Arsenal: Not out of the woods yet
Nine wins on the trot is a fantastic achievement by any yardstick. Throw in a couple of shutouts and cap it all with a 5-1 away romp, not to mention the Aaron Ramsey goal that might finally erase the wonder goal against Norwich City eons ago, and one might be tempted to think Arsenal could be title contenders.
However, the Unai Emery story could easily have taken a very different track. In every game, there have been defensive giveaways that have led directly to goal scoring chances. Worse, they have occurred early. Fulham had two gilt-edged chances in the first ten minutes. Had they capitalized the way Newcastle did against Manchester United, could we have come back? The easiest way to answer that question is to never end up having to answer it.
The good news is all up front, with Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang feeding off each other. Emery’s system has also revived Alex Iwobi, whose form had fallen off last year after beginning his career with much promise. Questions crop up once you move to the next line, with neither Mesut Ozil or Henrik Mkhitaryan showing any consistency (and I won’t even start on their defensive liabilities). Will Aaron Ramsey stay? He is good, but I wouldn’t spend silly money to keep him.
The injection of Lucas Torreira into the starting lineup has Arsenal finally boasting a defensive midfielder for the first time since Alex Song departed. We have given up only one goal in the four games he has started. Who would have thought our enforcer would come in a pint-sized package? If only Emery would be bold enough to switch in Matteo Guendouzi for Granit Xhaka, the transformation would be complete.
Despite the Nacho Monreal mistake that resulted in Fulham’s goal, he is the most consistent player on the defensive line. Hector Bellerin is great going forward, but I might like to see Stephan Lichtsteiner brought in when defense on that flank is more important.
Arsenal’s Achilles heel continues to be in central defense, where we seem to try to make up for our lack of height with a lack of speed. I sound like a broken record, but what the hell, we play defense like one. A long ball over the top is all it takes.
The Xhaka-Ozil watch
I did not get to see the games against Newcastle, Watford, and Qarabag, so they may have played well in them (I know they scored). However, the first glimpse of Xhaka (against Fulham), he was caught dwelling on the ball, leading to a Fulham chance. To his credit, I didn’t see him make any bookable tackles, but then I am not sure I saw him make a tackle at all. As for Ozil, the game against Fulham is the best I have seen out of him this season – he did not get on the pitch!
The Unai Emery Scorecard
Nine wins on the trot is steady waters after what we went through last year. However, if Emery doesn’t figure out the defense, we could easily see nine losses in a flash. More literally on the scorecard, the ask from Emery was 9 points in September; he delivered 12. Will he fix the defense before the fairy dust runs out?