5 observations about Unai Emery's Arsenal
On 20th April 2018, Arsene Wenger announced his decision to leave Arsenal at the end of the season, marking the end of a 22-year association with the Gunners. The Frenchman had more success during his early years at Arsenal making the Gunners perennial challengers for the league title and also changing the perception of the North London team from that of a defensive and boring team to that of a team with attacking swagger.
But all was not smooth sailing in the latter years, especially after the team's move to their new and current home in 2006, the Emirates Stadium, with Wenger having to endure a 9-year trophy drought from 2005 to 2014.
During this time was when the criticism for Wenger began to rise and many started questioning whether he still had the fight and tactical acumen to compete in the increasingly competitive Premier League, despite which it has to be acknowledged that he is one of the greatest managers of Arsenal if not the greatest. He can proudly hold the record of being the only manager to win the "Golden Premier League", managing to stay undefeated throughout the 2003-04 league season.
It's time to now focus on the new era at Arsenal under Spaniard Unai Emery, appointed on the 23rd of May, a man with good pedigree when it comes to winning trophies - especially the Europa League, which he won 3 times in a row with Sevilla from 2014 to 2016. Although it's still early days, the mood has changed around the club and especially amongst the fans who have been promised fighting spirit and an attacking brand of football by their new head coach.
Emery's era could not have begun tougher, with his first match being a home tie against champions Manchester City followed by an away trip to Chelsea, with the Gunners losing both matches but quickly bouncing back with wins against West Ham and Cardiff.
Here are 5 new observations of Arsenal this season under Unai Emery:
1. Ruthless substitutions
Against Chelsea, after a disappointing first half by Mesut Ozil, Arsenal fans would have been forgiven to think the playmaker would not have been substituted having seen Arsene Wenger so reluctant to take off the German even during his poor performances with him averaging over 80 minutes per match in the league in all of his 5 seasons so far with the club.
Yet they were in for a surprise when the German playmaker was taken off for Aaron Ramsey in the 68th minute. Also notable was a half-time substitution by Arsenal in the same game, something which was a rarity in the Wenger era.
2. Barking orders
This point in no way intends to suggest that all managers need to shout at their team in order to be classified as good but just wants to specify the change in touchline behavior at Arsenal from the patient style of Wenger who preferred to issue instructions in the dressing room.
3. Playing out from the back
Arsenal has always been known for trying to score the perfect goal and has been accused of trying to pass the ball into the net. Emery also prefers a passing style that focuses on ball retention, but the slight difference here is he believes that the philosophy should be implemented starting from the back, i.e the goalkeeper.
Arsenal fans have endured some heart-stopping moments so far and witnessed Petr Cech's lack of comfort in playing such a role. However, there is cause for optimism in that Bernd Leno, the new signing from Leverkusen, is adept at playing that role and will eventually replace the veteran Cech as the Arsenal no 1.
4. Tactical changes
Arsene Wenger was known for sticking to the same formation irrespective of the opponent. Emery though seems to be more flexible has experimented with different formations during pre-season, even going with the classic 4-4-2 against Lazio in a friendly. Also evident during the season so far, although still very early, is the number of crosses attempted by the Gunners, compared to last season where the team preferred to pass sideways.
5. Giving youth a chance
You could argue that this has not been a change from the Wenger era and you would be right, but it's still heartening to see Emery putting faith in his youngsters, especially the 19-year-old Matteo Guendouzi, who was picked up from Lorient in Ligue 2 this summer. Guendouzi has started every game so far and has been impressive, managing to win the Arsenal Player of the Month for August and will look to keep the momentum going for the rest of the season.
However Emery fares, you can sense that Arsenal Football Club has never been in such a positive mood for a long time. Unai Emery must hope that he can ride on this wave of optimism and through the right character and mentality, guide the Gunners to glory this season.