The 25 man squads have now been confirmed for the season, and many pundits have already pointed the finger at Arsenal’s backline as to why the Gunners won’t challenge this year. But is the criticism justified? Are Arsenal thin at the back? In a word, no. And we’ll explain why in a moment.
After a steady start to the campaign, Unai Emery’s side are as long as 11/10 to secure a top four finish. The odds available from new online betting sites and the more established brands are very similar, but the North London side have drifted ever so slightly from the 10/11 they were at the start of the season.
Even with the additions of defenders David Luiz and Kieran Tierney, some critics are saying that’s not enough to halt the so-called leaks at the back. There’s no doubt Arsenal have improved in defence, and there’s no real reason to suggest they’ll struggle this season, but the next few games will give some indication of how the season will pan out.
Arsenal’s Next Six Premier League Fixtures
After wins away at Newcastle and at home to Burnley, as well as a point in the North London derby, Arsenal are sitting fifth in the table. The next six fixtures look like this:
- Watford (A)
- Villa (H)
- Man Utd (A)
- Bournemouth (H)
- Sheff Utd (A)
- Palace (H)
All winnable on paper that’s for sure. There are some clean sheets to be had there too. Looking at the injury list, a few players aren’t too far away from making their comebacks, but, for now, it looks like a back four of Maitland-Niles, Luiz, Sokratis, and Kolasinac. Leno will continue between the sticks.
With a new manager giving them renewed impetus, Watford will have their chances, as too will Manchester United at Old Trafford. But it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the Gunners could keep clean sheets against Villa, Bournemouth, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace. 15 points or more from those six will keep the pressure on those at the top, and that’s all you can ask. 15 points is realistic too if they play well.
You can’t expect to win games and keep clean sheets if players are constantly picking up injuries. Luckily for Arsenal, a fair few players are due back shortly and they may soon have a full complement of defenders to choose from.
One of those defenders is Rob Holding, who completed 90mins in an Under-23 match recently against Everton as he builds up his match fitness. Holding is a player who has been earmarked to replace Sokratis at the back once fit. The Greek international has been pretty solid, but he’s prone to a few rash challenges and lapses in concentration. He was criticised for his national side after Greece drew 1-1 against Lichtenstein recently. He was seen to be slightly at fault for their goal.
Hector Bellerin, Kieran Tierney and Konstantinos Mavropanos should all return sometime in September, which is great news.
Who’s First Choice?
When everyone’s fit, there’s a lot of competition at the back. The only player who looks absolutely nailed on to play every game is the goalkeeper, Bernd Leno. Emiliano Martinez might get a few chances in domestic cup games, but no matter how well he performs, Leno looks like he’s got his position cemented for the season in the Premier League and the Europa League.
Bellerin will almost certainly replace Ainsley Maitland-Niles at right-back, with the young Englishman challenging the likes of Xhaka and Torreira (both of whom frustratingly picked up knocks on International duty) for a defensive midfield spot, which is his preferred position. Kieran Tierney will also replace Sead Kolasinac at left-back once he’s up to speed. That leaves David Luiz and Sokratis at the back. The two will probably keep their places for the foreseeable future, but Rob Holding and Calum Chambers will be pushing them both hard all season. If either makes a mistake, Emery won’t be afraid to switch it up in central defence.
On paper, though, the first choice backline at Arsenal is arguably Leno, Bellerin, Luiz, Holding, and Tierney.
Arsenal are Good Enough
It doesn’t matter if pundits and journalists continue to constantly criticise Arsenal’s defence, they know they’re good enough to produce the goods and compete at the very top. All they can do to silence the haters is win games of football. A good cup run both domestically and in Europe, and a top four finish would be a very good season for Arsenal Football Club.