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Following a tough opening couple of games against Manchester City and Chelsea, Arsenal have done well to put three straight wins on the board. The latest of which came against Newcastle on Saturday, however, despite this being an overall positive the are some underlying problems lingering.

The dying seconds at St. James’ Park saw Arsenal concede their 9th goal of the season (5th most in the league) and yet again fail to keep a clean sheet in the Premier League.

In this tactical analysis, I’ll examine the trends of Arsenal’s defensive setup that has led to this.

Issues Out Wide

When looking closer at the manner in which Arsenal have conceded those nine goals, there seems to be a clear theme. Their weakness comes from the wide areas. The main thing that can back this up is that six of the nine goals they’ve conceded have come from crosses/cutbacks into the box.

Of course, its going to take time for Unai Emery to get Arsenal to play how he likes both on and off the ball, but here are a few issues that have been popping up quite frequently.

Arsenal Clean Sheets Premier League Tactical Analysis
As we all understand, Emery wants pressure on the ball. However, the players don’t seem to be as aware as they need to be at the moment. Here Bellerin vacates his position to press the ball, but Mkhitaryan is ball-watching which gives Marcos Alonso the jump on the outside.
Arsenal Clean Sheets Premier League Tactical Analysis
As Mkhitaryan was late to react, this creates a massive gap between Mustafi and himself who should’ve dropped into Bellerin’s position. Jorginho doesn’t need to think twice about playing the pass through to Alonso.
Arsenal Clean Sheets Premier League Tactical Analysis
Having to initially go across to cover the space Mustafi then creates even more space for Alonso to cross over to Pedro who scores.

What we saw here was a lapse in concentration that has been almost too common a theme at Arsenal in recent years. Many may think Bellerin would be in the wrong for following Willian up the pitch but if, however, if Mkhitaryan had filled in, Arsenal would’ve been able to deal with the Chelsea attack a bit better.

Trouble Keeping Shape

Another issue that seems to be running strong is the positioning of the defence. There times when it’s understandable to see them dragged out of shape, however, too often do they lack a proper shape to begin with. This is something we saw yet again this weekend:

Arsenal Clean Sheets Premier League Tactical Analysis
Arsenal haven’t just been on an attack, yet the gap between Bellerin and Mustafi is massive. This allows two Newcastle players to attack that whole in particular and isolate Mustafi as the ball comes down the right wing.
Arsenal Clean Sheets Premier League Tactical Analysis
As the ball is crossed into the box, Bellerin still hasn’t made the ground up giving the Newcastle winger an easy job to do in just getting the ball over Mustafi. Of course he’s able to do this and Ciaran Clark nodded the home at the back post.

This problem is something that should be very easy to fix, however, we’ve seen time and again over the years that leaving men free in the box has been an issue. Hopefully for Arsenal, the introduction of Stephen Lichsteiner could help them become more structured off the ball.

However, the issue with keeping shape isn’t one that is solely to do with full backs but the defensive line as a whole. When certain situations occur, the defence don’t seem to be a unit as some may react differently to others rather than moving as one.

We’ve seen this various times this season, but the most disappointing time was on the opening day.

Arsenal Clean Sheets Premier League Tactical Analysis
Here the Arsenal defence are in a great position to deal Manchester City. They’ve forced them down the line, their shape looks stable and Granit Xhaka looks to be screening for any danger.
Arsenal Clean Sheets Premier League Tactical Analysis
However, as Benjamin Mendy overlaps and Bellerin closes down, neither Mustafi or Xhaka drop off and react leaving a massive gap for Mendy to reach Bernado Silva who scored.
Arsenal Clean Sheets Premier League Tactical Analysis
If Mustafi and Xhaka dropped off like the rest of the defence this goal could’ve been easily prevented as they would’ve taken up the free spaces.


Looking at the goals Arsenal have tended to concede this season, the main issue has been a mix individual mistakes and teething problems.

We’ve seen that the players are trying to implement Emery’s playing style in pressing high up the pitch to regain possession. With that, however, we’ve seen that the transitions some players will need to make in those stages are taking a while to grasp.

On the positive side though, these goals were preventable and these issues can be worked on, on the training ground going forward. As we’re only five games into the season we shouldn’t have to worry too much, however, should this continue as consistency as it has done as the season goes on, a shift in defensive personnel may have to be considered.