This weekend was set to become the 57th Premier League meeting between Arsenal and Liverpool and the 192nd in the history of the domestic league. This fixture has had some memorable moments, from the 4 goals scored by Andrei Arshavin in 2009 to the Thierry Henry hat-trick in 2004. Unfortunately there is also a worrying trend of hapless defending in this fixture.
There are 3 record goalscorers in the history of this Premier League fixture. Liverpool’s most prolific, Robbie Fowler, has 9 goals for Liverpool. The highest goalscorer for Arsenal is Joe Hulme, who scored 9 goals in Premier League fixtures from the mid-’20s through to the late ’30s.
So who else has 9 goals in this fixture? Arsenal do.
Arsenal have scored 9 own goals against Liverpool in the Premier League, the most recent scored by Laurent Koscielny in March 2012. They’ve also scored 41 own goals in the Premier League era, the third highest of any club. This is not the only worrying statistic. Arsenal have made 114 defensive errors that have led to goals in the Premier League era, only Tottenham have more. They’ve conceded 77 penalties, more than anyone else.
These numbers show what every Arsenal fan has known for a long time. The defence is not good enough. Under George Graham, Arsenal’s first Premier League season ended with Arsenal finishing 10th, conceding fewer goals than matches played. Over the years, after big signings like Dennis Bergkamp, Ian Wright and Thierry Henry, they improved where their attacking prowess matched their defensive capabilities. This balance helped Arsenal win 3 Premier League titles and go unbeaten in 2003-04 Premier League season – becoming “Invincible”.
Defensive errors by Arsenal have almost become a staple of their identity in the post “Invincible” era. The first notable example of this was Jens Lehmann getting sent off in the 2006 Champions League final. Many have blamed Lehmann for the Arsenal defeat and there have been many situations like that where individual errors have resulted in capitulation for the Gunners. The League Cup final in 2011 is another notable example. Wojciech Szczęsny and Laurent Koscielny failed to communicate when going for the same ball and gave Birmingham the winning goal on a plate.
Under Mikel Arteta the Gunners have shown progress in the refinement of the defence, with Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi notably improving. While Bernd Leno has been a standout performer for Arsenal all season, the improvement of the four in front of him has been evident since Arteta took charge. As new faces will likely challenge for the starting spots in Arsenal’s defence – whether it is the newcomer William Saliba or players like Rob Holding returning from injury – it will be crucial for Arteta to find the right balance. The defenders must continue to improve for Arsenal to succeed in what is a far more competitive footballing environment than ever before.
Photo: Wonker (2011)