Emery finds it hard to put case for Gunners defence

Arsenal manager Unai Emery hinted signings are possible this month as the transfer window reopens. (John Silby/Reuters)

Arsenal manager Unai Emery hinted signings are possible this month as the transfer window reopens. (John Silby/Reuters)

Arsenal manager Unai Emery was happy with his team’s attacking play after Tuesday’s 4-1 victory over Fulham but admitted their defending has plenty of room for improvement.

The score suggests a straightforward win against a Fulham team who performed as poorly on the road as they usually do but it was exactly what Emery’s men needed to restore confidence after their 5-1 thrashing by Liverpool.

But Emery knew the score did not tell the whole story.

Ryan Sessegnon missed two good chances to give the visitors the lead in the first 20 minutes and had either gone in, Arsenal’s resolve would have been sorely tested.

Instead, typically slack Fulham defending allowed the unmarked Granit Xhaka to score from Alex Iwobi’s measured cross after 25 minutes, and Arsenal were rarely troubled after that.

“Our challenge now is to improve defensively,” Emery admitted.
“Today was the first time we could play with Sokratis, (Skhodran) Mustafi and (Laurent) Koscielny.

“We are very happy with the attacking players, scoring lots of goals like today.

“But we need more balance defensively, we need to work, to prepare for the second half of the season and we need to do better tactically and we are going to.”

His three-man defence, though, was disrupted by a hamstring injury that forced Mustafi off the field at half-time.

Rather than replace him with Stephan Lichtsteiner, Emery changed formation and went to a back four, which suggests the search for balance is both tactical and one of personnel.

Emery hinted signings are possible this month as the transfer window reopens.

“It’s not easy to improve our team in the market but the club is working. Maybe we can sign one or two players,” said the 47-year-old Spaniard.

The scale of Arsenal’s defensive difficulties is illustrated by their failure to keep a clean sheet since beating Huddersfield Town at the Emirates Stadium on December 8, but a second victory in six matches was welcome.

“We needed to win today,” added Emery whose decision to take off goalscorer Alexandre Lacazette in the second-half sparked a chorus of boos.

However, it was a moved which proved fruitful when his replacement Aaron Ramsey scored soon afterwards.

“We are behind the first four teams in the table but we want to stay close and in the near future there can be opportunities to be in the top four,” said Emery.

Swiss midfielder Xhaka set Arsenal on their way with his fourth goal of the season. Lacazette added the second after 55 minutes with their momentum temporarily halted as Aboubakar Kamara pulled one back after 69 minutes.

However, Ramsey came off the bench to make it 3-1 eleven minutes from time and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang added a fourth.

Fulham remain in 19th place but their Italian manager Claudio Ranieri saw reasons to be positive that a side, which enjoyed a £100 million investment in the summer, can stay up.

“The first 30 minutes we played so well and created two great chances and their fans weren’t happy,” he said.

“And at 2-1 we created two more chances. We had to stay more concentrated in every circumstance.

“But the skill of the Arsenal players is amazing and you have to shut up and say: ‘Well done.’ Now we have to stay together. Every match is crucial for us.”

​Nick Szczepanik

​Nick Szczepanik

Nick Szczepanik is a sports journalist and award-nominated podcaster. He wrote on football and many other sports for The Times between 1996 and 2010, when he went freelance, working mainly on football for The Independent and Independent on Sunday and on NFL for the Sunday Times. His byline has appeared in every national daily newspaper and most Sundays, often above reports on his beloved Brighton & Hove Albion. Read more from ​Nick Szczepanik

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