In the space of a year our central defence has gone from a unit, viewed by many, as one capable of winning the league to one that should be broken up and sold as scrap and then back again, maybe not back to winning the league, or at least not this season, but certainly back to a point where people are not longer calling for Italian sounding defenders to be bought immediately to replace the out of sorts partnership of Toure and Gallas.
Where did it all go wrong and how was the turnaround achieved?
The obvious starting point was the Birmingham game, we all know what happened that day and the only curious thing that remains is how it still divides us. There are those who think that it was no way for a captain to behave and there are those, like myself, who sympathise, and view his behaviour as understandable, having just watched 6 months hard work go out the window.
This season started with high hopes, maybe one or two concerns about the mid-field which have turned out to be completely valid but as far as the defence was concerned, there seemed to be no reason why they wouldn’t continue at the same high standard as they left off at the previous season.
That was until we started leaking easy goals and dropping points: the finger of blame being pointed directly at Gallas and Toure. Everyone had a theory as to what had gone wrong and why the partnership was no longer working. They ranged from Toure not having shaken off a bout of malaria he had contracted in the close season to Gallas longing to return to France, although, probably the most common was that the two of them had got it in to their heads that they couldn’t play together.
What fascinates me is how Wenger went about solving the problem. He seems to have deconstructed the partnership, rebuilt each player’s confidence before finally reuniting them.
Relieving Gallas of the burden of captaincy was probably the obvious first step. The next step was to rebuild his confidence which he did quite easily by playing Silvestre next to him. It is obvious that they both have a great deal of respect for each other: a common language and the fact that Silvestre is left footed all helped. Gallas’s game started improving immediately; Silvestre wasn’t doing too badly either and a goal against spuds was an unexpected but welcome surprise.
Now I know that Silvestre is another player that divides us, there are those who will only ever see him as a manc b………d and will never accept him no matter what. And there are those, like myself, who see him simply as very experienced back up; an inexpensive insurance policy taken out by Wenger at the beginning of the season just in case both Toure and Gallas get injured at the same time. I mean, it’s not as if we signed Teddy Sheringham is it?
Toure’s confidence had plummeted; he had put on extra weight, things got so bad that he even put in a transfer request and there are some of us, and to my shame I include myself, who thought that it might be better if he left. Wenger solved this in a similar way but instead pairing him with Silvestre, Wenger chose Djourou. Toure was made captain; he was in charge; he knew exactly what he was doing and his game started improving.
The two pairs of Gallas and Silvestre and Toure and Djourou seemed to play alternate games building confidence every time they played until being reunited for West Ham at home on the 31st of January and it is worth emphasising that we have only conceded three goals since. The case for the defence rests…I know, I know, I just couldn’t resist it.
Written by London