Arsenal have not given up a goal in three straight matches, yet the personnel on defense is getting worse. Is this all a really, really good joke?
Okay, so not giving up goals against Burnley, Newcastle and Olympiakos may not sound like anything to write home about on paper, but when you consider the team that’s accomplishing this riveting feat—the wondrous Arsenal—suddenly you have to start paying attention.
Mikel Arteta clearly made this defense his top priority, and it’s paid dividends immediately. He is making a bunch of hapless sods look like world beats. They are up for any fight, they are suddenly very coordinated and they all seem to work well together.
But what truly has me in stitches is the back line that Arteta chose to deploy against Olympiakos, at Olympiakos.
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So: a centerback-a centerback-a centerback-a winger.
Or, for those more inclined to negativity: an exiled centerback-a clown-a clown-a teenage winger. Seriously. I love David Luiz and I have so much respect for Shkodran Mustafi, but no one was exactly pinching themselves when Arteta chose this partnership as his go-to. Well, maybe they were pinching themselves to get out of a nightmare, but not out of any sort of joy.
Yet here they are, anchoring a class defense, apparently, and proving that scoring goals is yesterday’s news.
Bukayo Saka on the left, sure, we’re used to that, even if he isn’t a leftback and shouldn’t be a leftback, but Sokratis as a rightback? What in the world. He is at his worst when he has to move around a lot, so let’s put him at a position where he has to move around a lot.
But it worked! Holy hell, it worked. This hodgepodge of ‘whatever the hell I can find’ worked to deliver yet another clean sheet and put the Gunners well in charge of this tie as the second leg comes back to the Emirates. And guess what? If Arteta runs this same inexplicable back line out there next week, I’ll expect yet another clean sheet then as well.
This is a complete philosophical change. Arteta has figured out how to get the best out of these guys. Of course, a big shout out to Bernd Leno too. Because yeah, he deserves it.