If Arsenal are to stand any chance of making the top four this season they must stop conceding so many goals.
It’s painfully obvious and painfully simple but it’s a situation that is showing no signs of being addressed.
There is scarcely a team out there who we don’t allow a sight of our goal, and not just the odd half-chance, we are talking guilt-edge, repeated opportunities.
It is a feature of a game that has become so problematic that we can’t truly be certain of winning a match unless we get ourselves three goals ahead.
We are handing our rivals huge advantages in every match. Every man and his dog knows that Arsenal can’t keep a clean sheet so there is no need to panic if an opponent finds themselves a goal behind. There is no pressure created because teams know we will give them two or three good chances to score – it’s only ever a matter of time.
The defeat to Manchester City on Sunday was just another example. We allowed them 19 shots on our goals, 12 of those on target. We allowed them to score inside the first minute and within a minute of the end of the half. That is abysmal and inexcusable. City are top quality opposition, there’s no doubting that, but ceding that many opportunities to any side will lose you nine out of 10 football matches and conceding goals at such crucial times is downright careless.
The fact is, since the start of 2018, Arsenal have lost 12 away games in the Premier League – only Brighton and Huddersfield have lost more. That just isn’t good enough and so much of that is because we can’t defend.
Of course injuries have played their part in our difficulties at the back, only an idiot would deny that, but every team has injuries to cope with. That’s football. The players who have come in and the way the team sets up have not been good enough. There’s no escaping that. The balance is simply wrong and the players are not up to the job.
Defeats of the sort we suffer at the hands of our top six rivals really do shine a light on our shortcomings. More often than not we can squeeze by against the mid-table and lower league clubs but the top sides are a class above and show no mercy when we leave ourselves exposed.
Given how well known our weaknesses are, it begs the question: why didn’t we make any signings in January to address it?
Rumours abounded of the availability of Chelsea’s Gary Cahill – it was a veritable ‘come and get me’ plea – but instead we focused our efforts to Ivan Perisic, Denis Suarez, and Yannick Carrasco – all three wide midfidlers.
Despite injuries to Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin, and Sokratis, we expended all our efforts on adding another technical midfielder to a squad that, if we’re being frank, is replete with them.
The decision was short-sighted and will, I fear, ultimately cost us a place in the Champions League. All our hopes are pinned on going through the back door via the Europa League, where it’s much more about one-off good performances than about a sustained effort over 38 weeks.
Before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over at Manchester United, their defence was as pathetic and porous as ours. Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly were written off as unfit for the Premier League and unworthy of their club. Two months on and the pair of them look like Ferdinand and Vidic reborn. The result? United have closed a 10 point gap to Arsenal and have turned draws and defeats into clean sheets and victories.
It can be done.
For too long all of the investment and focus has been on Arsenal’s attack, with out defence reduced to an irritating itch that wouldn’t go away, no matter how much it was ignored.
Well, this itch is now red, raw, and oozing and it’s costing us points. Our defence needs action and it needs it before it’s too late.