Arsenal legend Sol Campbell believes Unai Emery’s true problem lies in midfield, despite heavy criticism of the Gunners defence.
The club are almost unrecognisable from the days of Campbell and Kolo Toure, one of the most solid partnership’s Gunners fans will ever witness.
Arsenal’s current defensive frailties were exposed during their 2-2 draw at Watford on Sunday, as Emery’s men threw away a two-goal lead.
The Gunners were the architects of their own downfall, with Sokratis gifting the ball to the Hornets inside his own box before David Luiz’s careless challenge to concede a penalty.
But the likes of Granit Xhaka haven’t covered themselves in glory either so far this season, and Campbell argues that the defence is exposed by a lack of protection.
“For me, it’s the controlling of the game,” he told talkSPORT’s James Savundra. “The middle of the park is where they’re lacking.
“The steeliness and the balance just isn’t there. It’s the middle of the park, you win or lose a lot of games there.
“You can have a strong back or a strong front, but if you haven’t got a middle that’s really solid, then you have forwards dropping too deep because they’re not getting fed and defenders doing too much.
“You get less attacks against you [with a stronger midfield], because you control the game more and you have the ball more.
“You win second balls and you don’t give silly fouls away. Yes, you’ve got to sort out the back. But in the middle of the park, they’ve got to get someone solid.
“They’ve got to realise the ingredients they need to win in the Premier League. At the moment, the ingredients aren’t right.”
Campbell certainly benefited from a sturdy midfield in front of him during his successful period at Highbury, where he became an ‘Invincible’ alongside talkSPORT legend Ray Parlour.
And the former England defender suggests someone like Parlour, or James Milner, represents exactly what the Gunners are currently missing.
“You look at someone like Milner, the attitude. The Ray Parlour attitude. That’s the kind of attitude that Arsenal need.
“The love of football and desire to keep going, I think they’re lacking that. I look at Milner and think we need a little bit of that at Arsenal.”
While deeper questions of character continue to surround Arsenal, there are inescapable tactical problems too.
Time after time, the Gunners shoot themselves in the foot with their unrelenting insistence on playing out from the back.
And the former Macclesfield boss suggests Arsenal have become too predictable and easy to catch out.
“For me, personally, I’d mix it up,” Campbell added. “Some long, some short, I’d do both.
“If you’re always going to start playing short, unless you’ve got absolutely word-class guys and you’re well drilled, there’s a million permutations that can happen.
“The teams you’re playing against have been working on the fact that you’re going to play short all week. So they know where you’re going to be.
“All of a sudden, if you play long, they start moving backwards, and then you play short. You want your players to feel the moment.
“I don’t want robots. I want guys who feel the game and say, ‘You know what, it’s too tight, let’s go long’ or, ‘There’s a bit more space, let’s play short’.
“I want guys who think outside the box, that’s what you need. Guys outside the box say, ‘You haven’t got me, because I’m going to do something else’.
“I’d give my players the freedom to go long and short.”
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- Leeds vs Derby (Saturday, 12:30pm) – talkSPORT 2
- Everton vs Sheffield United (Saturday, 3pm) – talkSPORT 2
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