I was watching David Fincher's masterful procedural Zodiac last night, in which Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) becomes tormented by trying to discover the identity of the Zodiac Killer that terrorized and taunted the police departments of California during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and it struck me that a solid Arsenal defense is a bit like Zodiac at this point. I don't want to spoil the film for anyone--everyone should see it--suffice it to say that dang if a good Arsenal defense doesn't feel elusive right now.
Here are some other cinematically-themed thoughts about yesterday's North London Derby:
-- Arsenal's pressing in the first half. For the most part, the first twenty minutes of this match exhibited why pressing is a neat thing. Arsenal's midfield and forwards harried and harassed Spurs when the latter had the ball (actually both teams were pressing and playing with a pretty high line, which is why the game was so intense), and Spurs' midfield was having trouble connecting on passes to their forwards. It was also getting the ball back quickly for Arsenal, and although they couldn't do much with it once they had it, in theory, this is a step in the right direction.
-- Aaron Ramsey's engine. He played in the middle and did an okay job of marking Gareth Bale for a while, and then at right back, he was serviceable. Kid can run for a long time. He's not perfect, but it's something.
-- Lazy passing. As pdb put it: "If there's a ten yard gap between defender and midfielder, and the defender only passes it eight yards, the midfielder has to come back to collect the ball, which totally disrupts the flow of the play and means that Arsenal have to regroup and start over." Stand up, Arsenal attackers! You have won today's lazy passing prize! Please collect your moldy bread at the cashier's window and stop leaving all your incisive passes well short!
-- Defending. Not tracking runners all the way. Not talking. Being two yards behind the rest of your line. Not closing down midfield distributors at crucial moments. Not sweeping up. Not standing in your position. None of these are good, and Arsenal did all of them yesterday, multiple times. These defenders and midfielders have a lot of work to do.
-- Giroud's first touch. Not so good. His holdup play was a bit lacking, and when he got the ball on the ground, he gave it up with a poor first touch more often than not.
-- Theo Walcott, man of no land. Theo got nothing through the middle yesterday, but he continued to batter away there instead of staying wider and collecting the ball. This meant that the attack had no width, dragging Carl Jenkinson and Aaron Ramsey forward all the time, and it also meant that Theo was invisible.
-- Stopping to protest that Spurs were offside instead of playing on. Just...keep playing until you hear a whistle, guys. Although by the time Bale's past you, it's too late.
-- The last ten minutes. So Arsenal brought on Tomas Rosicky. They brought on Lukas Podolski. The team had five attacking midfielders on the pitch, basically. So why was the tactic to lump it long every time it was possible, towards Per Mertesacker, of all people, completely bypassing all those passers? When they had the ball, their triangles were sometimes neat and tidy (not always; see above), so why cut them out of the picture and hope that Per and Olivier could do something? Bah.
Let's hope for improvements. Ten games left. Bayern left. Let's go.