Both Chelsea and Arsenal wanted to sign Virgil van Dijk this summer, but it is Arsene Wenger that will regret missing out the most.

That is the view of former England and Liverpool star Jamie Carragher, who believes Arsenal are going into the derby against Chelsea on Sunday with their title hopes already in doubt.

Some may dismiss such a notion, given the campaign is barely a month old, but Carragher argues the Gunners have not solved a problem that has undermined their challenge for years.

As he explained to Standard Sport: “Arsenal haven’t improved at the back since last season. If you want to be successful, you have to have a strong defensive unit. But that’s what has let Arsenal down. 

“Arsenal conceded 44 goals last season and that is far too many. You must aim to concede less than a goal a game, then that gives you a chance to challenge for the title. 

“Just look at the last three champions: Chelsea last season (33 goals against), Leicester (36) and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2015 (32).

“This is why I was very surprised Arsenal didn’t bring another centre-back in, especially as they are going to play three at the back a lot more. 

“Arsenal and Chelsea wanted to sign Van Dijk and the £60-£70million fee talked about was an awful lot and shows there is a dearth of centre-backs. If you want a player of that quality, you have to pay it. If you don’t, maybe you don’t achieve the targets you have set for the club. 

“Southampton didn’t sell Van Dijk, but Chelsea still went and brought in Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen [back from loan] and added to what they had.”

Photo: Getty Images

It is a measure of how influential Antonio Conte has been since switching to a 3-4-3 (some see it as a 3-4-2-1) formation during a 3-0 defeat by Arsenal a year ago that Wenger, albeit seven months later, ended up following suit.

The Frenchman’s decision brought some positive results, none more so than the 2-1 win over the Blues in the FA Cup Final to prevent them from securing the Double. Yet Arsenal’s fragility remains, as was shown in League defeats by Stoke and, particularly, the 4-0 thrashing at Liverpool last month.

“It’s not just about individual players,” Carragher said. “It’s about the mentality of the managers, how they see football, how they see the game. 

“There is no doubt with Conte, being Italian, he is very strong on the defensive side. It looks as if, for Wenger, the attacking side is the most important. 

“The fact Arsenal didn’t really strengthen at the back apart from Sead Kolasinac, who is more of a left-back, shows where Wenger’s priorities are.

“It’s not just the defenders – it’s the cover in midfield. Arsenal don’t have a great holding midfield player who can protect that back three.

“You look at Arsenal’s midfield and I can’t get out of my head how they performed at Anfield. There was a lack of discipline. 

“Aaron Ramsey is a fantastic talent, but he is a very attacking player to have as one of the two protecting your defence – and that is the risk Wenger appears willing to take.

“In contrast, Conte has N’Golo Kante, a player Arsenal wanted last year but who joined Chelsea for a bargain £32m. He was one of Conte’s first signings, which shows how important he felt a player like that is to his system, whereas Wenger hesitated.”

Arsenal at least go to Stamford Bridge knowing they followed up their FA Cup triumph over Conte’s men with a victory over them, albeit on penalties, in the Community Shield just six weeks ago.

Yet Carragher says those successes only give them a small crumb of comfort. He added: “The two wins will give the Arsenal players belief that they can beat Chelsea, but I don’t think it will have a psychological effect on Chelsea.

“They will be kicking themselves that they missed out on the Double. The Community Shield is just a friendly match.

“They just didn’t perform in the FA Cup Final but they won’t think Arsenal have a huge hold over them. Chelsea will be desperate to put that result to bed in this next big game against them. Chelsea will know that in this derby they can really kill Arsenal’s title aspirations.

“If you lose three games early on in the season, it gives you very little chance of challenging for the title – and Arsenal have already been beaten twice this season.

“In the last few seasons, Chelsea and Leicester only lost three in winning the League in 2015 and 2016 respectively. And while Chelsea had five defeats last season, they actually clinched it with more points because they won 30 games. 

“That shows how important it is for Arsenal not to lose the game on Sunday. Their tactics have to change but I don’t think Wenger will. 

“Hopefully, he will do something different because we are all sick of saying the same things. But I can only see one winner if Arsenal set up in the same way.”


Jamie Carragher will be a special guest at the prestigious Legends of Football charity event which returns on October 2 to the Grosvenor House Hotel, London – when Steven Gerrard will receive the 2017 Legend of Football Award. For tickets and packages go to lofootball.co.uk


Source: https://www.standard.co.uk/sport/football/failing-to-sign-virgil-van-dijk-will-cost-arsenal-the-title-but-not-chelsea-says-jamie-carragher-a3635656.html