After twelve minutes of stoppage time, the scoreboard read Manchester City three, Arsenal nil.”Comfortable” was the word that could best describe the match for City.”Calamitous” for Arsenal.
David Luiz had attracted the ire from Gunners fans watching from their home’s, first by being directly culpable for City’s first goal after failing to clear the ball and allowing Raheem Sterling to score, then getting sent off after conceding a penalty for clumsily pulling back Riyad Mahrez in the area.
To make matters worse he had only been on the pitch as a substitute for January signing Pablo Mari, who limped off with what was initially feared to be a season-ending injury. It wasn’t so much the defeat that occasioned frustration, but rather the manner in which Manchester City swept through the brittle back-line of Bellerin, Tierney, Mustafi, Mari and Luiz.
The only saving grace on the night was Bernd Leno’s display in goal, with the German stopper making several saves to keep the scoreline respectable. Arsenal’s defence being critically scrutinized after a big game is not anything new.
Since the departure of Kolo Toure to Manchester City in 2009, it is noteworthy that Arsenal has not had a central defender who can be explicitly described as elite in its ranks.
I use him as a reference point because of his role in the Invincible squad of 2004, as well as the fact that by then he had established himself as one of the league’s most solid defenders and went on to have a successful spell at the Etihad.
Cases can be made for Laurent Koscielny and even Per Meterscacker but the fact remains that even they were routinely prone to errors that more often than not, cost the club goals and even matches.
Mikel Arteta is working on ways to turn Arsenal’s defence and the entire team into a stable force
Fast forward to the present day again, one of the primary reasons for Unai Emery’s departure was his failure to solve the club’s defensive woes. Time and again, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang has done the business upfront, only for his efforts to be undermined by errors at the back being brutally punished by opponents.
Yet it finally does seem like this fundamental flaw is being ironed out by Mikel Arteta. Arsenal did lose their next game 2-1 against Brighton, but mitigation can be derived from the fact that first-choice keeper Bernd Leno had to be stretchered off with an injury. In the four games after that in all competitions, the Gunners Arsenal have won all, conceding only once.
This upturn in form is heavily dependent on the fact that since his return to the club he captained from 2014 until his retirement four years ago, as a manager, Arteta has embarked on various methods ultimately aimed at turning not only his defence but the whole team at large into a sturdier outfit.
This has meant sometimes deploying a three-man backline, as was the case at the Molineux where Mustafi, Luiz and Kolasinac playing as centre-backs, while Soares and Tierney operated as wingbacks.
This has resulted in a more solid approach to games by enabling the team to revert to a five-man backline when under attack, which has worked well in reducing the quality of chances conceded. The ability to improvise by trying Kolasinac out as a left-sided centre-back can be qualified as an indication that Arteta will yet prove his worth as a manager.
It is still in its early days, and there is no proof that this newfound solidity will last. More so, it remains a fact that Arsenal needs to improve the calibre of centre-back options, despite Arteta’s insistence that David Luiz still has what it takes to become a bedrock for the club.
However, with all the defensive issues routinely witnessed at the Emirates and elsewhere factored in, the improvement is definitely a commendable step in the right direction.
Author: Timothy Ainebyoona
Timothy is a dynamic analyst passionate about news and all things sport.