Emery’s long-term ideal for this Arsenal team is not yet clear, but having numbers or density through the middle seems an intrinsic part of it: two-centre-backs, two deep-lying midfielders with two more attacking midfielders tucked in off the flanks look to be his favoured default set-up.
Arsenal’s attacking midfielders feeding overlapping full-backs has been their best route to chance creation this season. Cut-backs from the bar-line typically result in a higher quality of chance than crosses tossed in hopefully from wide. Only Aaron Ramsey has more Premier league assists for Arsenal this season than Bellerin’s five.
Bellerin’s importance as a defender should not be under-estimated either. Collectively, Arsenal’s defence lacks recovery pace and players comfortable defending in one-against-one situations. Bellerin is better in these scenarios than he is given credit for. He is perhaps guilty of not closing down opponents fast enough to prevent crosses, but that can be a safe tactic against diminutive attacks like Chelsea’s last time out.
Assessing the replacements
The words ’35-year-old former Juventus defender’ would ordinarily be a source of comfort, but Lichtsteiner has looked every one of those years in his scratchy performances for Arsenal. In fact, since a semi-competent first outing against Manchester City, Lichtsteiner has got progressively worse.
There are mitigating factors. It is difficult for a veteran player to stay sharp and at the pace of Premier League games without, well, playing any Premier League games. Arsenal’s defence was in flux due to injuries over Christmas, so the Swiss was not stepping into a settled unit. Furthermore, Lichtsteiner has also spent time playing out of position at centre-back in both a three and a four. It is worth remembering that he played most of his best football at wing-back for Juventus, in front of three of the best centre-halves in world football in a dominant team domestically. Energy and stamina were his strong points, defensive positioning less so.