Will the Bould effect stand up to its toughest test at home of the champions
20:30 GMT, 22 September 2012
Tough test: Steve Bould of Arsenal
After several years of neglect by Arsene Wenger, the appointment of Steve Bould as his No2 looks to have given the much-derided Arsenal defensive unit a lift, with three clean sheets in four in the League and just two goals conceded in five in total. Former Arsenal midfielder Stewart Robson analyses where they have improved, with the real test to come against champions Manchester City.
The obsession with the high offside line is over, with centre-back pairing Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen now staying the right side of their men. It means that they can stay tight for balls into feet but also be first to any balls played into space behind them. Equally as important, they can now see and deal with midfield runners rather than gambling on them running offside.
Andrey Arshavin didn't want to defend, Theo Walcott didn't know how to. Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Gervinho have a far greater understanding of their duties. They need to be able to stop the spare
centre-back from advancing, while keeping tabs on their full-back, and
must be able to tuck into central midfield when required. Communication
with their own full-back is essential.
Arsenal's midfield, never renowned for its defensive qualities, has a much better shape and discipline about it. While the closest man presses the player who is on the ball, the other two men drop deeper to cover so they cannot be passed between. Decision-making on when and when not to get tight has improved, and a sense of urgency makes the team less vulnerable to being caught on the counter-attack.
This has been Arsenal's Achilles heel for years yet in the match against Stoke, who have always had success in the air against the Gunners, they won most of the aerial duals even from long throws. They still mix man marking and zonal marking but the team now boast better headers of the ball in Olivier Giroud and Podolski who, combined with Mertasacker and Vermaelen, have made Arsenal harder to score against.