Mikel Arteta must improve Arsenal defensively

The first half of the 2021/22 season will make or break Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal project.

The fact that the Spaniard was spared by the executioner’s blocks despite the fact that last season for the first time in a quarter of a century he led his side out of Europe was proof of the faith that the club seems to have in his vision.

They have supported him strongly in the transfer market as well and sanctioned around 130 million pounds investments this summer. Everything has gone on younger players, which indicates that Arteta expects to have more time to shape the Gunners in his image. What the picture really is, however, is still unclear.

One thing is for sure, though, and that is that Arsenal’s start to the season has been almost entirely absent from any redemptive features. Arteta may have had a significant curve in the form of a coronavirus outbreak and several other fitness issues, but even his failure to adapt and overcome these problems has been pathetic.

The most worrying theme for the Gunners’ opening two Premier League games against Brentford and Chelsea, respectively, has been their overly accommodating backline. Ivan Toney had a wonderful old time on opening day and slipped Ben White at £ 50 million into his bag as if he were a pint of chihuahua.

White won just three of his seven flying duels and was lucky that Bryan Mbeumo did not remove Toney’s flick-on in the middle of the second half. White’s center-back partner, Pablo Mari, did marginally better but looked seriously confused early on in possession and struggled to find his passing area.

Outside Arsenal were porous, with Calum Chamber’s sluggish reactions allowing Sergi Canos to push home Brentford’s fantastic opener.

Losing to a newly marketed side, even one run by a rabid home crowd, is never a good look and Arsenal’s performance was similarly random when Chelsea came to town.

Pablo Mari has had a tough start to the season / Michael Regan / Getty Images

The reasons for Gunnar’s misery were many. Again, it should be emphasized that Arteta has far from perfect conditions for success. Of those absent on Sunday, White, Alexandre Lacazette, Thomas Partey, Gabriel, Martin Odegaard and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – who had an encouraging cameo from the bench against Chelsea – would probably start.

They also played a very good side, led by a world-class coach who has an enviable level of squad depth. Another issue is that Arsenal’s squad individually is not good enough, whether it is due to lack of experience in the case of Albert Sambi Lokonga – who did well in patches – or lack of football ability in the case of a few others.

Arteta must also bear a significant part of the debt. Every Premier League manager will face adversity this season and everyone will aim to handle it better than the Arsenal manager did this weekend.

Tactically speaking, Arteta was weak. Instead of matching Chelsea’s three backs and denying their backs space outside, he instead lined up his side in a comically narrow 4-2-3-1. This was probably a ploy to deny newcomer Romelu Lukaku the ball, but Jorginho had no problem shooting balls into the imperialist forward throughout the game.

Whenever Lukaku got the ball, he attracted red shirts like flies, and this tactical mistake created the first goal with the Belgian who put the ball to Reece James before spinning behind, sent Mari to the top and knocked home.

It was nadir of Mari’s horrible display. Lukaku played with him all afternoon and it only took half an hour for the Spaniard to enter the midfield and commit a brainless foul against his tormentor.

Rob Holding’s display was similarly tragic. On several occasions he tried to rattle the opponents with a little verbal sparring – even though his side was barely in the glove. It corresponded to a child in primary school who tried to kick the 11s from the football field at lunchtime.

After the goal, every top manager worth his salary would have tweaked their system to deny Chelsea’s full-backs such a place again. Arteta did not and Arsenal paid when James had all the time in the world to shoot home, after pushing into the back post to take advantage of Kieran Tierney’s bizarre narrowness.

Chelsea could and should have scored more goals after the break as well. Lukaku was denied an incredible Bernd Leno save after haunting in front of Holding with ease and Kai Havertz failed to convert from close range.

Graciously for Arteta, the 2-0 position was maintained, but that did not make the result less detrimental to his reputation. Arsenal are in a bad place right now and they need a manager who can get the most out of their resources.

Few can claim that Arteta has done so so far this season and his credentials that project manager Gunners longs for become more shaky for any suitable game.

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