Four things Unai Emery must get right if his tenure at the Emirates is to be a success.
January’s away losses to Bournemouth and Swansea were shocking not for the fact that Arsenal lost, but for the blithe indifference of a number of Arsene Wenger’s players in both games.
For everything that’s been written about his father-like relationship with players at Arsenal, it was awkwardly evident by the turn of the year that the necessary and healthy tension that must exist between manager and player no longer existed.
The Arsenal dressing room had become a cosy club of shoulder-shruggers. Players no longer feared sanction or being dropped.
Where once the Frenchman railed even against the suggestion of a first-half drop in standards at Anfield – ‘you’re not ft to wear the shirt’, he told the players, inspiring a come-from-behind 2-1 victory – now a staleness poisoned the pot.
Emery must stir some spice back into the mix. “I want a squad very, very intense in pressing,” he stressed yesterday.
There’s long been a feisty debate regarding Wenger’s attitude towards defence and football without the ball. Too many Arsenal purchases in these positions over the past decade smacked of poor research or the presumption that Arsenal’s monopoly of the ball would render them peripheral in any case.
It remains one of the biggest black marks against the Frenchman — that in his road to Damascus conversion to small, nimble talents, that he eschewed the need to retain the physicality and presence of an Edu, Gilberto Silva, Campbell, Vieira et al.
Unai Emery revealed his detailed dossier on Arsenal players for the club’s hierarchy last week and one expects he will recalibrate the system and either shape up or ship out some of the personnel who, to put it politely, seem pre-disposed towards unforced errors.
When it comes to savvy in the transfer market, Emery has done business at both ends of the financial spectrum. From the necessary wheeling and dealing at Sevilla to the endless riches and owner interference at PSG.
Regardless of how far he can stretch a shilling, a £50m (€57m) gross budget at Arsenal won’t finance the changes necessary in defensive-midfield, central-defence and in goal to plug Arsenal’s Fawlty Towers defending.
Given some of the informed speculation regarding targets, players will have to be moved out as the Spaniard reshapes his squad. Defenders Kalidou Koulibaly, Caglar Soyuncu, and Sokratis Papastathopoulos have all been linked already.
But with Rob Holding signing a new contract and Konstantinos Mavropanos impressing, the likes of Shkodran Mustafi will be looking nervously around this summer.
This will take time, and things may get worse before they get better. How will Emery approach the Mesut Ozil question?
Can he persuade Aaron Ramsey to sign a new contract?
Positive change will come incrementally, but the Emirates support won’t be blind to important (if rudimentary) changes. What the supporters won’t forgive is being outworked by inferior teams with greater desire.
Will the team roll up their sleeves and work harder, will Granit Xhaka greater understand his responsibilities in the holding role, can the new head coach improve Hector Bellerin defensively? Emery’s preferred system has been a Wenger favourite — 4-2-3-1 — even if pressure from upstairs made 4-3-3 the choice at PSG. He has the flair players to make that system work at the top end. He may be judged by the fans on how he presents his team from the keeper out to the pair of holding midfielders.
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