Exclusive: Arsenal’s defence still not doing the basics, says former Gunner
‘I don’t have any confidence in this unit’ says cult hero Willie Young
Arsenal legend Willie Young has welcomed the news Thomas Vermaelen has signed a new long-term contract this week – but not before ripping into his defensive team-mates.
The injury-plagued Belgium international gave Arsenal fans a boost when he confirmed on Tuesday he was staying at the Emirates.
Vermaelen, signed from Ajax two years ago, is believed to have extended his stay in north London until at least 2015.
But while Young – a cult figure among Arsenal supporters for a series of stirring defensive displays between 1977 and 1981 – recognised Vermaelen’s importance, he still fears the jittery back four has not moved on from that 8-2 mauling at Old Trafford.
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“Vermaelen is a very good player. A good guy, committed and does a decent job for the team – as soon as he is fit again he will, rightly, walk into the starting 11,” said Young.
“We need him. God we need him. Because, as things stand, I have absolutely no faith in that defence as a unit. The fact Wojciech Szczesny – a kid of 21 – is taking charge and barking orders tells you all you need to know about what is happening.
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“Have they improved at all since Old Trafford? No, not at all. Basics, absolute basics, are not being adhered to. I don’t think one of those central defenders can head a ball properly, certainly not without closing their eyes – again, basic stuff.
“I said this a year ago and I will say it again now; we still need a defender who can cope with Didier Drogba running at them with the ball or Christopher Samba at a corner – and we don’t have him.
“Vermaelen is excellent, he’s tough and strong, but he is not a big, commanding centre half. He is very mobile because you need to be these days against pace. Laurent Koscielny is actually better than some people think and has had to cope with moving from the French League to the Premier League. He is also mobile and, like Vermaelen, can play the ball out of defence.
“Those two should be the first choice partnership because Per Mertesacker is slower than me – now! Also, he may be tall but he still doesn’t win as many headers as he should. Incredible. He doesn’t even jump and when he does win a ball, there is no aggression there.
“Confidence – or rather a lack of it – is a big thing. For 20 minutes against Sunderland we looked alright and then the confidence just went again. It could have been 3-3 at half-time. Sunderland, certainly, should have scored more than one.
“As for Johan Djourou, he is clearly not up to it. He is symptomatic of the problem – everyone tries to play offside and he won’t bother to step up. Or, the rest hold their position and he’ll inexplicably step up – he is out of his depth yet he has been there seven years.”
Young, though, believes there are glimmers of defensive hope within the club and help on hand if need be.
“Well, first of all, it is clear there is little defensive training going on. In Terry Neill’s day each defender had to head the ball 18 yards, 10 times in a row. If you got to nine and failed on the 10 you had to start again – it was all about good habits.
“Steve Bould is at the club already and knows this. He was a top defender in a top defensive unit. Surely it makes sense for him to help. In addition, Martin Keown is a must.”
On the pitch, he HAS been impressed with some individuals.
“The goalkeeper [Szczesny] has made mistakes and is young but he is learning and remains confident – he has been outstanding at times.
“Also, let’s not forget young Carl Jenkinson. The lad has been hung out to dry by senior players. He scored an OG pre-season, has been sent off and played in hammerings, but, actually, he has impressed me.
“He is a very good defender. At Spurs he came on to mark Gareth Bale and did very well. He’s committed, talented and is beginning to do the basics well. Some of the older lads should watch what he’s doing and try and copy him!”