There has been much written in the aftermath of the opening weekend defeat in Emery’s first competitive match. I have read much of it, listened to more and even found myself wholly unready to talk about what went wrong on the radio on Monday. It is difficult because I am certain the vast majority of Arsenal fans were willing our new coach to get it right from day one, but was that ever likely to be the case.
Naturally, it was tough on Emery to have to face the best team and the best pressing team, out of possession, on day one. Having spent all of pre-season working on what his Arsenal will be when not in possession it was more than unfortunate to endeavour to put these plans into action against a team 2 years further down the same journey.
Pep wants his team to play out from the back and he has had 2 seasons and unlimited funds to find and recruit the players he needed to do it.
Unai wants his new team to play out from the back and has had 2 months and limited funds to find the players and recruit them, so he is having to work with what he has and with one hand tied behind his back.
Pep wants his midfield to press in unison when out of possession to win the ball back high up the pitch, ideally in the opposition half. Again, he has had 2 seasons and copious funds to find and recruit the players to do that for him.
Unai wants his new team’s midfield to press in unison and win the ball back high up the pitch ideally in the opposition half. He has had a few months and limited funds to buy players to help him do this and limited time to work with his squad.
Given the above, it would be extremely churlish to criticise Emery at all for what he is trying to achieve, indeed the opposite we should applaud it. For the last few years, Arsenal under Wenger too often had little strategy for his team without the ball. This may not have hampered us against lesser sides but it cost us dearly on occasion against stronger opponents.
In spells against City there were obvious signs that the hard training and coaching of the ‘hunting in packs’ press had been absorbed by the players. Xhaka, Ramsey, Mkhitaryan and Guendouzi all pushed a good City team back well and hassled them into mistakes. That same cohesion and effort against lesser sides will undoubtedly reap its own rewards, even if that is not this weekend at Stamford Bridge.
Of course, the calibre of players available to City and their understanding of the press Emery is hoping to replicate also means they are better than everyone else at avoiding the press and playing out through it. Again, no one, and I mean no one else we play will be so efficient in playing against such a strategy.
I am convinced Emery will continue to evolve this style and he will not shy away from playing that way away at Chelsea. However, he will almost certainly include his biggest new signing Lucas Torreira, in from the outset. The Uruguayan will I suspect play as the deepest of the midfield three with Ramsey and one other and his energy, tenacity, game reading and speed will be a real asset in this tough fixture.
The other decision seems to be whether to bring in Lacazette for Mkhitaryan. There is no doubting that the Frenchman holds the ball up better than his Gabonese peer does and he will drop in and link play better. The poser for Emery is whether utilising Aubameyang wider is a gamble away from home. I think he will still be a huge goal threat from a wider position much as Overmars or Henry were with their pace from a left starting position and he will still be able to link well with Lacazette to make it a dual threat. The question of doubt will be whether PEA is willing to work back on his flank when Arsenal lose the ball. Against lesser teams the midfield three with Ozil behind the two strikers will certainly work. You could call that a 4312 or a diamond but away at Chelsea is not the day for that experiment.
Enough for today but I am sure these themes will develop in the coming weeks and I suspect the style of play Emery wants to see will be consistent but the formations may be fluid. As we get better and better at the press indeed playing out from the back the systems with ball will be less important and increasingly fluid and what his team does without the ball will define the early success or otherwise of this new era.
Let us hope the players can im’press’ him.