February 10, 2019 / 4:19 AM / 7 months ago

Soccer: Emery defiant as leaky Arsenal fail to convince again

HUDDERSFIELD, England (Reuters) - Arsenal’s 2-1 triumph at Huddersfield was their fifth away Premier League win of the season — having won four in the whole of the last campaign — but the manner of victory suggested much improvement is still needed.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Huddersfield Town v Arsenal - John Smith's Stadium, Huddersfield, Britain - February 9, 2019 Arsenal manager Unai Emery and Arsenal's Ainsley Maitland-Niles during the match REUTERS/Andrew Yates

After losing their first two league games to champions Manchester City and Chelsea, Unai Emery’s reign as Arsenal manager went smoothly and they did not taste defeat again until Dec. 16 – a run of 22 matches unbeaten in all competitions.

Since that loss at Southampton, however, things have not gone so well and Arsenal have been beaten six times, four in the Premier League, in less than two months.

Even before the Southampton reverse, the warning signs were there. Before Saturday’s match, Arsenal had held a halftime on only three occasions in the league this season and had won 12 points from losing positions — only Leicester City had won more.

Arsenal have also won the joint most points this season in the final 10 minutes of matches, but relying heavily on second-half turnarounds and late shows could only go on for so long.

At the heart of the problem is their defensive record — Arsenal remain the only team in the Premier League without an away clean sheet.

“Defensively they are one of the worst sides I’ve ever seen in the top six of the Premier League,” former Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson said.

Against Huddersfield, the league’s bottom side who had not scored a goal in eight hours and 27 minutes before Saturday, Arsenal, even with a two-goal advantage, never looked comfortable and with better finishing the hosts would have made a game of it.

Nacho Monreal was forced to clear off the Arsenal line before Adama Diakhaby nudged the ball towards goal in stoppage time and two Arsenal defenders on the line were unable to keep it out of the net.

Emery did not hide his frustration on the touchline after the late goal, but later insisted his antics were just about passion.

“We struggled every minute of the 90,” Emery said. “It is my personality (why he was so animated), if in one moment I think it is negative, I would not do it.

“The clean sheet is important but our goal is to win. The first target is to score one more goal than the opposition then a clean sheet.”

More defensive lapses, though, and Arsenal’s hopes of a top-four finish could be in serious danger.

Reporting by Peter Hall, editing by Ed Osmond

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