Emery’s Arsenal gradually click into gear

Unai Emery

Successive finishes in the English Premier League outside the top – four indicated that there was the need for change at Arsenal.  Their supporters, because of too many inept performances, especially defensively, had lost belief, faith and trust in Arsene Wenger.  To succeed him, there were many candidates listed in the betting at ladbrokes, including former players Mikel Arteta and Patrick Viera or Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. Instead of any of them, the challenge of replacing Wenger was assigned to Unai Emery.

The scale of the job ahead of him, to make Arsenal contenders for the top four and qualification to the Champions League again, was obvious from their first two games of the English Premier League season.  Both of those ended in defeat.  As well as being well beaten by Manchester City [2 – 0], they also lost to Chelsea [3 – 2].  Just as was so often the case in the final two years of Wenger’s reign as manager of Arsenal, during which time they won only three out of 20 games with fellow top – six opponents, they struggled against high quality opposition.

By starting the season with consecutive losses, made the confidence of Arsenal’s players fragile. It was important for them to earn their first victory under the management of Emery, which they did against West Ham. The performance was mediocre, since players such as Marko Arnautovic and Felipe Anderson, were consistently able to exploit gaps in Arsenal’s defence and midfield.  By the end of their first three games – against Manchester City, Chelsea and West Ham – they had allowed more shots on target [24] to the opposition than any other English Premier League side.

The weak resistance of Arsenal’s defence continued as they beat Cardiff 3 – 2 but they produced a more accomplished second – half performance to overcome Newcastle 2 – 1. At half time in that game, with his team being slightly out – fought in midfield, Emery introduced Lucas Torreira. The Uruguayan helped Arsenal to wrestle control of the match from Newcastle.  He has had a similar effect in many of his other performances.  Able to efficiently break – up opposition’s play, intercept the ball and retain possession for his team to ignite attacks, Torreira’s has added solidity to Emery’s team.

On his first full start, a 2 – 0 win over Everton, he was highly impressive.  There has been no dip in the form of Torreira.  He is able to mix composure with intensity and passion, which he did against Tottenham to inspire Arsenal to a 4 – 2 win in the North London derby.  On no fewer than 12 occasions did Torreira win possession back for his team, as he and fellow defensive midfielder Granit Xhaka continued to build – up an excellent partnership.  It has become pivotal to the spine of Arsenal’s team, which Emery has not been afraid to change.

After a run of three successive league draws, against Crystal Palace [2 – 2], Liverpool [1 – 1] and Wolves [1 – 1], he decided to slightly reshape his team.  The ineffectual Mesut Ozil was dropped, which created space in midfield for Sead Kolasinac.  The Bosnian’s place on the left side of defence was taken by Shkodran Mustafi.  Since he had previously being playing at centre back, Sokratis Papastathopoulos stepped into that position beside Rob Holding.

The changes worked well for Emery because Arsenal beat Bournemouth 2 – 1.  He didn’t alter his starting line – up from that win for the game against Tottenham but at half time, with his team trailing 2 – 1, he made two switches.  In place of Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Emery sent on Alexandre Lacazette and Aaron Ramsey.  The duo was influential for their team as they roared back from being behind to win 4 – 2.  Two of Arsenal’s goals were scored by Pierre – Emerick Aubameyang as he became the first player to reach 10 goals in the 2018 – 2019 English Premier League.

In the process of doing so, he has helped his team to really click into top gear to extend their unbeaten record to 19 games.  Equally as important as sustaining momentum in their season was that they did so against a main rival for finishing in the top – four.  It has become evident, from their win over Tottenham and a 1 – 1 draw against Liverpool, a game in which they recovered from a goal down, that Arsenal can compete with the best teams.  Responsible for the development of that quality is Emery.  He has gradually manoeuvred his team into top gear but knows there is still room for improvement.  From 14 league games, Arsenal have kept only two clean sheets but in either Petr Cech or Bernd Leno is a goalkeeper capable of helping them to improve that record.

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