If Unai Emery doesn’t find answers the Arsenal board will be forced to act
If come the end of the season Emery hasn’t shown improvement the board will have an answer of their own, and it won’t be one Emery will want to hear.
Unai Emery joined Arsenal with one clear target; get the club back into the Champions League. He was given no clear instructions on how to achieve this, other than a vague message of ‘maintaining the Arsenal way’ and most assumed Emery, a tactically obsessed perfectionist, would drill the error-prone Arsenal into a well-oiled machine.
And yet, after another questionable display against Watford, where Arsenal threw away a slightly undeserved two-nil lead, the team seem less cohesive than ever and the tide of opinion is slowly turning against Emery. Increasingly, it’s becoming unclear whether he has any grand plan on improving Arsenal.
For starters, he doesn’t seem decided of his favoured formation. In only five games this season, Arsenal have deployed three separate shapes; the 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and 4-1-2-1-2. Emery seems to have stuck with four at the back – although he’s admitted both Maitland Niles and Kolasanic struggle in conventional full back roles – but looking on to midfield and attack he’s yet to find the correct balance.
What is most concerning is that regardless of the opposition, Emery chooses to make wholesale changes. The teams above Arsenal are entrenched in their style of play with every player committed to the cause, meanwhile Arsenal, with all their chopping and changing, consistently wield to the teams below.
This was proved again on Sunday as Arsenal faced Watford, a team who at home this season have lost 3-0 to Brighton and 3-1 to West Ham. Although these games were with a former manager, this match presented an opportunity for Arsenal to utilise their powerful attacking force and take the game to the hosts.
Instead, Emery opted for a diamond, first used unsuccessfully against Liverpool, where he hoped to beat Watford on the counter by using the pace of Aubameyang and Pepe playing up front. Yet after the break, Arsenal never got a chance to flex their attacking muscles as it was Emery’s fundamental, yet not quite functional, principle which paved the way for the root of their issues.
Playing out from the back is an admirable tactic, but one that should only be reserved when the right players are available. Sokratis, for all his talents, is not the right player. Nevertheless, Arsenal continued to start attacks in their own six yard box to perverse effect.
It quickly became apparent that Watford were set up to harass Sokratis, Guendouzi and co and after two very big let offs, Deulofeu latched onto a misplaced pass, slipping the ball to Cleverly who halved Arsenal’s lead and changed the complexion of the match.
At this point, Arsenal needed to stand up and be counted. Emery needed to handle the game off the pitch, and he needed his players to manage the game on it. Substitutions were made but tactics weren’t changed. Then, like all Arsenal teams of recent past, the team capitulated, showing itself incapable of retaining the ball for more than three passes and offering Watford every opportunity of encouragement.
Watford registered 31 shots and helped Arsenal gain the unwanted title of most shots conceded in their first five games with 96, surpassing Derby Country’s 2007/08 who conceded 82 and are considered one of the worst Premier League teams ever. These are worrying stats for Emery to be accumulating and reinforces the idea that there’s been little improvement in defending since his arrival.
By the time the final whistle arrived Watford had equalised through a Pereira penalty after David Luiz, who ironically was signed to sure up the defence and add some maturity, gave away his second penalty for the club with a sloppy foul reserved for semi-professional football.
With two individual errors from both centre backs leading to Watford goals, some may feel Emery is helpless on the touchline as his team threw away their lead, however, the lead was not built from any sort of tactical genius. Currently Arsenal’s only successful tactic involves giving the ball to Aubameyang and hoping he’ll score. Fortunately for Arsenal, in his current form, it seems he always does.
After the game Xhaka admitted Arsenal were ‘scared’ of Watford and while he can be applauded for his honesty, these sorts of comments are extremely worrying to come out so early in the season.There would have been harsh discussions between the players after this game but ultimately, it’ll be up to Emery to make the decisions on how to improve.
For now, Emery will be focusing on Thursday to show his capabilities as a coach, however, if come the end of the season he hasn’t shown obvious improvements the board will have an answer of their own, and it won’t be one Emery will want to hear.
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