Is defensive bedlam a feature of Arsenal’s football that, for the short term at least, we are simply going to have to accept?
Increasingly, it appears the answer to that question is ‘yes’.
Until either Unai Emery can properly impose a more defensively stable system onto his team, or the playing personnel who can implement that type of system are brought in, it would seem there is plenty more harum-scarum football to come at the back for the Gunners.
The reality of the situation was brought home, for me at least, during the FK Qarabag game of Thursday, a game which I expected Arsenal to win and do so with a sense of solidity in defence that had been lacking so far this season.
Alas, but for some good fortune and some excellent saves from goalkeeper Bernd Leno, the Gunners did well to escape with a clean sheet from Azerbaijan.
What has confused me most about where we find ourselves as a team so far under Emery is that the players appear to be more solid and defensively aware in themselves but that hasn’t translated into a better level of performance as a team.
Hector Bellerin is a case in point in this regard. In Arsene Wenger’s final season at the helm, the young Spaniard came in for increasing amounts of criticism for his performances, both in attack and in defence.
Under Emery, Bellerin has become more disciplined, more purposeful and generally better. Most fans have noticed as such and the criticism of Bellerin has given way to subtle praise. The real conundrum is that, despite all that, we remain as vulnerable down the flanks as we were under the Frenchman.
Of course, we are but 10 games (seven Premier League) into the Emery era and it was naive to think that change would come instantly but, in truth, have we seen any substantive improvement at all, as a defensive unit?
It is perhaps an overly-simplistic comparison but after the seventh match of last season, Arsenal had 13 points, with four wins, two defeats, and a draw. They had scored 11 and conceded eight goals.
So far this Premier League season, Arsenal have 15 points, with five wins and two defeats. They have scored 14 and conceded nine goals.
It would appear, therefore, that it is our greater potency in attack that has led to a better return in this season to date, rather than any improvement at the other end of the pitch, which is, arguably, the main area we really needed to improve upon.
Can we expect that to change this season?
Emery has spoken often about his desire to give his team a better balance and he has doubtless worked hard on the training pitch in an effort to do just that. However, even teams as poor as Qarabag, despite a few notable scalps in recent seasons, know that going at Arsenal with pace and in wide areas causes a lot of problems.
Most of us would acknowledge that it is going to take a lot of time to bring about the changes Emery has spoken about, perhaps even the entirety of this season and all of the following pre-season.
That is reasonable and sensible. To expect a wholesale shift in performance inside barely a fifth of the season is irrational, even in the modern game.
What I would like to see in the short term, however, is a gradual improvement in level, a greater sense of certainty in what we are doing at the back and, above all else, a stopping up of what remains a porous defence.
A toughing up of our mentality, a shared sense of responsibility, and a clear system have helped players in their own games, now we need to start seeing the sum of parts powering the whole machine.
Unai Emery spoke about wanting to ‘suffer’ as a team in order for him to learn, for his players to learn, and for their performances to improve. While I think we will do better as a team this league season in terms of points delivered, I think there is a deal more suffering to come.
For a while, bedlam looks set to continue. Let us hope our good luck does so too.