Despite spending little and taking over a stalling squad, Unai Emery has worked wonders at Arsenal – here are five ways that the Gunners are firing once again
Who would have thought, back in September, to see Arsenal have the same points as Chelsea, sitting in fourth after 20 consecutive games without a defeat, having just demolished Tottenham and returned from Old Trafford with a draw?
Unai Emery’s hard work is starting to pay off. Taking over from Arsene Wenger was never going to be straightforward, and there is still a long way to go to even match the Frenchman’s record with the Gunners, but Emery has entered the job humbly, and has tweaked a few things.
The full judgement on his Arsenal side can only be done in at least another year’s time, but for now, here are five ways he’s made Arsenal better.
1) Player selection (Lucas Torreira)
Up until the very end of his reign, despite the dreadful lack of results and silverware, Wenger had the team playing attacking football, and the manager’s tactics – despite not always being successful – were visible throughout his time at the club.
What worsened over the years is his player selection – from thinking that Manuel Almunia was a goalkeeper, to hoping Mesut Ozil could solve all the problems, Wenger made a few mistakes.
Emery brought in a few crucial recruits, with Lucas Torreira being the main one. Arsenal has needed a box-to-box midfielder more than anything else, since Patrick Vieira left, and finally there is one. The little Uruguayan has already made a big impact.
2) Reading games
The victory against Tottenham was the best symbol of Emery’s ability to know when to intervene with his team. The Spaniard kept Aaron Ramsey on the bench with Alexandre Lacazette, only to bring them on in the second half and tear apart the Spurs backline. Perfect timing, perfect thinking, and Arsenal’s substitutes had the impact he expected.
In recent times Arsenal had become accustomed to losing against the top teams, barely trying to reach a different result. Emery’s side immediately tried to fight back, losing but playing decently against Manchester City and Chelsea in August. Then they got the results they deserved thrashing Spurs and almost getting the win at Old Trafford, despite suffering against United. In the middle, Arsenal put together 11 consecutive wins, showing the authority of a top club in smoothly (not always, obviously) getting past smaller sides.
4) Less reliance on Mesut Ozil
Where was Ozil against Spurs?
This is a question that no-one asked after the win at the Emirates. And this shows exactly the achievement Emery got to with the German. Sidelined through injury in the North London derby, and the team playing with more hunger, spirit, and even quality than when he’s in the team. He’s had his good moments for the club this season, but his career shows he doesn’t have the consistency to make him reliable for a top club. No problem for Emery, who’s put him aside – for now at least – and got his team playing better football.
5) Adapting to the game and the opponent
Wenger was adamant with his tactics, especially in the latter stages of his Arsenal career. Nobody can say anything about a stubborn coach when he wins league titles, but not to be flexible when you don’t get results isn’t ideal.
Emery has shown his ability to get the team to adapt to the opponent, sitting back when needed – and when the opposing team forces you to – like against Manchester United, as well as being able to exploit the space on the counter, like against Tottenham, but also being able to control possession against smaller sides. Flexibility – a key quality of this Arsenal side.