That’s what I asked myself after watching Arsenal deploy a 34 year old undead Necromancer king at right back and a central midfielder with the defensive nous of an inanimate carbon rod at left back. The lack of mobility in wide areas made it easy for Palace to run at Arsenal in attack, and even easier to snuff out attacks and pressure the midfield into countless turnovers. The result was one of Arsenal’s worst attacking and defending performances since opening day as the Gunners ended up relying on low percentage free kicks to score goals and gave up brainless panicky penalties to gift Palace a point. But still, do we really need to spend some money this January?
The day that we signed Lichtsteiner I said that the best thing about his singing would be if he never played. I still think this is true. On the occasions that he forages forward you can see his shocking lack of speed – he inevitably turns the ball over as his younger counterpart just blocks his path forward and takes the ball away from him. And his tackle on Zaha yesterday was comically late. Zaha likes to draw contact, if the Lich goes up against a smarter player, like Sane, there will be no late challenges, they will simply skip away from him.
But just because signing the Lich was a massive error doesn’t mean we need to sign someone. Arsenal’s normal right back, Bellerin, is in imperious form – so much so that I think I might go vegan for 12 meals a week just to see if I can capture some of his form. And it looks like he was dropped as half-time against palace because of a minor injury. Fingers crossed there. But backing him up would normally be Ainsley Maitland-Niles. AMN suffered a broken leg on opening day but has returned to full fitness quicker than expected (he’s always been one of the fastest!) and played on Friday night for Freddie Ljungberg’s u23 Arsenal team. By all accounts he needs some playing time to get to full fitness but he’s my choice for second-string right back. Even if (when) he struggles, I would never like to see Lich in the starting lineup again.
At left back, Arsenal have a different problem: Nacho Monreal is at the stage in his career where he shouldn’t be relied on to play 40 games a season. He started 40 games last season at age 31 but 21 of those appearances were as a center back in Wenger’s weird back three. As a center back he wasn’t required to get up and down the pitch nearly as much.
His backup is Sead Kolasinac. I am “less than convinced” by Kolasinac. However, he has played one match this season, against Qarabag in the EL, and by some accounts had a decent match: 3 dribbles, 3 key passes, was dribbled 3 times, had the lowest pass completion rate of any Arsenal starter (77%, same as Lichtsteiner), and led Arsenal in fouls with 2. I would pay good money to see him sold in January and for Arsenal to get in a real left back who can take over for Nacho Monreal permanently. He came to us on a free, any price we can get for him is a good one.
And finally, there is the problem of Mustafi. I know that there are “structural” problems with the team. Yesterday, Arsenal played a Lich and a cm as fullbacks, nothing is more structurally problematic than that, as I stated at the outset. But structural problems do not wish away Mustafi’s endemic problems. Structural problems don’t make a player dive into a tackle in the six yard box. Or how about how weakly he tried to foul Sorloth in the buildup to the second? The problem with Shkodran Mustafi isn’t the team around him, he’s the problem in the team. He is error-prone to the point that he makes everyone around him worse.
I also take issue with the argument that just because Lacazette made a poor decision on a pass, that somehow explains Granit Xh*ka’s ridiculous foul for the second penalty. If that was a one-off foul like that from Xh*ka, I would probably give him the benefit of the doubt and say “yeah, the system”. But the problem is that he does this all the time.
His default defensive mode is to stick a leg out, tackle late, or pull the player back. He does this every game, as his 4 yellow cards already this season attest. The only thing that surprised me about Xh*ka’s performance yesterday was that Roy Hodgson didn’t just have Palace players running at him in waves for 90 minutes. It took Roy until the 2nd half to cotton on, and then he instructed Wan-Bissaka to dribble constantly down that side, and it took until the 83rd minute for Zaha to figure it out and get in close in the box.
The question of this blog, however, isn’t whether Xh*ka is a terrible defender – that’s settled fact, like gravity, man-made global warming, or a white supremacist in the White House emboldening acts of hatred – it’s whether Arsenal need to get out the checkbook and sign some defenders.
Even though I’d like to see Mustafi sold, I don’t think we need to replace him. I’m not saying I wouldn’t love to see a young, steady center half come in to the team, I would. But even without Mustafi Arsenal have Sokratis, Koscielny, Mavropanos, and Holding. It’s left back that for me is a larger concern. Arsenal need to get out from under Kolasinac’s contract and get in a bright, young, long-term replacement for Monreal.