How can Arsenal improve their defence?

Arsenal has conceded 39 goals this season in the Premier League. That is more than every other top eight team, and more than double the best defence in the league, Liverpool’s.

Simply put, it isn’t good enough. How can Arsenal improve their defence with what they have? David Saunders provides three solutions

Option 1: Play wide midfielders as wide midfielders, not wing backs

Some may question whether this tactic is sensible or even effective, but reducing the defensive workload of the fullbacks may benefit Arsenal.

It seems contradictory – reduce the number of defensive players to improve defensive ability. But it makes total sense when looking at the starting XI.

At one time, there are far too many defensive players on the pitch. Ever since the North London Derby victory in December, Unai Emery has opted for seven or eight defence minded players in the form of five out and out defenders and two or three defensive midfielders.

This simply invites pressure and means that the chances that are conceded are immediately made more dangerous purely because of where on the pitch they are given away.

For a practical example, let’s go back to the second game of last season. Stoke away. Granit Xhaka makes a poor decision and gives a pass away in the midfield – where because the full backs have pushed up too high, there is little defence between Stoke winning the ball, and them scoring. Xhaka is forced ahead of the play because of momentum and it is the simplest thing for the striker to do to score.

Having the defensive midfielders essentially sit in front of the most central defender, Arsenal can then let those other two central defenders take the place of the full backs and defend against the wider players.

If fast players wish to utilise the space, then the compactness of the system prevents effective crossing. As it is now, the defensive midfielders aren’t able to cover the players – particularly late runs into the box.

This system allows everyone to have a better idea of who they are picking up, and to better cover runs they should be covering.

Option 2: Stop the tactic of playing out from the goalkeeper

Both keepers haven’t looked confident playing the ball out from the back. © Wikicommons

Arsenal’s defensive unit does not look comfortable either on the ball or off the ball – so they are left with a bizarre scenario.

A team can never truly defend properly if, when trying to play out from the back, they are more likely to present the ball back to the opposition or put the ball in their own net than they are to relieve the pressure.

Petr Cech almost scored an own goal in the first league game of the season, so uncomfortable was he at passing it out from the back. And three games later, at Cardiff, he presented an attacker with an early chance by playing it loosely out from the back.

Since then, Berndt Leno has looked better in goal and on the ball than the retiring Czech. But why would a manager play in this way that invites so much pressure when the defence isn’t good enough?

As stated above, reducing the time spent on the ball will reduce the time the defence feels uncomfortable. It isn’t like the club has a dearth of midfielders either.

The problem with this is that the striking options aren’t the best at heading and otherwise holding the ball up. Well, that problem is easily resolved – Olivier Giroud is a free agent this summer.

Option 3: Play Ramsey as a wing back

Now, this is last because it is by definition a temporary solution – and one which is essentially the status quo because Ainsley Maitland-Niles already does this job.

But playing the outgoing Aaron Ramsey in the wing back position adds two big benefits.

The first is that the Welshman is well known for his incredibly high work rate – being able to get forward and back would not be an issue for him.

His abilities, both in passing and making late runs, would bring something different to the team from that area and given how effective he is at it, would be a beneficial move.

The better reason to play him there is simply because he is wasted otherwise. The abilities he brings to the team are not worth leaving on the bench purely because he has several months left on his contract.

Plus, playing him there isn’t completely wasting his talent and allows us to play more of the talented crop of midfielders – so once Hector returns it’s a straight swap.

Clearly, there are reasons not to use all three of these methods. But it seems odd not to try them out in a game like BATE – particularly at home when there is little to be lost.

Words by David Saunders @DavidDJSaunders

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