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February 2021
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Is it really our defenders who are so bad?

By Tony Attwood

It’s been obvious for some time that the key to Arsenal’s improvement is going to be the increase in scoring that is needed , for as the table below shows, we are below all the clubs above us when it comes to goal scoring.

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 19 12 5 2 36 13 23 41
2 Manchester United 20 12 4 4 37 27 10 40
3 Leicester City 20 12 3 5 36 22 14 39
4 West Ham United 20 10 5 5 30 24 6 35
5 Liverpool 19 9 7 3 37 22 15 34
6 Tottenham Hotspur 18 9 6 3 33 17 16 33
7 Everton 18 10 3 5 29 22 7 33
8 Chelsea 20 8 6 6 33 23 10 30
9 Arsenal 20 9 3 8 26 20 6 30

But only Tottenham and Manchester City have a better defence than we do.  I do wish people might remember that during their remorseless attacks on Bellerin, David Luiz, Elneny, Xhaka…  If they really were that bad would we have the third best defence in the league?

The signs are in fact good.  In this regard Smith Rowe obviously needs a mention, Thomas Partey is back and Saka just looks extraordinary, Lacazette can put them in… so put that lot together and we can score without Aubameyang.

And although his return both to the pitch and goal scoring form would be great news, the fact is that his absence has forced the others to show their scoring prowess.

We are 11 goals behind the top scorers in the league, and 10 behind two of the top three – which is not that great a distance when we consider the rediscovered goal scoring of games such as that against Southampton.  But the FA Cup defeat  shows what can happen when the format doesn’t quite work.

It is also noticeable that in the Southampton league match we only had 42% of the possession, whereas in the Cup game against them a few days before we had 61%.  A total change of tactics against the same team, and it worked.

Against Newcastle in the game before that, Aubameyang returned to form, we had 66% possession.  Against Palace in the goalless draw we had 67%.  Prior to that in the 2-0 win over Newcastle it was 61%.

Quite clearly what is shown by these figures is that we need to adjust our styles and approaches – and indeed to some degree the squad on the pitch, to suit the forthcoming match and the expectations of what the opposition will do.

In earlier eras this was not particularly necessary, and subject to the flow of injuries we could play the same team game after game, but several factors have now made this unwise.

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One is the constant churn of two games a week puts extra pressure on players and demands a greater change round of the team.  Another is the removal of the home bias from the games (due to the removal of the influence of the crowd on the referees).

I would also suspect that if it were possible to do an analysis of the number of results this season that have been different from that which could be expected from the league positions of the clubs involved we would find it much higher than usual.

So to answer once more my question in the headline, has it been our defenders who have been so bad this season – not in the slightest, for a league table based only on goals conceded would read…

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 19 12 5 2 36 13 23 41
2 Tottenham Hotspur 19 9 6 4 34 20 14 33
3 Arsenal 20 9 3 8 26 20 6 30

Manchester United, the league leaders would be in 12th.

Whereas a league table based on goals scored leaves us in 12th, just two goals above Crystal Palace.

So, a simple message emerges.  Don’t touch the defence despite whatever criticism some correspondents might have of them.  Just twiddle the attack a little, bringing in Martinelli and Martin Ødegaard where possible, and let’s hope that Aubameyang’s mother recovers fully.  Primarily for her sake and his, of course, but after that, for Arsenal’s and for ours.

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