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Following orders

After a long trip to opposite parts of the world, the team will rejoin again this week at London Colney to prepare in earnest for the upcoming season. I’m not sure when the players are scheduled to restart their training. Maybe they get an extra day to recover from their travelling exertions. Or maybe they will jump straight back into training as there’s more time to rest back in London, without all the commercial obligations of a tour.

The word on the flight back has been the influence of Steve Bould. I’ve touched a little on this here, when Arsenal had the open training session here in Kuala Lumpur. How he is meticulous in the training to ensure that every single player doesn’t shirk their defensive duties. This, has been confirmed by no less than 4 people. The most important of all, being none other than his boss and manager, Arsene Wenger. It’s a glowing remark from the Frenchman on his new assistant.

The highlighted part that we can take note on is the “defending as a team when without the ball”. Something which we have been lacking in general for quite some time now. It can range from players not tracking back to players not being aware of a runner behind them. A simple thing such a one single player who just gives up chasing back, can send the whole defensive system into breakdown mode. The same goes for when we talk about defending from the front. One single player harassing a centre back is of no use, when the other 3 at the back can receive the pass without pressure.

Of the other 3 who have spoken of their admiration for Bould’s short reign as the assistant manager, 2 are centre backs themselves. Kyle Bartley and even Thomas Vermaelen still have plenty to learn from one of the masters in that position. While the rules may have differ slightly from when he played, I’m sure Bould would still be able to impart some knowledge to them. Not least the organisational skills required as well as the positioning when faced against separate situations.

The last to speak highly of Bould is probably the one who is going to be the final barrier to us conceding a goal, the goal keeper. Wojciech Szczesny has inherited the number 1 jersey and looks to start the season that way. Defenders are primarily tasked with the defending duties but sometimes people neglect the importance of a working back 5. David Seaman and Jens Lehman are far better keepers than people give them credit for. For they have the ability to be leaders in the penalty box and work in tandem with the defenders in front of them.

That is something Szczesny will have to pick up and master if we are to ensure that we reduce the number of goals conceded for the upcoming season. The keeper and the defenders will have to develop an understanding of each other, knowing when to come for the ball and when to leave it for either party to sweep/clear. More often than not, keepers are trained separately from the defenders and it is hard to built up any sort of understanding with each other. In today’s game where the keeper has to do a lot of sweeping up and can’t pick up a back pass, there need to be a good working relationships between the two departments.

However, there is one more aspect of the game which Szczesny or the other keepers in the squad have to improve. And that is the attacking side. When I say that, I mean keepers becoming the starting point to launch an attack, counter attacking or otherwise. We used to be a team that went from defence to attack within seconds. Many of those situations were dependant on the choices made by the keeper. Whether to release the ball quick enough or to choose the right player to release the ball to. In which Szczesny will need to improve his awareness as well as his distribution. That said, it can only be matched by the players in front of him making those movements/runs. Just like in defending, 2 parties need to work in tandem.

Finding the right balance between attack and defence is always difficult. It’s not rocket science to figure out that the best team or the team that wins trophies are usually the ones who is the best at striking this balance. Wenger has always shown that he has creative ideas as to find the right type of players to fit into his attacking side of the game. Time is nigh now for him to marry those ideas with whatever input/help that Bould can give in the defensive side of things. I don’t see us going back to the free-flowing winning football of 2004 but there’s a part of me which sees us reverting back to the perfect mix of 1998.

Time will tell on this one. For now, there’s no doubt that Bould has already made a good first impression.