Tuesday, February 9, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: Poor Defending Has Cost Arsenal The Title - Martin Keown

Inability to defend as a team has cost Arsene Wenger’s men according to former great

Arsenal’s title challenge is now over. That’s the damning verdict of Gunners legend Martin Keown, who compares his old side to a heavyweight boxer that has been knocked out twice following their defeats against Chelsea and Manchester United.

Speaking exclusively to Goal.com UK, the former England international blamed the north Londoners' inability to defend as a team and gung-ho attacking approach for their current malaise.

Clearly hurt by the recent run of poor results, Keown was full of criticism for the Arsenal back-line, blaming the centre-backs for their inability to win the battle with Didier Drogba and the full-backs for their relentless bombing forward.

Nevertheless, he insisted that for as long as Arsene Wenger is manager, Arsenal will never alter their attacking style of play to suit the opposition.
“It’s like watching two heavyweight boxers,” he explained, referring to the Gunners' recent matches. “If someone connects first, the guy gets knocked out cold and Arsenal have been knocked out cold twice now – now their Premier League season is over.”

Known as ‘The Rash’ during his playing days because of his abrasive but effective man-marking methods, Keown believes he has the key to stopping Chelsea striker Didier Drogba. “Somebody had to upset his rhythm,” he says. “The problem with playing against Drogba is that you don’t deal with him when the ball goes to him, you deal with him well before he receives the ball. Way before that you need to make sure you take his space, you’re strong, you’re dominant, you win that battle.”

If Arsenal still had their famous back five in defence then perhaps they’d still be in the title race, but sadly, according to the veteran, the current lot simply don’t compare.

“OK, they still play the offside trap,” he says, “but they don’t press the ball like we did. Then again it’s what you get from the players in front of you - you need to make sure you defend as a team.

“As a defender, if the player in front of you doesn’t put pressure on the ball, then you have to drop off and that creates lots of space. That’s how the opponent gets time to hurt you – he can pick his passes or put the ball in the back of the net.”

The Gunners' French defenders Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna are then hit by Keown’s line of fire. “If you’re a full-back and you keep going forward all the time and they keep punishing us in that hole, then you have to start picking and choosing how many times you get forward,” he says. “You have to ask yourself the question, ‘are you creating a problem for the opposition or for the team?’.”

The Arsenal midfield doesn’t escape the gnarled ex-stopper’s ire either. “We can’t all go forward,” he says in exasperation. “Somebody has to sit in midfield and occupy space and slow the opposition down.”

Following this disastrous week that has seen them go from title contenders to defeated lightweights, many have pinpointed the Gunners' relentlessly attacking style of play as the cause of their demise. Nevertheless, Keown doesn’t expect Wenger to temper his approach any time soon.

“The philosophy of the manager is that he creates this belief in the players that they will conquer all with their own play,” he says. “Arsenal are losing games by trying to win them but when you’re playing against the heavyweights you’re going to get hurt sometimes.”


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