Arsenal suffered two stupid defensive errors in a 2-2 draw with Manchester United on Wednesday night. It will take Unai Emery time to weed out of the cultures of old.
It was odd. Arsenal did not play particularly well. They did not deserve to win. They created little and performed poorly. And yet, at the end of it all, I could not help but feel disappointed by dropping two points from a game that was completely winnable. A 2-2 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford is not to be scoffed. And yet.
That feeling stems from the manner in which the two goals were conceded. Arsenal led twice in this match: Shkodran Mustafi scoring first in the 26th minute; Alexandre Lacazette (or a Marcos Rojo own-goal) adding a second lead in the 68th minute.
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But despite taking the lead on two different occasions, Unai Emery’s side actually led for less than five minutes. That is where the frustration stems from, in the team’s inability to protect a lead, and in its natural defensive vulnerabilities.
Take the first goal, for instance. As Maros Rojo’s freekick curled up and over the wall, no Arsenal player looked alive to the possible danger. Ander Herrera recovered the ball and turned it back into the penalty area and still, few defenders were aware to the threat United posed: Alex Iwobi was slow in pressuring the ball and Rob Holding was in a poor position to clear the cross as a result of his slow reactions.
And this all came just four minutes from after taking the lead. It looked very much like an Arsene Wenger team trying to defend, it must be said.
The second was even more damning. 74 seconds was all that separated the two goals. In fact, there were just 13 seconds from United’s kick-off to Jesse Lingard prodding past the stranded Bernd Leno after a dastardly indecisive piece of play by Sead Kolasinac. 20 minutes remaining. At Old Trafford. Having just snatched a precious and undeserved lead. Old habits really do die hard.
This is the problem for Emery. There have been some defensive improvements made by his team recently. They are still not secure enough to build a title challenge upon, but they are far more stable than the unit that conceded a staggering 51 goals last season. But still, these warts do remain. These players that are steeped in the Wengerian way still have mistakes in them. And they will do for some time.
Culture is not changed overnight. And at the Emirates, the culture has been defined by a defensively lapse Wenger for more than two decades. It would be foolish to expect to re-wire these players in a matter of months. The mistakes that they make are hardwired within them over years and years of negligence.
For some, they will never recover. For others, they are not good enough to recover. For more, they will prosper under new management. It is up to Emery to determine who classifies as which. But all will take time. It is up to Arsenal to be patient.