Assessing Unai Emery’s start with Arsenal

Assessing Unai Emery’s start with Arsenal

There’s a new man in charge at The Emirates, and his opening four games have been testing to say the least…

After more than 20 years of Arsene Wenger in charge at Arsenal, the man who stepped into his place was always going to find it eventful to begin with, yet even Unai Emery may have been surprised with the frantic nature of their start to the season.

The Gunners’ opening four games have resulted in two defeats that were swiftly followed by two victory’s, and whilst there have been positives to take, each one seems to be outweighed by a negative. Before a ball was kicked, many probably would’ve predicted that Arsenal would have six points to their name coming into the first international break, as they opened with Manchester City, Chelsea, West Ham and Cardiff.

Each performance has had their merits. Against City, they managed to limit the score to just 2-0, which was already an improvement from the previous season. Emery will still be wondering how they didn’t take at least a point from Stamford Bridge given some of the chances they carved for themselves, while there was plenty of encouragement to take from their defeats of West Ham and Cardiff in an attacking sense. Defensively, however, it’s been a different story.

Already conceding eight goals in their first four games, there are major organisational issues in the Gunners’ backline as they look to adapt to Emery’s preferred style of playing with a high line. Cardiff were the only team in the top four divisions not to score a goal before Sunday, where they bagged two in a 3-2 defeat. Still the team are showing the same frailties as they did under Wenger, despite the addition of Sokratis in defence, who has started each of their first four games alongside Shkodran Mustafi.

A lot of the time, Arsenal are causing themselves their own problems, not least through Petr Cech whose quality of distribution out from the back has been questionable at times to say the least. At 36, this is the first time Cech has been really encouraged to play with the ball out from the back and, at present, it’s been tough to teach the old dog new tricks. Bernd Leno was signed in the summer and suits the style of goalkeeper that this Arsenal system requires far better than Cech, making it all the more bizarre that he remains on the bench.

The blame can’t only fall at the feet of their defence, with the midfield still underperforming early on, particularly Granit Xhaka. He was culpable for Cardiff’s first goal after misplacing an ill-advised crossfield pass and still continues to struggle. Alongside him, Matteo Guendouzi has at times looked more like the senior pro and it’s surely only a matter of time before Lucas Torreira is thrown into the starting XI to help protect the back four.

However, Emery can take great encouragement from what is developing at the head of the pitch in a fledgling partnership between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette. Finally, the Spaniard gave Arsenal fans what they were craving and played the two together in the starting lineup, with Aubameyang playing in from the left and Lacazette as the lone striker and both got on the scoresheet with two well-taken finishes. Lacazette also bagged the assist for his strike partner’s goal and the pair demonstrated some excellent link-up play throughout the game.

Teams these days rarely play with two centre-forwards on the pitch, but it looks an absolute must that Emery finds a system that can enable both players to feature in the starting XI. There is an immediate understanding between both Aubameyang and Lacazette that only top players are able to pick up straight away and they could become the first genuine strike partnership in the Premier League since the days of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge at Liverpool. Having one 20+ goal striker is hard enough to stop and two of them can be nion impossible, with Suarez and Sturridge each netting a combined 52 league goals in their one full season upfront together in 2013/14.

The way their games compliment each other makes them an ideal pair up front, with Lacazette doing much of his good work when coming into feet, while Aubameyang likes to stretch defences with runs in behind. There are plenty of goals in this Arsenal team and the likes of Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey will all be relied upon to create in the final third.

The conclusion? Not too much has changed from the past. Arsenal are still a team that are great to watch going forward, but still leave fans ripping their hair out when defending. It could take Emery at least three or four transfer windows before this team really becomes his own and are filled with players that know the ins and outs of his regime.

It will be interesting to see how they lineup in the aftermath of the international break and whether or not new signings Leno and Torreira are handed starting berths, or whether he will continue to persist with the likes of Cech and Xhaka. What Emery has shown is he is a man that will stick to his principles through thick and thin, despite the teething problems which may occur early on.

Arsenal needed a decisive coach with a set philosophy to take over from Wenger and in Emery they certainly have that. Time will tell if he is capable of really pushing the team on a level and have them competing for major honours once again in the future.