There is no doubt that Arsenal need to improve their defending next season. Only two teams in the PL top-ten conceded more goals than us and Citeh and Pool combined ‘goals against’ was lower than ours. For quite a while now we are rubbish at defending, and although we could improve the quality of our individual defenders this summer it remains to be seen whether it would make much, if any, difference.
With Holding and Bellerin back at some point this Autumn, we should have more than decent options to choose from at the back. It would be good to add a quality LB and of course I would not mind a quality CB either, but unless they are of the ‘Van Dijk’ pedigree I don’t think it would make much difference. It is time to build the defence around the Holding-Sokratis axis, supported by Bels (and Nacho, at least for one more season).
What is as important to defending is the set-up of the midfield and the instructions they will get in terms of protecting the back. And this is where Emery appears to be all over the place. One (half of a) game we play more compact, sit back and look to play on the counter, and the next one we stretch ourselves and the midfield is split vertically between supporting the attack and somehow offer some protection to the defence as well. As a result our defending becomes kamikaze, we look disorganised and our defenders have to deal with loads of unprotected space for opponents’ attackers to run riot in. The difference with the likes of Pool and Citeh is immense: when they lose the ball whilst attacking the opponent, the shape of the team remains strong and relatively little space is given away. As a result, their defenders are able to remain calm and organised and very few goals are conceded, despite the attacking nature of these teams. They also seldom suffer bad injuries, whereas our defenders suffers badly physically from all that last-ditch defending, with devastating consequences.
The question is whether our defending as a team will get much better under Emery, and I remain sceptical, very sceptical. I reckon we have to hope for an even more lethal attack next season to make progress in the table. Citeh managed to score 22 goals more goals than us, and with the likes of Auba, Mesut and Laca in the team we have the potential to get much closer to them this time round.
And if there is one position I would like us to buy a top quality player for to make this happen, it is on the wings. We have Iwobi and Nelson and then there is Auba who is also positioned on the wing during most of our games. But none of these are as yet the quality wingmen we so desperately need. A fit Bellerin and further improved Kolasinac offer good additional attacking wingplay from deeper in the team, but to get the very best out of Mesut, Auba and Laca we really, really need a Hazard-esque winger.
Non-participation in CL football is of course not great when trying to attract such a quality player. So it needs to be somebody who still has some years ahead of him and who can be convinced that Arsenal are going places again. Somebody with a strong desire to win and with high levels of intrinsic motivation and, of course, the quality to really make a difference.
That player is somebody I have been watching carefully recently. He is Dutch, delightful on and with the ball, and devastating in front of goal: Memphis Depay. Memphis is Ligue 1 leader in key passes, with 3.1 pass on average per game. He is fourth in terms of assists (10) and shared second for crosses per match. He scored 10 goals this season, which is an area where the (only) 25 year old still can improve, but 10 extra goals from the wings next season would make a big difference, no doubt.
Depay would bring that extra energy and desire to our attack, a bit like Sanchez used to bring. But Memphis is much more of a team player than the self-adoring Chilean; and I have no doubt that his cooperation with Ozil, Laca and Auba would make all the difference, allowing all of them to shine even more next season. He worked his socks of in the Dutch national team to give them an attacking edge somehow, and it’s those performances that made me think that he is The man we need at Arsenal next season.
I am not sure whether he can be bought away from Lyon, but if I was Emery – and therefore allergic to defending – I would spend all our money on Memphis Depay this summer.