Where Arsenal are going wrong: The three key areas Unai Emery must address to prevent another season of regret

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Arsenal’s collapse against Watford underlined a lingering defensive frailty which Unai Emery is yet to fix. Needless mistakes from key players continue to hinder Arsenal’s progress, and there are clear structural issues which are leaving them vulnerable to opposition attacks.

Arsenal have faced 96 shots this season, more than any side in the Premier League, Serie A, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga. Ahead of a trip to Frankfurt for the start of their Europa League campaign this week, which areas must Emery address?

Individual errors

Since the start of last season, Arsenal have made combined 14 errors leading to opposition goals in the Premier League, at least two more than any other side. They have also conceded 10 penalties in that time, the joint-most in the division alongside Brighton.

Those statistics speak volumes about the various mistakes that Arsenal have made in midfield and, more damagingly, in defence. Of the eight goals they have conceded so far this season, six have stemmed, either directly or indirectly, from an individual mistake.

Sokratis and David Luiz, the new centre-back pairing, have been the most guilty. Luiz has conceded two penalties in four Premier League games for Arsenal, after conceding just three in 160 league matches for Chelsea. Sokratis, meanwhile, allowed Watford back into Sunday’s game when he gave away the ball in his own box from a goal-kick.

“I think that I cost the game for the team,” Sokratis said. “It was my mistake for something simple that I don’t have to do. I think this was the problem, why we lose the three points. I apologised because I cost the game for the team.”

Sunday’s blunders would have been all the more galling for Emery because the head coach had held a meeting with his players on Friday, when he urged them to learn from their mistakes. “We were speaking – mistake, recognise that mistake, learn, correct, improve, and after repeat with success.”

Those individual mistakes tell only part of the story, though. While Sokratis felt his error was the key moment of the match, the worrying truth for Arsenal is that they were never able to regain control of the game in the second half. It is also increasingly obvious that many of these errors are the result of the cumulative pressure that Arsenal are facing in matches, rather than being random outliers.

In all, Arsenal faced 31 shots against Watford, the most they have ever allowed an opponent since Opta began collecting data in the 2003/04 campaign. They have been out-shot by four of their five opponents this season, including Newcastle United and Burnley.

Much of this has been a consequence of their vulnerability in midfield, where both Watford and Tottenham Hotspur enjoyed huge amounts of space as their respective matches became stretched. Granit Xhaka is an important player for Emery, but he is not able to cover enough ground in the midfield to protect his defence. Alone at the base of a midfield diamond, as he was at Vicarage Road, he becomes too exposed too often.

Questions must be asked of the head coach, for the way he chooses his formations and for his substitutions. When Arsenal were crying out for control on Sunday, Emery removed Dani Ceballos and Mesut Ozil, the two players most likely to keep possession and draw some of the sting from Watford’s pressing.

Emery has made Arsenal a more flexible side since replacing Arsene Wenger, but there was repetitiveness to their approach, particularly from goal kicks, which played into Watford’s hands.

“It is something we worked on all week,” said Tom Cleverley, the Watford midfielder. “We were not surprised they tried to play like that. It was just more of a surprise they did not adapt during the game and they were pretty stubborn with it.”

Clinging onto a lead at a hostile venue, Arsenal needed to relieve the pressure. They were simply unable to hold onto the ball in attack, though. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is an elite finisher but, as a target man, he cannot absorb pressure like the injured Alexandre Lacazette, who is out until October.

“It will be hard for six weeks,” said Sokratis. “It is really sad because he [Lacazette] can get us goals, especially in this kind of game he can score, keep the ball and help us a lot.”

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