Reset your brain and watch our game against Leicester, last night.
It could have been just another Arsenal performance under Unai Emery: short of ideas, zero movement in attack, passive midfield with zero creativity.
When he first came in, the former Sevilla and PSG coach had two main targets: fix the defensive phase and make Arsenal competitive again against Top-6 sides.
Forget the nonsense about winning 5-4 rather than 1-0, being protagonists and all of that, Unai Emery was always going to be a reactive coach, instead of a proactive one.
To quote Jorge Valdano, “coaches are divided in two categories: those who imagine the game with the team having the ball and those who imagine the game with the opponents having the ball” and Unai Emery surely fits among the latter category. We all know how it went, we know how painful it was to watch us play and how disjointed, uncoordinated and unbalanced the team looked, towards the end of Unai Emery reign.
When the Club appointed Mikel Arteta, the reception was mixed, at best: too young, too inexperienced for the skepticals, the “next big thing” for the incurable optimists but the fanbase was unanimously sure that we would play possession-based, expansive football under the former player and captain.
I was expecting him to make us more dangerous going forward and reinstate some of the flair and front-footed football, but I am still waiting.
It’s been fabulous to watch us undo Liverpool or Manchester City ferocious pressing and pick them on the counter, like we did at Wembley, or lifting another FA Cup by deservedly beating Chelsea but I feel that the phase 2 of Mikel Arteta’s mission is taking too long: perhaps it’s a personnel issue and our football will drastically improve once Thomas Partey is fully settled but I’m worried about our ability to create chances and score goals.
Mikel Arteta’s hybrid style has been and will be successful against big teams, especially away from home, but that covers a handful of games per season: what about the rest?
Last year we missed out on Champions League football mainly because of the poor results against low-table and mid-table teams, especially away from home, and there is no sign of improvement on that side.
We’re still struggling against deep-blocks, we are too conservative with the ball and we are predictable, making it too easy for our opponents to defend against us; we saw it last night, Leicester didn’t have to work very hard to restrict us to a few chances, all in the opening minutes: after that, they stay compact, they closed the right-hand side to limit Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and didn’t really break any sweat.
Once Bukayo Saka went off after picking up a knock, the lights went definitely off and eventually we were punished by the inevitable Vardy.
Funnily enough, Mikel Arteta succeeded where Unai Emery failed miserably and made us more solid at the back and more competitive against big teams, something I wouldn’t have expected to happen so quickly. Today, we are what Unai Emery wanted us to be: compact, able to press the opponents as a team and solid at the back. Unfortunately, today we are also what Unai Emery made us: slow, predictable, disconnected in attack.
When will the second phase start, Mikel?
Thirty-something Italian, currently in Switzerland. Gooner since mid-ninties, when the Gunners defeated my hometown team, in Copenhagen. Twelve years ago I started my own blog (www.clockenditalia.com) after after some experiences with Italian websites and football magazines. Debate, don’t insult or you’re out.