Europa League Quarterfinal: Arsenal again display signs of big strides taken under Unai Emery
Arsenal made the trip to Naples on Thursday with a Europa League semi-final spot up for grabs. Though the Gunners travelled with a 2-0 first-leg advantage in their bag, one would’ve spared the Gooners for being a tad sceptical.
After all, Arsenal’s meltdowns on the road are the stuff of legends. Yet, contrary to the norm, the Gunners produced a calm and composed display to advance without a glitch.
Thus, has Arsenal finally turned a corner? And how much of it has been due to the arrival of Unai Emery?
Over the years, under the tutelage of Arsene Wenger, the Gunners traversed from being also rans to English footballing powerhouses and then back to the former. Inevitably, the fall from grace persuaded the Frenchman to leave a year earlier than stipulated.
However, by the time Arsene hung up his boots (or his zip coat), Arsenal had worryingly displayed a pattern of crumbling under the slightest bit of pressure. While changes in personnel and form can always be taken care of, the lack of a fighting mentality creates many more scars.
Thus, Emery was faced with the unenviable task of healing the club’s current ailments while simultaneously arming it with additional weapons to fire.
Unsurprisingly, many believed the Spaniard to take at least a season or two to get going and Gooners were even prepared to spend another couple of years in mediocrity. Yet, the win at Napoli provided renewed optimism for the Emirates faithful and moving forward, it could just turn out to be the game where Emery and his charges came off age.
Throughout the current season, Arsenal’s away form has been abysmal. The Gunners hadn’t kept a clean sheet on the road till they edged past 10-men Watford 1-0 on the 15th of April.
The raw numbers suggested that they still hadn’t gotten out of the rut they found themselves in towards the latter stages of Arsene’s stint. But, a deeper inspection into their performances actually throw light on a much sturdier and stable Arsenal this term.
Many a time, the Gunners have failed to get their attacking game goin. However, unlike previous seasons, they’ve been willing to cede possession, bide their time and wait for the right opportunity to pounce.
Arsenal hasn’t enjoyed the impressive possession stats of the seasons gone by but the directness in their offensive movements has made them much harder to stop. Through the course of the season, the Gunners have boasted of a healthy conversion rate north of 20%, thereby, making them one of the most ruthless teams in the Premier League ever.
However, the most impressive aspect of Emery’s Arsenal has been its pragmatism.
For time immemorial, the Gunners have been one-trick ponies. Hence, teams only needed to nullify their possession-based style to emerge victorious.
But, under Emery, the North London outfit has portrayed that it has several cards (if not aces) up its sleeve. The Spaniard has frequently switched shape, systems and personnel to suit the needs of the game and the opposition. Fortunately for him, those tweaks have worked on most days.
Though there has been the odd away game, like the ones at Anfield and the Etihad, where Arsenal has looked a little clueless, those have generally been an anomaly rather than a trend.
Yet, the aforementioned dubious displays don’t mask the encouraging developments across the rest of the season.
The Gunners’ form against the ‘Big Six’ has often been a source of frustration. But, in the Premier League this term, Arsenal hasn’t lost to Manchester United and Tottenham while they exacted revenge on Chelsea after losing to the West Londoners early in the season.
Thus, there is enough to believe that the North London outfit is on an upward curve. Not a very steep upward curve but one nonetheless.
After all, the terraces at the Emirates haven’t been as loud in quite a while. And though the chants of ‘We’ve got our Arsenal back’ might have taken a back seat, there is definitely sufficient evidence to suggest that a new Arsenal: Emery’s Arsenal is taking shape.
Gooners had started to grow disillusioned with the way their club had been performing since the start of this decade. Yet, towards the end, a certain Spaniard has enabled them to dream of success again.
And though that may not arrive in a jiffy, it certainly is a lot to go on for now.