Some things are becoming more and more certain in the Premier League. Manchester City will score three, four or five at home. Dele Alli will go down at the slightest touch. And Arsenal will more than likely throw away their clean sheet.
Arsenal were almost guaranteed to qualify for the Champions League under Arsene Wenger. However, the same can’t be said in his last two seasons and the season since his departure.
The Gunners finished 5th, 6th and 5th again, failing to qualify for the Champions League for three consecutive seasons and – for many fans – failing to achieve the bare minimum for their club. A quick look at the odds, such as Redbet sports betting, will show that they’re far from favourites to qualify for the Champions League this season too.
What’s at the heart of this failure to succeed? It’s hard not to point fingers at the defence.
In each of the last two seasons, Arsenal conceded 51 goals in the league. That’s 13 more than any of the top five in 2017-18 and 12 more than any of the top four in 2018-19.
Unfortunately, the arrival of Bernd Leno in 2018 failed to make an impact. In his first season with Arsenal, they kept just 8 clean sheets. That puts them on a par with Burnley and just three ahead of relegated Fulham and Huddersfield.
So, does the problem lie with the defenders?
In 2018-19, Arsenal failed to establish a consistent back four. Bellerin and Lichsteiner shared the role of right-back, Monreal and Kolasinac were rotated at left-back, while Koscielny, Sokratis and Mustafi were the main three candidates in the middle.
So far, 2019-20 has seen Maitland-Niles step in at right-back, Monreal at left-back and Sokratis paired with either David Luiz or Calum Chambers in the middle. As one of the big summer signings, it’s likely that Luiz will play alongside Sokratis for most of the season. While he comes from a Chelsea side that conceded less goals than Arsenal last season, Luiz is hardly worlds apart from the unpredictability of Shkodran Mustafi.
What about Tierney?
Kieran Tierney joined Arsenal from Celtic at the start of August and looks likely to force his way into the starting line-up – eventually. At present, the Scottish left-back is still injured and is expected to return to training in October.
Is he really the answer to Arsenal’s leaky defence? Perhaps not. The 22-year-old is considered by many as one for the future. That’s reaffirmed by the fact that Arsenal have kept hold of both Monreal and Kolasinac as it stands.
In truth, Monreal has put in solid performances in the opening games. Along with Kolasinac, it’s fair to say Arsenal aren’t weak in the left-back position. That said, they failed to keep a clean sheet against Burnley and only just scraped by against a less-than-impressive Newcastle side.
Strengthening the middle
So, what about the middle two? While it may be harsh to focus on specific incidents so early on in the season, David Luiz was at-fault for Burnley’s goal at the Emirates. When the ball was played through, he was a good two yards behind the defensive line, playing Ashley Barnes onside for an easy finish.
To be fair to Luiz, he’s only been with the squad for a matter of weeks. Communication will only improve, which could see small errors like this eradicated. However, if these issues continue, it may be worth Arsenal switching to a back three.
Why? Clearly, the current system hasn’t worked. A back three would enable the Gunners to play with wing-backs – allowing the likes of Maitland-Niles and Monreal to push up a bit more. That could also create the ideal environment for the eventual return of Tierney, who showed he can operate at both ends of the pitch at Celtic.