Emery Wrestles With Defensive Issues

It’s not often the Arsenal web team judge the mood correctly but they did in the latest batch of training ground photos. Hard at work was the message, with the only laughter on the faces of Lacazette and Aubameyang; the untouchables from last weekend, along with Mateo Guendouzi although the latter is a matter of taste. Apparently. He’s either a talented youngster or out of his depth; it’s a black and white social media world for Mat.

Bizarrely, Unai Emery appears to pay heed to social media. “I work over the criticisms of me,” he said, making a mental note that Barry from 23, Grebe Gardens, needed a good working over for badly punctuating his stream of almost unintelligible invective. Kant was a philosopher, he needed reminding.

Huddersfield, Emery admitted, is a must-win match, not just for keeping in touch with the teams above us but also for our confidence. The team must rediscover its’ appetite for winning away from home. Emery is well aware that our fundamental problem is the defensive side of our game. We’re always likely to concede which isn’t down to just one player, it is a collective problem.

However, individual players not being up to the task adds up to a collective mess. Shkodran Mustafi will pay the price for that by leaving in the summer. We may well end up giving him away so bad are his performances while if Stephan Lichtsteiner wasn’t thinking of retirement last summer, you can bet he is now.

If either doesn’t appear for the first team again this season, we can consider a revolution truly underway at Arsenal. Sadly, I think Mustafi will be called up time and again; the remaining ten players have to think of a way to negate his brain farts.

Ruthlessly Exposed

There was a hint of exasperation in Emery’s words over the away form. “We’ve tried playing with three centre-backs and two centre-backs,” he sighed. “We’ve won with three centre-backs and two centre-backs.” The unspoken “and had some right good gubbings with both as well” lingered in the air.

It’s not an easy solution to find. Last year, we were pathetic and embarrassing for five months until we won 1 – 0 at Huddersfield. This year, around the same time, the same issues are surfacing. It isn’t even difficult to work out why. When injuries struck, starting with Rob Holding at United, results suffered because the right-side of the defence is incompetent.

Will Ainsley Maitland-Niles make a difference? Surely, any improvement on Lichtsteiner helps while if the reports of Mustafi being sold are true, then he must be dropped. Dinos Mavropanos is sitting in the wings, hoping for the opportunity to prove the doubts about him wrong. At Huddersfield, a team more woefully out of sorts than ourselves, he surely must be given the chance?

He genuinely is the only alternative to Mustafi, who unfortunately is back in “full training”. I know we’ve got problems in defending from the front away from home and we can’t even ignore the defeats at City and Liverpool. They ruthlessly exposed the frailties which we’ve shown at every ground since December.

In all honesty, they won’t be corrected until we sign new defenders and resolve the midfield question. Xhaka’s inconsistency will, I think, ultimately cost him. When he’s good, etc; the trouble is that he’s being horrid more often these days. Perhaps niggling injuries held him back; maybe it’s confidence.

Whatever, the sum total is six without a win away from home, with little to hang your hat on as a sign we’re moving in the direction of ending the run.

Giving In To Temptation?

Let’s be honest, if we can’t win at Huddersfield this season, we may as well pack up and accept sixth. We won’t, of course, and we do have form, not just in the Premier League era, of losing at the season’s awful team. Even Swindon held us to a draw at Highbury while Stoke’s relegation in 1985 saw them win twice all season, against us and Manchester United.

Is the top six any further away, ability-wise, than in yesteryear? I don’t think it’s any closer, that’s for certain. Maybe this season, it seems that way. However, I don’t believe it’s anything long-term, not even for a whole season. Each of the top sides has moments of frailty but they recover; it’s our turn to reboot the away form.

We’ve got to earn it, however. Lucas Torreira said we deserve to be in the Champions League. Something might be lost in translation but we don’t deserve anything; we’ve got to earn it. Starting tomorrow.

Team news was encouraging in the sense we’ve got options. Mkhitaryan is fit(ish) but I’d expect Denis Suarez to start ahead of him. Indeed, probably coming in for Iwobi who’s become a Marmite player. Stats show he is a great attacking midfielder; shame we’re using him as a winger/wide forward which needs goals more than anything else.

Xhaka and Maitland-Niles are both “being assessed”, which in old money is “doubtful”. I suspect AMN is closer to be selected or maybe more needed. To be honest, Lichtsteiner’s performances are so woeful that Jenks must be wondering what he has to do to get a game. I’d rather the younger player started if AMN isn’t available.

I don’t think tomorrow’s team is an easy selection with last weekend offering more problems than solutions. It seems almost impossible to choose a back-three given form yet that must be the temptation, hoping numbers provide the answers. Surely we’re beyond full-backs as makeshift centre-backs? Somehow, I don’t think so but we shall see.

’til Tomorrow.

24 thoughts on “Emery Wrestles With Defensive Issues

  1. HenryNorrisDialSquare says:

    Great post YW. Who UE starts with in defense will determine whether we get our away form back on track. I don’t think this will be easy. I expect them to be dogged and limit the space for our attacking player’s. We’re going to have to win ugly I think. As much as I’d love to see Mavropanos, AMN or Jenks in defense. I know UE is going to put Mustafi and the Licht in! God help us!

  2. HenryNorrisDialSquare says:

    I think we might have to rely on out scoring them instead! With the attacking options we have, shouldn’t be too difficult or will it!? If there is no creative influence and if we succumb to a sucker punch and lose to Huddersfield. Then hang your boots up lads, the seasons over!

  3. Chairman Gallant says:

    Arsenal back four for now should be Jenkinson, koschieny, Mavrapanos and Monreal. Anything short of that would be courting disaster, even at Huddersfied. Lichtsteiner should just retire right away. He is past it. A win is all we need tomorrow. Anything short of that is saying good bye to a top four finish this season. And Iwobi and Laca are always better as subs than starters. COYG.

  4. Paul says:

    Being assessed is apparently what happens to Xhaka off the pitch, but once he gets on it he is most often dispossessed. Just saying.

  5. C says:

    For all the grief that is given to Mustafi, Kos was the main culprit against Citeh. Aguero toyed with him time and again.

    I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Mavrapanos with one of Sokaritis or Mustafi to see how they play and fit.

  6. ferkov says:


    Hard to pick between the two really. Kos did get worked by Aguero for sure, but where was his brother?Having a dance with the Leech. Piss poor.
    Any pairing other than the brothers Chuckle will do. At least they won’t be up against Aguero again. He is quite good ,tbf.

  7. Bill says:

    Great post Yogi

    Its supposed to be -15 degrees Farenheit/-27 Celcius on the mountain today with a wind chill far below that. I think its a day to spend in front of the fire place or in our hot tub.

    With regard to our defense I have to admit I really don’t understand why Emery has not done a better job of getting the team organized. We crucified Arsene for his inability to do that so if we are going to be fair then Emery deserves criticism also. The only thing that saves Emery at this point is he has only been here for 1/2 season and may be it does take more time. The idea that Emery was going to come in and wave a magic wand or chant some incantations or “coach up” players like Mustafi, Xhaka, Kolasinac, Iwobe, Ozil, Mkhitaryan etc etc and sudden they would make all become better players was always a ridiculous notion. Time will tell how it all plays out but hopefully UE will figure out some way to fix this problem.

  8. Pete the Thirst says:

    Considering Mustafi & Xhaka cost a combined £70 million you can see why Dumb & Dumber (Arsene & Ivan) have left the Club in such an awkward financial position. These two were meant to be ‘icing on the cake’ signings, but neither can adequately do what they were bought for.

    If we’re arguing for Jenko at right back that tells you where we are at the moment!

  9. Pete the Thirst says:

    To be honest with you Bill, I’d move somewhere warmer. There’s a freezer for those type of temperatures.


    Its supposed to be -15 degrees Farenheit/-27 Celcius on the mountain today with a wind chill far below that. I think its a day to spend in front of the fire place or in our hot tub.

  10. Bill says:

    You briefly mentioned Iwobe in the post and I know we have talked about this a lot over the years but he should be a central midfielder instead of a forward. Your forwards have to produce end product and most importantly goals if they are going to be successful over the short and long term. Ox is the perfect example. He is/was an immensely player but he could not thrive as a forward because he does not score and he can’t produce consistent end product. Same with players like Julian Draxler or Mario Goetze etc etc. There have been dozens and dozens of highly technically skilled players who have come thru our academy but they never figured out how to produce end product and they never really came close to making it. I think the equation is very straightforward. At most you can only have 3 forwards on the pitch at the same time and those 3 players have to score a significant majority of your goals and if one of those 3 forwards does not score then the that burden is left on the other 2 and they have to compensate. The math can work for a while if those other 2 forwards are good enough but over the long term its difficult for a team to carry a forward who does not score.

  11. Bill says:


    Today’s sort of temperatures are not the norm and you can’t ski in warmer places.


    Has WordPress or anyone figured out why my name, email and the website are erased after each time I hit send to post a comment. Its not very efficient when you have to retype it every time

  12. Bill says:

    I think being a consistent goal scorer is easily the single most difficult skill for football players to develop and its almost impossible to teach and you a player can’t make himself into a consistent goal scorer by practicing. Think about a player like Danny Welbeck who has all of the physical and technical talent and energy and work ethic in the world but he has never figured out how to be a good scorer. There are hundreds of examples just like him. That’s why there are so few really good scorers in the world and why it is so difficult to build your own scorers from the academy level and why they cost so much to buy and why top scorers are so valuable as individual players to their team.

  13. thrillbo says:

    Morning all, hoping for an inspired match this weekend. As usual not really sure which team will show up. Do any of you feel like our defensive frailties are related to our wing backs? For the first few months it seemed like Hector was the main option, get to touchline and cut it back. Racked up 5 assists (in 19) in the league! Now it is Kola (3 in 14) doing the same thing on the left. His sole purpose as a player is streamrolling thru to the touchline and whipping in a cutback. I dont see many other creative outlets and this strategy leaves our backline in a shambles.

    If I was playing against arsenal I would sit back and let lichtsteiner run himself way out of position and wait for a turnover. Hoof it as soon as possible over mustafi shoulder and send two forwards chasing. If you take 50 hoofs in a game how many of them will they score on? 2 or 3 I would wager, unless Unai adapted his strategy at somepoint.

    Bill — For your name/email, it is something to do with the ‘cookies’ which are essentially little pieces of data that each website stores in your browser. Make sure you have cookies enabled for wordpress site! Enjoy the cold temps, we got down to -23F/-20C with -44F/-42C windchill last week in Chillinois.

  14. Bill says:


    How do you turn on cookies for a word press site on an IPad. . I thought they were on automatically and you had to turn them off.

  15. thrillbo says:

    First my football question – what do you think about my hoofball strategy bill? Secondly, the key to fixing any technical issue is to google it :p. It looks like on safari web browser you have to enable cookies. Cookies are part of this whole data privacy thing, and that recent law in Europe that was passed.

  16. Blue Yonder says:

    Giving in and settling for 6th if we don’t beat Huddersfield – even that might not be possible if we can’t beat Huddersfield as that would surely presage further failures. And the Wolves etc are snapping at our heels.
    I thought at the time that the signing of Leichsteiner was a good piece of business but it hasn’t turned out that way. In hindsight, expecting a player near retirement to switch to the EPL and thrive was probably unrealistic. A good reason now why Jenkinson should be used and see what he could offer. We have, unfortunately, seen what Leichsteiner has to offer.
    I confess to being one of those who thought the new coach could/would coach-up the incumbents. That he hasn’t been able to, at least thus far, is an indictment of the squad as a whole.

  17. Totteridge man says:

    ” confess to being one of those who thought the new coach could/would coach-up the incumbents. That he hasn’t been able to, at least thus far, is an indictment of the squad as a whole.”
    I would correct the above saying it is an indictment of both the coach and squad. We got rid off Wenger, because, among other reasons, he was not making the squad stronger, and the squad tend to do the same mistakes every game.

  18. thrillbo says:

    Blue Yonder,

    I feel like Licht could be more effective if he tried to be more of a savvy vet instead of pretending to be Bellerin. He isnt going to offer the same threat as Bellerin, but you expect a veteran to be able to contribute. Usually at that age your positioning, decision making, etc are very sharp. You have seen it all so nothing should surprise you and defending should be second nature.

    For some reason that isnt what is happening. Our dependence on the wing backs is a weakness i think. Does Lichty feel pressured to bomb forward the whole match like Kola & Hector?

    I think it comes down to the players we have. I can only see a handful of players who enjoy the high energy pressing style. You have to be relentless. You guys can probably guess who these players are. Starting from the top, Laca, Torreira, Guendo, Sokratis, Holding, Monreal. Hector is a force too but i’m not sure he is fully in love with defending yet!

  19. Blue Yonder says:

    I think you are right about Lichseinter vis-a-vis Bellerin but surely he would see he can’t be that type of player at his age. That said, I suppose it comes down to the coach in terms of how a player performs and the style he wants him to play. If so, I suppose it really is on the coach.

  20. Blue Yonder says:

    Totteridge man,

    Perhaps the coach should be included in the blame but the players (any players) have to stand up and be counted and, so far, that hasn’t happened.

  21. PE says:

    Mavro is a good ball winner but he seems to have issues with his passing game. Must be why he couldn’t even get into the registered Europa squad. Am bemused why Mustafi gets so much stick. Statistically (I knows that’s not the whole truth) he has always been our best defender. Are we so prejudiced against him that his errors get magnified in our eyes? I think so.

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