Arsenal risk missing out on top 4 once again unless Emery solves defensive issues
Arsenal look set to miss out on a top four finish for the fourth season in a row if Unai Emery cannot sort out their defensive problems.
Arsenal look set to miss out on a top four finish for the fourth season in a row if Unai Emery cannot sort out their defensive problems. The Gunners blew a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at Watford last weekend and in the end they were lucky to hold on for a point. They continue to look dangerous going forwards, where Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is absolutely lethal, but they will be undone by their leaky defence if Emery cannot find a solution.
Right now the top sportsbooks offering Premier League odds still expect Arsenal to secure a top four finish and return to the Champions League. Man City and Liverpool are all but certain of a place in the top four, and the bookmakers have installed Tottenham as odds-on favourites to join them. Arsenal are next in the betting comfortably ahead of Man Utd and Chelsea, but that will all change if they continue to display such sloppiness at the back.
The short goal kick routine against Watford was painful to watch and the Gunners almost conceded twice as a result of it. It was third time lucky for the Hornets, as a shocking pass from Sokratis allowed Tom Cleverley to nip in and make it 2-1. The momentum was all with Watford after that and they grabbed an equaliser when David Luiz gave away a penalty. It was the third game in a row that Arsenal had conceded a spot kick, and Luiz was responsible for two of them.
The Brazilian is beginning to look like a dreadful signing. Chelsea are horrendous at the back too, but you can see why Frank Lampard wanted to jettison Luiz out of the club when he took the reins this summer. Sokratis is usually pretty reliable, but he was all over the place against Watford and he could perhaps do with a stronger partner. Ainsley Maitland-Niles clearly is not a defender, and Gerard Deulofeu repeatedly embarrassed him at Vicarage Road. Sead Kolasinac bills himself as a left-back, but he is much better going forwards than when he tries to defend.
Arsenal sold their best defender, Nacho Monreal, to Real Sociedad before the transfer window ended. He had been a regular in the team during the early stages of the season, and he scored for Sociedad in a 2-0 win over Atletico Madrid at the weekend. It essentially leaves Arsenal with two wingers at full-back, and central defenders that are struggling badly. Reinforcements will arrive when Hector Bellerin, Kieran Tierney and Rob Holding return from injury, and that cannot come soon enough.
In the meantime Arsenal will continue to leak goals. There is no guarantee that they will be any tighter when that trio returns either, as Tierney is untested in the Premier League, Holding is barely tested and Bellerin is also better going forwards than in defence. The main challenge for Emery is to get more out of Luiz and Sokratis, one of whom could be replaced by William Saliba next season.
Playing out from the back is clearly hurting Arsenal’s defensive prospects. Their insistence on playing the short goal kick routine against Watford was ridiculous, and that has to come from the manager. He needs to tell his troops that it is fine to lump it up the pitch on occasion in order to relieve the pressure. More work needs to be done on Luiz’s positioning, and he and Granit Xhaka need to be a lot less reckless, or they should both be dropped. Arsenal fans will hope that Luiz and Sokratis can form a better partnership when they get to know one another better, and starting Lucas Torreira as a holding midfielder could help. But it is clear that Arsenal cannot go on as they are, or they will be overhauled by an improving Man Utd or an exciting young Chelsea side.
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