Another away match and another performance that failed to inspire confidence but a valuable three points in the bag. As a fan you would like to simply sit back and enjoy the ride with a new chauffeur but at times Emery’s Arsenal conspire to make that difficult. Indeed, it sometimes seems that Emery’s executive limousine is the same vehicle and looks the same colour and spec but has a different driver at the wheel. Heh just kidding to get the ‘at the wheel’ part in but I am sure you are grasping my analogy.
If we forget the home and away for a second it is hard to comprehend how the performance of high energy, press and precision of last Thursday can be followed up by the low energy, low press and low quality on show at Vicarage Road, with many of the same players. We are getting used to Emery’s formation and personnel tinkering and the fact that he has rotated so vigorously should mean a fresh squad for the run in. That is to his credit but last night the change of players, their positions and the structure was hard to fathom.
The defence looked and felt as if they had not played together often, largely because of course they had not. We supporters have been wondering why Mavropanos, since returning from injury had been left in the wilderness but to throw him into a game of such import, with no first team football was risky and to say the young Greek looked rusty would be generous. To be so much under pressure when playing against 10 men was frankly worrying when you consider the quality of the players in our midfield.
I could go on but the simple fact is that we won, Emery got away with it and some key players got some rest ahead of Thursday’s trip to Naples. Indeed, some of the players who played last night one might cheekily suggest did not expend as much energy as we might have liked! Much as I have wanted desperately for him to thrive at Arsenal, I certainly lost my patience with Mkhitaryan last night. He was offered a chance to shine in the formation he would chose to play in, in his position of choice, where he starred for Dortmund and he frankly flopped. He actually fared better when asked to play at right wing-back until AMN came on.
So we move swiftly on to another crucial game in another competition with three points in the Premier League bag and the next league game against a Palace team that cannot score and are on the beach. (I hope that is not over-confident in the extreme.) Napoli are a strong team at home and will be a wounded animal after their defeat last week. Emery somehow needs to elicit the response from the players away that he has enjoyed at home.
Napoli will play three up front at home and I am sure Emery will revert to the three at the back, with his only decision being on whether Sokratis comes in for Mustafi, assuming Koscielny can drag his battered body through another top level ninety minutes.
Emery’s other decisions are whether to play 3412 or 3421 and surely it will be the latter he has favoured away. I cannot see both Aubameyang and Lacazette playing and the Frenchman will have been rested to start. Kolasinac and Maitland- Niles will come back in and his decisions are which two in the centre and which two behind the striker.
The way Emery has talked up Ramsey of late and the fact that he took him off early suggests he will play and I imagine he will partner Torreira. Xhaka looked fine at Vicarage Road but the Welsh, Uruguayan combination worked so well at home, so I hope he sticks with the high energy, high tempo pairing capable of defending with discipline and breaking the lines at pace on the counter. That leaves the berth alongside Mesut Ozil, who will be crucial for the speed and precision of our counter attacking. For me will be given to Iwobi, who whilst not at his best against the Hornets showed far more than his Armenian rival.
It is a huge game on Thursday and despite the two-goal head start, I feel we still need to score in Italy. Do so early and the tie should be ours.