Have you noticed how much time our players seemed to spend defending while running towards their own goal?
That tends to happen when you’ve been sucked up field then hit on the break, something that happened quite a lot. It felt like we were being quite naive, getting excited then hammered again. You could almost see the players with their “D’oh!” speech bubbles.
It’s the old chestnut: you make the field big when you attack and small when you defend. Arsenal sat back and let us have it a bit (at least later on) but because everyone was in the half we didn’t really look like finding any room. Then they attacked and by jove they found space.
Here are the goals, in reverse order as it happens. Doesn’t matter. On each occasion we’re turned around, there’s acres of space, and our defensive shape is in tatters. Roy Hodgson’s Fulham were very careful with the ball so that they didn’t get done in transition. Jol’s Fulham are a transition disaster waiting to happen, which might explain why we’re not doing nearly as well at home in his time in charge. We have the ball, teams wait for the breakdown and pounce.
I see a couple of issues with the team as it stands.
- Scott Parker seemed to get ‘worse team mojo boost’ – I may be wrong on this but he played a much more progressive game than I had expected. I know he was Johnny 200% for West Ham, but given his age I had expected a more disciplined performance from him. But he more or less did a Sidwell, going where the action was. Maybe at Spurs, surrounded by better players, he had to play a part, which made him and those around him better. Here he seemed to want to do everything, which is fine because he’s really good, but it meant that he wasn’t the defensive presence I had expected him to be, and that’s really what we needed.
- Tony Gilroy made the astute point that Boateng had done really well filling space against Sunderland. Well we could probably have done with a performance like that against Sunderland, someone to do the dirty work that we really need doing. This almost isn’t arguable. Just look at the pictures above. I know it’s Arsenal but are you saying we’re such a special attacking force that none of our players need to bother with protecting the back four? Balls to that. The midfield’s defensive work wasn’t good enough.
- Adel Taraabt is a creative force, but he only seems to create for himself. While Ruiz threads key passes all over the shop, Taraabt’s openings are for his own shots. It’s exciting but there’s a reason he went about 50 shots before he scored last year at QPR.
- The thing with footballers is that much of what makes good ones is not immediately obvious. So you might have some value as a flashy attacker but if you never pass and never defend you’re not making those around you better, are you? You’re contributing to a team-wide issue, that of players being less than the sum of their collective parts. Dickson Etuhu got all kinds of crap but made the team better. Bobby Zamora made his team exponentially better. I’m not sure Taraabt helps Fulham.
- The attacking unit is intriguing but if you’re not going to play Ruiz then you’re only half the team you could be. He and Bent could cause a lot of bother, and they absolutely have to start from now on. People keep going on about a creative central midfielder but here’s the thing: if you want a creative central midfielder, is he going to defend too? If he is, you’re talking about buying a complete player. If he isn’t, well we’re too lopsided already, so where’s he going to play. A front three of Ruiz, Berbatov and Bent offers as much attacking prowess as any team will need, provided there’s a degree of midfield control and provided the defence is offered a degree of protection. Perhaps that means Sidwell, Parker and Boateng.
- Lovely to see a proper centre-forward’s goal from Bent. We always used to note how Dempsey scored those because he went to the right place to get them, which is half the battle. As the goal unfolded Bent didn’t do anything too clever, just peeled back off his defender, hovered a little then went for the back post. He got his reward with a simple tap-in, but that’s his gift.
- We can’t panic after losing to a big team, but it’s about how you lose. We were spoiled under Hodgson, there was a tactical coherence and we as a crowd became to expect certain basics to be fulfilled. It would be naive to just say “this never happened under Roy” because it did, but look at those pictures again and look at all the space… we used to be a clever team. It feels like now we’re a stupid team.