Arsenal’s Premier League opening day defeat to Brentford was a traumatic experience that has gone on to define the perception of their defensive capabilities in the early part of this season.
“It’s just so Arsenal” said Jamie Carragher as Christian Norgaard profited from some shambolic set piece defending to nod home the Bees second on the night.
The Gunners would go on to concede seven more in their next two matches, quickly forming a narrative that keeping the opposition out was going to be a huge issue for the coming season.
In the space of just two games though that has been almost completely flipped on its head.
Back to back clean sheets against Norwich and Burnley were achieved under very different circumstances.
The Canaries were undoubtedly the easier test, but the well known unique threat that Sean Dyche’s side pose is something Arsenal sides have struggled with in the past.
The fact that the Gunners come through both unscathed though is a sign of the rapid progress they are making as a unit.
So what has changed?
Well, at a most basic level, personnel.
Gabriel was recovering from a knee injury at the time of that horrible night at the Brentford Community Stadium, while Aaron Ramsdale and Takehiro Tomiyasu were still Sheffield United and Bologna players respectively.
The trio’s introduction has made a huge difference to the solidity that now exudes from the back three.
Statistics back this up. Ramsdale is yet to concede in a Gunners shirt, while Gabriel made eight clearances at Turf Moor and Tomiyasu won all of his aerial duels.
Numbers though do not do justice to the confident mood that seems to be building across the defence. After the game Mikel Arteta addressed this in his press conference.
“It builds confidence and trust and belief that you can go through difficult moments in matches and still win at the end,” the Spaniard said.
Despite having only trained together for around 10 days at this point the cohesion with which the defence is playing is remarkable.
This is typified by the spaces in between them when they defend.
Time and again as Burnley tried to target Ben White with long balls over the top Gabriel and Tomiyasu could be seen close to their teammate, looking to sweep up the second balls that the Clarets thrive off.
Contrast this to the lack of support the England international was afforded by Calum Chambers and Pablo Mari against Brentford, where swathes of green grass were left unoccupied close to White as Brentford tried to target him with long balls up to Ivan Toney, and the improvement is clear to see.
There is a defined set up that the new guys seem to have adapted to remarkably quickly.
Arsenal like to play in a 2-3-5 formation when in possession in which Kieran Tierney pushes up the pitch, while Tomiyasu hangs back and drifts central to help provide more cover and passing options.
Behind him White and Gabriel look to build from the back in a tactic that the pair could be seen working on together in the warm up at Turf Moor
This playing out from defence is done so in tandem with Ramsdale who is proving himself to be such an effective distributor that is difficult to see how Bernd Leno will be able to take his goalkeeping spot for the North London Derby next week despite reports to the contrary.
Perhaps more so than in any area on the pitch, partnerships and positional understanding are crucial across a back line.
It was for this reason that Arteta was so keen to praise his defence as a whole on Saturday rather than any individuals.
“I think the back four in general was really solid,” he said. “We didn’t concede much, even though they put us under pressure. I thought they were really good.”
It hasn’t been a great start for Arsenal as Mikel Arteta looks to arrest the slide
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Some of the most successful teams in Arsenal’s history have been built on this when you think back to legendary back five of the George Graham era.
While stylistically this group is almost the antithesis to the Gunners teams of the early ’90s, the early signs are the new look back line are a foundation upon which the rest of the team can look to go forward more confidently.
Arteta will now be hoping he can keep them together for as long as possible, as Arsenal look to make up for lost time in the league table.