For all of Arsenal’s potency going forward so far this season, with eight goals scored in their opening five games and summer signing Nicolas Pépé striking up an early partnership with last season’s deadly duo: Alexandre Lacazette (before his injury against bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, defence has been their only downfall.
Not only have the Gunners also conceded eight goals, but questions are already being asked about the back four in the defence and Bernd Leno between the sticks.
The weaknesses in defence were for all to see at the weekend, as they weren’t able to build upon or hold onto their two-goal lead against Watford, drawing their second game on the bounce, 2-2. The latest errors in the game at Vicarage Road were so easily avoidable, but the Hornets could also consider themselves unlucky not to win the game at the death.
Aubameyang, last season’s joint-top scorer, netted a brace to put the visitors in front, but it wasn’t enough. The frustrated Gabonese striker made a scathing attack on his fellow teammates after the game:
“I feel like we are literally giving goals to the opposition”
However, he stopped shortly of personally calling out those responsible: Sokratis and David Luiz. The former suffered his usual lapse in concentration, which in turn saw Gerard Deulofeu quickly intercept the ball and find Tom Cleverly to half the deficit.
Deadline Day signing, David Luiz has flattered to deceive since making the move across London from Chelsea. The Brazilian has given away two penalties thus far, the most recent against Watford – and having been renowned at Stamford Bridge for rash decisions, poor positioning and costly errors, it appears that Luiz wasn’t the summer bargain that many fans initially thought.
Those at the Emirates must be feeling a strange sense of déjà vu, as defensive frailties have been their downfall in recent seasons. The pairings at the heart of Arsenal defence have been described as “calamitous”, “fragile” and “liabilities” – but it appears that nothing has changed.
This area is one that has needed strengthening for some time, so it’s little wonder that the North London side don’t feature very highly in EPL betting odds when it comes to winning the title – in fact, you’ll find Arsenal at a price of 66/1.
It seems an age since the formidable defensive partnership of Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure during ‘The Invincibles’ run of 49 games unbeaten in 2003-04, and even longer since the 1997-98 season when Tony Adams and Martin Keown struck up a stellar pairing in defence. The duo are still widely regarded as the best centre back pairing in the history of the club.
But why is it such a problem area for the Gunners? More importantly, why has it not been resolved?
Of course, injuries over the course of the last 18 months or so, haven’t helped. For the majority of last season, Arsenal were playing with a makeshift defence and even from the start of this campaign, a number of key players are still side-lined.
Rob Holding’s been out of action, since he sustained a knee injury at the end of last year against Manchester United, although there are hopes for him to return to the first team squad soon. He’s had a short stint with the under-23s as he regains full fitness.
The speed and skill of Héctor Bellerín down the flank are often a joy to behold and there’s no doubt that the Spaniard’s return will be a welcomed boost – despite Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ positive impact in his makeshift position in defence.
Summer signing, Kieran Tierney from Celtic arrived to the Emirates with a hip injury. But the left back has returned to full training and is expected to be back on the pitch sometime this month. Once the trio returns, it will be easier for fans and pundits alike to assess the situation better. But of course, they will take time to gel.
But who is to blame?
Is it the players themselves, or is it down to Unai Emery and his tactics?
To some extent, certain individuals need to step it up, but it’s football – and as manager, if Emery can’t sort out the issues, it will be his head on the line.