Arsenal are being held back by basic errors and certain players placing too much emphasis on statistics, says Paul Merson, with the Gunners warned that the combined forces of Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger could not help them if players “can’t pass the ball five yards”.
Sead Kolasinac struggled on that front during a north London derby clash with Tottenham on Sunday, with the Bosnian defender teeing up Heung-min Son to cancel out Alexandre Lacazette’s opener.
He had been looking to pick out David Luiz, but a wayward pass slipped past his Brazilian colleague and into the path of the clinical Korean forward.
Questionable marking from a set-piece then allowed Toby Alderweireld to grab what would prove to be the winner for Spurs, with Mikel Arteta once again left cursing his luck after seeing individual mistakes undermine the collective effort.
Merson admits that is proving to be a regular occurrence for an inconsistent outfit, with the former Gunners star telling Sky Sports: “Against Spurs, I don’t care if you’ve got Pep Guardiola sitting on Jose Mourinho’s lap, on top of Sir Alex Ferguson’s lap, on top of Arsene Wenger’s lap and all four of them are one manager: if you’ve got a defender who can’t pass the ball five yards to another defender, you are in trouble.
“When the manager puts on a training session and you’re doing five-yard passes to start off with, everybody is moaning: ‘What the hell are we doing this for? Who can’t pass the ball five yards?’ But that is why. It’s concentration, so you can keep on doing it without even thinking about it, like you’re brushing your teeth in the morning.
“It’s just a really, really poor pass. But that’s Arsenal, they have that ability to shoot themselves in the foot. He could play that in his sleep, he didn’t even have to turn around.
“But this raises another question, and I don’t know why footballers do this. All Kolasinac has to do is dink that down the line, but if he sticks it down the line and a defender comes across and clears for a throw in, that doesn’t count as a completed pass in the stats. Footballers are so obsessed with pass percentages. Defenders want 88, 89, 90 per cent pass completion, but they’re all five-yard passes to each other! Who cares? Honestly?
“There are so many stats now, and players are scared of them, so try to play the easy ball! If that ball reaches David Luiz, what is he going to do with it? I’ll tell you: he’ll roll it back to the goalkeeper, the goalkeeper will get closed down, and he will clear it up to halfway, which is where Arsenal were to begin with! It’s just common sense. These are international players!
“All these players should care about is keeping clean sheets: that should be like scoring a hat-trick for a defender. You want defenders who think that way.”
Arsenal, who have slipped to ninth in the Premier League table, will seek to get their bid for European qualification back on track when they play host to champions Liverpool on Wednesday.