Going forward, Arsenal are a pleasure to watch. They illustrated this by coming from two goals behind to draw 2-2 with Tottenham Hotspur in the north London derby at the Emirates. Put Unai Emery’s team on the back foot, however, and they are vulnerable. In the game of attack and defence, the Gunners need to be on the front foot.
Pierre-Emererick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe will score a lot of goals but, if the team are going to crash into the top four again, they will have to tighten up at the other end.
All Arsenal’s weaknesses were on display in the first half. Emery chose to deploy an unnecessarily high defensive line. It left them vulnerable to the break. This flaw was exacerbated by the lack of awareness shown by David Luiz and Sokratis. It meant that the home team lived on the edge whenever Tottenham cleared their lines.
Heung-min Son took advantage of this for the opening goal, 10 minutes into the game. The South Korean latched on to a headed clearance in the centre circle. The defenders were drawn to him, leaving acres of space in behind. Erik Lamela made a cross-field run and Son rolled the ball into the Argentinian’s path. Lamela’s shot lacked conviction and pace and Bernd Leno could have taken a step to his right and collected the ball. Instead the Arsenal goalkeeper dived too early, expecting a more forceful effort and pushed the rebound into the path of Christian Eriksen.
It is not just the central defence that is an issue. The Emirates still yearns for a midfielder who can prowl the deep areas and sniff out trouble before it happens.
Lucas Torreira was supposed to be that man but the stocky Uruguayan was positioned bizarrely on the right.
Was he there to provide extra protection for Ainsely Maitland-Niles against the threat of Son? Torreira didn’t seem to know. After 25 minutes he took advantage of a break in play to consult with his manager. He returned to the pitch as bemused as ever and spent more time driving forward than helping the right back.
Playing Torreira in this position does not work. It also exiles his rambunctious snideness to the margins of the game. The 23-year-old has less opportunity to niggle opponents and whinge down the referee’s ear, two of the most impressive components of his game.
The responsibility for protecting the central defence is laid at the feet of Granit Xhaka. In his three years at the Emirates there has been little evidence that he is capable of doing the job in the frantic battleground of Premier League midfields. He is built for a slower game, where being first to loose balls is not such an important factor. Too often Xhaka + 50/50 challenge = yellow card. The 26-year-old has made arriving late and going to ground a career choice. When he charged in to slide through Son in the area and give away a penalty there was no surprise, just a laughable inevitability. There was no sense of shock, either, when Harry Kane dispatched the spot-kick.
At 2-0 it looked over but Tottenham are in a state of uncertainty and misfiring, too. Their defence was insecure – playing Davinson Sanchez at right back was a risky ploy by Mauricio Pochettino – and Spurs have entered the season lacking conviction.
Until Lacazette pulled a goal back seconds before the half-time whistle, Arsenal had only had one shot on target, a sharp effort from Pepe minutes before. They had created plenty of chaos in the Tottenham box but it was pandemonium without precision.
The panic that led to Lacazette’s strike occurred outside the area. On the previous attack there was a huge appeal that Danny Rose handled the ball as he cleared. Judging by the full back’s body language, it appeared he thought it was a penalty, too. He dwelt on the ball, lost possession and a scramble took place on the edge of the area. Pepe found Lacazette and the Frenchman showed admirable composure to score.
Aubameyang was equally sharp for the equaliser. Matteo Guendouzi found the Gabon forward in the middle and the 30-year-old scored with aplomb. The home side could have taken all three points but VAR ruled that Sead Kolasinac was offside when he delivered the cross that Rose turned into his own net. With all their pressure in the last 20 minutes, Arsenal will feel disappointed that they had to share the points.
Yet the back door is always open. Kane hit the post from a position inside the box where a more aware back line would have shut him down. Arsenal will scare opponents going forward but until they sort out the defence, they will be going backwards.
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