That old refrain, one-nil to the Arsenal, has been apropos for two straight league matches. By defeating both Norwich and Burnley by one goal and keeping two clean sheets, the Gunners seem to have finally gotten out of the gate.
Of course, the early season lack of offense is definitely something that needs to be addressed. However, the fact that Arsenal’s once leaky defense has looked solid is a great sign that Mikel Arteta may have finally found capable defenders that will instill confidence in fans and teammates. It’s early days and two matches is a small sample size, but it’s a promising sign.
Back on the opening day of the season, the Gunners center back pairing featured newcomer Ben White, with Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers on the right, Kieran Tierney on the left, and Bernd Leno in goal. Arsenal dominated possession with 65% of the ball and outshot the Bees 22-8. Despite the statistical domination, the Gunners were deservedly defeated 2-0.
At home to Chelsea Arteta paired Mari with Rob Holding in at center-back and brought in Cedric Soares. To say it didn’t work would be an understatement. Romelu Lukaku put the Gunners’ defense to shame and exposed Mari’s shortcomings.
Arsenal show positive signs of defensive improvements with Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White, Gabriel and Kieran Tierney forming new-look backline
Even worse was Arsenal’s visit to the Eithad. Manchester City outshot the Gunners’ 25-1 and had 80% of the possession. Granit Xhaka’s red card didn’t help but a defensive unit featuring Chambers, Soares, Holding, and Sead Kolasinac proved an embarrassment.
Coming back from the two-week international break, Arsenal had a new-look defense. A healthy Gabriel returned and was partnered at center-back with White. Tierney came back on the left and the recently signed Takehiro Tomiyasu slotted in on the right. Aaron Ramsdale replaced Leno in goal and a fully fit Thomas Partey returned to action.
Of course, Norwich and Burnley are not Manchester City and Chelsea, but Arteta has assembled a young core that will need time to gel and grow together. The fact that fans didn’t have to see Leno digging the ball out of the back of the net with Soares and Chambers throwing their hands up while looking despondent was a welcome change.
Arsenal truly hasn’t had a stable partnership at the center of their backline since Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny held those positions. The plan is for Gabriel and White to be the Gunners’ center-back pairing moving forward, although the pair will likely get a rest for the visit of AFC Wimbledon.
Tomiyasu has quickly adapted to his new surroundings since making his move to north London from Serie A on deadline day. He’s already had an impact and put in dominant displays in his two starts. At Turf Moor, the 22-year-old Japanese international won 100% of his aerial duels, had 79 touches, made five recoveries, five clearances, one interception, and one tackle.
Speaking of his new right-back Arteta said:
"“When he’s on the pitch, he looks fully committed, he doesn’t doubt, he goes for every ball, he’s reassuring, he’s got a presence and he’s a very honest player,” the manager said. “You could see the reaction and the connection that he had straight away with the fans and that’s very pleasing because it was so quick.”"
As for the goalkeeper position, questions still remain. Leno had been number one without much competition since Emiliano Martinez was allowed to leave last season. Ramsdale was highly coveted by Arteta and has looked solid in his two starts.
The Premier League season is young and Arteta has a lot to prove. Hopefully, his defensive recruits will be able to shore up the Gunners’ defense and help improve Arsenal’s results. Every successful team starts at the back.