Arsenal: We're In A Defensive Crisis In A Week Without Answers
As the transfer window shut back at the start of September, there was much relief among Arsenal fans that Arsene Wenger had signed a genuine striker. The early signs suggest that Danny Welbeck will do well at the Emirates, with his arrival being the last of five very good signings made by the Gunners' boss in the summer.
But, there was still a serious hole in the squad. I was happy to accept not having an upgrade in defensive midfield, however, to not sign an extra centre back seemed absolutely crazy. I'm sure Arsene Wenger tried to get someone in, there would have been no point in selling Thomas Vermaelen otherwise, but the failure to get a deal completed meant Arsenal are now in the bulk of the season constantly flirting with a crisis at the back with only six first team defenders in the squad.
With Hull City visiting the Emirates this weekend, it feels like that crisis is upon the Gunners. Of the six first-teamers, only three defenders are available, and two of them are left backs. Hector Bellerin will have to make his first Premier League start at right-back while Nacho Monreal or Issac Hayden will have to play alongside Mertesacker in the centre.
Now, it clearly isn't easy to sign a good back-up defender as someone with the required quality could be reluctant when they'd know that Mertesacker and Koscielny are the established centre-back pairing. Any new signing wouldn't have been first choice so it would have been difficult for Wenger to persuade them to join the club and be behind two excellent centre-backs.
The player I feel sorry for in this defensive mess is Carl Jenkinson. While it was understandable that he went out on loan to West Ham to be guaranteed games, had he stayed, Jenkinson would getting an extended run in the team at right-back, meaning Calum Chambers could be the third centre-back rather than covering at full-back. Jenkinson has had some excellent games for Arsenal, so he must be wondering why he's having to play in a team managed by Sam Allardyce while the Gunners are so short at the back. Like Vermaelen, the lack of another defensive arrival made Jenkinson's exit strange and a bit frustrating.
In the last few occasions that I can remember a defensive crisis like this, Arsenal lost stupid points in the league. In 2011/12, Wenger regularly had to field a whole back four of centre backs, and in 2005/06, almost every outfielder seemed to play at left-back at some point. Arsene Wenger has experienced these problems before, so I'm struggling to see why he risked the inevitable problems having so few defenders would create.
My only explanation for not bringing in a reserve defender is that his last few attempts to do so haven't exactly been successful, potentially making Wenger cautious so as to not make the same mistakes. Sebastian Squillaci, Mikael Silvestre and Andre Santos were all, frankly, dreadful for the Gunners. Having watched Issac Hayden a few times when he's captained Arsenal's under 21 team, I'd much rather he was lining up alongside Mertesacker than anyone of the calibre of the aforementioned liabilities.
This crisis comes in a week where Arsenal fans quizzed Arsene Wenger, and other members of the Arsenal hierarchy, about not signing the extra defender, and while there was an acknowledgment that the Gunners were short in that position, no real answer was given. That was also the case about the rise in ticket prices, the £3 million 'paid' by the club to Kroenke Sports Enterprises, the closure of the fanshare scheme and the living wage in London for staff. Not many other clubs give fans the ability to question the main board members in such a way, so Arsenal should be commended for having an AGM, but it only adds to frustration when it seems important issues are often dodged.
On the pitch, the defensive crisis will be subject to serious questioning from Hull. Arsenal's first choice defence had no answer in the opening ten minutes of the cup final, so the makeshift back four on Saturday will have to be ready. If the defence can end the week with some Arsenal answers, the Gunners can put some much-needed momentum into this stuttering season.