Crisis for Arsenal Defence: Where is it Going Wrong?

Arsenal’s week has been a long way off what was expected. After a display of fantastic, free-flowing football against Burnley last Saturday in a 3-0 win, with talisman Alexis Sanchez scoring two and putting in an outstanding display, a Champions League home game against Anderlecht and a visit to the Liberty Stadium looked to be a great opportunity to win two games in quick succession before the international break.

However, as all Premier League followers are well aware, the Gunners could only muster one point from the two games, despite having been 3-0 and 1-0 up in each game with around 30 minutes to play. Twitter exploded after both results, with an alarming number of fans calling for manager Arsene Wenger’s head. Whilst it is easy to blame the manager for the tactical ineptitude shown by the side’s collapses, there is no way that the club’s board would sack him half-way through a season, especially with Wenger having recently signed a new contract.

Instead, Wenger should look at a few basic things his side are doing wrong, and address them before the visit of Manchester United on November 22nd. After all, the Frenchman is no mug, and knows that his side have issues, having said after the Swansea game:

“It’s disappointing to throw a game away like we did. We were 1-0 up and had to be tight defensively and wait for that second chance. We eased off at 1-0 and let them back into the game. Football is down to performances. We are here to produce performances, and didn’t do that right until the end of the game.”

Jefferson Montero played on the left-hand side for Swansea, and was up against Calum Chambers, Arsenal’s utility man at the back. It is well-known that Montero is a speed merchant, and, although his final ball was lacking for large proportions of Sunday’s game, he put in a man-of-the-match display, and set up Bafetimbi Gomis’ winner. Chambers was part of a largely makeshift Arsenal back four; although it has started the last three games together, it is obvious to even the most oblivious onlooker than Nacho Monreal is not a centre-back, and Chambers’ lack of pace was exposed ruthlessly by Montero.

A bright start to his Arsenal career at centre-back saw Chambers win the club’s player of the month award for August, but since moving to right-back to accommodate the injury to Mathieu Debuchy, he has struggled at times, especially defensively, and has already picked up six bookings, despite not accumulating a single one in 22 Southampton appearances. Against the Swans, as can be seen from his heat map below, Chambers got forward almost too often, and Montero ruthlessly exposed his poor positional play. A better player would have created more chances than Montero’s two, and Arsenal must find a solution to this problem before playing Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund at the end of the month, who have Angel di Maria and Marco Reus on the left flank.

Montero and Chambers' heatmaps

A possible solution to this would be to play Hector Bellerin. The 19-year-old did not look out of place on either of his first-team starts, against Dortmund and Hull, and is well-known for his pace; in pre-season training, the Spaniard beat Theo Walcott’s club-record time for the 40-metre sprint. However, the man who really deserves a run in the side is Carl Jenkinson, who was shipped out on loan to West Ham at the start of the season, where he has thrived.

Despite not slotting straight into the first team, Jenkinson has been on fine form in a Hammers shirt since his departure, and was the fans’ man-of-the-match in their shock 2-1 win against Manchester City at Upton Park. As there is no loan fee between the clubs, Arsenal have the option to recall the 22-year-old at any time, and a shock return to the Emirates over the international break should not be ruled out. This would allow Chambers to return to the heart of the defence, where he has thrived, and mean that Monreal would drop out of the side onto the bench.

The other issue that Wenger has overseen is the ineffectual substitutions he has made. Against Anderlecht, he brought on two senior attackers in Lukas Podolski and Tomas Rosicky in the closing stages with a one-goal lead, and in the Swansea game, the Frenchman left it too late before bringing on Jack Wilshere, after the hosts had scored their second goal and eventual winner.

In Premier League games last season, Wenger’s typical substitution when protecting a lead was to take off his left-sided attacking player, often Santi Cazorla or Podolski, with around fifteen minutes remaining, and bring on his second-choice full-back, one of Monreal or Kieran Gibbs. This move helped to strengthen the defence, and often gave assistance to a tiring attack.

However, this year, Wenger has been reluctant to do so, mainly because by playing Monreal and Gibbs in the starting defence, he has no full-backs to bring on other than Bellerin. Even if the Frenchman does not change his first-choice defence any time soon, he must at least think about bringing on a full-back again; Bellerin has the pace and energy to take advantage of tiring wingers and full-backs in attack, and would also help to shield Chambers in the right-back area.

Furthermore, by refusing to bring on a holding player for an attacker, there is a change in personnel in a key defensive area late in the game; for example, even though it was injury-enforced, Flamini replacing Mikel Arteta was a poor substitution in the Anderlecht draw. Wenger must bring on one of his players such as Jack Wilshere, Arteta or Flamini – whichever he leaves out of his starting XI – on for a more attack-minded player if his side holds the lead in one of the upcoming fixtures, as otherwise, they risk throwing away yet another lead.

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