Unai Emery and the Arsenal players who simply refuse to learn
Two games, two tests, zero points. Failure! That sums up the Arsenal display in Unai Emery's first two games in charge. The Arsenal head coach set an unwanted record of being the first boss to lose two successive league games at the start of the season since caretaker manager, Steve Burtenshaw lost three consecutive games in1986.
Unai Emery's team selection was all the more baffling. Having lost the first game of the season against City, one would have expected him to have learned. He didn't! Granit Xhaka, who struggled badly against Pep Guardiola's men, was again preferred to Lucas Torreira. That was a mistake. The second game made it even clearer that Xhaka is not tailor-made for Arsenal's new style. He is infuriatingly sluggish and too immobile to fit into the high energy, pressing game. In the game against City, he was culpable of losing more possession than anyone else on the pitch. Why Unai Emery chose to retain him for this game remains a mystery.
Another thing that is turning into an embarrassment for the Spanish coach is his insistence to play Petr Cech instead of Bernd Leno. Cech is clearly uncomfortable with the new style where he is required to pass it short to his defenders or midfielders. I don't know if it is a case of the coach having too much respect for the veteran keeper, but the Czech is not up to the task. He was not at fault for any of the goals Chelsea scored. In fact, he did well to keep Arsenal in the game, making eight smart saves. But for a keeper of his experience, being asked to retake goal kicks because they failed to go into play is an embarrassment!
He should surely have known better. As they say, 'You can't teach an old dog new tricks', at 36, Cech is not going to learn new things overnight and, as Chelsea did, many teams will target him and cause massive problems. Cech was part of the problems Arsenal had last season. He made more errors than any other keeper in the league.
In Leno, Arsenal bought a genuinely talented keeper, more adept at playing with his feet than the Czech. He is ten years Cech's junior and therefore more agile, which makes him a better fit. He should therefore be the man between the sticks. Chelsea made the decision to play Thibaut Courtois in spite of Cech's experience when he was at the club. That was not because the Belgian was the better of the two per say, but because the Blues saw Courtois as the future. Leno is the future. He must be backed by his manager because he is the better fit for the way Unai Emery wants his team to play.
By playing a high line of defense, Arsenal played into Chelsea's hands. In Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Shkodran Mustafi, Arsenal have some of the slowest defenders in the league. Defending high up the pitch badly exposed the pair's inability to make any recoveries. This is why they failed to match the pace of Pedro and Morata's runs which resulted in goals.
The appointment of Unai Emery was predicted to end Arsenal's defensive disorganization and transform them into a more solid unit. Two games into the season and a full preseason for that matter, nothing of the sort has been seen. Instead, we have seen an extremely disorganized Arsenal side from a defensive perspective, conceding 5 goals in two games.
Hector Bellerin doesn't seem to know when to go forward and when to stay back and defend. In this game, his positional indiscipline was badly exposed by a marauding Marcos Alonso, who latched on to a wonderful ball by Jorginho to set up Pedro for the opener. The lack of a proper defensive midfielder rendered the snail-slow defense helpless as Xhaka and Guendouzi failed to stop Jorginho dictating play from deep. Chelsea accordingly dominated proceedings in the middle of the park in the first 25-30 minutes, so much so that Arsenal looked like school boys!
With the introduction of Torreira though, Arsenal got more shape defensively as the Uruguayan was able to cover the ground, track opposition runners and make a few tackles. Although his lapse in concentration let in Marcos Alonso for the winner, his overall display highlighted how mistaken Emery was to not start him in the first place.
Alex Iwobi's selection had raised eyebrows, but the Nigerian justified it by setting up a goal and scoring another himself, while Matteo Guendouzi continues to defy the odds with excellent performances every passing day. Despite Emery being a proponent of the pressing game, his team just don't seem to be getting to grips with it just yet. Against City they were taught a pressing lesson and that was the case against Maurizio Sarri's men as well, despite the Italian having had less time with his team. This indicates that the Arsenal players just haven't learned much from the new man at the helm.
Seeing star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and midfielder Mkhitaryan miss glorious opportunities was reminiscent of the old Arsenal. The Gunners under Wenger were synonymous with creating loads of goalscoring opportunities and then conspiring to miss them in equal measure. The clumsiness with which Lacazette passed the ball to a teammate surrounded by opponents when he should have done better showed very little in terms of change. No wonder Chelsea supporters were vocal in taunting Unai Emery, wondering whether it was the same old Arsene Wenger in an Emery skin!
Yes, Arsenal showed some spirit to come back from 2-0 down to level the game at 2-2. Yes, they created enough goalscoring opportunities to even win the game, but the truth is that they were far too casual during the most important aspects of the game. They didn't defend well, they didn't press enough, they wasted too many chances and they gave the ball away far too many times. Arsene Wenger had built a team of technicians who would be expected to be at home with the ball, but they didn't look that for the majority of the game.
Stephan Lichtsteiner should be brought in to replace Hector Bellerin. We all know the emphasis Juventus put on defending and the Swiss epitomises that. Despite his age, he strikes a wonderful balance between attack and defense. He is the perfect player Bellerin can draw lessons from. Mesut Ozil again disappointed in this game. He is expected to provide the creativity for his team, but he failed miserably! For a player on the biggest contract at the club, Ozil would be the man to carry the team, but, unfortunately, he only plays well when the whole team plays well. No wonder Unai Emery hauled him off late in the game to replace him with a much more hardworking Aaron Ramsey.
All in all, Emery has a mountain of work to do especially defensively, if his team is to mount a sustained challenge for the top four positions this season. Chelsea too had their problems defensively, but were a lot better than their visitors overall and deserved to win the game.