If defence wins titles, Emery's Arsenal is no closer to glory than Wenger's
Background photo: Arsenal mjh
Five teams are realistically challenging for the 2018/19 Premier League title. Arsenal hugs the fifth spot, still within shouting distance of trailblazing Liverpool. If the Gunners are aiming for the top spot rather than just a Champions League place, they’re doing so while dragging heavy baggage.
Fourteen years ago, North London last celebrated a league title. It wasn’t for want of trying on Arsene Wenger's part but a perpetual lack of investment on proven talent crippled the Frenchman's title aspirations in his second decade at the club.
No problem scoring
Just before Wenger’s departure, there was a paradigm shift with regard to spending. The Gunners went all in on Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Then they turned Sanchez into Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Arsenal spent over £220 million on attackers in Wenger's final two seasons. It paid off, as you might’ve noticed. The Gunners have no problem scoring. They’ve notched 40 in 18 Premier League games this term.
Only Manchester City scores more, with 50. Given how prolific Unai Emery's attack is, the Gunners should be higher than fifth. They aren’t and it’s down to the rearguard.
Gunners not bulletproof
It’s alright to hit the target as often as Arsenal. They’ve only failed to score in one League outing. That was the season opener against Manchester City. The problem is they give opponents too many chances.
It’s frightening that Arsenal has only kept three clean sheets. Compare that with Liverpool (11), City and Chelsea (8 each). Even Spurs have managed seven shutouts. It's clear why those teams are above Arsenal in the title race.
In those final two seasons under Wenger when the Gunners spent so much on forwards and midfielders, they rarely splashed the cash on defenders. The most expensive Arsenal defender since 2016/17 is Shkodran Mustafi. Bar the German, the Gunners spent a miserly £19 million on defenders, including Sokratis Papastathopoulos who was signed by Unai Emery this season.
Arsenal’s defensive frailties are becoming all too glaring. Quality will out eventually and the Gunners have long been out of defensive quality. Getting players on free transfers doesn’t cut it for title hopefuls. The table shows they’ve allowed 24 goals in the league this season. Only faltering Manchester United (30) have conceded more among the top six. Liverpool are yet to surrender double digits. Spurs, City and even Maurizio Chelsea have yet to cede 20.
The way forward
Arsenal owns some good defenders, just no great ones. Hector Bellerin, Sokratis, Nacho Monreal, Mustafi, Sead, Kolasinac and Laurent Koscielny should hold their own on most days but there’s no arguing the Gunners could do with a quality defender or two. Witness Virgil van Dijk's effect on Liverpool.
Beyond the lack of a shut-down defender, Unai Emery is battling injuries at the Emirates. The Gunners might be missing five key defenders in their Boxing Day clash at Brighton.
Arsenal should storm the transfer market for defenders this winter. Liverpool acquired Van Dijk in January. For now, there are too many defensive gaps Arsenal need to plug. Until they do, the best they can hope for this campaign is a top-four finish.