Arsenal look flawed but get result against West Ham

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 25: Jack Wilshere of West Ham takes on Granit Xhaka of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and West Ham United at Emirates Stadium on August 25, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 25: Jack Wilshere of West Ham takes on Granit Xhaka of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and West Ham United at Emirates Stadium on August 25, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images) /

Questions will remain for the Gunners, and the scoreline may flatter them a bit, but with a 3-1 result against West Ham, the Unai Emery era has its first win.

It was wartier than a toad at times, but Arsenal have finally secured their first three points of the Unai Emery era with Saturday’s 3-1 victory at the Emirates over fellow London club West Ham, whose season looks to be very close to panic mode already. Despite the win, or perhaps because of it the questions about Emery’s tactics may intensify as the Gunners look to start their push to regain top-four status in the Premier League.

His counterpart, Manuel Pellegrini will also face some very hot microphones after a third straight defeat to open the season by the Hammers for a second straight season and the r-word looming large. Here are three things we learned.

1. There has to be something going on with Bernd Leno

Though his fee was easily dwarfed by Thibaut Courtois, Alisson, and Kepa Arrizabalaga’s this summer the near 20 million pound outlay for Bernd Leno from Leverkusen by the Gunners still represents one of the ten most expensive keepers of all time. So why in the world hasn’t he played?

Unai Emery has made his desire to play out of the back perfectly clear, and though Petr Cech has been scrutinized about his own struggles on the ball, Leno has not made his competitive debut for Arsenal. There has been no news of injury concerning the German but his inability to force a switch away from a 36 year old who is ill-fitting the desired system should raise questions both about Leno’s performance in training, his injury status or Emery’s tactical acumen.

In addition to the negative questions, one might also wonder if Emery is still trying to integrate his new keeper into the squad without a baptism by fire. However, as Cech continues to let the goals in  (Arsenal have conceded six times in three games including once Saturday) calls for his replacement will only grow louder and it may be a true ball-playing keeper could reduce the stretching of the defense for Arsenal.

Nobody will no for certain how Leno can play in England until Emery gives him a shot, but until he does the weirdness of spending so much on a keeper and not playing him will linger in the air.

2. Even in victory, Arsenal’s defense is dysfunctional as a unit

Just in front of the curious keeper situation lay the heart of the Gunners long-standing problems.Based on the play of the back-line, one would be forgiven for thinking that Arsene Wenger has not left the Emirates. For much of what has been called the post 2006 “the Banter era” the Gunners have been characterized by entertaining play, both by them and their opponents and one of the major reasons why has been consistently poor defense and this year’s team is no different.

Trying to incorporate more pressing and having a higher line is not inherently bad strategy but it does leave a team vulnerable to counters if the center-backs and full-backs either do not have the speed to track back or lack the positional sense to do so. Sokratis and Mustafi move like lead-riddled snails in open play repeatedly getting stretched and they weren’t even the worst part of the defense.

That dubious honor falls on Hector Bellerin as all match the Hammers basically ignored Nacho Monreal because they could afford to and if not for some horrendous defensive work of their own and inability to finish it might have secured them points. At least a dozen times, the Spanish right-back was too far up the pitch to track back effectively when either he or his teammates lost the ball completely leaving his side exposed, with multiple Hammers players getting runs the length of the pitch against him.

Full-back may be evolving into a primarily attacking position but against elite teams if you leave an entire side of the pitch open for crosses, shots, or runs into the box from wide goals will be scored and it was down to some truly awful finishing that West Ham did not punish the Gunners more.

If Bellerin is to continue being a part of the starting eleven for his attacking prowess, Emery needs to figure out how to both get cover from his midfielders (likely Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira,  Matteo Guendouzi or some combination of) while not stifling their creativity or forcing them to play too deep which makes pressing impossible. Or Emery could give Cech or Leno some Dr. Octopus type contraptions for when they are expected to be exposed by defenders.

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3. Money not well spent so far by West Ham

Eight of the starters in today’s line-up were brought in this summer’s 100 million pound spree by the Hammers and the results have been plain bad so far for the East London side. Manuel Pellegrini’s tactics have not lived up to their hype so far this season and today’s loss to the Gunners will send him into a tizzy.

The finishing, despite having an entire flank open while Bellerin was admiring the architecture of West Ham’s goal, was the main culprit with multiple second chances not taken, shots sailed into the crowd, and Marko Arnautovic’s inability to stay onside being just as influential as his goal which gave the Hammers the early, if brief, lead. They blew this one, as they did last week against Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth.

It takes time for teams to get to know each other and with that many new faces in a side, growing pains are inevitable, but this league does not reward patience. A run of poor form got Slavan Bilic his marching orders by November last season and ended up with David Moyes being tasked with guiding the Hammers to safety. If this run of winless fixtures goes on much longer we might see something similar again this season. Because above all West Ham wants survival, even if it means abandoning attack for ugly results.

West Ham’s next chance to break into the Premier League wins column will be  next Saturday against Wolves, while Arsenal will face off against Cardiff on Sunday, September 2nd.