Unai Emery’s first official match is in the books as Arsenal manager. While the final result wasn’t ideal, it’s not necessarily as bad as some would have you think. Going into the match, we knew it was going to be a tall order. New manager, new style, new tactics, against a City side who are talented from top to bottom, are familiar with each other, and their style of play. Yes, a draw would have been fantastic, a victory would have been amazing, but despite all of that, there were some positives to take from the performance, as well as some negatives.
Playing out from the back is something we’ve done in the past, but it’s obviously something Emery is going to continue to work on with the squad. What’s obvious when you look at that possibility is the fact that Petr Cech doesn’t necessarily have the characteristics for that.
Against certain opposition who don’t press as high up the pitch, it will work because he’ll have time to make a decision. Today, against Guardiola’s City — who know him well — they put him under immense pressure. Time after time he looked like that new player on your Sunday League side who claims to be an all-star, yet when he gets the ball, he continuously looks down at the ball like it’s a grenade ready to explode. He looked incredibly indecisive at times, nearly scored an own goal, and quite frankly, didn’t give his defenders much confidence.
Being able to feel confidence when your goalkeeper and captain has the ball, knowing he’s going to make the right decision, is key for the team looking to occupy space. Now, when Cech has the ball, you can’t necessarily commit 100% because you don’t have confidence in him making the right decision. That has a negative effect on the buildup.
On the positive side, I must say that the 36-year old was fantastic with his hands throughout the match, making a number of key saves, despite his feet not being up to the task.
As I said before, Leno is likely the long-term solution – not only based on his age but his talent. The young German shot-stopper is better with his feet, and although he’s prone to the occasional error, I think his ability to play as a sweeper-keeper will also help. Cech could do that, but his lack of pace, and questionable decision making with his feet don’t make that an ideal situation.
In front of Cech, there was pre-match concern over Mustafi and Sokratis from Arsenal supporters. However, they both did well. Mustafi had a few questionable moments, but nothing alarming, while Sokratis I thought played well. He made a crucial tackle in the box on Sterling and got stuck in. While they both lack pace, protection from the midfield and a goalkeeper like Leno could help make it work.
Unai Emery will need some time
I don’t think there was anyone who wasn’t surprised at the fact that Guendouzi started that match. Sure, he had a solid pre-season, and you can say he earned the opportunity, but I at least did not expect to see him in the starting XI.
He battled in that midfield against some world-class players, had the occasional mental lapse (which is expected of a 19-year old) but he never passed up on a challenge, and continuously looked for the ball. With Torreira alongside him, we could see a very solid midfield pairing here. While the little Uruguayan will do the dirty work, Guendouzi can have a bit more freedom to get forward and link the midfield with the attack. He tried continuously today, but things just weren’t working in the final third.
One reason for that was the fact that Ozil looked far off of it today.
We can’t deny that he tracked back and did work hard off the ball. When he was in possession, he was missing that moment of brilliance which we’ve seen from him in the past. His passes didn’t seem as crisp, his decision making wasn’t as decisive, and his ability to get others involved just wasn’t there. The opportunity he had in the second half when Ederson put the ball right at his feet and he took a heavy touch summed up his day.
With a bit more time, and hopefully Lacazette on the pitch (who I thought was excellent when he came on), the side should continue to improve week by week.
Laca and Auba
It may be frustrating at times because Auba will likely have to operate out wide if Emery doesn’t opt with a two striker formation, but against certain opposition, having Laca and Auba on the pitch makes a big difference. The Frenchman’s hustle, link-up play and hold up play when he came on gave the team an added spark in the final third. Had someone, anyone, been able to pull off that final pass, we could very well have got something from the match.
It’s now time to look forward, with another difficult match coming up against Chelsea away at Stamford Bridge. This will bring a completely different challenge, against a side that is also under new management, a new system, and at home looking to impress in their first match in front of their fans. Us Arsenal supporters need to make sure that we have realistic expectations, and allow Emery the proper time to figure out his best formation, his best tactics, and his best starting XI.
Let’s not crucify him and the squad after one match, particularly against the best team in the country.
Image credit: Squawka