Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Stroppy Wenger ends Bould's coaching sessions -Mertesacker says defence needs help

Morning Gooners.

It should really come as no surprise to any of us that Arsene Wenger is a control freak. After 16 years at the club he has been rewarded with more and more power by an aging board who he has made even richer than they already are.

He was the architect of The Invincibles and is the club's most successful manager, having won more trophies than any other. He also was a key player in the move from Highbury to the Grove.

So when the media start praising his newly appointed assistant manager Steve Bould for Arsenal's impressive start to the season defensively - with three clean sheets at the start of the Premier League season against Sunderland, Stoke and Liverpool - you can see why he is irked.

Lets forget for the moment that those three teams haven't exactly set the world on fire this season. It was great having a zero in the goals conceded column in the league table after those opening games. We were playing a stable back four of Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen and Gibbs. There was no chopping and changing because of injury, suspension, or fatigue.

The narrative which seemed to fit nicely with the media for Arsenal's clean sheets was that Steve Bould had come in and worked with the club's troubled defence and coached them with drills used by his former manager George Graham. Arsene Wenger had nothing to do with it. It was all Steve Bould. He was Arsenal's defensive saviour.

When asked about his team's good run without conceding, Arsene Wenger got stroppy with the media. He didn't like the assumption that it was Bould who was turning things around. I remember him saying at one of these press conferences something along the lines of: You don't think after 30 years as a manager I don't know how to organise a defence?

While there is time during pre-season to work on specific drills, during the busy schedule of games every three days during the season there is not. And if Bould was running defensive coaching sessions with the defenders prior to the season, is there the time for them now?

Last night on BBC Radio Five's Monday Night Club, it was suggested that Wenger has stopped his assistant manager running specific defensive coaching sessions with the team. Listeners were told it was because the Frenchman didn't like the media attention Bould had been getting.

Now to me that sounds pretty childish from the manager if it is true. But this kind of story does fit with the media narrative. Everything has to be explained in a simple way. Arsenal were caught out on Sunday with two similar goals so no specific defensive coaching is a nice way to explain why Thomas Vermaelen didn't know if he was supposed to be playing a high line or not. Or why Nacho Monreal tried to play Aaron Lennon off side instead of tacking his run.

I was told prior to Bould's appointment as Wenger's assistant that he was concerned he wouldn't have any power in his role. That he'd end up a bibs, balls and cones man. And that is why the summer before he turned the role down. It was only when the club came to him with an offer he couldn't refuse following Pat Rice's retirement last summer did he decide to make the step up.

Now it appears that Bould's fears are true. Wenger has removed the power he had because of the media's portrayal of him as the club's defensive saviour. And Bould's "how many times" outburst at the Villa match is more proof that their appears to be a sticky relationship between the two men.

In this ten day break between games I wonder whether Bould will be handed the chance to put the team through any defensive drills? My gut reaction is that he won't and we'll muddle through until the end of the season.

Per Mertesacker has been speaking following the game. He told the official site:
"We are disappointed because we looked good for the first 35 minutes [against Tottenham].  
"We were solid at the back, played high up but couldn't manage both situations where they scored. 
"It was strange. After we scored we couldn't put them under the pressure that was maybe needed to score again."
It's shocking that a defence which individually is so strong couldn't manage those situations when previously in the game they had.

And I think while the defensive problem were highlighted because of the similar nature in the goals we conceded, I was more worried that we couldn't take our chances on Sunday. If I were running a training session at Colney this week it would be about putting the ball in the back of the net - preferably the oppositions.

That's it for today. More tomorrow.

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