Arsenal notched up their first Premier League victory in the Unai Emery era with a 3-1 win over West Ham. However, despite the comfortable scoreline, the Gunners could have easily walked away from this game with a defeat.
West Ham cut the Gunners open on several occasions, missing numerous clear-cut chances. It may be three points, but this game raised a number of concerns for the new boss, concerns that if not addressed will keep Arsenal out of the top four.
Here are three reasons why Arsenal won’t make the top four this season.
Same old defensive problems
New manager, same problems. The entire reason Unai Emery was billed as a catalyst for change was because of his apparent modernised approach to the game in comparison to Arsène Wenger. Unfortunately, his first three games in the Premier League have suggested nothing of the sort.
In their opening three games, the Gunners have already conceded six goals. Of course, the first two games were against Manchester City and Chelsea, but the third game offered the same worries against lesser opposition. The Hammers were afforded the opportunity to attempt 13 shots on Arsenal’s goal, creating 11 goalscoring opportunities in the game.
When counter-attacked, West Ham found acres of space down the flanks. Arsenal’s full-backs constantly stationed themselves high up the pitch and when a turnover in possession occurred, they were nowhere to be seen. West Ham simply pressed Arsenal in the middle third and overloaded the final third. The centre-back duo of Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis also seemed to constantly be on different pages, severally failing to communicate with each other.
Over-reliance on cut-backs
When going forward, one word seemed to describe the Gunners: one dimensional. There was no free-flowing link-up play or one-two touches, instead Arsenal just wanted to get the ball wide and cut it back. The same way they did against Chelsea, Emery’s men relied heavily on Hector Bellerín and Nacho Monreal to create chances in the final third.
Basically, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang would make a run to the near post while extra runners like Aaron Ramsey and Alex Iwobi would make last-minute runs on the edge of the box, waiting for a cutback. This over-reliance will come to haunt the Gunners in the future as teams will eventually work them out and stifle the source.
Lack of midfield balance
What’s the point in having a plethora of midfield options and not playing an effective midfield pivot? So far, Emery has played a pivot of Mattéo Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka, a pairing void of a defensive midfielder. Lucas Torreira has come off the bench in the past two games but if he had started both games, the Gunners wouldn’t have been behind.
At the moment, Guendouzi provides the energy while Xhaka dictates the passing play. With no defensive midfielder, the Gunners are there for the taking and that weakness has already been exposed in recent games. In the future, Arsenal must play a midfield three with Torreira holding, Xhaka as the #6 and Guendouzi or Ramsey in the box-to-box midfield role. If not, the Gunners won’t make the top four this season as all their rivals have perfect midfield balance.