Jasmine Baba looks at Arsenal’s start to the season under Unai Emery and where it’s gone wrong.
Late last Sunday night I had the pleasure of reading that Arsenal conceded 31 shots against Watford as they threw away a 2-0 lead to draw against a side invigorated by the return of former manager Quique Sánchez Flores.
It was frustrating but, as an Arsenal fan, nothing I had not seen before. Keeping notes on the match within the first 15 minutes, Arsenal had 60% of the possession but the Hornets had three shots on target, and the visiting side were lucky that none of those had come off.
It was even luckier that the Gunners took the lead, but that’s all down to the class and talent of their attack, led by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He doubled their lead after 32 minutes, however, as we know, it didn’t end this way.
Arsenal’s first five Premier League games have seen wins against Burnley and Newcastle, an away loss to Liverpool and draws with Tottenham and now Watford. Any positives taken from the team’s first four games have now been forgotten and the very disappointing run-in at the business end of last season is starting to set in. Where is it exactly going wrong for Emery? Is he the right man to take Arsenal forward?
Setting up his teams
One of the big criticisms of Emery this season was how he set his team up for the 3-1 loss to Liverpool. Starting with a narrow diamond formation would have been intended to keep the team tight in midfield, however it allowed Jurgen Klopp’s very efficient full-backs to have more space than usual.
It was a decision that divided fans’ opinions, with some believing it worked as it made Arsenal more compact in a defensive approach, with individual mistakes ultimately costing them. Maybe out of context that would be true, but if you consider the defensive formations that he used last season against sides in the bottom half of the table, it didn’t work.
It’s no secret that Arsenal’s biggest strength is not their defence. However, the tactics of Emery is inviting unwanted and unnecessary pressure. The record number of shots they’ve faced this season, a staggering 96, is a record from Opta since their records began 16 years ago.
Nullifying his attack
This set up is also having a negative effect on his attacking midfielders and strikers. In matches where he plays a midfield of Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi, you’ll see little movement between the midfield and
the forward three. There’s no surprise that overall Arsenal’s xG has decreased since the end of the Arsene Wenger era. Arsenal have last year’s Golden Boot winner in Aubameyang but he is carrying the squad with the chances he’s given, a burden which will get bigger with the recent injury to Alexandre Lacazette.
What is Emery’s style?
Changing his formation or his players, or both, so frequently probably explains why Arsenal’s team have made 14 errors leading to goals conceded in the Premier League. There’s no consistency.
Emery has not found his feet or had the leadership to take a club that is so defined in history to the next level. The silverware that he has won in the past includes three consecutive Europa League titles and a Ligue 1 title with a PSG side so far ahead of the other teams in the league even I could’ve managed them into at least the top four. There is no doubting his pedigree in the Europa League however with the crushing defeat to Chelsea in last year’s final, maybe he’s reached the ceiling at Arsenal already.
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