The Gunners’ centre-backs in particular have been panned for a lack of quality, but their temporary boss doesn’t see it that way
Arsenal’s interim head coach Freddie Ljungberg has offered his backing to his porous backline amid ongoing criticism, explaining that his defenders need to find a way to avoid sprint races with pacey attackers.
The Gunners, who are now without a Premier League win since early October, have shipped 21 goals in their 14 top-flight matches since the beginning of the season, the joint-worst tally of any team currently in the top half of the table.
Fans had called for reinforcements at centre-back following a similarly leaky campaign last term, with former Chelsea man David Luiz signed in the summer in order to add some much-needed experience.
Luiz’s signing hasn’t gone exactly to plan, however, with the Brazilian joining the likes of Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos in being called out as being not good enough to represent a team that should be performing at the highest level.
Ljungberg, however, sees no issues with his defensive players in terms of technical ability and instead pointed to plugging gaps to ensure slower runners do not end up in a sprint race with quick opponents.
“No,” the Swede responded when asked if criticism of his backline is justified, “I think my players try to defend. Of course, you can have different types of players in the squad. That’s just a fact. We’ve had a gameplan we’ve tried to execute and I want to defend.
“We need to find solutions. If players are not super quick and we say ‘you’ve got to sprint for this or that’, that’s going to be difficult for that player. In general terms, we try to put out a structure that everybody knows what to do.
“The main thing I saw in the game [against Norwich] is that we let them get into situations where it was just a sprint. It was not about football or technical stuff, they just went in a competitive sprint with our player. We want to stop that.”
Pressed further on what he has learned from the 2-2 draw at Carrow Road, Ljungberg admitted that transitional periods need to be worked on as a matter of urgency or the Gunners simply “won’t win any games”.
“There was a lot of reflection after the game, I’ve watched it twice now,” the caretaker boss said.
“The general feeling is probably the same as I had after the match. We started extremely well, played very well offensively but had a problem transition-wise – they got shots on target and chances just from the transition of an eight-yard sprint, which we need to stop.
“Another thing is that my feeling that we got in behind their midfield and behind their backline a lot has been backed up by data within the club. We have been sky-rocketed up to be one of the top teams in the league in getting into the pockets and behind them.
“That feels very good that it has been backed up by the data and the feeling I had after the game, and of course we will try to keep on doing that.
“My feeling was that I wanted to win the game, very disappointed not to win it, but if we play a transition game like we did, we won’t win any games, so that’s something that I can coach and try to improve.”