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Praveen’s latest “The Arsenal Annals” column.
Arsenal’s new centre-back partnership featuring Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi has been somewhat impressive since their first game together in the Premier League, but they are still far from the finished product.
Earning plaudits from right and left, the imaginatively named Kostafi have helped the Gunners remain undefeated across all competitions; they have conceded only seven times in eight league outings since their inception.
With tackles being their strongest and most aesthetically pleasing suite, the Emirates Stadium faithful have fallen heads over heels in love with the two similar defenders.
Tackles alarmingly high
Tackles should be the least utilized weapon in a defender’s arsenal as they have always been instructed to prevent having to be in a position to lunge into a tackle to avert danger.
Kostafi tackle rather frequently having averaged almost four tackles per game as opposed to a measly 2.5 tackles that the Per Mertesacker marshaled centre-back partnership made last season.
Despite the fact that a great part of the rather tactical shift is down to the defensive midfielders playing high up the pitch and the adopting a high defensive line, Kostafi’s reliance on tackles looks a tad alarming.
Arsenal’s reliance on tackles to avert danger hitherto has proved a double-edged sword, with the Gunners already conceding three penalties in 11 league games whilst they gave away just a single penalty over the course of the 38-game tournament last season.
Prone to over-exposure
The new system seems tailor-made to capitalize on Mustafi’s incredible recovery pace, but the Londoners now look prone to being cut open this season, compared with the last season’s performances that saw Mertesacker’s vision and superb reading avert dangerous situations.
Although Arsenal now prove a stronger attacking unit than in the recent past, improving the attack should never be attained at the expense of compromising on defense; however, Arsenal, a team vying for the title, have proved rather easy to wriggle through.
Even relative minnows in Ludogorets Razgrad and Swansea City exposed Arsenal’s vulnerability at the back as they combined to put four goals past Arsenal’s shot-stoppers in two matches.
Ludogorets, despite conceding every 20 minutes in the two Group A matches against Arsenal, tormented the Arsenal back four with slick passing and often were on the verge of finding the net only for their frontline to squander easy chances or David Ospina to pull off world-class saves.
Swansea, on the other hand, despite being level on points with bottom club Sunderland and languishing in the relegation places, caused many problems to the Arsenal defense.
Arsenal’s most recent league outing against local rivals Tottenham Hotspur also bears testimony to the fact that their defense is far from the finished product, despite conceding the fourth fewest number of goals in the division as the Moussa Dembele-inspired Tottenham produced a top-notch attacking second half performance.
Issues apparent, but still a decent start for the pair
Despite their shortcomings, the new defensive partnership has gotten off to a decent start, especially given the common notion that defenders take months to adapt to the rigours of English football.
However, for Arsenal to stand a chance of bringing the top-flight title to the Emirates for the first time, they definitely need the Kostafi to up their games.
Written by Praveen Paramasivam
Follow Praveen on Twitter @49Praveen
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