Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker has revealed that the defeat to Southampton has been a wakeup call for the Gunners.
In the first match of the new year, Arsenal finally did have their first choice back 4, but ended up losing by 2 goals to the Saints after terrible mistakes from the defence in general and the goalkeeper in partuclar.
But Mertesacker says the team learn their lesson from the setback and the results that have followed are because of implementing those lessons on the field whoever Arsenal is playing against.
“Southampton was a major setback – it was a bad start to the year,” the vice-captain said. “After that, we promised ourselves to come out of that comfort zone and be a bit more focused, especially [to know] that what comes first is defensive work and not just for the back four.
“That was maybe the main thing for us to focus on, and afterwards we played more convincingly, especially defensively. You can see the benefit when everyone realises that, and I thought everyone realised it very quickly after we lost at Southampton.
“Maybe sometimes you need a wake-up call to realise what is really important. We worked a lot on our defensive shape, not just the back four, to avoid those dangerous free balls against us. We look much better and the best game defensively was against Man City – that was a bit of a change.
“In the last few years, we went there and wanted to convince everybody that we could play our own way, so it was a bit of a change [this time]. Sometimes we have to do something unexpected, and that was maybe the winning moment.”
The change in tactics was particularly impressive against Manchester City as it meant that Arsenal picked up not only 3 points, but also a clean sheet against a top team while it usually would have resulted in letting in a lot of goals.
And it’s not just the big games that Arsenal have changed tact in, but also against the smaller teams. In the game against Aston Villa, all the players were putting in a defensive shift to ensure that Villa had no way back and continued with the clean sheet. Its 5 wins in a row for Arsenal and that has happened the first time this season. Barring the 2 goals they conceded in the FA Cup game, they have had 4 clean sheets which is a very encouraging sign for the manager and the fans as well.