Plymouth Argyle’s 4-4 draw with AFC Wimbledon is just over 24 hours in the past now and I think my heart rate has just about returned to normal.
Seriously, how many years are Argyle set to take off our lives this season? On various occasions during Saturday’s encounter, the Greens looked in total control, in panic mode, in a complete mess and frightfully dangerous whenever they went forward. For every painful error, there was a moment of brilliance to make up for it. And whilst the performance was a long way from perfect, nobody can claim that watching Argyle so far this year has been dull.
The analysis of such a high-scoring game may seem obvious: attack good, defence bad. But there are a few more intricacies we can delve into in an attempt to see where Argyle can improve in the coming weeks.
Individual mistakes costly
In our analysis of the Leyton Orient game in midweek, we started with the positives before the negatives, so we’ll switch it around this time. It will come to the surprise to precisely nobody that most of those negatives come from a defensive point of view.
However, there is a major caveat we ought to bring up. Many of the chances Argyle have conceded so far this season, and most of the big ones, have come through individual errors rather than any major systemic flaws. This isn’t a 2018/19 situation – back then Argyle were cut open time and time again as a result of terrible midfield selections and setups from Derek Adams. That hasn’t been the case this season, so the blame cannot be laid entirely at Ryan Lowe’s door.
Rather, the defenders themselves may want to have a little look in the mirror. It’s been error central for Argyle at the back this season, with Will Aimson guilty of a howler at the weekend as he totally turned his back on Joe Piggott, who simply came in and stole the ball from the ex-Bury man. That led to Wimbledon’s fourth goal of the afternoon, and was seemingly the point of no return for the Greens.
Aimson hasn’t been the only culprit this year. Scott Wootton made a terrible error in the last minute to gift Leyton Orient their winning goal in the Carabao Cup. Joe Edwards was lucky that his sloppiness in possession didn’t lead to a Blackpool goal on opening day. Mike Cooper? Well, there have been no glaring howlers on the same level in recent weeks, but there have been a number of goals conceded that he could have done more to prevent.
This is problematic for Argyle – Lowe’s side cannot keep going into games knowing that even scoring three times may not be enough to make up for brain fades at the other end of the field.
That being said, there are worse problems to have. It would be far worse if the problems were systemic, as they were in 2018/19. It’s far easier to train to cut out individual errors than it is to teach players an entirely new system.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, but Lowe has a good base to be working from. As Wootton demonstrated last season, and Aimson and Cooper showed in superb performances against Blackpool, these players are talented. It’s not as if Argyle simply have a back line of duffers who can’t be trusted to ever perform. It’s impossible to expect a Blackpool-style rearguard effort on a persistent basis, but if Argyle’s defenders can find a little consistency, and cut out some of the howlers, they’ll be fine.
Finding a balance
Argyle were good to watch going forward in the latter half of last season. Now, having been promoted, they’ve somehow managed to take that up another notch.
As we’ve discussed, the Greens have shipped a few big chances over recent weeks, but they’ve created plenty of their own too. On Saturday there were even a few of those they didn’t put away – Ryan Hardie’s early second half chance at 2-1 springs to mind. It feels remarkable to say having scored four goals, but Argyle may walk off the pitch feeling as though they should have scored more.
However, that’s not to say the attackers were wasteful; that would be incredibly unfair. There may have been a couple of agonising misses, but we did see some stunning finishes to more than make up for those. George Cooper and Conor Grant both found the top corner from impossible positions and, with Niall Canavan also finding the net, 11 Argyle players have now scored this season in just five games. That’s a remarkable, and hugely encouraging, figure.
The fact that Argyle have found goals all over the pitch makes failures to win in the past week all the more frustrating.
Look, it was hard not to come out of Saturday’s game with a good feeling. Argyle showed incredible character to snatch a draw, and nearly win the game, having been 4-2 down with 15 minutes to play. The confidence in this team that they can outscore any opponent will surely serve them well as the season progresses.
Yet, there is a sense that Argyle could be much more successful this season if a sufficient balance can be found. Scouse supremo Ryan Lowe will love comparisons with his beloved Liverpool, and there are many similarities between this Argyle side to Jurgen Klopp’s 2017/18 outfit. That’s no bad thing – Liverpool that year were superb to watch, reached a Champions League final, and finished in the top four. But despite all of the high-scoring encounters, Klopp didn’t win anything.
The German really found success at Anfield once the defence was sorted. Bringing in Virgil van Dijk was probably the clincher, and maybe Argyle will eventually need to make a marquee centre back signing who can lead by example and help the side achieve their goals. But however it is done, Ryan Lowe’s Argyle could take similar trajectory to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool with the right defensive focus.
I don’t want this piece to come across as too critical. Argyle are already incredible to watch, and a successful basis is already present. But if a good balance can be found, facing Lowe’s side would be a frightening prospect for any team at this level.