Three Things Emery Must Improve At Arsenal This Season
The full Arsenal traveling team has touched down in Los Angeles to kick off the summer tour and really get into the meat of preparing for the upcoming season. For Unai Emery it’s the start of his second season in charge and he’ll be looking to make significant progress over last season’s results.
The question is, how do we measure success for Arsenal this season. For some it’s pretty simple – finish in the top 4. That should be it.
For others its more complicated and nuanced. Yes, top 4 is what we need to be achieving but the need for improvement in other areas is also going to be needed so that a true upward trajectory is sensed.
Get the Best Out of the Players on the Pitch
The close to the season for Arsenal had to be one of the most excruciating run-ins the Gunners have had in recent memory. With 5 games remaining, Arsenal needed 7 points to finish in the top 4. They managed 4 points and given the level of the opponents, that was a disaster.
Part of the problem was Emery’s inability to get the best out of the players he used. The constant change in formations meant players were consistently not put in the position to succeed.
Looking first at the central defenders, Emery’s insistence on getting width from his fullbacks/wingbacks meant they were often pushed too high up the pitch leaving large gaps behind them. With the midfield joining the attack the center backs were put under immense pressure especially in 1v1 situations.
Emery has to know that in 1v1 situations all of his central defenders are front foot defenders and aren’t necessarily strong in 1v1 scenarios. Additionally, they aren’t that quick and if they have to have a foot race with an attacker they are doomed.
Yes, Mustafi is a gaff prone idiot, and the mistakes he makes are colossal but when you look at some of his stats and see the good part of his game you wonder – is it the player or the situations he’s been put under.
Next up is Mesut Özil. Lots of writing has been done about Özil. Is he really Arsenal quality, does he have the minerals for the fight, etc., etc.
There is one undeniable truth though – at his best – he is one of the best player makers in the game. We all know he does NOT have a penchant for the defensive duties and dropping back.
His lack of defensive work comes from the fact – at least as I’ve watched him over the years – from how he likes to play. He is always looking for that first transition pass from deep.
Özil likes to float between the lines and use that first pass into his feet to pull apart a defense and find the pass he can make to set a forward free. If he has to come deep as and act as a defender it takes him out of his comfort zone.
Now in these situations, he’s deeper in transition and if he gets the ball he is forced to dribble past a defender. Let’s be clear – that has never, ever been his strength. Yes, he’s megged a few players but that is usually from a stationary set up to get behind them.
If you are asking a player like Özil to drop deep you aren’t getting the best out of him.
A simple fix to help the players we have on hand is the shape. These are players that are tuned into a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. They are also a team of players that like to have the ball. Give it to them.
To fix the defensive issues, either shield the center backs more with Torreira or let one FB go forward with another sitting back to help in case of the counter. For the attack, go one up top, use the wide forwards for width and let Özil be Özil.
There is still more he could do. I like that he is tactical and everything isn’t “free form” as it was under Wenger, but going to the extreme of having everything “scripted” takes away the freedom of the game from the players.
Set up a system that has guides for them to operate in but give the players the freedom to be themselves and play.
Improve the Away Form . . . to Lesser Clubs
According to twitter stats stalwart @Orbinho – Arsenal managed to recover just one point from a losing position away from home last season. And they dropped 11 from winning positions – Only Newcastle (13) gave up more when leading on the road.
If I were looking for one thing to improve from Wenger to Emery it would’ve been our away form. Sadly, while it looked better against the big 6, it looked decidedly worse against teams like Wolves, Everton, Southampton, West Ham, Brighton, and Palace.
Again, looking at the close of the season, Arsenal had the “easiest” run in of the top 4 challengers. After the 2-0 win at home to Manchester United none of the remaining games were against a side challenging for the top 4. Many of them in fact had already had their seasons pretty set for them.
Emery either opted to prioritize the Europa League or just didn’t understand how to manage the end of the season and started setting up Arsenal like a Fat Sam side fighting to stave off relegation.
The Gunners did not impose themselves on weaker opposition and were intent to set up to play on the counter. They struggled to create chances and overall there was a marked lack of cohesion in the side.
The way Arsenal played especially on the road at the close of the season cost them the easiest path into the top 4.
Additionally, for a coach so well known for his tactical preparedness his team looked ill-prepared for opponents, especially in the reverse tie of the season. We looked at times like we had no answers or had no ideas what to expect from teams we’d played earlier in the season.
Again, for me I want us in the top 4 but I really want to see us look better prepared on the road and start looking like a top team and not relegation fodder.
Play the kids
Last year at one point Arsenal only had one serviceable centreback available for duty. It forced Emery to make a decision on how to shore up the defence. In stead of looking at the U23 squad and the likes of the behemoth that is Zech Medley he rotated Xhaka back into the back.
The problem may be however, that Emery simply doesn’t trust or know how to work with young players. At PSG one of the complaints they had is that promising young talent like Dan-Axel Zagadou and Jean-Kevin Augustin leaving and others like Nkunku and Lo Celso constantly being left out of his squad.
People will of course point to Mbappe at PSG and Guendouzi at Arsenal as young players he’s worked with. The fact is though they seem more the exception than the norm.
At the time the appointment of Freddie Ljunberg was appointed to the first team staff, there were some outlets reporting that it was in direct response to Emery’s lack of ability to integrate promising talents into the first team.
Given the comments made by some of the departing youngsters and the lack of feedback they got from Emery its no wonder that Freddie might be there just to make sure that there remains a communication link between the first team head coach and hoping to get opportunities at Arsenal.
With our transfer budget unknown and our inability to do anything substantially, we may need to rely on youngsters to “save the day” at some points in the season. Emery has to begin integrating these players into the squad – even on a cup/Europa League rotational basis.
If for any other purpose, we need to blood our youngsters this season so that we have some movable pieces next season when we need to raise funds.
Maybe Emery will get it right this season and really turn things around. Outside of just getting into the top 4 there has to be other tangible improvements. If Emery wants his 3rd year activated it has to be Europe and improvements in these and other areas.