by Tony Attwood
As we know, last season the difference between Chelsea in third and Arsenal in fifth was just two points and two goals. So in the simplest of terms we could argue that Arsenal just need a small adjustment to get back into the top four.
But of course things are never quite that simple since every other team will be endeavouring to improve as well. So let’s see if we can take this a bit further…
If we look at the league in terms of goal scoring we can see that we were third in the league and it would take a sizeable leap to catch up Liverpool.
Table sorted by goals scored
A look at the goalscorers in all competitions last season shows us how we might take ourselves further up this table towards Liverpool’s total of 89…
We have two excellent front men as goal scorers, but no one in midfield to back them up. If we had a midfielder who scored 16 rather than six that would still not take us to Liverpool’s total, but it would certainly help, and should bring in a few more points as well. Two attacking midfielders who could knock in 14 each rather than six each would take us up to the Liverpool level.
That looks ludicrous, but if three midfielders had all got 12 each would do it. But as we once showed in an article, having more than two players in double figures is rare, so five of such players seems an unlikely leap in one season, so we need to look elsewhere.
But unfortunately it is elsewhere, in terms of goals against, that there is a greater worry…
We were only ninth in the defensive table, letting in 51 goals. Of our top six rivals only Manchester United did worse conceding 54 goals.
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And yet it we look at our home form only, and consider this in terms of goals conceded a different picture emerges…
Home Form only
At home we conceded the same number of goals as the much praised Tottenham, and only four more goals across the season than Manchester City who won the league. That is roughly one more goal conceded at home than Manchester City, every four games. On that basis there is nothing wrong with the defence!
Which of course points to our problem – it is not a question of an awful defence, it is a question of an awful defence away from home – which clearly suggests tactics, not players, are at fault. That is not an argument the media likes, because it is just a little bit complex and they love utter simplicity, so you won’t hear it in many other places. But it is the fact: it is not our defence that is the problem, it is our defence away from home.
Here is the league table in terms of goals conceded away from home.
|9||West Ham United||19||6||3||10||20||28||-8||21|
|14||Brighton and Hove Albion||19||3||4||12||16||32||-16||13|
Yes, away from home, we conceded more than Cardiff, who were relegated.
Now I have made this point before, but it can be reiterated – what we need is a new tactical approach away from home for our defence, not a completely new defence (although the return of our two injured defenders will help). Put it simply: the tactics away from home did not work.
Of course it might be the view of the manager that he played the team as he did away from home because he didn’t have the right sort of players to cope with an away from home performance that could shore up the defence away. But it does not mean that a major part of the team at the back needs to be changed. They simply have to be trained to work in a different way away from home.
So let us look at our away defeats – remembering we only needed one of these to have been a victory for us to have been third in the league last season…
|18 Aug 2018||Chelsea v Arsenal||3-2|
|16 Dec 2018||Southampton v Arsenal||3-2|
|29 Dec 2018||Liverpool v Arsenal||5-1|
|12 Jan 2019||West Ham United v Arsenal||1-0|
|03 Feb 2019||Manchester City v Arsenal||3-1|
|07 Apr 2019||Everton v Arsenal||1-0|
|24 Apr 2019||Wolverhampton Wanderers v Arsenal||3-1|
|28 Apr 2019||Leicester City v Arsenal||3-0|
Turning two of those games from defeats into draws would have given us the same points as Chelsea and a better goal difference, to take us to third. One more goal scored, or one fewer goal conceded at Chelsea would have done it. Or failing that in two out of the games at Southampton, West Ham or Everton would equally have done it.
Now it can be argued that had we not lost both Bellerin and Holding for much of the season, and Koscielny for some of it, that would have been secured. We can also argue that Maitland Niles has been improving through the season, and that with him playing the whole season next time around, again things will improve.
Beyond them, we might hope for a fair number of games from Monreal, and the emergence of Pleguezolo or Mavropanos, or indeed Medley, or Bielik who will presumably return to us from Charlton. Of course not every youngster comes through, just as not every defender avoids injury, but the fact is that we were particularly unlucky in terms of injuries to defenders this year.
This is not to say that we don’t need to buy, but when we consider that Sokratis was also in his first season in the Premier League, we should see quite an improvement in defence even without any purchases happening.
The final point to consider is that Arsenal needed 72 points to get into the top four this past season (71 would have left us behind Tottenham on goal difference). In 2018, 76 points would have been needed – as was the case in 2017.
But in 2016 when we came second, 66 points would have secured fourth spot. So 72 is a mid-point – we might need more, we might get away with fewer. But we should aim for 76. Which I suspect means a much better run in terms of injuries to defenders, maybe buying one more defender, having Willock and Nelson playing a big part in the season, and having perhaps one other player come through from the under 23s or returning from loan, and having a different set of tactics for away games.
Put that lot together and that should do it.