It’s not so long since Arsenal were considered the most exciting, dynamic team in the English game. They were widely labelled the Premier League’s Barcelona equivalent, just without the trophies. Indeed, the Gunners fell adrift of the top of the English game, but at least they had their trademark style of plays. Fans could console themselves with that.
But over the years even this started to erode away. Arsene Wenger stuck by his principles to the point where they became worthless and undetectable on the pitch. By the time the Frenchman left the Emirates Stadium at the end of last season, Arsenal had become a team without an identity, the very antithesis of what Wenger always wanted.
Things have changed with the appointment of Unai Emery, though. The Spaniard suffered a difficult start to life at Arsenal, but has since strung 10 wins in succession in all competitions, culminating in Monday night’s comeback victory over Leicester City. The Gunners have enjoyed more emphatic wins in recent weeks, most notably against Fulham before the international break, but this performance was the purest manifestation of how they have changed under their new manager.
Most likely, you’ll have seen some of the goals scored by Arsenal in that win over Leicester. Their third goal in particular was a spectacle, with the ball worked from front to back at pace, with almost every player through the midfield and attack touching it on the way to sticking it in the back of the net.
It was a vision of the way Arsenal used to play, or at least how Wenger wanted them to play, and served as a vindication of Emery as manager. The Spaniard was an unusual appointment, coming from left field to beat the likes of Mikel Arteta and Patrick Vieira to the position. But the Arsenal board clearly did their homework and knew that Emery would, in time, become an extension of the club’s long-established identity.
Of course, there’s still a long way to go for Emery to truly vindicate his hiring. Arsenal want to challenge for honours again and so while style of play and identity is undoubtedly important, perhaps more so for the Gunners than for any other side in the Premier League, it’s results that will ultimately decide the fate of the former Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla manager.
Emery has revitalised his squad, with the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette all finding top form in recent weeks. Arsenal are just two points short of Manchester City and Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table, with some questioning whether they can challenge for the title this season. That seems unlikely, but progress cannot be denied, at least in terms of the way Arsenal are now playing.
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