending, it’s a surprising frailty that has re-emerged this season. Last season, most of our defensive vulnerability was linked to a lack of shape when we lost the ball. That seems to have been put right as Arsenal’s back four have held a deeper line and the midfield has worked hard to afford them protection. However, set-piece defending seems to have regressed to the 2010-11 season, when we were prone to conceding soft goals from free-kicks and corners.

One reason for this could be the reorganisation undertaken by Steve Bould. And I don’t say it as a criticism of the former Arsenal defender. The new assistant manager has only had eight competitive games so far this season and whatever drills are being formulated on the training ground may take time to be implemented effectively in matches.

Unfortunately, the Gunners’ defensive flaws in the Chelsea game overshadowed impressive performances by two Arsenal defenders. Both full backs, Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs were exceptional on Saturday.

Jenkinson continued to impress as he checked the threat of Eden Hazard and Ashley Cole on Arsenal’s right. The youngster also got forward, recording the second highest number of passes in the attacking third for an Arsenal player. Most impressive has been Jenkinson’s short-passing ability and ball distribution. While the youngster was prone to the odd lapse of concentration in his first year at the club, he’s shown far greater consistency so far this season. If he continues in this vein for the next three weeks, Jenks could very well keep Sagna out of the team for the time-being.

On the other side, Kieran Gibbs was possibly Arsenal’s man of the match. The left-back worked tirelessly going forward and tracked back quickly when the Gunners lost the ball. In attack, Gibbs’ possesses the ability to cut inside or drive towards the byline. While the final ball needs to be better, we’re certainly seeing the emergence of a potent attacking threat in the shape of the English youngster.

While his offensive game has always been exciting, Gibbs’ defensive positioning, anticipation and physicality has improved dramatically this season. On Saturday, the left-back made 8 out of 9 tackles and intercepted 5 times. He’s another player who seems to be benefitting from an extended run of fitness after early struggles with injuries and this could be the season where he cements his place in the Arsenal starting eleven.

Speaking of fitness, Abou Diaby’s thigh injury is another unfortunate chapter in the Frenchman’s book of misery. Diaby is expected to be out for at least three weeks and with Wilshere only just coming back to fitness, Arsene Wenger has a hole in that vital linking role in midfield. Diaby’s offensive and defensive abilities made him ideal for that position, ahead of Arteta and behind Cazorla. While Aaron Ramsey can pass the ball around, the Welshman lacks power and physical presence to stop opposition attacks developing.

For me, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the player most suited to that midfield role. Although his defensive ability may not be comparable to Abou yet, AOC has the physical presence and drive of Diaby. Also, Alex OC has a good shot from range so he will trouble the opposition from a central position outside the box. Even Arsene Wenger seems to be unclear about the best position to play Oxlade-Chamberlain so the youngster has only played cameos in Arsenal’s season so far. Perhaps Diaby’s injury will see the former Southampton player to get a run of games in the heart of midfield.

Bring on the Greeks. Until tomorrow.

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