So much scrutiny on the two managers. So much talk about the two attacks. But what about that slightly less sexy aspect — the two sets of defences? These departments, after all, have played a vital part in the recent successes of Chelsea and Spurs.
It wasn’t so long ago Frank Lampard could be seen on the touchline quietly seething as his side gifted three goals at West Brom. A few weeks later they were equally as generous to Southampton. All that cash spent in the summer was counting for nothing in the face of poor concentration and silly errors.
Tottenham, in turn, couldn’t keep a clean sheet, even when humiliating Manchester United on their own patch. Letting a three-goal lead slip against West Ham proved the last straw. That kind of charity just wasn’t Jose Mourinho.
Both managers, in fact, seem to have found a solution. A goalless draw at Old Trafford marked the start of Chelsea’s improvement, since when they have conceded only one goal. Likewise, only Brighton’s Tariq Lamptey has found a way past Hugo Lloris in the four league games since that West Ham collapse.
It’s not always easy putting a finger on this kindof change. Sometimes it’s hard work on the training ground, other times just a bit of good fortune that builds belief to get you going. Keeping partnerships together doesn’t hurt, either. For Spurs, the central box of Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier at the back and Moussa Sissoko and the excellent Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg just in front has given the team a solid base. Unfortunately for Spurs, the injured Alderweireld will be missing on Sunday. Mourinho must hope his absence doesn’t disturb the balance.
It’s slightly different at Chelsea where Lampard has changed things a touch more, especially in midfield. But Thiago Silva has undoubtedly brought something special in terms of experience and dedication. The great Brazilian’s high standards have raised those around.
No one has benefitted more than Kurt Zouma, a central defender I used to think a little clumsy and short on quality. But he’s been brilliant this season, the height of consistency. With rotation all around, the Frenchman has been a virtual constant, winning 26 of his 27 aerial defensive duels, the best percentage in Europe.
As for the winner on Sunday, that’s hard to predict. After praising both defences, it’ll probably end up 4-4.
Arsenal vs Wolves
It hasn’t, in truth, been a great few weeks for Arsenal. Firstly, they get well beaten by Aston Villa, then Willian shoots off to Dubai without permission. David Luiz and Dani Ceballos swap punches in an unusually fierce training ground scrap and Pepe gets stupidly sent off in the goalless draw at Leeds.
For a manager who insists on togetherness and discipline, this period will have disturbed Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard has enough on his plate without getting waylaid by avoidable distractions.
His main challenge, after all, is finding a way to sharpen an attack that has not scored a goal from open play in five League games. Searching for an answer, Arteta switched to four at the back against Molde last night, a move that resulted in three successful strikes. Pepe got some of Leeds out of his system with a fine goal, before Reiss Nelson and Folarin Balogun spoke up for the kids.
It will be interesting, then, to see if Arteta sticks with that shape against Wolves, a side usually very mean when it comes to defending.
The Gunners, for sure, need much more in attack, or else the vast improvement elsewhere will get sadly lost amid the disappointment.
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