We all know the traditional criticism of Arsenal under Arsène Wenger. For all their stylish play and creativity, when it comes to grinding out a result, particularly away from home, they are found wanting. Not since the departure of Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira, so the argument goes, have the Gunners shown the ability to fight and battle for points in hostile environments.
Some pundits have been scathing in their criticism, and although many Gunners fans might take issue with those who question the players’ bravery, following their recent defeat in the North London derby even Arsenal legend Thierry Henry admitted that their poor away form would make it hard for the team to finish in the Premier League top four.
The betting markets agree, and punters are being treated to Arsenal’s dire away form with live in-play bets not favouring the Gunners to come out winners. However, while this is great news for sports betters flocking to take advantage of live odds, the Arsenal faithful will be concerned by the complete lack of faith that experts are placing on their chances of finishing in the top four this season.
Are the pundits right to pinpoint Arsenal’s away form as the problem holding back the team? On the face of it, they appear to have a case. The Gunners’ away record this season is worse than all five of the teams above them, but it’s also worse than that of Burnley, Watford and Leicester City. If the Premier League table was determined by home results, Arsenal would be third, but they rank ninth in the away league.
At the midway point of February, Arsenal had lost seven games away from home. Defeats against Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham are one thing, but the Gunners have also lost to Watford, Bournemouth, Swansea and Stoke, and have dropped points at Southampton, West Brom and West Ham. Victories over Everton, Burnley and Crystal Palace represent their only away successes this season. No matter how good their home form, 13 points from 14 away games is a poor record, and is significantly worse than Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United, who have 24, and Manchester City’s 32.
However, Arsenal fans shouldn’t be too downcast. For one thing, it is a myth that a poor away record is a feature of Wenger’s side in recent seasons. You only have to go back two years to the 2015-16 season to find the Gunners third in the away form table, matching their third place in the home form table, and in the 2014-15 campaign, their away form was better than their home form. The problem seems to have become acute only in this campaign.
Still, there is no doubt that it has to be addressed if Arsenal are to stand a chance of breaking back into the top four. Arsenal fans following the latest news on their club are looking for encouragement from the manager and for signs that he is aware of and able to address the problem. In the wake of the Tottenham defeat, Wenger admitted that their away form was very poor, and there can be no doubt that he will want to address it.
Tightening up their defence is one way that the Gunners can improve their away record. Away from home, it is inevitable that their opponents will see more of the ball and enjoy more territory than at the Emirates, and this in turn puts extra pressure on a defence that has looked vulnerable for a number of seasons now.
However, more fundamentally, Wenger needs to adopt a new strategy away from home, and the business that he did during the transfer window has given him the tools that he needs to build a more effective unit. Many teams that do well on the road build their success on a swift counter-attacking style. To be able to pull that off, the Gunners need to be able to attack quickly and intelligently, and the addition of the speedy Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the intelligent Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who formed a potent partnership at Dortmund, will help Arsenal to play with a faster, more dynamic and intelligent style, particularly away from home.
By basing their away-game attacking strategy on quick, intelligent counter-attacks, the Gunners can afford to defend in a little more depth, offering cover to their beleaguered defenders and being better able to soak up the pressure that comes with being the away side. Whether Arsenal can yet break into the top four remains to be seen, but the new arrivals at the club give them a great chance of turning around their away form and climbing the table.