Groundhog Day for Gunners; Six games into the 2019/20 Premier League season and once again Arsenal’s defensive capabilities have been called into question. The North London outfit have managed to keep just one clean-sheet, that coming in the opening day win at Newcastle United.
Serious questions should be asked about the defensive capabilities of a side shipping ten goals across six fixtures, despite their relatively lofty position of fourth in the Premier League table, with numerous central defenders in the Arsenal armoury failing to convince so far.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos had to apologise to fans after letting Watford back into the game at Vicarage Road in an eventual 2-2 draw, the Greek having misplaced a pass which was subsequently seized upon by Hornet Gerard Deulofeu to play in Tom Cleverley for the home side’s first.
Shkodran Mustafi seemingly serves to provoke ire on social media, but admittedly in the two games he has featured - the Europa League and the League Cup - the Gunners have shutout the opposition - something the German hasn’t been shy to mention.
Summer arrival David Luiz is much-maligned and seen as a risk to the team, despite his experience at Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain, particularly in the era of Video Assistant Refereeing and the scrutiny of player performance it brings. Another summer acquisition William Saliba - a £27m purchase from Ligue 1 side Saint Etienne - doesn’t arrive for another season.
The English pairing of Calum Chambers and Rob Holding, however, may hold the answer to Emery’s central defensive problem.
Chambers spent the last season on loan at eventually-relegated Fulham but is now back in the red of Arsenal, where he was deployed mainly as a central defensive midfielder. Two years before that he had another spell at a promoted (and relegated) side, Middlesbrough. Both Fulham and Middlesbrough finished 19th in their single-season stints in the top tier.
In a pre-season interview with Football Daily, the 24-year-old however expressed the positivity of his time away from the club, particularly across the capital, rather than seeing himself on the periphery of the plans for Arsenal. It’s an attitude that appears to hold him in good stead and upbeat for the current campaign: “The plan is to stay here and do what I can and help the team out.
“It was a great experience. Personally, for me, I got to play a lot of games and got a lot of experience under my belt.
“For the team it was tough getting relegated, it’s never nice, but I did play 30 odd games and in a new position and overall it’s going to help me in learning new things.”
The 34 league games for the Cottagers are the most Premier League appearances he’s made in a single season. The most he has made in Arsenal colours is 23, in the 2014/15 season under Arsene Wenger, in which he kept eight clean sheets.
“Now when I go back to centre-half, I know what a midfielder wants, because I’ve played there. I think it adds to your game, and that’s exactly what last season did.
“Now, I’m just going to take it game by game, do what I’m asked of the coach and do everything I can, work hard, and give 100% to bring the best out of myself for the team.”
Behind the scenes at Arsenal, Holding and Chambers were purportedly known as 'The Twins’ and Chambers has acknowledged a desire to pair with his compatriot Holding in the centre of defence if the chance arose. He said: “It’s the manager’s decision. Whatever team he puts out, we respect, and do what we can to help out.
“Obviously we get along really well, we’re friends on and off the pitch, it would be nice. We’ve played together in a few games before and it would be interesting.”
Holding was unfortunate to be ruled out for the second half of last season with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, and while recovery is ongoing with appearances in the reserves, he finally returned to first-team action in the 5-0 drubbing of Nottingham Forest, in which he also scored his first home goal.
The relatively youthful approach Emery could opt for could benefit from a strong relationship, not just bonded by nationality but a legitimate friendship.
Chambers has just one 90 minute league game under his belt for the season, but holds that clean-sheet. His stock also rose with a goal rewarded for his second-half performance against Aston Villa, albeit at right-back, potentially pushing him further into Emery’s plans.
“It’s a big season for Arsenal. It’s an exciting one. There’s been some good signings, we’ve got a great squad and a quality manager who’s getting his message and his philosophy across.
“There’s a good feeling around the dressing room.”
Sunday • Premier League come back • goal ✅
Today • Carabao Cup win • 3 assists & clean sheet ✅
Pretty happy right now 😂👌🏼