Lack of depth in defense could prove costly for Unai Emery’s Arsenal


Unai Emery isn’t one to undermine cup competitions. His winning three Europa League and two Coupe de France trophies in five consecutive seasons before joining Arsenal must highlight his view on cup tournaments, so it wasn’t surprising when he fielded a strong second-string side in the recent third-round Football League Cup fixture against Championship team Brentford.

Top Europa League-worthy players, including Mohamed Elneny, Danny Welbeck and Bernd Leno all figured in what would probably be the least significant fixture in his first season at his new club. Emile Smith Rowe was probably the only archetypal Football League Cup starter.

The backline, however, looked somewhat familiar to his Premier League sides, with two of the four defenders key first-string players in Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal. The former has started every single league game while the Spanish veteran has made up for missing the opening-day loss to Manchester City by playing all 90 minutes against Vorskla in Europa League. Either has played 720 minutes so far this season.

There’s no tactical or psychological reason behind his picking them; it was a rather forced move. Sokratis Papastathopoulos was unavailable for selection after injuring his knee against Everton only three days earlier. He himself had played against Vorskla, an opponent against whom one typically sees top clubs’ youth or second-string players starting, on top of starting every league game until then.

Stephan Lichtsteiner has been the only proper cup player at the back so far.

Youngsters Konstantinos Mavropanos and Julio Pleguezuelo might have had a first-team start against Brentford had they not been injured. Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ leg injury hasn’t helped matter either.

There’s no distinction between first- and second-string defenders now, with most first-team players putting in a shift in gamesthey must only watch from the stands.

Injuries do force clubs to tweak their plans, but a club of Arsenal’s size can’t be anything short of over-prepared, especially when competing on four fronts.

Laurent Koscielny and Sead Kolasinac both started the season on the injury table. The former, despite his excellent service to the club, cannot be trusted to deliver anymore thanks to his perennially-injured Achilles. The defender’s pondering a move to Ligue 1 or Chinese Super League last summer clearly tells one how the 32-year-old sees himself after years of wear and tear. In addition, the injured Bosnia and Herzegovina man hasn’t impressed since his free transfer to Emirates Stadium as well.

Credible reports suggested during the transfer window Arsenal only loaned 23-year-old Calum Chambers out to make room for a first team-ready centre-back. For some reason, though, they decided against signing one or couldn’t find one better than whom they already have at their disposal.

Much to their luck, most of their injured players are nearing returns and Rob Holding, who has replaced the Greek international after his injury, has been impressive. However, Arsenal may enter a major defensive crisis in the event that any of the first-choice defenders, perhaps with the exception of Hector Bellerin, sustains an injury.

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