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Page last updated at 14:17 GMT, Monday, 11 May 2009 15:17 UK

Lee Dixon's tactical view

Lee Dixon
By Lee Dixon
Match of the Day 2 pundit

Two big games this week have highlighted the major issue that stands between Arsenal and winning trophies.

In their Champions League exit at the hands of Manchester United and during Sunday's 4-1 loss at home to Chelsea, Arsenal's lack of a holding player was cruelly exposed.

Manager Arsene Wenger's biggest problem is he has never properly replaced Patrick Vieira.

The absence of a defensively minded midfielder in that crucial area in front of the back four makes their defence so vulnerable.

Chelsea's second goal just before half-time was the perfect example of opposition players getting into that danger area too easily.

Blues striker Nicolas Anelka picked up the ball just inside the Arsenal half and Samir Nasri's challenge was pitiful to say the least.

Anelka did not even need to do a trick to beat Nasri, he just let him have a clear run at goal.

In that position the defence has to come out and close him down. They did not do that quickly enough and he was able to get his strike off unchallenged.

Centre-halves do not like going into that area because they feel out of their comfort zone.

The longer your back four stays intact the better chance you have of keeping the ball out of your area.

Arsenal's defence have been exposed time and time again this season.

Early in the season, when Nasri played in the middle against Everton, they got hit by a ball over the top.

Against United in the Champions League the blame for the crucial opening goal was put down to Kieran Gibbs' slip in the area.

But the reason they conceded was because nobody was protecting central midfield when they gave away the ball. Nobody challenged Anderson when he picked it up.

The reason Gibbs fell over was because he was running back and tried to change direction.

Gibbs is inexperienced and if that had been Nigel Winterburn he would have already been in the box waiting for the cross not running back.

I believe Wenger is one of the best managers there has ever been but I cannot explain why he has not replaced Flamini
Lee Dixon

Little things like that contribute but what went before the slip was not the fault of Gibbs - the ball came into the box too easily.

When I played in the Arsenal back four we always had that protection in front of us.

You need someone to break things up; someone with a bit of intelligence who knows where to be in that area, when to push forward, when to support and when to drag someone back.

Vieira was brilliant at that. If he felt exposed he would get hold of someone and get them to help him.

In turn, our back four had a cigar in their mouths because he was doing the work for us.

Vieira was not a particularly good passer but he broke things up and then gave a simple pass that started the attack.

He made runs forward but when he did you could guarantee Emmanuel Petit would stay there and cover him.

They never went together and exposed that area in front of the centre-backs.

Alexandre Song is the most defensive minded of Arsenal's midfield and is in there to do that job but he is not a Vieira or a Petit - he is not even a Mathieu Flamini.

Flamini, who joined AC Milan in the summer of 2008, was the closest they have had to someone who can do that job.

I believe Wenger is one of the best managers there has ever been but I cannot explain why he has not filled that gap.

He must know that is the problem but maybe he felt the attacking talent they have would get them through. I find that hard to believe.

For some time Wenger has covered Arsenal's midfield with players who are forward thinking but do not have a defensive thought in their heads.


They have games where it all goes right for them - like when they beat Portsmouth 3-0 recently - but against the top teams it is a different story.

Liverpool have Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso; look how hard Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher work for Manchester United; Chelsea have Michael Essien and Jon Mikel Obi.

Even Barcelona have one in Yaya Toure, who enables Xavi and Andres Iniesta and their flair players to express themselves.

I love Toure's combination of speed, power and inner strength but would he leave Barcelona for Arsenal? I don't think so.

Which player could they get? There are not that many Patrick Vieiras about but all the major teams have someone in that role.

Arsenal have flair players in abundance, like Cesc Fabregas and Nasri, who can exploit areas further up pitches but in other areas they are short.

I am a big fan of Fabregas but he is not someone that is going to lead by example in terms of rolling up his sleeves.

Nasri probably looks at him and says "If he is not doing the defensive work, why should I?" They do not necessarily know that side of the game and they have nobody like Vieira to teach them.

Man Utd - 23 goals in 35 games
Liverpool - 26 in 36
Chelsea - 22 in 36
Arsenal - 36 in 36

You do not get success in football by only turning it on when you have got the ball. No team has ever done that.

The difference between the very best players in the world is they have that work ethic in them.

Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez all work their socks off. The only one in the Manchester United side who you could argue does not is Dimitar Berbatov and he falls in the special talent category.

Over the course of a season there will be times where you have to dig in and get a result and this Arsenal team cannot do that.

Their 21-game unbeaten run in the league has probably papered over the cracks for a while.

In the grand scheme of things they need a holding midfielder, another striker, a centre-half who is commanding in the air and a new goalkeeper.

That is four players just to get anywhere near competing. I think Arsenal are quite a way ahead of Aston Villa and Everton but they are miles behind Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea.

Maybe this week will have been an eye-opener for the Frenchman.

Lee Dixon was talking to BBC Sport's Andrew McKenzie

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see also
Arsenal 1-4 Chelsea
10 May 09 |  Premier League
Wenger vows to strengthen squad
10 May 09 |  Arsenal
Wenger rueful after 'worst night'
05 May 09 |  Europe
Mathieu Flamini interview
23 Apr 09 |  Arsenal
Wenger laments Flamini departure
07 May 08 |  Arsenal
Lee Dixon's tactical view
02 Mar 09 |  Premier League
Lee Dixon's tactical view
23 Feb 09 |  Premier League

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