Arsenal’s defence needs to stand up against Liverpool or things will get ugly

The Gunners’ miraculous win streak has brought a feel good factor to the Emirates Stadium, as Arsenal found their feet under a new boss and a fighting spirit to put to bed games they may have lost under Arsene Wenger.

That fighting spirit saw Arsenal come out stronger in the second half in almost every game this season to turn things around and pick up all three points – leading to a near-club record unbeaten run featuring 11 back to back wins.

But it is worrying when you have to constantly turn things around, having only gone in at the break with a lead four times under Unai Emery, against Vorskla, Brentford, Qarabag and most recently Blackpool on Wednesday night.

What do those games have in common? All four are cup ties. Arsenal are yet to lead at the break in the Premier League. Sure, its fine to go in behind and believe you can turn things around, but the teams they have so far been able to flip the script on are sides they are expected to beat.

In last weekend’s draw at Selhurst Park, the game that ended the Islington club’s winning run, it resurrected fierce concerns in the Arsenal defence with the attack unable to do enough to mask the fragility at the back.

Crystal Palace awarded a penalty after Crystal Palace's Cheikhou Kouyate brought down by Arsenal's Shkodran Mustafi

Even before the visiting Reds fell behind to a first half stoppage time penalty, a Palace offence that had struggled massively for goals were by far playing the sharpest of the two teams, despite what form would have suggested.

Arsenal could easily have found themselves with a mountain to climb as the hosts had a total of five shots luckily go wide or hit the post. Wilfried Zaha’s effort after 14 minutes would have been the opener had the winger not drilled his shot against the post just a minute before Palace linked a silky string of passes together only for Andros Townsend to fire wide of Bernd Leno’s goal.

The so claimed defensively -obsessed mind of the manager is clearly yet to solve the fundamental problems Arsenal face with their current crop of centre-backs, if it is even possible for the Spaniard to do so.

Shkodran Mustafi has been a recurring worry at the heart of Arsenal’s defence ever since the north London club spent a staggering £35million for the German’s services back in the summer of 2016.

The fee was at the time the third-highest move for a defender in world football, only beaten by PSG’s acquisition of David Luiz and Manchester City’s move for John Stones.

Since then, error after error after error came the way of a centre-half who appears to live up to the name of his hometown, Bad Hersfeld.

The 6 foot centre-back who graduated from Everton’s academy can easily be pinpointed as a key reason fpr why the Gunners dropped so many points away from home in the post-New Year period of last season that saw Wenger see out his final campaign with a single away win in 2018.

It would take too long to mention every horrific error the German has made since his move to the Emirates Stadium but go back to the Carabao Cup Final at Wembley in February and you see what the German is all about.

As the season’s end neared, Mustafi’s mental laziness continued to be prevalent against Southampton and Newcastle, where in back-to-back games he failed to track the striker, leading to Shane Long scoring after a quick dart to the near post and Ayoze Perez doing the same just seven days later.

Then we come to last weekend, when the Red Army fell witness to the German’s latest lapse in judgement as he needlessly slid for the ball inside his own six yard box, seemingly unaware Cheikhou Kouyate was running in from behind. The outcome, a stonewall penalty that Luka Milivojevic duly converted.

When Arsenal come up against Liverpool on Saturday evening, if the 26-year-old has another brain lapse for even a second, things will get ugly. Liverpool have one of the finest attacking line-ups in Europe through Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, together carrying the burden of scoring all the goals.

You saw it against Palace, and against nearly every side they have faced this season at some point, that when the opposition takes it to Arsenal, mistakes will be made somewhere and opportunities come freely.

If Granit Xhaka is again playing as a makeshift left-back after thigh injuries ruled both Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac out of recent games, the Premier League may as well just give Liverpool the points before a ball is even kicked.

The 26-year-old is a holding midfielder who struggles to deal with his defensive responsibilities. Bringing the likes of Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi to the club was meant to take the focus off the Swiss international but that simply cannot be when he is playing out of position.

There is an argument for Emery to adopt three at the back at the Emirates on Saturday to reduce the pressure on Xhaka in a makeshift role but that is not how the Spaniard has been working hard to make Arsenal better.

Hopefully the midfielder will have at least learnt from his costly error against Crystal Palace that ultimately resulted in both sides taking a point from the tie, when all he needed to do was stand his ground as Zaha looked to buy his side a second penalty of the game with some quick footwork and a heavy touch.

If Arsenal’s defence doesn’t finally stand up to be counted this weekend, a Liverpool win is the only possible outcome.