Unai Emery’s arrival at the Emirates Stadium has injected a feeling of optimism back into the club which had evaded the Gunners faithful in the dying embers of Arsene Wenger’s reign, but the defensive frailties which have consistently burdened the club are yet to be eradicated.
Arsenal’s lack of solidity and leadership figures have been at the heart of their narrative in recent years and Emery’s toughest challenge is ending that particular discussion.
The Gunners’ are famed for their exciting brand of attacking football and with Alexandre Lacazette beginning to hit top form whilst working in tandem with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, that looks set to continue under Emery.
But until Emery manages to construct a formula which combines attacking intensity with defensive solidity, Arsenal will fail to satisfy the expectations of the supporters.
There are signs of improvement this season as Arsenal have only conceded 2 goals in their last 4 fixtures, but it’s worth remembering that they were prised wide open at times during their first two fixtures of the season against title-rivals Manchester City and Chelsea.
The presence of summer recruit Sokratis looks to have made a difference in Arsenal’s back-four and the supporters may well be looking at their first genuine leader since Thomas Vermaelen left the club.
Take nothing away from Laurent Koscileny, his performances have been exemplary and without him it’s unlikely that Wenger would have lasted until 2018, but it’s fair to say that Arsenal have been missing a vital cog in the machine since Vermaelen departed for Barcelona.
The Belgian lynchpin deserved his £15 million switch after thriving in the Premier League with his technically-astute style and Catalan-esque style of defending.
But a £5 million profit on the £10 million Arsenal initially paid to sign him from Ajax was hardly the lucrative return you would expect from the sale of an indispensable defensive talent.
150 appearances, 15 goals and 6 assists later, Arsenal opened the exit door for Vermaelen and said their goodbyes to a player who was immense on his day, even if he struggled for fitness and subsequently first-team opportunities towards the end of his time with the club.
Defensive frailties in Arsenal’s back line are certainly not exclusive to the post-Vermalen era, but they have never commanded the same level of authority in the face of adversity since the Belgian enforcer swapped London for Catalonia.
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