FootballPremier League

Arsenal’s poor away form seriously threatens their place in the Premier League top four

April 9, 2019

ARSENAL have become a team with a split personality. At home, they’re confident and controlling—a team reinvigorated by a new coach’s arrival and seemingly embarking on a bold new era. Take them out of the Emirates Stadium, however—out of their comfort zone—and that identity crumbles away. Arsenal remain enormously vulnerable on their travels, and it’s a situation which threatens to ruin their season. 

The recent defeat to Everton provoked a particularly anguished response from the Arsenal supporters, and it’s because the fans recognise how desperately the team need to turn this rotten run around. It’s no exaggeration to say that Arsenal’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League depend on how quickly they can arrest their away day blues.

Four of their remaining six Premier League fixtures take place away from the Emirates Stadium, while winning the Europa League would require them to come through two away legs and a final in Baku, Azerbaijan. For much of the season, Arsenal have been able to rely on their home form. They can not do that any longer.

Arsenal’s away form has been undeniably poor this season. SoccerStats has compiled home and away tables for the entire Premier League. At home, Arsenal have amassed 44 points—a total which makes them level with Liverpool and behind only Manchester City. Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham are left trailing in their wake.

However, Arsenal are the only member of England’s supposed ‘big six’ not to feature in the away table’s top six. Their place instead goes to Leicester, with Arsenal languishing in 10th. They have conceded 28 goals away from home—that’s more than relegation-threatened Cardiff City. 

In fairness to Unai Emery, this not a new problem. According to this piece by Arsenal blog 7amkickoff, Arsenal have conceded a staggering 78 goals in their last 44 away fixtures in the Premier League. That’s an average of 1.77 goals per game.

At the start of the season it looked as if Emery might have broken Arsenal’s away day hoodoo, but the rot has steadily set back in. The lacklustre performance at Everton was the latest in a dismal run that arguably stretches back to the 5-1 hammering at Anfield. The nature of that defeat seemingly opened up some old wounds, and they have begun to fester.  

The fact that the problem has persisted for so long suggests that it’s probably rather complex. On occasion it has been tactical, but the most part Emery has proven himself to be a shrewd strategist capable of adjusting his XI to counter most issues. You certainly can’t accuse him of failing to try different things.

It seems there is a strong psychological component here. Arsenal’s players simply do not look as comfortable away from the immaculate turf and huge support of the Emirates Stadium. There are some personality types who thrive on adversity. However, playing in a hostile environment appears to bring out the worst in this set of players.

Arsenal’s away problem is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Opposition teams are emboldened by their poor record, and set about attacking the Gunners in a way they simply wouldn’t dare against the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool. If they are to take a scalp from the big six, then Arsenal are easily the most scalp-able. Arsenal have shown weakness, and now the rest of the league is looking to exploit it.

It is, in part, a leadership issue. It’s telling that Arsenal were without Laurent Koscielny and Granit Xhaka at Everton, two of the most influential figures in the dressing room. Instead, the team was captained by Mesut Ozil, whose passivity was emblematic of their entire performance.

When Aaron Ramsey came off the bench at half-time, the difference in his energy levels and alertness was immediately apparent. It’s distressing that Ramsey, one of the few players who seems capable of replicating his performances at home and away, will be leaving imminently.

That’s a problem for the summer. For now, Emery must find something more immediate—a way to try and arrest this issue before it derails the remainder of the campaign. Arsenal’s best away performance in the league in recent times arguably came in the 1-1 north London derby draw with Spurs.

Perhaps Emery could seek to use that display as a blue-print, reverting to a back four and consequently affording the team more control in midfield. Ozil was also benched for that match, and it’s possible Emery may have to jeopardise the newly-discovered accord between player and coach by leaving out his star playmaker if he cannot produce away from home.

This is a time for pragmatism, and for points accumulation. If Arsenal do not sort this immediately, all their fantastic home performances will ultimately count for nothing.