Category Archives: tactics

The Ozil / Emery Dilemma

How far does a manager go to instill his values and rules upon his squad?

The parameters that the man at the helm puts in place will ultimately define the team, but what happens if one stray sheep doesn’t conform, and strays from the herd?

In an effort to stymie attempts from other players to follow suit,  does the manager lay down the law in the form of punishment, to show that the rules must be followed?

Unai Emery is in between a rock and a hard place. It has become apparent through comments made by the Spaniard that Mesut Ozil has not met the desired standard in the training regimen that has been set.

The result?

The German has been omitted from the entire squad for around two months of the season.

Even if you are not a fan, it is plain to see that our fortunes on the pitch in terms of style, have been severely hampered by the lack of a playmaker.

Chances have dried up, the pace of the ball being pinged around? Pedestrian. Our star strikers have been feeding off of scraps or creating openings themselves through their excellent set of skills.

The moment that Ozil was reinstated to the line-up was our Carabao Cup exit to Liverpool – and we scored five goals.

Yes, Liverpool were a weakened side, but the form we were in during that spell would have meant that if Ozil wasn’t in the eleven, we would surely have struggled to reach that amount of goals.

Our number ten kept the ball moving, stretching play, popping up in pockets of space and sprinkling in moments of genius, like his no-look backheel from the byline to the only player who could have received the ball.

This isn’t meant to indicate that Emery has made the wrong choice though. The words in this article are pointing towards a choice that Emery couldn’t possibly hope to pick the correct one – because there isn’t a right choice.

Ozil and Emery

Include Mesut Ozil in the side – and player power has won.

Leave him out of the side, and at the merest hint of a struggle, critics will point to the megastar left out of the side.

Emery had a power struggle in his time as PSG manager, as Neymar has a little more sway than a player normally would. The Brazilian is seen as indispensable to the eleven – or was – and there was only going to be one winner.

Now, we have arguably our most talented player flitting in and out of the side, and posting cryptic images on his Instagram in an apparent act of defiance. It leaves the unity of the squad frayed – and our performances compromised.

Mesut Ozil will obviously impact our team on the pitch. His end product went missing last year but in terms of keeping us on the front foot and always playing the right pass, there is no one better.

Star players shouldn’t have things their own way though. If we put them on a higher pedestal, it means they will define the rules, and the values of the club will be broken as a result.

No one player is greater than the team. We have had far greater players in our midst than Ozil and they have never rocked the boat – even if they did, the rock-solid rules of the club would not show a crack.

The moment this changes, then Arsenal FC as we know it, and have known it since its birth – will be completely undermined.

The solution to the Ozil – Emery predicament?

I’ve no idea – I don’t get paid millions to figure it out!

 

How Long Is Too Long For Emery?

The rumours persist, the names keep coming like a torrent.

As long as Unai Emery continues to struggle, then the likes of Mikel Arteta, Freddie Ljungberg, Jose Mourinho and Maximiliano Allegri will be tacked onto stories emanating from the media, revolving around the beleaguered head of Emery like a flock of hungry vultures.

The Spaniard would, on paper, appear to be on borrowed time. A run of no wins in five games has seen Arsenal slump down the table, creating a chasm between our club and the hallowed berths of the Champions League.

It isn’t only results that have set us fans frothing and seething, as well as set the assorted media into a frenzy.

Arsenal have lost their identity too.

Even in the lean Wenger years, we had an identity. We were just as likely to concede five goals in one game as we were to win at times, but we always played in a manner that was a joy to behold. Even when the squad was more threadbare than a Poundshop welcome matt, we still managed to put together moves that often bewitched the opposition.

Under Emery, we appear to be lost at sea. It could be a combination of our players reportedly being unclear on instructions, being played out of position like Lucas Torreira, or simply lacking the conviction that comes from having belief in the man leading the club.

If a player doesn’t think the manager is the right man, if there is an inkling of doubt, then that will shine through in performances.

Pressure Emery

Emery has been given a vote of confidence by Vinai Venkatesham and Raul Sanllehi, and according to reports, he will not be sacked anytime soon – but if this run continues, then surely there can be only one way to go?

Our rivals and neighbours, Tottenham, have just sacked their long-time incumbent Mauricio Pochettino. This was because of a sequence of results that saw them slump to a position and points total eerily similar to ours.

It prompted chairman Daniel Levy into action. Does that mean that the club that was forever in our shadow, now hold themselves to standards higher than our own?

If Sanllehi and Venkatesham believe that patience is key to Emery bedding down his methods and seeing the results blossom, then after a whole season, shouldn’t we now be seeing this in some form of improvement?

Last season, Emery can be excused for what was a mighty close call to being a successful first season. Yes, our squad flopped over the line when it seemed easier to succeed, and the Europa League final will forever haunt us in terms of being one of our worst performances in quite some time.

But two matches away from finishing in the top four and winning the Europa League? That would have constituted a good debut season for Emery.

So that whet the appetite for what we would see this coming campaign.

Instead, we have been the footballing equivalent of driftwood. No identity, floating instead of heading somewhere. Aimless.

The alarming stats regarding Bernd Leno making more saves than ANY OTHER keeper at this stage of the season. The amount of shots we are giving away per game is higher than ANY OTHER side at this stage. The number of shots on target we are registering? In the last three games, we amounted six shots on target – cumulatively. That is one less than Leicester City registered in their 2-0 victory over us in just one game.

Emery has left us rudderless. Have there been any signs that this is going to be turned around?

Pochettino built up plenty of patience and goodwill in his time at Tottenham. Yet that counted for nothing when it came to the team struggling. With mounting debt and the Champions League money fading away should they miss out this season, Levy acted quickly.

Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Leicester are walking away with the top four spots with no fight from us or Tottenham. Our neighbours have pushed the button to remedy their situation, in the belief that a change at the helm will get the best from the current squad and that Pochettino was no longer capable of turning it around.

Emery has had time to do the same. Sanllehi and Venkatesham have the belief that it is only a matter of time before Emery’s way will shine through and that we will begin to claw the deficit back.

With the likes of Mikel Arteta, Freddie Ljungberg, Mourinho and Allegri being possible candidates and seemingly easy to get hold of, Emery must know that in three or four results time, his number must be close.

How long before we blink?

We Need Our Torreira Back

It has gone quiet, but this season especially has shown us that our defensive midfield issues have not quite been put to bed just yet.

With the signings of Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira especially, the clamourings to sign a potent defensive midfielder were hushed, and with both players hitting the ground running, our worries were sated for a time.

Guendouzi has shown a hunger for possession that has led him to hounding the opposition in all areas of the pitch.

Torreira made a huge impact from the very start of his Arsenal career, and montages of his terrier-like tackling prowess and his never-say-die attitude manifesting itself on the pitch filled us all with absolute joy.

We had the answer we had been looking for since the departure of Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva. We had that player who would protect the backline and stand sentry, letting no enemy pass without at least a stiff examination of their credentials.

Or so it seemed.

This season has seen some strange goings on in our tactics and the way we line up.

Firstly, the sparing use of Lucas Torreira, even in the big games, really does leave us scratching our heads. When played, he always gives no less than 100%, but at least 50% of our matches he has spent on the bench.

When he does play, the tigerish displays we have come to adore have been replaced with a lasses-faire attitude to defending. It comes down to his positioning, which has been far more forward than last season, and a large amount of time he has been amongst the most forward on the pitch.

This kind of leaves us hamstrung when it comes to defending, as the aperture where Torreira should be protecting is open, and like the Gates of Thermopylae, our enemy harness it to great effect.

It leaves them streaming forward, and our defence backing off. Acres of space, and it leads to a shot. So many in fact, that we have led the way in Europe with regards to shots faced.

Guendouzi has been his all-action self – his display against Tottenham was frighteningly good – but the boy is still just 20, and needs a pivot partner to truly get the most out of what he brings, which is pretty much everything.

We need Torreira to do what he does best, and that is get the ball back, harass, breath down their necks. Instead, it looks like he has been let off a leash, and that is down to instruction.

Torreira Protest.jpg

Is Emery content with letting Torreira off the hook in a footballing sense? Are the instructions he is giving the Uruguayan to go forward and assist the attack?

If so, that means Emery is leaving us dangerously lopsided, and open to barrages of attacks.

Torreira, if disciplined, can be the lynchpin of the side, the cornerstone that holds the side together. Take it away and you have what he have seen against Watford, Liverpool and Tottenham in the first half.

A blow-away, powderpuff side that can’t stand straight under scrutiny from a decent attack.

We need Torreira to stand in front of advancing hordes and use his abilities to stem the tide.

We don’t need another Alex Song – we need our Torreira back!

David Luiz – An Improvement?

A lot of conversation has taken place in the wake of our active transfer window – and most of that has surrounded our defence.

David Luiz, William Saliba and Kieran Tierney were the defensive additions this summer, but do they constitute what we needed to revitalise our last line of resistance?

Mark Lawrenson recently commented on our purchases and how our backline will cope this coming season. He proffered that while David Luiz is an excellent footballer, he is not an excellent defender.

Harsh criticism? Perhaps, but a lot of experts have spoken about Luiz’s struggles with lining up in a back four and his decent showings in a back three.

The Brazilian is known for his superior technique and ball control, so much so that he has often been utilised in midfield as a sentry figure and one who can distribute the ball.

With William Saliba on loan for the season and very much a figure for the future, we currently have Rob Holding, Sokratis, Calum Chambers, Dinos Mavropanos and Zech Medley as our central defensive units. Do any of them have the missing attributes we have been searching for since Sol Campbell departed the club?

Being Arsenal, our defenders will always be held up to a higher level of scrutiny. We have the highest set of standards because we had what was probably the best defence ever seen in the modern generation. Dixon, Adams, Bould, Keown and Winterburn are part of the fabric of our club and the benchmark.

Since they retired, only Campbell and Toure for a short time have come close to that level. What is the level though?

What is it we need – and do our current crop have it?

The two characteristics we are perceived to lack are consistency and leadership. The consistency can be bred over time and can be achieved with a settled backline. So that is very much up in the air. Plus, we have defenders who have shown they can perform over a stretch of games. Sokratis last season hardly put a foot wrong. Rob Holding before his injury was a revelation.

Then there is the leadership quandary. A leader can be someone who leads by example. Laurent Koscielny was one of these. Then you have leaders who rangle their troops together vocally and by the way they deal with adversity. A stout heart and a puffed out chest.

Do we have that?

Sokratis seems an obvious choice on that front, but Luiz has always been a candidate at every club he has been at. Perhaps giving him the armband is a bit much, but can he show the younger players the right way? Can he bring the best out of his teammates? That would be a yes.

Luiz was a regular for the majority of his times at Chelsea and at PSG. That doesn’t happen by accident. While his best years may be behind him, the short term acquisition gives us a body that can cover us more than adequately.

David Luiz signs

Harking back to the titans of the past is a fruitless exercise, aside from the sweet pangs of nostalgia. A lot of our defence can be our approach to the game, and a more adaptable midfield who can track back and press attacks – so Guendouzi, Ceballos, Xhaka and Willock have a lot of pressure on their shoulders too.

For now, we can look upon our signings positively, and our squad seems well stocked in all regions. Players like Luiz will help us far more than the experts seem to think he will, and his struggles in a back four have been exacerbated a tad.

The bottom line is that will he improve on Mustafi? That is a definite yes!

Iwobi Needs To Push On Next Season

Alex Iwobi divides opinion like he divides opponents legs.

Our very own ‘Nutmeg Prince’ has been a first team fixture since 2015, but speak to some and his name will be one of the first names on the departure list this summer.

Our very own Academy product has failed to grow his contributions since Arsene Wenger stated in his last season that the Nigerian’s final product was the one thing that needed to improve. Wenger mentioned that the attacker had everything else in his locker, but the most decisive part was still the one weapon Iwobi really needed to hone.

And the stats don’t lie.

Of course, numbers don’t always give true perspective on a player. They offer a certain viewpoint and shine light on certain facets of a player, but like holding a gemstone to the light, you won’t see every part until you look at it from all angles.

The same applies to Alex Iwobi.

Iwobi Pic

 

The Nigerian scored three times and claimed six assists in 35 appearances in the Premier League this season. The season before saw the same amount of goals and one assist less.

Now this plateauing of numbers could be attributed to a new coach, new system, new tactics, training etc. It will at least have a contributing effect, but another variable is that Iwobi still hasn’t drastically improved his final ball – or final decision.

It is abundantly clear that Iwobi has the touch and the tell-tale attributes that comprise the makeup of a great attacker. At times we have seen him produce slide rule passes and touches that bewitch his opposing number.

We have also seen him make the wrong decision time and time again.

The good thing is, this can be taught. Remember that Iwobi is still nowhere near his peak and so is still developing.

The saving grace for Iwobi too, is that we have no one in the squad that adds what he does.

His particular skillset is based on confrontation with opposing fullbacks and producing opportunities either through a pass or creating them for himself. He goes past players like they are mere apparitions at times, and he does it better than anyone in the team, like it or not.

So he has a place as he can change games. He seems ideally suited to an impact sub role at the moment, but he isn’t far away from unlocking his true potential. The problem is patience.

It seems like Iwobi has been on the scene for some time, but this was only his third full season in the first team. Yes, he should have a better final ball right now, but there aren’t many his age – Hudson-Odoi is an exception – that bring to the table what he does.

Iwobi is on the precipice right now. His natural ambition will be to want more than to be a squad player at Arsenal – but that is where he is right now. He has the key to unlocking so much more in his locker, but he must listen to those that know better. The extensive array of backroom staff, his teammates who have gleaned worldwide experience. If he can learn from others then there is hope of seeing Iwobi push on.

Next season sees a fresh challenge for Iwobi. With Reiss Nelson, Jo Willock and Emile Smith-Rowe coming back into the fold, he has more competition for his spot. It is clear that he will have to not only do more than what he has done this season, but also he has to act as a big brother to those younger than him. That is the essence of a team, and Iwobi has a role to play.

The Nigerian has the world at his feet, but the next step is the most precarious. Fingers crossed we see the new and improved Iwobi next season.

Guendouzi Appreciation Society

Let us take a moment to appreciate Matteo Guendouzi.

The young Frenchman has taken to the Premier League like Tottenham to a semi-final exit and defied his years to put in performances that have filled us all with optimism for his near future.

Joining as a 19 year old, we had been linked with some promising players prior to Guendouzi putting pen to paper, but all had fallen by the wayside. Guendouzi was the kid chosen, and from his displays so far, it appears we have made the right choice.

What makes him so special though? At the time of writing, the kid with the untamed hair has made 28 appearances so far in the campaign, a huge number for a player touted to make his mark first in the Under-23’s.

Guendouzi crazy hair
Guendouzi – The Lion-Haired Talent

Why has Unai Emery invested so much trust in the precocious youth? From what we have seen, one of the main reasons is his fearlessness.

In tight situations, both on the ball and in scoreline, Guendouzi has shown an incredible hunger for possession. He always shows for the ball, and even better than his desire to be on the ball is his instant decision to always be on the front foot.

What makes him different to the midfielders we have is that the sideways pass is his safety net, but his first choice is always to progress up the pitch. He can make that happen with or without the ball – Guendouzi is a decent dribbler and can carry when the need arises, and his eye for a pass highlights a decent eye for someone so young.

His transitional play gives us something we don’t have in our ranks and he has stamina to burn. We must remember his age and lack of experience, however.

At times his decision-making – the last skill normally developed by kids as they grow – has been found wanting, and the negative to go with the positives of youth is that they will make errors on the pitch. That is how anybody learns, and footballers are no different.

We as fans are an impatient bunch, and mistakes on the turf are always met with groans, but when he inevitably makes a boo-boo and puts the team in danger, we must give him the time to learn.

The problem with Guendouzi is that he has made remarkably few since joining the team. He has made a rod for his own back as we expect so much now from him.

Emery obviously realises that Guendouzi is a real talent, and his box-to-box mentality and style is an arrow in our quiver that gives us the ability to adapt tactically. Guendouzi’s midfield versatility is perhaps his biggest strength and it will make him a lynchpin in the side in a year or so.

We have an opponent with a high press? Play Torreira alongside Guendouzi and have the Uruguayan and the Frenchman sitting deeper and tracking. What if we have a team that are sitting deep themselves and willing to hit on the break? A midfield 3 perhaps or Xhaka with Guendouzi, to push forward but have Guendouzi’s pace as a contingency.

Either way, whoever partners Matteo will know they have a player who puts it all in, and leaves nothing behind. They will have a partner willing to muck in when the going gets tough, and the ability to make thing happen or at the very least, get the ball quickly to the dangermen who can create.

Guendouzi is a real find, and his progress rate is quite astonishing. Let us hope he is given the room to grow into the player we all know he can be.

Kolasinac Deserves the Spotlight

Unai Emery has brought with him many changes since he was drafted in to herald in the post- Wenger era.

 

Many of them were not his choice. Backroom staff such as Raul Sanllehi were brought in slightly beforehand but are very much part of the new dynasty that Emery is meant to hone into success.

 

Others are very much stamped with the Spaniard’s touch. Matteo Guendouzi is part of the new breed for Arsenal, but some of the existing players have transitioned to the new methods far better than others too.

 

One of those is Sead Kolasinac.

 

The burly Bosnian has been the stampeding horse on our left hand side, so often providing the outlet our play needs when we are stemmed in the final third. Kolasinac has also been perfectly placed for Emery’s experiments with the wing-back system – five technically at the back, with the left and right backs flying forward to also provide the width sorely needed by our team.

 

It requires excellent stamina and the decision making that allows the player to gauge when to fly forward and when to sit back.

 

The stamina has never been in question, but the ability to judge when to assist his attacking brethren is sometimes lacking.

 

On more than one occasion we have seen a gaping maw on our left hand side that has been vacated by yet another Kolasinac rampage. The truth is though, that unless we have a full-back that is of the ilk of Bixente Lizarazu, Maldini and our legends of Dixon and Winterburn, we will never truly eradicate ourselves of that occasional weakness on the flank.

 

Mistakes will be made, no player is infallible. Kolasinac though, has at the very least, truly optimised his exertions in the final third.

 

Sead+Kolasinac+Alex+Iwobi+Arsenal+Training+cSbi_GK_tKrl

 

His unstoppable runs to the byline have seen him create more chances this season than any other Arsenal player. That is quite some feat with the creative talents on show at the club. The next best player in terms of opportunities made?

 

Another vilified player in Alex Iwobi.

 

Both have combined well and offered something different. True, both have their failings, but they are at least justifying their spots in the side.Iwobi is enjoying his best ever season in terms of return – at the time of writing he has four goals and six assists – yet both do not enjoy the favouritism that some players enjoy. The adulation never quite reaches them, but take them away and what do we have?

 

A team completely devoid of thrust, instead choosing to pass sideways. Like it or not, our left side has been predominant in terms of where our goals come from.

 

Kolasinac especially, has done himself proud whenever he has donned the shirt this season. Compare this to last season when he was very much a fringe player, lurking in the shadows created by the reliable Nacho Monreal.

 

This campaign has seen the player that terrorised the Bundesliga come to roost at the Premiership, and we are benefitting from it. The Bosnian is one of our dangermen – and we should recognise how good he has been, rather than choose to focus on the one mistake he makes every two or three games – which is far fewer than most.

 

Kolasinac has been fantastic, and long may it continue.

 

An Unhealthy Dose Of Cynicism

Featured in The Gooner Fanzine

In his post-match interview with the media, Burnley boss was asked to comment on his thoughts after Arsenal had earned a 3-1 win at The Emirates over his side.

The gravel-throated manager chose this platform to vent his feelings over what he felt was unjust refereeing decisions.

Dyche referenced the fact his team have waited more than 60 games for a penalty, and that the push on Kevin Long in the penalty area from behind – which caused Long to fall backwards instead of forwards and thus defy the laws of physics – should have resulted in a spot kick for the Clarets.

Most interestingly though, was his slightly skewed version of events regarding his striker, Ashley Barnes.

Barnes had enjoyed a running battle with our centre-half, Sokratis. Both had been guilty of fouls and both were booked. One player remained calm though, in the face of rising heat on the pitch, whereas another chose to vent in a nefarious manner – which was to stamp on the grounded Matteo Guendouzi.

Dyche didn’t bring this up, surprisingly, but did say that Barnes got elbowed in the face.

Barnes and Sokraits

 

Dyche bemoaning the physical reciprocation that the Gunners dished out is akin to a zookeeper covering himself in meat and crying about being mauled by the tigers. Dyche and his Clarets side enjoyed a seventh placed finish last campaign that was built on a robust defence and a midfield that wouldn’t back down an iota. These tactics don’t lean toward unlocking defences through the majesty of football, but through wearing down an opponent.

It ain’t pretty, but it can be effective. Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis have forged careers on the back of such an approach – but at what point does a fierce will to win and a penchant for gamesmanship turn into an enemy of the beautiful game?

When does physicality become too overbearing and to the detriment of the match and the spectators?

Every team needs an element of sh*thousery. When we signed Stephane Lichtsteiner and Sokratis this summer, we celebrated their arrival as it heralded an end to the naivety and innocence that has been the nadir of many seasons hopes in the past.

These players know when to waste time, when to make that crucial professional foul, in order to gain an advantage, no matter how small. Grappling in the box, a shirt tug here, a flick of the boot there – we needed players who had a handle on the darker arts of the game.

It has helped us – but the approach from Burnley was much more than this.

Dyche may have been surprised that we fought back, and that was a springboard for the three points. In the past, we may have crumpled like a cheap suit in the face of some of the challenges, but instead, we grafted.

We also didn’t let it descend into the brawl that Burnley wanted. So, instead of trying to play their way out, they just kicked us harder. So we went down under challenges, we broke up play, we kept possession.

Barnes and Guendouzi

 

The fact Barnes was even on the pitch to score the away team’s consolation goal was a mystery – as was the fact that MOTD chose not to highlight his assault on the young Guendouzi. Credit to the Frenchman, he could have reacted – if you’re stamped on, that would be what is on your mind – but he didn’t, and instead gave his all with the ball.

Burnley and Dyche are hypocritical if they are whinging about how often we went down and the fact they don’t get enough decisions in their favour. By the way they acted during their loss to us, match officials will be too busy keeping tabs on the amount of fouls they make.

They were the aggressors, they were the ones who decided they wanted the game to be a brawl. When we choose to go to ground under a foul instead of turning round and starting a fight, or even gamely trying to carry on? We did that to frustrate them, and it worked. Just like they rocked up to The Emirates to frustrate us – but our newly found maturity under Emery was the perfect antidote.

There is a time and a place for pure physical tactics, but to use them as the bedrock of your whole gameplan? You will eventually get found out. There’s always someone bigger and harder than you.

Emery, Wenger and the Blame Game

We all knew this would be a work in progress.

After such a long time at the helm, every fibre of the club would have been tailored for Arsene Wenger, so when his inevitable departure actually materialised, the new incumbent was always going to need a period of acclimatisation.

Patience is pretty thin on the ground when it comes to supporting a club these days though, and with our club making errors on and off the pitch, the long road back to contending for not only the Champions League spots but also title contention has never seemed so arduous.

 

Firstly, we have an owner who has forgotten where his pockets are. Stan Kroenke has reportedly forked out nearly two billion dollars on his LA Rams franchise in the ten years he has been involved with Arsenal. In that same period he has invested precisely nothing into our club.

 

This has come to a head during this Winter transfer window, where Unai Emery confirmed that he would be shopping in the Bargain Bin of the window, scouring the shelves for loan deals only. This is because of a combination of the new wage bill rules that came into effect in 2017, meaning that the bill cannot rise above a certain rate, and thanks to our spending in the previous two years, we may be skirting close to that limit.

 

The other reason is because we have an owner that could pump what would be the equivalent of chump change into our coffers to enable Emery to chase his vision.

 

There is a certain school of thought that this season could match last season’s mediocre league finishing position because of the mess left by both Wenger and Gazidis.

 

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While Wenger can be blamed for his slipping standards, the squad that was left was far from terrible. The one area that needed revitalising was in defence, but that could have been said for the last ten years.

 

Gazidis though? The fact that players have been sold for far less than their worth, biting hard into our available wealth and therefore, our ability to reinvest into where it is so desperately needed? Contracts left to dwindle down so players can leave for free?

 

Yeah, Gazidis has a big part to play.

 

The initial optimism surrounding Emery dissipated for a while, but positive results against United and our doggedness in pursuing a top4 place has shown that the Spaniard is maintaining us on the right path,

 

Emery is not blameless and should never be treated as such when the time for critique is right. He has made some strange decisions at times, his handling of the Ozil problem could yet reap more negativity, and his insistence on imprinting his tactics on the side was always going to bring about teething problems.

 

For there to be doubt though, at the halfway stage of his first season? That’s on our fans.

 

Like the truth or not, but our squad is pretty much achieving on par when compared to the strength of our rivals. We may have a world class attack – Laca, Auba and Ozil are genuinely upper crust and are giving us the delusions of grandeur we sometimes suffer from.

 

Our midfield though? Torreira aside, we have a mixture of promise and inconsistent brilliance. We hit heights, but plummet just as deep at times. For every wonderfully dominant display like against tottenham and Leicester, we have a complete disappointment, a la Liverpool, West Ham and Brighton.

 

We are also too reliant on the fairweather Ozil for creation. Without the German, playing below par or otherwise, we have nothing else that comes close. Iwobi is a cause for optimism, despite what a large portion of fans think, but he is far from the finished article. We also have Mkhitaryan, who has only started to hit top form since his arrival.

 

Emery arrived with a club desperately needing a spring clean. The backroom staff is still being assembled – we recently made a position of Loan Manager, and about time – and with a squad jaded from methods that needed adapting.

 

These things take time.

 

In the meantime, we have to endure the turbulence, and resist from finger pointing while we grow. And we are growing. We are adapting to newer tactics, we are aiming for the top, but this trajectory is not the steepest incline, and it’ll take us a while.

 

What is mandatory is improvement. We can wholly expect a better season than last. Then next year? We should be aiming for top4. Season after that? Title contention once again.

 

Emery isn’t infallible, but he is what we need right now.

 

Keep the faith.

 

Many Rungs Left to Climb for Gunners

Published in the Gooner Fanzine

Our recent defeat to Manchester City was an expected, if disconsolate, result.

 

Many recent acquisitions and a change in direction drafted in by new boss Unai Emery has given us a new wave of optimism, but the defending Champions showed that there is still some way to go until we can dream of contesting a season at the top.

 

Unai Emery spoke after the game and said that it wasn’t the system that did it for us, it was the gulf in class between the two sides. While it is great to have such a candid manager speaking in truths, it still hit hard that Manchester City – and indeed a title charge – is still way beyond the team.

 

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In terms of the starting eleven’s that were named, there wasn’t a huge difference in skill. If there was a contrast, it was in defence. While City named Aymeric Laporte and Nicolas Otamendi, with John Stones on the bench, we had the error-strewn Shkodran Mustafi – who actually put in a good shift, and Laurent Koscielny, who is still approaching his best after his long layoff.

 

It may be pulling at straws to compare names on teamsheets, but according to Emery, that is what the difference is. There can be no doubt that if we were a little more switched on at the back then we could have cut out a goal or two – especially the second goal that saw Stephan Lichtsteiner gaping at the sky rather than tracking his man – but a firmer grasp on our new system could have proved even greater.

 

Watching the game back, the main difference between the two teams was movement.

 

When in possession, City always made sure there was at least one option for the man on the ball. Our pressing kicked in when the home team approached our final third, but our men were not able to cut off City’s runners.

 

Also, City’s pressing started incredibly far forward, putting pressure immediately on our defence and keeper, which in turn resulted in the ball finding its way to City in a hurried panic.

 

City also doesn’t have to rely on a 35 year old who is a shadow of his former self. There is no Lichtsteiner in City’s ranks, and the Swiss man looked well short of what he used to be at Juventus when duking it out with City. Far too often Sterling was goalside of our veteran defender, and an opening like that is suicide for our chances from the first whistle.

 

Unai Emery is still in the process of turning this team around. Adapting players who are used to a way of training and playing after so many years takes time, and the seeds are there. We have had intermittent games where our defence has pushed up, held the line efficiently and our midfield has strangled their opposite numbers.

 

It just doesn’t happen consistently enough.

 

City have had a few years of honing their tactics, and it means that more often than not they manage to manifest Guardiola’s ideas on the pitch. The small matter of a fair amount of transfer windows has helped a little too.

 

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Emery has had one full window and another where he was severely hamstrung by a non-existent budget. With time, we will have the personnel and the finely tuned tactics that will have been delivered by the Spaniard.

 

At this present moment though, City are a mark above us. They played in top gear sporadically and held us at arms length.

 

Time will tell, but City are the team to target.