How Can we Defend Better vs Arsenal? Attack...
Once upon a time in the not so distant past we looked upon these fixtures with a sense of real excitement. A sense of real anticipation. You could even argue that it was something of a care free attitude at the time, especially as we never seemed to be in the relegation dogfight and always seemed comfortable with our position in the table. It'd been so long since we'd been contesting fixtures with such distinguished opposition that frankly the scoreline was one of the last things you'd think about, at least initially. Just rubbing shoulders with them was a victory in itself.
Tottenham were the only real prized scalp we claimed last season in terms of all three points, but we still put in some brilliant showings against some of the Barclays Premier League's top dogs. Manchester United may have beaten us in both exchanges but we certainly made them work for it. Liverpool battered us at Carrow Road, but no one will ever forget Grant Holt's bullet header in front of the Kop at Anfield and John Ruddy's incredible leap of faith to parry a Luis Suarez shot in stoppage time to earn a point against them. Chelsea left Carrow Road in January with two points dropped and shattered confidence.
And probably the most popular and entertaining of all was THAT 3-3 at the Eimrates against an Arsenal side who had done well to get back up to third in the table at that point.
But sadly ever since the start of our season, the mood has changed for the worse. We looked at fixtures against the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal with excitement last season. Now because of recent form we just look upon them with absolute dread.
Why now, after such a successful campaign previous, do we feel this way? After all, this is what we'd been craving ever since that fateful day at Craven Cottage back in 2005.
It can't be pinned down to just one thing, but rather a collection of annoyances.
The recent results are the biggest factor for sure, especially when you look at the attacking options these teams possess and then look at our sorry excuse for a defence of late. The ticket prices for said fixtures also contribute to the current feeling of apathy amongst supporters. After all, the thought of paying anything close to £50 a person for a game we'll struggle in must fill them with dread. It's a sell out so there's plenty of people with a glutton for punishment, but if things don't go well then don't expect the players to get off lightly from the terraces.
The Hughton factor is something which was always going to take time to adjust to. Lambert's miracles were always going to be such a tough act to follow, but as long as the performances are there then at least he'd have full and unconditional backing, safe in the knowledge that better results aren't far away and the club won't sink like a stone without their messiah.
But the performances just haven't been there often enough. There were some bright spells against QPR and West Ham and battling display with Spurs, otherwise we've looked a like a shell of the Norwich City we've all been used to.
Arsenal have some serious quality in their ranks this season, and you have to give them enormous credit because in the initial aftermath of Robin Van Persie's exit they were getting slaughtered in the press left right and centre. Since then they've started extremely well and if anything look like a much more well rounded outfit without the Dutchman in their ranks taking all of the credit. Steve Bould's arrival as Arsene Wenger's assistant has also seen an improvement in their own defence ranks with fewer goals slipping through the cracks.
So what are we supposed to do?
There are some glaringly obvious changes that Hughton desperately needs to implement. Jonny Howson has been mainly deployed as a holding midfielder in recent games, but when the brown stuff hit the fan against Chelsea, Hughton allowed him to venture forward more and sure enough he looked much more like the part. Keep him going in this vain and we'll be more of a threat. David Fox's eye for a pass and his creativity are sorely missing, ditto Hoolahan. Bradley Johnson's bravery isn't in question, but he seems to have gone off the boil since the Spurs game, so I'd remove him from the starting line-up for this one. Elliot Bennett didn't cover himself in glory at Stamford Bridge, but Alex Tetty was one of the few promising aspects to come out of that game.
And the major plus point for us, the one and only shining light in our dismal start? Grant Holt is back. Back amongst the goals, looking like his old self and playing like a man possessed. With the aforementioned midfield alterations and some good service provided to him, Holt should at least get to test Mannone in the Arsenal goal a few times if nothing else.
We can spend all day trying to figure out a way to strengthen at the back, but we seem absolutely cursed in this regard at the moment so why bother?
Accentuate the positives and hide the negatives.
Question time: What was our best form of defence last season? Answer time: Attack. That shouldn't change now, especially against a side like Arsenal where we've nothing to lose and all to gain.
I appreciate that it's tough to get too excited on the back of recent form, but with enough backing and enough attacking intent to mask our problems at the other end, we'll have a least a small chance of upsetting a few coupons this weekend.
And after that, it's Villa away. But that's another preview for another day.
On the Ball City.