Arsenal – The January Transfer Window Starts this Friday
Having seen the first three Arsenal games under Unai Emery, the thing that stands out the most is that he does not have the people he needs to play the way he wants to. Tactics only work if one has the right people in place to implement them.
Emery’s style is not that far from Arsene Wenger’s. Just as Wenger’s style flourished when Arsenal had the players who made up The Invincibles, and slowly crumbled as the new stadium downgraded his personnel, so it is with Emery’s Arsenal. Except, he is starting at the other end, the shambles of Wenger’s last four seasons.
Emery started on the right foot, as I have mentioned before, by beefing up the defence with new signings Sokratis, Lucas Torreira, Bernd Leno, and Stephan Lichtsteiner. He also got a bargain in Matteo Guendouzi, probably the pick of the entire team so far.
Strangely, he seems to have forgotten a few crucial details. Emery likes to play defence through the offence, meaning pressing higher and employing a high line. It is mystifying that he did not recruit any central defender with speed. Through the first three games, any ball over the top looks like a goal scoring opportunity for the opposition.
The other strange detail is that he recruited Leno but has played Petr Cech through the first three games. Cech is a great keeper, but not with his feet – an essential requirement for a high line. I can understand his wanting to start with Cech, perhaps for his EPL experience, possibly persisting through Game 2 against his old club, Chelsea. However, why play a keeper who is at sea with his feet and mothball one who can.
Emery needs to settle on his starting lineup, or better still, a few combinations that fit best in different circumstances. For instance, perhaps a super-fast front line of Pierre Emerick Aubemayang, Alexander Lacazette, and Danny Welbeck against a slow-footed defence. Or go with a more attack-minded midfield of Aaron Ramsey and Guendouzi against weaker opponents, giving Torreira a rest.
By Friday, he needs to figure out the players he needs to keep to fill these lineups and make the hard decisions on who doesn’t fit into the plans. Whoops, by the Friday trading deadline, he also needs to finalise any sales and loans. Along the way, he has to figure out how much money he needs to rise to fill the following gaps – a solid central defender with height and speed, and a winger with skill and speed.
If rumours are to be believed, Shkodran Mustafi and Danny Welbeck aren’t high on Emery’s chart. As I expressed earlier, I would like Welbeck to stay as the only long ball forward. Mustafi is continuing to make the mistakes he made last year, so I can’t fault Emery there. The big question mark is whether Rob Holding can hold the fort till Laurent Koscielny is back.
The guys he should be looking to offload are Mesut Ozil, who is charitably described as enigmatic – I would say invisible, and Granit “Hallmark” Xhaka. Xhaka always seems a tackle away from a red card. In contrast, Guendouzi leads the league in tackles. Hey, that means he is ahead of Ngolo Kante!! Besides, Guendouzi threads through some fantastic passes, something I haven’t seen from Xhaka. Xhaka was brought in as the holding midfielder but repeatedly gives the ball away in our third of the field. Guendouzi’s errant passes have been few, and they have been in the opponent’s third.
The other January fundraiser could be Henrik Mkhitaryan. Years from now, the Mkhytarian – Alexis Sanchez swap will probably be described as one of the worst trades in history. Both teams have gotten worse, and both players are struggling. The only rationale I can see for keeping Mkhytarian is to hope that he can somehow recreate his Borussia Dortmund partnership with Aubemayang. However, he should be playing behind the front three, rather than as a winger, where he is way too slow. Besides, he as much a passenger on defence as Ozil.
Ask not for whom the Friday midnight bell tolls – it tolls for thee, Unai Emery!