By Tony Attwood
As I have argued before, Arsenal’s home and away form have been quite different from each other in the past two seasons. I have also argued that last season we were particularly unfortunate in having injuries to several key players in defence.
But even without anything like our first choice defence operating for much of the season, when it came to home games we had a home defensive record that was not too far away from any of the other top clubs. Even when compared with Liverpool, the club with the best home defence in the league conceded one goal more at home every three games than Liverpool.
And across the season at home we let in just four more that Chelsea and Manchester City. In fact at home we let in the same number of goals as Tottenham (while incidentally scoring eight more). And yet Tottenham were lauded all season long by the media and their fans.
Now of course the league is played at home and away, but if our defence was as atrocious as many commentators like to make out, it is curious that at Arsenal Stadium we had the fourth best defence in the league. The table below is arranged in order of defences and reflects home matches only.
All of which means that our misdemeanours were committed primarily away from home. And that suggests to me, yet again, that the issue was one either of tactics, or of refereeing, or both. I don’t have the evidence from last season to judge referees as we have done in the past, so I can simply say the conclusion has to be, we simply did not organise ourselves tactically in a way that would help us reduce goals conceded away from home.
Certainly the argument that says that Arsenal were rubbish last season because we had Xhaka and Mustafi playing defensive roles does not work when one looks at the home games.
Nor when we look at events season by season, because in 2017/18 we conceded 20 goals at home but were the second best home team in the league collecting just three fewer points than Manchester City. And that made me wonder just how far away were we from our best last season, in terms of the defence at home.
Here is the result of that wondering: the table below shows the goals conceded at home in the last two seasons, compared with the seasons prior to this in which we came top or second. The worst totals are in black the best in red.
|Season||Goals conceded at home||Goals conceded away||Final league position|
The fact is that the 16 league goals that we let in at home last season was a LOWER total than three of the seasons in which we came second in the league and actually LOWER than 2002 in which we were Champions.
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As the headline says, at home last season Arsenal’s defence last season was better than when we were champions. Of course only one of the three Wenger champions seasons
These are not the figures of a team that simply cannot defend because this manager and the previous manager were both morons who insisted on playing terrible defenders. The difference between the last two seasons and earlier seasons was very little to do with the defence at home – it was to do with the defence away
So when we look at the goals conceded away from home, we can see that these last two seasons had us conceding three times as many goals away from home as we did in our last two championship seasons.
If that same disaster had happened at home as well then yes, all the bleating about needing to buy six new defenders etc would be right, but it was not. We had a team that could not defend well away. And what I find particularly interesting is that there were signs of this in 2016 when we conceded 25. In 2017 (not shown in the table above) it was 28 goals.
So across the last three seasons we have lost the ability to shut up shop away from home and be BORING BORING ARSENAL. Indeed if you think back to the “1-0 to the Arsenal” days, yes we used to sing that at the Arsenal stadium but it was only for a few minutes before the second goal went in. If you were an away supporter in earlier seasons you could be singing it all the way through the game.
Thus I come back to my basic point. Getting rid of a whole raft of defenders because they cannot defend is not the way to take Arsenal back up the league. The way for Arsenal to get back into the top four and then challenge for the title is to change the tactics away from home.
Now that the club has fallen out with Koscielny there is another vacancy at the back, but I suspect we have much of our defence in place with the return of Bellerin and Holding. I stay true to the position I have been pushing in these articles since I don’t know when: it is the away tactics, not the defence, that is the problem.
Here’s our list of defenders for the coming season.
Bellerin, Holding, Monreal, Maitland-Niles, Mustafi, Sokratis, Kolasinac. That is not that bad a collection of players if they can all stay fit.