The former Gunners star fears Mikel Arteta wants his side to be too entertaining, with there still obvious issues to be addressed at the back
Arsenal remain “too open”, says Paul Merson, with Mikel Arteta warned that he could have Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi at his disposal and still concede goals with the way the Gunners are currently set up.
Attacking spark is not an issue for those at Emirates Stadium, with the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil proven performers at the highest level.
Defensive leaks have been difficult to plug, though, with questionable transfer deals and confusing tactical messages resulting in a long-standing problem still holding Arsenal back.
Merson believes that will remain the case for as long as the Gunners try to entertain rather than address their obvious failings, with a return to contention for top-four finishes likely to remain “a few years” off as a result.
The former Arsenal forward told Sky Sports: “You’ve got Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a world-class centre forward who scores goals. He’s a one out of two merchant, where you get two chances and score one, there aren’t many of them in the world. There’s a lot more to come from Alexandre Lacazette, he’s a top-drawer player.
“We talk about the defence at Arsenal, but it often comes from the front. If you’re not closing down from the front, and then the midfield aren’t connecting, I don’t care who is playing at the back for you. It could be [Paolo] Maldini, [Alessandro] Costacurta, [Franco] Baresi, if you’ve got players running at you left, right and centre, you’re going to leak goals.
“I think it’s important they play as a team, but at the moment I don’t see it at Arsenal. I know Arteta is trying to change it, but it seems like the forwards have their game, the midfielders have their game, and then we then just see what the defenders do.
“I think they’ve got to get back to basics, get tight at the back. We all like watching Arsenal play because you know you’re going to get action and goals at both ends.
“I think they need to say: ‘Right, let’s get tight, if we have to win games 1-0, we will.’ I just think they are too entertaining, it’s too open, they don’t move up the pitch as a unit or move back as a unit.
“It could be a few years before Arsenal reach top four again. I do believe in Arteta, I like him and I think he’ll get it right, but it’s hard as an inexperienced manager. You’ve got to be careful not to just try to entertain the fans. When you’re inexperienced, you often try to entertain the fans behind the goal.”
There will be no supporters in attendance when Arsenal next take to the field for a competitive fixture, against Manchester City on June 17, and Merson fears that could also work against a side that often needs motivation to pour over from the stands.
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He added, with Arteta’s side having come unstuck in their latest behind-closed-doors friendly against Brentford: “I worry for Arsenal. I watched the goals they let in against Brentford, and I worry about them playing behind closed doors. When you’re not a great defender, and Arsenal have a few of them, not top-drawer defenders, I think the fans keep you honest.
“I mean that they keep your concentration levels. You need the fans there to keep you concentrated. One of the goals against Brentford, David Luiz tries to play out, flick it over the lad’s head, and that’s not honest. The fans try to keep you honest.
“I think with Arsenal that’s going to be a little bit of a problem defensively. I think they will switch off behind closed doors with no crowd, and there could be mistake after mistake.”