Will Holding, Bellerin, Tierney return to the Gunners in the nick of time?
Background photo: Nazmi Amin-Tai, CC BY-SA 2.0
Arsenal began the season on a decent note. It might have been better with the presence of their injured defenders. Arsenal hasn't had the opportunity to field their first-choice full-backs, Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney. Nor have they had Rob Holding who can play across the backline and was an Unai Emery mainstay until he was hurt late in 2018/19. One has to believe the Gunners will be tighter at the back and more dynamic in attack when all three have returned. Holding is first in line.
Nicolas Pépé's augmented the attack and the middle of the park is more congested than the beer line at Glastonbury. There aren't enough minutes to go around. The backline is where the concern is. The existing options aren't to be trusted. Put your hand down, Shkodran Mustafi.
Inserting Holding into a centre-back slot will provide a little calm and composure to the defensive third. Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz are both prone to costly rash tackles. Each is a yellow card waiting to happen. At the rate they're going, the duo will crest five bookings in the same match, leaving Emery with the unpleasant need to start Mustafi and Callum Chambers together. Let's not go there.
In addition to steady defending, Holding can play the ball from the back with consummate skill. He doesn't quite possess Luiz's passing range but he won't give the ball away in his own half. Emery can only hope his serenity rubs off on whichever hothead partners him.
As things stand, Arsenal's play from the back exerts too much pressure on Bernd Leno. While the Brazilian is an above-average ball-playing defender, Sokratis isn't what you'd call a pressure release valve. Holding and Luiz in the same backfield offer the Gunners a greater chance to beat the high press.
Holding's presence is just the beginning, however. Bellerin and Tierney are desperately needed. A classic example of how Arsenal want to play was the goal against Leicester in the Premier League last season at the Emirates. The ball went from the goalkeeper through almost every member of the team before Aubameyang finished it up.
For such a goal to be seen regularly in 2019/20, the full-backs will have to be on their best days every match day from both sides of the pitch. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac do not have the consistency required.
Emery must rely on the midfielders and forwards to do the job, significantly narrowing the North Londoners' attacking options. Lack of width just cost Javi Gracia his job at Watford. Arsenal are not in such desperate straits but expectations are much higher in their neighbourhood.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson are the Premier League gold standard at Liverpool. Bellerin and Tierney don't match the Merseysiders for quality but they bring the Gunners much closer.
The good news for Arsenal is that all three players are already in light training and should start Premier League games in October. If a Champions League place or, even better, a title challenge are the stated goals, Emery can't wait much longer.