Arsenal did manage to top at least one table last season – namely the ‘errors leading to goals’ table.
Their defence came in for sharp criticism as a result, with Shkodran Mustafi bearing the brunt of the supporters’ wrath during the last campaign.
That would ordinarily lead one to search for stronger defenders to reinforce the Arsenal backline, but arguably, they already have the personnel to form a defensive barrier resolute enough to withstand the quality of Premier League attacks.
However, looking at the stats makes for some rather astounding reading. Whilst accumulating a league-high total of 13 errors leading to goals, only four of those came from defenders. What about Mustafi, I hear you ask? Just one. Amazing, isn’t it?
Just as amazing is finding that those responsible for the majority of the errors on the whole had decent seasons. Bernd Leno topped the charts (along with Bournemouth ‘keeper Asmir Begovic) with five errors despite nailing down his place as the Gunners No1 during the campaign.
Granit Xhaka, with two, has staked a claim for the captaincy at the Emirates Stadium through his performances in the past year, while Alex Iwobi and Matteo Guendouzi (on one apiece) are still relatively raw talents and shone at times during the previous season.
But with everyone fit and on top form, Arsenal’s defence is far more formidable than the statistics and their uncanny ability to falter at crucial moments would suggest.
We saw signs – albeit too briefly last season – that demonstrated this, such as in the shutout against the then-in-form Manchester United and for the most part, their overall handling of another then-in-form Tottenham side that were limited to a successful (but hotly disputed) penalty kick to eventually breach the Gunners defence.
And we forget that a mainstay of the unbeaten run that took Arsenal into the winter has not played since December’s 2-2 draw against United. Rob Holding hasn’t lost a game of football since May 2018, when 10-man Arsenal went down to Leicester. He’d come straight back into the first team if he returned with the same kind of form he starved Arsenal of last season.
With fellow youngsters Konstantinos Mavropanos and Krystian Bielik impressing in parts (if not in an Arsenal shirt), Arsenal have the personnel required to form a strong defence. Performances belying of the players’ ability (looking at you, Mustafi) was the source of the frustration – if he played like a £35m defender, Unai Emery’s defence would pick itself.
However, the midfield can currently pick itself for the wrong reasons – a sincere lack of depth. A midfield two of Xhaka and Lucas Torreira seemed to be Emery’s go-to at the end of the season and while Guendouzi has shown plenty of promise during his first year in English football, his inexperience is often exposed and is not exactly an inspiring game-changer from the bench.
This is the gap Arsenal would be better placed to plug during the off-season. Another midfielder who is going to retrieve and release in the vein of Torreira and provide an attacking link in the air of Xhaka should be high on Emery’s wanted list.
And if Emery were brave (or crazy) enough to put all his eggs in the midfield basket, he may just get away with it.