Arsenal are known for their attractive brand of football that mostly revolves around their attacking players. However, the Gunners need to add a quality centre-back and must tighten up defensively if they want to return to their glory days.
One look at their priorities in the transfer market, though, would suggest otherwise, with the north London club looking to strengthen their midfield and add to their attack.
Defensive midfielder Thomas Partey has been heavily linked to the club and will add to their defensive stability, but the Ghanaian alone is not the answer to Arsenal’s defensive woes.
After all, here’s a team that managed to keep just 10 clean sheets last season. They finished eighth in the Premier League after conceding 48 goals – only Chelsea and Burnley let in more goals in the top half of the table.
While some goals that they let in can be put down to the brilliance of the opposition, more often than not, it was Arsenal that kept shooting themselves in the foot.
It’s also worth noting that their style of play focused on ball-retention invites opponents to press high up the pitch and force errors from not just their defenders but the midfielders as well.
Both Unai Emery – Arsenal’s previous manager – and their current boss Mikel Arteta have a fascination with playing the ball out from the back like most of Europe’s top teams.
But judging by the personnel at the club and some of the numbers from last season, it’s difficult to see the club succeed with their desire to play out from the back without bolstering their defence.
With Sokratis Papastathopoulos seemingly poised to leave the club, Arsenal are left with David Luiz, Calum Chambers, Shkodran Mustafi, Rob Holding and William Saliba as their recognized centre-back options for next season. Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolašinac have also shown that they can do a job in a back three, although they are more comfortable out wide.
Needless to say, none of these names inspires confidence. While Saliba is tipped for a bright future, the French youngster has just joined the club and will need some time to adjust to the pace of the Premier League.
Holding and Chambers, on the other hand, have been part of the club for some time without really making the most of their opportunities, partly due to injuries as well as a failure to get a proper run of games owing to their inconsistency.
That leaves us with the duo of Luiz and Mustafi, who were at the heart of Arsenal’s defence in their run-in last season and didn’t exactly make the best of cases as far as showing why the manager should keep faith in them.
Arsenal fans themselves have been known to be struck with panic when they see Mustafi in the starting line-up and Luiz is another who cannot be relied on as his two unnecessary red cards in the league last campaign demonstrated.
On his day, Luiz can be a game-changer, but the problem lies in the fact that those days aren’t the norm and more often the exception. Luiz, in fact, made more errors that led to goals (2) than any other Arsenal player in the Premier League last season.
The Brazilian defender also claimed another unwanted honour in the league last season when he set the record for most penalties conceded in one season by a single player (5). Luiz, though, is very much a part of Arsenal’s future plans with the club only recently confirming his contract extension.
5 - David Luiz has given away five penalties in the Premier League this season, the most any player has ever conceded in a single campaign in the competition. Calamity. pic.twitter.com/GWFhbNOjxe— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 26, 2020
And while the additions of Mykola Matviyenko from Shakhtar Donetsk, Dayot Upamecano from RB Leipzig as well as John Stones on a loan deal from Manchester City have been mooted, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that any of these moves will go forward.
Even if Arsenal were to add any of the aforementioned players to their backline, questions marks surrounding how much of an upgrade they are over Arsenal’s current defenders will still remain.
Upamecano aside, the acquisition of Matviyenko or Stones won’t signal the end to their defensive frailties. While Matviyenko will have to make the step up from the Ukrainian league, Stones isn’t particularly confident bringing the ball out of the back and has lost his starting spot at City following below-par displays.
With so many variables to factor in, maybe Arsenal have decided to focus their recruitment in the midfield and forward areas, hoping to outscore opponents.
That said, scoring goals by the dozen is easier said than done and Arteta would do well to realise that all great sides are built on a solid foundation, starting from the back. Most recently, Liverpool only became one of the best teams in Europe after the addition of Virgil van Dijk to the team.
Arsenal don’t even need to look at another club. Prior to the Arsene Wenger era, the Gunners were known for being a well-drilled unit under their pragmatic former boss George Graham, who led them to two league titles - two League Cups and the FA Cup.
To revert to that style of football, of course, isn’t possible in the modern game. However, it wouldn’t hurt to perhaps take a trip down memory lane and have a look at what it was that made Arsenal’s great sides successful.
Attacking football may now be ingrained in the club’s identity but the Gunners will do well to remind themselves that a good attack may win them a few matches but a solid defence is what will get them titles.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Rui Vieira
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