Arsenal’s Current Defending Reminds Me Of The Early 1960s

They say football goes in cycles…

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Arsenal 1962/63 – Defending was atrocious then too

Watching Unai Emery’s Arsenal sends me hurtling back in time. To the 1962/3 season, the first I watched at Highbury with my dad.

Former England captain Billy Wright had just started his first job as a club manager, after coaching the England youth team. Highbury was still mainly terracing: the North Bank, the Clock End, the terrace under the west stand upper tier and the enclosure in front of the east stand.

It cost 3s in the old money (15p) for adults to stand and 6d (7 ½p) for the boys’ enclosure!

But some things were very similar. Arsenal finished seventh that season. They scored 86 goals, two more than champions Everton. But they conceded 77. George Eastham was the midfield orchestrator, feeding two prolific strikers. Joe Baker scored 29 league goals. Geoff Strong netted 18. On the wings, Alan Skirton chipped in with 10 and Johnny MacLeod nine.

Arsenal’s problem, as now, was suicidal defending. The 5-5 draw at Blackburn in November was a prize example. Even at Highbury, the crowd rarely felt secure, even when the team were two up heading into injury time.

The back four, as we’d call them now, was Jimmy Magill, Laurie Brown, John Snedden or Terry Neill and Billy ‘Flint’ McCullough.

Snedden had come through the youth team. Centre half Brown was a former England amateur international who’d arrived from Northampton. He’d been converted to a defender after starting off as a centre forward. Magill, McCullough and Neill came from Northern Irish football.

There was much less defensive coaching in those days. Wright, despite being England’s most-capped defender, couldn’t drill organisation into the unit. The fans just crossed their fingers and hoped that the attack would bail out the leaky defence.

Fast forward to 2019 and what’s changed? For a decade, Arsenal supporters have been demanding better defenders and more defensive organisation. Arsene Wenger responded by collecting frail midfielders.

Given the evidence of the last 13 months, Emery doesn’t do defensive organisation either. It’s clearly no coincidence that his Sevilla and Valencia teams regularly conceded more than 50 goals a season.

Watford’s first goal on Sunday – that kamikaze pass by Sokratis – could have come straight from 1962. So could the ‘tackle’ by David Luiz for Watford’s penalty and Granit Xhaka’s lunge which gave Spurs a spot kick. So could the muddle between Sokratis and Xhaka which allowed Tottenham to take the lead.

Maybe things will improve when Hector Bellerin, Kieran Tierney and Rob Holding are fit. Hopefully they’ll be less error-prone than the current crew. Hopefully Emery and his coaches will drill and drill defensive organisation on the training pitch. Stop playing play crazy passes in our own penalty area, for a start. Stop Sokratis diving in and wrestling every opponent in sight.

Maybe Emery could even ask Steve Bould what George Graham would have done?

In the meantime, it would help if Lucas Torreira was returned to the defensive midfield position where he impressed early last season. At least he might give our beleaguered centre backs some added protection.


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  1. TonyEvans

    Sep 18, 2019, 06:12 #114900

    On the theme of Emery being unwilling to mix it up a bit what’s the lad Chambers got to do for a chance? Player of the year at Fulham, and it’s not as if there are the likes of Moore and Beckenbeur to keep him out of the first team. Not saying he is the answer but he deserves a chance surely. Emery is becoming more like Wenger every week it seems - sticking with failed ideas, with no clear sense of direction.

  2. itsRonagain2

    Sep 17, 2019, 22:59 #114899

    Hi lads. Thanks for the ID of those 2 players. I d never have known those 2. Jenkins for Robertson and Baldwin for GG. Good shouts lads. Robertson was in the team that started to lead us out of the dark mid 60s wasn’t he 1967/ 8 and GG of course there when we hit the full light again. Ps. Look at Joe there at the front in the pic. Loved him to bits. My best hero! Never forgotten. He was why I became a Gunners fan and when living in Loughborough I used to see him sometimes for Forest. He was a shadow of what he had been tho bless him. Injuries bit on him at Forest who had a cracking team then. Went close to the title they did around 1967. Must have been Man U who pipped them.

  3. A Cornish Gooner

    Sep 17, 2019, 17:31 #114898

    Just remembered we did swap Tommy Baldwin for George Graham. We got the better of the deal there.

  4. Pauljames

    Sep 17, 2019, 17:26 #114897

    I don’t think any of us were ever totally convinced by Dicks appointment, but the fact that he wasn’t Wenger meant he would get a fairly long honeymoon period. That period ended in Baku and it now appears he is trying to emulate all the worse traits of his predecessors latter teams. The man is not up to the job and I wonder if Kroenke will be tempted to copy Chelsea and Utd in appointing a relatively recent player to the top job? Vieira, Llungberg and Arteta must all be in the frame.

  5. A Cornish Gooner

    Sep 17, 2019, 17:22 #114896

    Redshirts. I'd have gone for Cahill as well. That probably would have been a Bridge reject too far.

  6. John F

    Sep 17, 2019, 16:15 #114895

    I was reading what a Valencia fan said yesterday.Loosely put Emery can be good as evidenced by the 3 cup wins but had rubbish away form and struggled to hold on to leads.He mentioned the time they were 1-0 up against Real Madrid who equalised when they were reduced to ten men then after being reduced to nine men Madrid went on to score 3 more to win the game 4-2.He really has no history of being able to sort out the defence so I wouldn't be confident of him and his coaches drilling the defence.4-0 up with PSG against Barcelona and still loses the tie 6-5 sums him up,good enough to get four goals in front only to be let down by his defence.

  7. Seven Kings Gooner 1

    Sep 17, 2019, 16:05 #114894

    CG - I got Gerry Ward but Rodney Smithson no, George Eastham must have been injured to be missing from the squad. Still we flogged Laurie Brown to the Spuds which was great business and repeated the trick with swapping Jenkins for Robinson a few years later. I'd rather have the defence in the black & white photo than the current incumbents, at least Billy was a laugh and never took himself too serious and loved the club as I think most of them did in that great sepia photo.

  8. Redshrtswhitesleeves

    Sep 17, 2019, 15:47 #114893

    Gallas, Cech and now Luiz....Chelsea must be laughing their socks off at us keep giving them actual money for their rubbish, over the hill cast offs...not to mention the way we bent over for them so obligingly in that poor mans euro final. Arsenal is like a stick of rock with Wenger written all the way through it. The cowardice and complacency which his teams displayed and that he laughingly passed off as ‘values’ and ‘mental strength’ are like a cancer running through the club still to this day. A complete surgical overhaul of mentality is needed. A manager that can actually coach defending would be a good place to start

  9. Redshrtswhitesleeves

    Sep 17, 2019, 15:47 #114892

    Gallas, Cech and now Luiz....Chelsea must be laughing their socks off at us keep giving them actual money for their rubbish, over the hill cast offs...not to mention the way we bent over for them so obligingly in that poor mans euro final. Arsenal is like a stick of rock with Wenger written all the way through it. The cowardice and complacency which his teams displayed and that he laughingly passed off as ‘values’ and ‘mental strength’ are like a cancer running through the club still to this day. A complete surgical overhaul of mentality is needed. A manager that can actually coach defending would be a good place to start

  10. TonyEvans

    Sep 17, 2019, 15:18 #114891

    Hi Ron - I'm probably with you on Luiz, but my gripe is that Emery doesn't even seem to want to try anything different. Luiz is no defender, but could be better utilised as a defensive midfielder - not a great prospect, as you say, but surely no worse than Xhaka. The club is really scraping the barrel now in more ways than one.

  11. A Cornish Gooner

    Sep 17, 2019, 14:21 #114890

    Hello Ron. A bit before my time as well. I couldn't name those two. Gerry Ward and Rodney Smithson. No I'd never heard of him either. I think the picture was taken before the match at Bolton. We lost 3-0. It was Smithson's second, and last game for the Arsenal first team. His first appearance had been a few days earlier in our 3-1 win at Fulham.

  12. itsRonagain2

    Sep 17, 2019, 14:00 #114889

    Luiz - i wouldn't have him anywhere near the team, not even as a sub. The very fact we bought him smacks of where AFC are in London football now. Any decent coach would have been of the same mindset as Lampard was - get rid and get rid quick. Buying their rejects takes the biscuit. I could never buy into the notion that the Summer transfer window was a good one. It wasn't at all. The guy on loan seems decent but hes just a loan after all. No way he ll stay at the N7 funhouse. Pepe? Hard to make out whether hes the new Anelka or just the new Gervinho. Still, the net spend was almost nil so hey ho. Happy days in the Diamond Club. The original poster is dead on - defence now does invoke 60s images, though the pic above was before my time. I cant identify back left and 2nd back left? Can anybody help? I saw all the others play though a few years later. No Ian Ure there though, so they may have won the day of that pic! I bet my Dad and Uncle were down there some where behind them on the South bank too.

  13. Exiled in Pt

    Sep 17, 2019, 13:09 #114888

    I will take a wild stab in the dark , which i would quite like to do with half the muppets pretending to be Arsenal players at the moment and say Silvinho from Lyon will be the Arsenal coach by this time next year ! Probably 100% barking up the wrong tree but i just got a feeling . If Dick does not turn the comedy club round sharpish he may well fall on that sword before xmas .. Agree with you Tony that is the only position for DL and i think i may of made my feelings quite clear on where i stand with Xhaka in my last post .......

  14. TonyEvans

    Sep 17, 2019, 11:59 #114887

    Just too young to remember the 60s, but always interested in anything older fans than I am have to say. We seem to have come full circle with Emery, where the world and his wife can see the problems but apparently the manager can't, or is at a complete loss as to how to fix them. Who in their right mind brings in David Luiz to bolster an already disastrous back-line! I should think all of us posters on this site must have been shaking their heads in disbelief when that particular deal was announced. Having proved to be the defensive disaster we all knew he would be why not switch him to defensive midfield, where he might thrive and ditch that other disaster Xhaka? Emery appears to be devoid of ideas and, exactly like Wenger, just keeps repeating the same old mistakes, hoping that somehow next time will be better. I think we all know it won't be!

  15. shu

    Sep 17, 2019, 11:52 #114886

    good article thanks. Have you ever known Arsenal to have such a poor defence , i have followed since the early 70's and i think this bunch of monkeys are the worst.

  16. Bard

    Sep 17, 2019, 11:49 #114885

    Spot on Exiled. Its preposterous to hope that Holding et al are suddenly going to cure our defensive woes. Its reminiscent of the Wenger days when some would believe that once we got our injured players back we would be competing, its delusional. I had hoped Dick would take us forward but that ain't happening. He is out of his depth.

  17. Exiled in Pt

    Sep 17, 2019, 10:48 #114884

    The really worrying thing is we are all talking about Holding , Belerin and Tierney being the saviours of our season , scary when you think Holding has only played 31 times for us since he moved from Bolton . Talk about pressure on 3 players all under 24 .Poor old Holding is going to have to play alongside either Sokratis or Ruiz or will he revert to a back 5 to accommodate all of them . Never expected old Dick to win the league and was always wary of his defensive issues at all the other clubs he has been at but fuck me Sunday has to be the most inept performance i have ever witnessed , i don't remember ever watching or playing in a game of school or local league football where a team continued to do the same thing and not receive some sort of bollocking from the manager / coach and change it . As for the so called captains speech after the game sums him up really what a complete and utter cunt. Excuse my Swiss

  18. Reddragon

    Sep 17, 2019, 09:19 #114882

    I agree this team reminds me a lot of the sixties team, no defensive discipline whatsoever. Now, as then, no-one with any leadership qualities to organise on-field play. Really shocking defensive performance, how long can this carry on. Fear for the season after this debacle to the bottom team in the league !!!

  19. Bard

    Sep 17, 2019, 08:21 #114880

    I dont know about cycles more like a steady decline. Some great old memories, football was completely different in those days. In my view Dick is a dead man walking. The reason is because if the fans turn as they will unless he sorts out the defence and thats not going to happen then there is pressure on the owners and Josh has already made it clear that they are worried. If we are out of the race for top 4 by Xmas then I dont think he will last very long. Either way he will be gone at the end of the season. The fact that we are playing worse than when he first came in says it all. For the life of me I cant understand why he cant get a defence sorted. As others have noted the playing out from the back seems to have become a thoughtless ritual that doesnt relate to how the game is going. Some great posts about waning interest, partly I suspect because we are still mired in Wenger mark 2, decent attack and crap defence. Onwards and upwards.