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Arsenal’s players have nowhere to hide now

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The bogeyman is gone. What does that mean?

Arsenal FC v Eintracht Frankfurt: Group F - UEFA Europa League Photo by Visionhaus

One of the things I’ve been saying ever since Unai Emery started to struggle so hard is that, while Emery was absolutely not the right fit at Arsenal, the players he had in his squad also should shoulder a big chunk of the blame for how Arsenal are performing at present. Yes, some of it is absolutely down to poor coaching and tactics, but there is also a non-zero quantity of Arsenal players who probably aren’t, if we’re being honest, good enough for where we all want Arsenal to be.

To be fair, almost none of those players are attacking players - with the likes of Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mesut Ozil, and Nicolas Pepe hanging around, Arsenal are pretty well set up going forward, and a coach that realizes what he has there probably won’t want to tinker with the attacking band too much.

On the other hand, and there’s always another hand, there’s the defense. Surrenderers of 51 goals in Wenger’s final season and 51 again last campaign, they’re currently on pace to give up...checks notes...55 goals this season. That, friends, is not good! And while, again, some of that can be put down to coaching, a lot of it can also be down to the fact that Arsenal’s defenders and defensive midfielders are, to be charitable, limited, skill-wise (in a top-six-of-the-Premier-League context, at least), and often make what I’ve come to call chowderheaded decisions.

Granit Xhaka, Matteo Guendouzi, Shkodran Mustafi, Calum Chambers, Sokratis, David Luiz. Do any of those names inspire fear in anyone, either opponent or opposing fan? Does that defensive/DM corps scream shutdown defending to you? Put another way: what are the odds that every, or even a vast majority, of Arsenal defensive failings in the last season and a half, every bad decision, every collective nap that led to a goal, was down to a manager who didn’t know how to manage them?

There’s obviously no way to know the answer to that question with any certainty, but I have long suspected that what we’re seeing from Arsenal’s defenders is more or less what they’re capable of. I don’t think there’s an untapped well of awesomeness inside any of those six just waiting to be unleashed by a new manager. I honestly hope I’m wrong, and I honestly hope I can point to this article in May and say “oh man, was I dumb about that”, but as I sit here now, I’m skeptical.

Either way, prove me right or prove me wrong, Arsenal’s players now have nowhere to hide. They got the change they (and we) wanted, the bad manager is gone, so now, they’re being handed a huge opportunity. If the Arsenal defense still continues to go south - or fails to improve - after this change, it’s on them.