Emery's Revolution - Have Arsenal Changed For The Better?
(Picture Credit - Liverpool Echo)
Since Arsene Wenger left, it appears Arsenal have undergone some form of revolution. With an influx of new staff and signings, form seems to have picked up in recent games due to what we, as Arsenal fans, are referring to Emeryball.
This involves his play-it-out-from-the-back, quick, tiki-taka style and rather free-form positioning which results in some entertaining football, especially with Aaron Ramsey's wonderful goal claiming Premier League's Goal Of The Month for October. Yes, some will argue that we've been playing against average opposition for the last few weeks and to be perfectly honest, they do have a point. However, at the end of the day, as long as Arsenal are getting points on the board then who am I to complain?
Unai Emery is winning an awful lot of plaudits with the side he's built so far this season. The experience added with seasoned internationals such as Stephan Lichtsteiner and Sokratis Papastathopoulos has provided Arsenal with some proper leaders. This is something Arsenal have lacked since the departure of Patrick Viera in my book. With a few more team leaders around the dressing room with bucket-loads of international experience between them, we can hardly go wrong. However, with this experience comes a vital flaw - age. Lichtsteiner is now thirty-five years old. I don't know about you, but I can't think of many thirty-five year olds in the Premier League. With Juventus (or The Old Lady as they're affectionately known), Lichtsteiner has seen it all and he provides valuable cover for Bellerin. This allows for another option - Bellerin doesn't have to play in the Europa League and we can keep him fit for more important games. That begs the question though, what the hell do we do with Carl Jenkinson? Jenko's been at the club for years and hasn't really made an impact or set the world alight thus far. It might be worth selling him off sometime soon whilst he holds some form of value, but, with an injury to Lichtsteiner taking place during the game against Sporting Lisbon, he’s valuable cover for him around I suppose.
Yes, the football is entertaining, but that same defensive fragility remains from seasons gone by. The play-it-out-from-the-back mentality that Emery has cultivated seems a tad too risky in terms of viewing since it seems like Petr Cech can't handle a pass back from his centre-halves. His control is usually sub-standard and in some cases this leads to the ball rolling precariously towards his own net. Our new goalkeeper, Bernd Leno from Bayer Leverkusen, appears a lot more comfortable in passing out from the back; after all, it was a key part of the Bayer Leverkusen way of playing at that time and their defenders were comfortable with that style. Both Mustafi and Sokratis don't seem to know what to do when faced with the ball from Cech. It usually results in them holding it against the byline before punting it away towards one of the wide men. They inevitably lose the ball and the opposition regain possession and can form a counter-attack. Combined with this, the free-form system Emery operates with means that there is never a full back-line to defend with.
Granted, Monreal will sit back, whereas Bellerin can usually be seen around in the opposition half, whilst running up and down the byline like a madman and never sitting back to defend. This leaves the defence open down the left-hand side. For instance, if Bellerin loses possession in the opposition half, all the other team have to do is play a long ball down their left winger and then he’s away on a quick counter attack. As a result, whoever the centre-back is will be drawn out of their position to press the oncoming winger. This creates holes in the middle of the defence that the defensive midfielders have to track back and fill. Usually though, from this predicament, we’re able to win possession back with high pressure and form a pretty dangerous counter attack. However, when the ball is lost, the same things happen again and again. The defence lacks concentration and awareness of positioning, even with the addition of international experience mentioned above.
On the other hand, in terms of midfield and attack (barring Granit Xhaka and his too-feisty attitude), we are a good-looking side playing some entertaining football. In terms of transfers, the addition of Lucas Torreira from Sampdoria is an inspired one. He adds drive and direction to the midfield and it's nice to see someone willing to get their hands dirty and make a few good tackles. For around £27 million, it's money well spent as far as Torreira is concerned - the fans already have a great affinity towards him and that'll only increase as time goes on. The addition of Matteo Guendouzi from FC Lorient for £7 million or so has also been fantastic. He's already showing glimpses of becoming a world-class talent at Arsenal. Hopefully he'll be here long enough to become so and we can get the best years out of him. We really don't want Guendouzi to just use Arsenal as a stepping stone and instead want to keep him around as long as possible.
From an attacking perspective, the combination of quick passes from the forward line seems to be able to split opposition defences open with ease. The quick plays with the ball moving from side to side usually result in a clear-cut opportunity on goal and with the pace of Aubameyang, we can attack either down the wings or through the middle. There’s a distinct element of quality in those midfield and attacking areas. However, there’s still the same issue that harks back to the time with Arsene Wenger in charge. The team knocks on the door of the opposition box and more often than not ends up playing one too many passes. There’s a definite lack of willing to have a go and shoot from the edge of the area.
Aaron Ramsey used to do this a fair amount even five years ago but it appears we’ve lost that willingness to go for the spectacular. It’s a shame to be perfectly honest. In reality however, it’s a calculated risk and one that is only worth taking if you have a good idea of where you want the ball to go in the goal. It’s really no use doing it if all the ball is going to do is be blazed many yards of the crossbar.
Emery has built a pretty good side from what we already had beforehand. The true tests with ties against Spurs in the League Cup and the Premier League and Manchester United in the league all came before the New Year and results were mixed. One win out of a possible three for Arsenal there, but an away draw at Old Trafford should have been a victory and the performance against Spurs in the League Cup was pretty dire to be honest. The 5-1 thrashing against Liverpool was a real reality check for the club and truly portrayed how shaky Arsenal are defensively.
Then comes the January transfer window. It might be worth Emery bringing in some depth in defensive areas and also recalling Reiss Nelson from loan. Even though he's doing really well at Hoffenheim under Julien Nagelsmann, he's needed back at Arsenal if something were to happen to Mkhitaryan. Moreover, he's got that pace and energy that Torreira also brings. It's worth having that in the attacking areas where he can be deployed.
I just hope that Emery can continue his revolution at Arsenal throughout the season and bring some hard-earned success to the club at long last. He's picked up where Wenger left off and long may the success continue!