5 Things We Learned From Arsenal’s Start In The Premier League

5 Things We Learned From Arsenal’s Start In The Premier League
Aug 22, 2017

Arsenal Featured

Arsenal fans have endured an all-too familiar start to the Premier League season. A plucky win on the opening day against Leicester was followed by a lacklustre display against Stoke, which ended in a 1-0 defeat for the Gunners. The narrative seems to be identical to that of recent seasons with Arsène Wenger’s side just one or two signings away from challenging for the title.

Questions remain over Wenger’s management skills as many fans feel his tactics have expired but what have we learned from his side’s opening two outings?

Three-At-The-Back Won’t Make Defensive Woes Go Away

Despite the North Londoners impressive record since switching to the popular 3-4-2-1 formation, winning 11 out of 12 prior to Stoke, the new system doesn’t solve all of Arsenal’s problems. The Gunners still conceded 12 goals in 13 games despite the added protection for the defence and have struggled to contain teams, facing a massive 164 shots. While the quantity of shots may not equal quality, a further look at the stats provides grim reading for their back-line.

Before the Stoke outing, Arsenal’s expected goals conceded with a back three was 1.66 per game compared to 1.18 per match with a back four. It certainly hasn’t helped that Wenger has been forced to use two left backs at centre-back as well as a right-back at left-wing-back but this further highlights the point that Arsenal never seems ready for the new season, seemingly always plagued by injuries and not signing players early enough in the transfer window.

Alexandre Lacazette Needs Time

Arsenal’s £52million record signing scored within 100 seconds of his Emirates debut but struggled to get involved in Saturday’s defeat. His one glimmering moment was an emphatic finish into the top right corner that was marginally offside but apart from that he found himself being man marked out of the game by Ryan Shawcross.

His link-up play with Aaron Ramsey was promising at times but he cut a deflated figure on the bench after he was surprisingly taken off for Theo Walcott in the dying embers of the game. He’s clearly a top striker but struggled to find space at the Bet365 stadium with Danny Welbeck looking more menacing than his French teammate. Given Lacazette’s tendency to run in behind defences he may get more joy at Anfield next week, especially if Liverpool play a high line.

Reinforcements Are Needed

Arsène Wenger seems intent on getting rid of the deadwood at the Emirates, and rightly so. Fringe players like Debuchy, Gibbs, Pérez and Campbell are all on high wages that need to be ‘freed up’ before further additions are made. However, additions are essential if Arsenal want to compete with the rest of the top 6 this season.

The sale of Gabriel Paulista means Arsenal have five recognised centre-halves in their squad. While that seems enough on the surface of things when you look deeper the depth isn’t as strong as you would want. Holding as well as Chambers are still young and it is clear that they can’t start every week. Combined with the fact that Koscielny and Mertesacker are 31 and 32 respectively as well as Mustafi’s inconsistent performances it is only logical to think they need defensive reinforcements. They lack a tall defender in the heart of their defence, one that can play it out from the back and hold their own and Virgil van Dijk fits the bill.

The North Londoners have missed Spanish maestro Santi Cazorla, who has been injured since October of last year. The diminutive playmaker helps link the defence to the attack, relieving Mesut Özil of any creative burden. Aaron Ramsey can also play as the box-to-box midfielder that Cazorla mastered but given his injury record leaves Arsenal short in the centre of the park. Jean Seri has been touted as a potential option but the Ivorian looks set to be off to Barcelona instead.

Alexis Sánchez Is Crucial For Arsenal

Not quite a sudden revelation but after watching Arsenal’s opening two fixtures it was clear to see they missed their player of the year for last season. Arsenal’s 4-1 win at Stoke in May was mainly down to the Chilean. With the game hanging in the balance at 1-0 Sánchez scored a goal and set up Mesut Özil in the second half. We all know Özil can create something out of nothing but very few players can take the game by the scruff of the neck like Alexis can.

Danny Welbeck looked dangerous in both games but his lack of cutting edge in the box was evident. Despite his good movement, he squandered numerous chances, finding the net on just one of his 6 shots. Welbeck offers a chaos factor that is hard to defend but Alexis will be needed next week given his goalscoring exploits.

Xhaka-Ramsey Has Its Flaws

The pivot of Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey looked brilliant in the FA Cup final with Xhaka anchoring the midfield superbly and Ramsey ending up scoring the winner. However, against Stoke, the cracks started to show. Ramsey’s willingness to get forward and make late runs into the opposition box provide a huge goal threat but it also leaves the midfield exposed.

Xhaka sometimes makes the difficult look simple with his passes but he also can make the simple look difficult. He cost Arsenal numerous times in possession against Leicester and also gave the ball away in the middle of the park in the build up to Stoke’s goal. However, he wasn’t helped by the fact Ramsey was more interested in scoring than doing his job defensively. Given Ramsey’s qualities in the final third, it would make perfect sense to switch to a midfield three, one which Xhaka could anchor and it would give Ramsey freedom to roam.

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