To follow on from Part 1 I promised to look at where the limited budget might be spent, if I believe it will not go on the winger most fans feel we want.
For me it is increasingly apparent, that for the moment at least, Emery sees the width in this team being provided by the fullbacks and he firmly set his own precedent for this at Sevilla. If you look back a few years at the three successive Europa League triumphs our coach had with the Spanish team, 4231 was the go-to formation and his fullbacks were all box-to-boxers with pace and a crossing threat. Speaking recently to Romain Molina, Emery’s biographer, he too highlighted this as his subject’s leaning.
Memory and research quite clearly backs this up. In the 2013/14 season, Emery had Alberto Moreno, now at Liverpool, who clearly demonstrates a higher level of attacking attributes than defensive ones. In 2015, he operated with Aleix Vidal, as comfortable on the wing at right back and his form as an attacking threat convinced Barca to part with a fair sum, believing him to be a potential replacement for Dani Alves. On the left, he had replaced Moreno with an attacking French equivalent in Benoît Trémoulinas. By the time Emery came to get one over on Klopp (in the 2016 final) his attacking fullbacks were Mariano and Escudero. The former has moved on to Turkey but Sergio Escudero has recently extended his contract at Sevilla until 2021 and had his buy-out increased in the process. Had he not done so I would not have been surprised to see Emery return for his former player, as it is rumoured he will for Alberto Moreno, on a free this summer.
The question is therefore, where is Emery’s mind when he looks at his current fullback options at Arsenal?
There is no doubt that Hector Belllerin is a go-to player for Emery and will continue to be so, but I am not convinced the same can be said for his current understudy, Stephen Lichtsteiner. The Swiss player was undoubtedly an Emery style fullback in his pomp but can he still work box-to-box at the top level? I suspect the signing was a gamble, given the player was available on a free from Juve and had great pedigree. I am sure also that he has a positive influence at Colney, particularly with the youngsters but I very much doubt Emery wants him as Hector’s challenger going forward.
It is for this reason that Arsenal have been reportedly in advanced talks with Atletico Mineiro’s young Brazilian right back, Emerson. Oddly we may have signed the wrong Swiss International in the summer as Lichtsteiner’s heir apparent Silvan Widmer moved from Udinese to Basel in July. Certainly, Emery sees Maitland-Niles as a central midfielder and as such will not want to use his young Englishman as cover on either flank so Emerson (or another young attacking right back) may well arrive in January.
On the left, it seems his decision is dependent on two factors. Firstly, on whether to invest will depend on whether or not Monreal can regain enough fitness to be back to his old self, and indeed if his ‘old’ self is still good enough. The second factor is whether Kolasinac – now fully fit – can prove himself to Emery. Being deployed at wing-back last Sunday helped the Bosnian shine. It was arguably his best showing since early last season but the question mark remains over his defensive positioning and decision-making. He has many games between now and January to show he can add the solidity and consistency at the back to his obvious attacking prowess and most of us, including no doubt those who hold the purse strings hope he rises to the challenge. Either way, Nacho Monreal is 33 in February so I still expect a new left back arrival at Arsenal in January or June. Whether that is a youngster to challenge or a ready-made first teamer will depend on Monreal’s fitness and Kolasinac’s form.
Make no mistake thought those who play fullback for Arsenal under Emery are key to his and our success.
And back to Christmas ideas – My book and She Wore’s Clock End Watch 🙂