When Will Arsenal Sort Out its Defensive Issues?
For a team that had a goalkeeper that won the Golden Glove last season, Arsenal has been quite shambolic in defense in the new campaign. The writing was on the wall when club captain, Per Mertesacker, picked up a knee injury after the first preseason game then Gabriel Paulista sprained his ankle in the final preseason encounter against Manchester City.
Arsene Wenger had given Laurent Koscielny extended break following his Euro 2016 exertions, so the Gunners fielded a very inexperienced center back pairing against Liverpool and it backfired terribly, with the visitors scoring four goals on the Gunners home turf. Calum Chambers lost his place in the side when Koscielny cut his break short to join the team, and his partnership with Rob Holding against Leicester City was very impressive, as the Gunners managed to get their first clean sheet of the season.
That colossal performance against Leicester earned the French defender Arsenal’s Player of the Month award, and Arsene Wenger waxed lyrical about Holding’s performance on the night. Holding retained his place alongside Koscielny when the Gunners visited Vicarage Road and while the first half against Watford was one of the best we’ve seen from an attacking standpoint, the defending in the second seemed somewhat shaky with Roberto Pereyra scoring a goal that almost sparked a revival from the Hornets. Petr Cech had to be alert to make some smart saves.
Just when we thought the transfer deadline was going to close without the Gunners signing that center back we all needed, the club splashed the cash on Valencia’s Shkodran Mustafi, and the reaction to the signing was really good. With the fans anticipating his debut for almost two weeks thanks to the international break, it was a no-brainer that the German World Cup winner was going to walk into the first team, with the impressive Holding returning to the bench. There is enough football to go round, so Holding was going to get his shot again, with an EFL match against Nottingham Forest coming next week.
Mustafi is an experienced center back and has already featured in four clubs, despite being just 24-years-old. He can speak fluent English from his time at Everton, so communication wasn’t going to be the issue. As expected, Mustafi lined up alongside Koscielny in last week’s Premier League encounter against Southampton but there were moments were that pairing showed some uncertainty and disconnect, allowing Shane Long a plethora of chances that were spurned. Had the Gunners came up against a more quality forward, the outcome might have been different.
Yes, they won really late against the Saints following a somewhat fictitious penalty decision but the fans didn’t care. All concerning issues from that game such as the porous midfield and the torrid defensive performance was swept under the carpet thanks to the three points but a part of me wondered how we would fare against PSG.
Arsene Wenger’s team selection against PSG left a lot to be desired, as the fans were somewhat surprised with some selections. David Ospina was selected ahead of Petr Cech, and the Sun has reported that he’s going to be the club’s Champions League first-choice keeper, as well as the EFL Cup and FA Cup, leaving Cech to just Premier League games. Ospina went on to be Arsenal’s Man of the Match in Paris, following a string wonderful saves he made to keep the scoreline respectable.
While I will not take anything from Ospina’s performance, Edinson Cavani, put his Gervinho and Yaya Sanogo shoes on, making all sorts of misses but the question I had was, why was the Uruguayan even allowed to be in a position to miss those chances?
Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin did enough to leave out Kieran Gibbs and Matt Debuchy from the team last season, but they haven’t covered themselves in glory this season. Serge Aurier and Angel di Maria tore Monreal apart, and this can be attributed to the fact that he didn’t have any sort of protection in front of him, with Alex Iwobi shying away from doing defensive duties diligently. An Alexis Sanchez would have been a better option for Monreal but he was playing as a center forward and was dropping too deep while Olivier Giroud and new signing, Lucas Perez, warmed the bench.
There were communication gaps and concentration lapses in the backline on Tuesday night which culminated into such a shambolic defensive display from Arsenal. The fact that they walked out of Parc des Princes with one point is something to be happy for, but the Gunners need to improve in their defending if they want to compete for silverware come May.
Former Arsenal defender, Lee Dixon, that used to be part of a back four known for their defensive prowess spoke with ITV and he aired his views on the current situation in the defense,
“It’s totally a balance thing for me. With the ball we’re brilliant, but without it absolutely shocking, they don’t know what they’re doing. There’s problems without the ball, it’s been like this for years now.
“In the 80th minute, they’ve just got back in the game, they’re not pressing. Cavani should score another goal. They were great with the ball, great point, well done, but that can’t go on. You cannot be that bad without the ball against teams like PSG, the other good teams in the tournament, because you will get beaten.”
The defending isn’t just restricted to the center backs. As a team, they struggled really bad and I don’t know if it was only me that was perplexed and bewildered when I saw Francis Coquelin darting forward like he had some Alex Song DNA infused in him. I keep wondering how long Wenger would continue to leave Granit Xhaka out of the squad. Even Mohamed Elneny would have put up a more disciplined performance than Coquelin. I like the Coq and all the things he did when he burst into the limelight, but there are better players in the squad that deserve to start ahead of him in critical games like the one against PSG.
In the end, it’s the manager that makes all the decisions in the squad, but he seems to be tinkering with the squad at the moment, looking for the best kind of partnerships that would work. Speaking of partnerships, you should check out this lovely article written by the Canon Crested folks.
There is a lot of football to be played between now and May, but I’m hoping that we can sort out our defensive problems, sooner, rather than later.
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