Unai Emery wasn’t expected to work wonders at Arsenal right from the word ‘go’. He hasn’t worked wonders in any way too. But he has set a solid foundation from where the team could move forward.
While the numbers suggest that they are pretty much where they were last season, but a lot of things have gleamed optimism. It seems to be very different from how things were during the last few seasons under Arsene Wenger.
The biggest difference is the temperament. One massive complaint under Wenger was that the Gunners had a soft underbelly whenever they played in the games against the top six. They struggled and this underbelly was exposed time and time again.
But this season, that has not been the case. Arsenal have beaten Chelsea, Man United, Tottenham and have drawn against Liverpool at home. Even against Manchester City at home, Arsenal looked very good in a lot of occasions.
That has come into the way they play because they are flexible in their approach under Emery. If not flexible, they play on the break more than they did under Wenger. Their average possession last season was 58 percent but it has fallen to 55 percent this season. They play deeper than they did last season.
Playing Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang in the same side helps. They can wreck havoc on the break and teams struggle against that.
Lucas Torreira’s presence has helped. Arsenal had lacked a defensive midfielder with vigor and venom ever since they let go of Patrick Vieira. But Torreira has come in and plays like a tiger in midfield. His work-rate and approach to the game is fierce. He adds that fire to a team that hasn’t had it in years.
Off the ball, Torreira becomes a key. He wins the ball and plays direct passes forward instead of playing back passes or sideways passes. It sparks counter-attacks at will.
Sead Kolasinac brings similar things to the table. A proper wing-back, the Bosnian is an engine
The business they did with signing Sokratis from Dortmund has helped, going under the radar. The towering Greek has probably been Arsenal’s best defender and has helped them hold their own when playing on the break.
With him there, Arsenal can resort to digging games out instead of playing with the ball all the time like they did under Wenger. They can take different roots to win instead of playing the same way. And despite playing differently, they haven’t changed. They still play beautiful football sometimes.
Against Chelsea, Emery played a diamond 4-4-2 shape and showed how much he can change around and still win.
Of course, having the Europa League has helped. It has helped them play some of their youngsters and get some momentum in. As they have progressed, it has reduced the pressure on them to get the top four in the league.
If given the right budget to get the sort of players Emery needs to take this team forward, Arsenal will genuinely challenge for third next season. But that remains to be seen. They aren’t Manchester City.