Freddie Ljungberg was never going to magically fix all of Arsenal’s problems overnight. Against Norwich City today, the Gunners looked better on attack but still at 6’s and 7’s on defense. The simple fact is that the ceiling for Arsenal will continue to be limited by the quality of the centerbacks, and right now, there’s not nearly enough quality at the position for a club with Arsenal’s aspirations.
Shkodran Mustafi, rightfully restored to the starting lineup based on current form, which says all that needs be said, had a howler of a match. David Luiz wasn’t any better. The two were the furthest back pair of five Arsenal men surrounding a solo Teemu Pukki on Norwich’s opening goal, yet neither closed him down. On Norwich’s second, Luiz was pulled far out of position by a dummy run, totally unbalancing Arsenal’s transition defense. Simple defensive errors were a bugaboo under Unai Emery and apparently are still a bugaboo now.
Fortunately for Arsenal, some of the positive recurring themes from the season so far cropped up today. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang netted a brace, and Bernd Leno was spectacular. The German made a trio of terrific saves to preserve the point. But Arsenal needed world-class saves to preserve a point against Norwich. Enough said.
I’m in no rush to judge Ljungberg based on match after one day’s training. I like that he restored Mustafi (performance notwithstanding) and Xhaka (who had a decent game) to the lineup — it seems, at least to me, to convey a “clean slate” message to the players. Given his familiarity with Bukayo Saka from coaching the U23’s, I understand bringing him on over Nicolas Pépé, but I question the decision.
I think it’s time to bench Alexander Lacazette, play Aubameyang centrally, and put a more natural wide player on the wing. Lacazette did little of note today and hasn’t looked right since returning from his injury in October. If he was going great guns things would be different, but right now he isn’t doing nearly enough to justify forcing Aubameyang into a wide position where he loses so much of what makes him a world class player.
As PDB wrote, with Unai Emery gone, the Arsenal players have nowhere to hide. I’ll give them a pass today because of the timing of the sacking, but my patience has worn extremely thin, and I’ve nearly run out of excuses. At some point (very soon), the blame for the poor results shifts to them. Yes, they played better and in a way more likely to get wins, but at the end of the day, a draw against a relegation-threatened team is still a draw against a relegation-threatened team.