Bernd Leno rightly questioned Arsenal’s defensive record after Saturday’s 2-1 win over Huddersfield Town. But such is their goalscoring prowess, is it possible for them to sneak into the top four despite their vulnerabilities?
Bernd Leno couldn’t quite believe that Arsenal had not kept an away clean sheet after Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Huddersfield Town. Speaking with the media post-match, the German goalkeeper inquisitively and then insightfully stated:
“This season, we don’t have a clean sheet away? I think this season we have conceded goals too easily. Sometimes it happens at the end of games – Cardiff at the end, Newcastle at the end and today at the end. It always seems to happen when we are two goals in front, so maybe we are losing a little bit of concentration because we feel too comfortable when the games are coming to the end.”
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His point is an extremely fair one. Arsenal have conceded simple, foolish late goals that pile unnecessary pressure on the team. Sead Kolasinac’s confusing own-goal on Saturday was a prime example. The final minute or so was tense. But there was no need for it to be.
This defensive shakiness had Leno questioning his team’s ability to finish in the top four. In the same interview, the goalkeeper said:
“We have to work on this because the defence for me is the most thing to enable us to get back into the top four. For me, the most important area is the defence because we have the quality in the front line. We all want to improve and we can do that by being strong in the defence.”
Leno correlates a strong defence with a strong chance of finishing in the top four. It makes sense, given that the fewer goals you concede the better chance you have of winning a match. That is just simple logic. But maybe this Arsenal team can be the exception to the general rule that a good defence is needed to be a top-four team.
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The Gunners may have conceded more goals than any other team in the top six, but Manchester United are only two better off in that regard. Chelsea, who now sit in sixth, have conceded 12 goals in their last three away games and are hardly a picture of defensive solidarity. They have conceded just 29, eight fewer than Unai Emery’s Arsenal. But they have also scored eight fewer, including zero in those aforementioned away fixtures.
You see, while there are some serious defensive problems that Emery, Leno and the rest of the team do need to solve, those issues are a) not exclusive to them with Chelsea and Man. Utd. struggling at a similar rate, and b) eased substantially by an elite goalscoring force. Only Manchester City, Liverpool and Spurs have scored more goals this season, and Spurs are only better by one.
I am not making the argument that the Arsenal defence is nothing to worry and does not need fixing. That would be utterly stupid. But such is the way that the Premier League has played out this season, they may be able to get away with a leaky defence and still make the top four. Somehow, they can concede their way to a top-four finish, however illogical that may sound.