Arsenal are facing significant challenges this summer, the least of which is how to ensure a competitive Premier League defence. Amidst the potential departures of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal’s real problem lies within the back-four.
Since the end of the Wenger era, Arsenal have conceded 87 goals in 66 games in the Premier League. This is more than any other of the big 6 clubs and even more than Leicester and Wolves.
Arsenal’s defensive woes run a lot deeper than lapses of concentration and errors. When teams lack confidence in the back, it affects the midfielder’s confidence to freely play the ball, which in turn impacts the forwards. The lack of a commanding presence organising the structure of the field hinders passing, movement and counter attacks.
How often have Aubameyang and Lacazette had to track back to help the defence?
Any contesting team needs a commanding leader whether it’s a defensive midfielder, like Viera or Sergio Busquets, or a strong centre half like Virgil Van Dijk. Arsenal have been crying out for a brick-wall defender to shore the back line so the likes of Guendouzi, Torreira, Özil and Ceballos can roam free with confidence.
David Luiz, Shkodran Mustafi and Sead Kolašinac are not championship calibre players anymore. Mustafi and Luiz have cost Arsenal games on countless occasions and Kolašinac has been outclassed by 18-year-old Bukayo Saka.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos is a passable second option. He is fantastic at cleaning up the scraps but lacks finesse and skill. Despite this he is ageing and will soon be unable to keep up with the pace of the Premier League.
I haven’t seen enough from Cédric Soares and Pablo Marí to comment, but I doubt Arsenal will exercise the option to buy them due to the postponement of the season. Whether our faith should be put into Rob Holding and an injured Calum Chambers remains to be seen.
Enter William Saliba. The 6’3 Frenchman has started 14 of the 15 games when fit for Saint-Étienne and has averaged 1.92 interceptions per 90 minutes while only committing 0.23 fouls. His focus, strength and reading of the game are his most notable qualities.
His long ball completion percentage is a touch below 62 per cent, showing the versatility in his game. Saliba is, however, still only 19. He is raw and inexperienced; his big frame means he needs work to keep up with the likes of Sadio Mané and Raheem Sterling.
To think of Saliba as our defensive saviour is foolish, he is a very valuable asset but if too much pressure is placed on him from the jump, it could destroy his confidence.
With reports coming out that Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United are chasing Arsenal target Dayot Upamecano and Héctor Bellerín being linked with a move back to Spain, Arteta has a lot more to worry about than the front line.
Efforts should be made to offload Arsenal’s dead weight and make a statement to Aubameyang and Lacazette by signing Upamecano or Dan-Axel Zagadou from Dortmund. A big money defensive signing is the only way Arsenal will finally have a brick-wall defence.
Header photo: Christian Korsager, 2009.