Arsenal continue to roll the dice as search for balance at the back goes on

Since the start of the Unai Emery era, Arsenal’s polished PR team has been keen on projecting an image of radical change around the squad, led from the front by the whistle-toting Spaniard himself.

Once or twice week, in the pictures released from training sessions, we see Emery heavily involved in proceedings, directing his players, pointing and imparting wisdom, gradually bringing about that change in focus that has more or less become his Holy Grail.

In every interview with the playing squad we hear a change in style lauded and an admission that more focus is needed on balance in the team.

Even the boss has been happy to talk a length about tactics and about the need for a better mix of attack and defence in this Arsenal side.

In short, we have been bombarded both overtly and, on occasion, with a little guile, about the wrinkles of the Arsene Wenger era being ironed out, defensive ineptitude chief among those.

After the visit of West Ham to the Emirates on Saturday, however, it seems clear that the way Emery is going about that task needs a good tweak, as his message is not yet translating into action on the pitch.

There is no taking away the fact that our first three points of the season were most welcome and a great relief but, had we been facing a better side than West Ham, we may yet have been talking about a third straight defeat.

As it stands, the balance between attack and defence at Arsenal is still a long way out of kilter, as much, or even more so, than in the latter years of Wenger’s reign.

At times on Saturday, the Hammers were able to get in on Petr Cech’s goal with embarrassing ease. All told, it was our superior attacking prowess that got us over the line.

That’s not to say we should all be overcome with gloom and dread this morning, quite the opposite, but there remains a real possibility that, unless substantial change is brought about in the weeks ahead, we will continue to sail close to the wind defensively.

I suspect we will see a great deal more of Emery and his whistle getting among the players on the training pitch as the season progresses, impressing upon us all that he is at least trying to bring about the change we all know needs to happen.

The chief problem, it would seem to me, is the way in which we continue to overcommit to the attack.

In a good number of our attacking moves, we find Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal both with chalk dust on their boots, Matteo Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka lurking on the edge of the opposition 18-yard line, and centre backs Sokratis and Mustafi fixed on the half-way or just in front.

On many an occasion against West Ham, when one of our attacking moves broke down, it needed only a well-placed long ball down the flanks, or a direct run to leave us badly exposed.

Wenger always encouraged his sides to play in the opponent’s half and I understand why you would want to do that, but doing so creates an enormous risk if you can’t win the ball back extremely quickly when dispossessed in an attacking area.

Even a moment’s hesitation or a lack of co-ordinated pressing allows the opponents to look up and find those two or three key passes into the wide open spaces beyond our lines.

It is high risk, high reward football and we are rolling the dice week after week. High on Emery’s list of priorities was finding a way of limiting the risk while retaining the attacking potency of his predecessor’s squad. At the moment, he hasn’t found a consistently effective way of doing that.

When Alexandre Lacazette and Lucas Torreira came on against the Hammers, we found a degree of stability that had, up until that point, been lacking.

I wonder then, having had two months of training and three games to get the measure of his squad, if Emery may have started to realise that he must find a way of accommodating both into our starting line ups.

The Spaniard seems to be fostering a meritocracy at Arsenal and, if that is indeed the case, it would seem sensible to reward the aforementioned pair with starting berths. Doing so might also go someway towards solving the defensive riddle that continues to vex us all.

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