Unai Emery says his players must learn to defend better after a harrowing 5-1 defeat to Liverpool further underlined the gap between Arsenal and the Premier League leaders.
Despite striking first through Ainsley Maitland-Niles, the Gunners fourth league defeat of the campaign was all but settled by half time as the Reds hit back via Roberto Firmino’s brace, Sadio Mane’s close-range strike and Mohamed Salah’s penalty.
Comically bad defending, reminiscent of the worst of the Arsene Wenger era, was a feature throughout with Sead Kolasinac giving away a second penalty after the break that Firmino converted for his hat-trick.
After the match, Emery, often an optimist in his post-match press conferences, was quick to accept that the balance of his side was wrong.
“I think we started well, but after our goal, they pushed, and when they push here, they play with great determination and with players who can make a difference all over the pitch,” said the Spaniard.
“They scored three quick goals and it was a difficult moment for us. We spoke in the dressing room – it’s another experience for us. A bad experience but an experience to learn from.
“In the second half we needed to stand up, to keep our position individually and collectively on the game. The two last goals, two penalties, I think it’s a lot for us. I think VAR is important – it’s coming next year, because I think it’s going to help the referees to take better decisions.
“We only can think now of the match on Tuesday and know the difference between Liverpool and us was not like today’s result.
“Maybe we can do one balance, one mix between our draw and this result today. We have a lot of work to do, defensively also, we know we need to get better.”
While the referee generously awarded two spot-kicks to the home team and dismissed an obvious trip on Lacazette in the Liverpool box, Emery made clear that the officiating was not to blame for the defeat.
“The result is clear,” he added. “It’s not for the referee.
“There were some positives on the pitch – for example Ainsley played as right winger and scored, working well. Also Iwobi, after some matches not playing very well, today he played 90 minutes with a good performance.
“But defensively we need to be stronger, to work. Our defensive moments in our box, it’s my responsibility and then we need the balance.
“We need to keep the balance in the middle. We lost today 5-1, we need to keep the balance in the middle, be serious and continue on Tuesday with a big match at the Emirates.
“We need to show our supporters there we are standing up after the result.”
Should Chelsea win their game in hand, a match away at Crystal Palace tomorrow evening, Arsenal will be five points adrift of the top four and a place in next season’s Champions League.
We have to pick ourselves up quickly, which means three points against Fulham on New Year’s Day. By that point, the transfer window will be open. Perhaps Sven and Raul might have the cheque book ready and waiting.