Arsenal recovered well after starting the campaign on a shaky note losing back-to-back to Manchester City and Chelsea at the beginning of the season. The Gunners went on a 22-game unbeaten run in all competitions that lasted till early December. But things have not quite been the same since Rob Holding got injured.
The 23-year-old was ever present in the defence as Unai Emery resorted to a back three for his Arsenal side. It enabled him contain opposition attacks and choke the midfield while the full backs contributed effectively to the attack through the wings. The young Englishman was also in top form helping the side maintain a long unbeaten run.
But with defensive partner Shkodran Mustafi out a hamstring injury as well, the manager is now forced to field a back line featuring three players over 30. Koscielny is already 33 and just returned from a long layoff. He has been a shadow of his former self in the few games he has featured so far.
Defensive mistakes have become a regular occurrence. Stephan Lichtsteiner gifted Brighton an equaliser in the 35th minute when the 34-year-old tried to head a long ball back to his goalkeeper only to drop it at Jurgen Locadia’s feet. The Brighton forward could hardly believe his luck and made no mistake in punishing Arsenal to bring the game level. Apparently, the Swiss international is having a consistent run in the team as a result of a shortage of personnel at the back.
The team has capitulated in several matches recently including losing to bitter rivals Tottenham in the League Cup. A 2-0 defeat at home means the opportunity at the first trophy of the season is gone. After having risen to fourth place during the good run, the club has dropped back to fifth with resurgent Manchester United closing in from behind.
The competition is at an all-time high in the league and other top six sides have raised their game. But Emery can only produce results commensurate with the tools at his disposal. A better second half of the campaign will require strengthening the team from the back.
It’s no secret that the defence has been Arsenal’s biggest problem for several seasons now. It was largely responsible for a disappointing end to Arsene Wenger’s reign. Emery is nowhere near finding a solution to the quagmire. He will need to acquire a good center back to add to the group in order to improve the club’s fortunes.
Arsenal needs high profile central defenders in the mould of Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli and José Giménez of Atletico Madrid. Andreas Christensen can also be acquired from London rivals Chelsea. The Denmark international, who played regularly under Antonio Conte is looking for a way out after being limited to Europa League football under Maurizio Sarri.
With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang enjoying a rich vein of form as far as goal scoring is concerned, the team also needs to keep things tight at the back to make progress. Like the saying goes “Goals win you games, but defence wins you titles.” Arsenal is nowhere near the title as long as the defensive frailties persist. Emery will do well to go shopping in January.