First win, first three points: nothing could have possibly been more delightful this week for Unai Emery following two defeats in his first two Premier League games.
Arsenal beat West Ham 3-1, giving an impression of a win more comfortable that it in fact was. The Gunners were the first side to concede a goal – again – and let their opponent spread wings offensively thanks to persisting defensive problems.
Arsenal’s newly found character, grit and strong will – combined with the team’s offensive quality – made yet another comeback possible. Unlike at Stamford Bridge last week, though, it resulted in Unai Emery’s first victory as the Arsenal manager.
The win takes some weight off the Arsenal players and Emery himself, allowing the team to enter a more relaxed part of their schedule in good spirits.
Here are the two good and two bad aspects of the West Ham game.
Arsenal’s character to come back up
Arsenal used to fold like a house of cards after conceding the first goal.
Some fans blamed lack of leaders in the team for these breakdowns. Others pointed immaturity of the squad. The “Wenger Out” brigade made Arsene Wenger the culprit, accusing him of inability to tamper with the team’s gameplay.
As a result, high-scoring defeats plagued the Gunners over the last years including the famous 8-2 loss at Old Trafford, the six conceded against Chelsea in 2014, or the 10-2 on aggregate against Bayern in the Champions league.
This season, however, Arsenal don’t drop their head and brace for beating when in trouble. Despite the loss, they visibly stepped up in the second half against Manchester City, passing more accurately and defending more aggressively.
Against Chelsea, it took the Gunners only four minutes to tie the game after falling 2-0 down quickly in the first half. No tactical substitutions or half-time “hairdryers” were necessary; the team’s desire was enough to get back into the game.
Similarly, they didn’t give up on Saturday after Marko Arnautovic gave West Ham an early lead.
It’s a special cachet if Arsenal are to find a way back to the winning days. Especially considering that the team’s vulnerable defence will surely give the Gunners a lot of opportunities to pull off memorable comebacks this season.
“How many Arsenal players does it take to prevent a goal…?”
A lot has been said about Arsenal’s defensive struggles.
Unai Emery’s words from one of his first press conferences at the club about his preference to “win 5-4 rather than 1-0” reverberate and sound more sinister with every matchday passing.
Arsenal will be a team conceding goals this season, no doubts. What is really troubling is that it’s not down to personalities. It’s the whole team whose defensive play is sloppy.
It was a common occurrence that West Ham’s attacking players were swarmed by Arsenal defenders. However, that didn’t prevent Felipe Anderson or Marko Arnautovic from making offensive runs towards Petr Cech’s goal, freely dribbling past their opponents.
Arsenal players are horrifyingly ineffective in playing defensively as a collective. Even if a bunch of players is involved in defensive tasks, they are usually all over the place – especially just outside their own penalty box.
The Gunners made only three successful tackle attempts in front of their goal, leaving a huge zone outside the box unmarked.
The team also managed to make only six successful interceptions, compared to West Ham’s 17.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Shkodran Mustafi have been heavily criticised since the beginning of the season. The problem, however, seems to be much deeper than individual errors only as the first three games of the season exposed.
Depth of a squad hasn’t been Arsenal’s strongest quality for a while now. Therefore, it must be satisfying for Unai Emery to see the team’s fringe players putting up numbers at the beginning of the season.
Apart from the curious case of Matteo Guendouzi, a 19-year-old starlet who’s unexpectedly broken into Arsenal’s first team, the north London fought well against Chelsea thanks to Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Against West Ham, the Nigeria international added another assist to his tally followed by a goal from Danny Welbeck.
The English striker’s rating dropped significantly upon the arrival Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Eventually, Welbeck even ended up on a transfer list this summer.
His cameo on Saturday, however, capped off with a goal that killed the game shows he might be still a useful player to Unai Emery, a three-times Europa League winner, as the season is long and Arsenal compete on four fronts.
Contribution from the fringe players is especially important as the club’s main stars, including Mesut Ozil, Aubameyang and Aaron Ramsey, still seem to negotiate their place within the transition taking place at the Emirates under the Spanish coach.
Arsenal full-backs forgetting how to defend
If Alan Shearer says he feels sorry for a couple of centre-backs, their job must indeed be akin to Sisyphean labour.
Arsenal’s aforementioned woeful organisation in defence won’t get better if the team’s full-backs keep on ignoring their tasks on their own half.
Nacho Monreal scoring a goal and Hector Bellerin getting an assist sounds like the Arsenal full-backs did a really good job against West Ham.
They did, offensively. However, they made the game a nightmare for Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Shkodran Mustafi constantly keeping them exposed to West Ham counter-attacks – as they regularly have so far this season.
Most of the 26 dribbling attempts the West Ham forwards made were on the side of the pitch, enjoying the space Monreal and Bellerin were leaving uncovered following their offensive runs.
Bellerin’s left-wing was also efficiently used by Felipe Anderson in the build-up to Arnautovic’s goal, as it was by Marcos Alonso and Raheem Sterling in the previous games.
The kamikaze approach the Arsenal full-backs have taken this season has to stop if the club is to improve results and concede less.
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