Arsenal’s away record exposes their weak mentality

Things were meant to be different under Unai Emery. He was the main anointed to oversee a complete overhaul of Arsenal, not just as a football team, but as a club and an organisation. And yet what we have seen from the Gunners this season has been very similar to what was witnessed over the latter years of Arsene Wenger’s tenure.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be so surprising. After all, Emery has inherited almost exactly the same squad that Wenger had to work with last season. Some additions were made in the summer, with Denis Suarez arriving on loan from Barcelona in the January window, but besides that, not much has changed in terms of personnel.

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Or in terms of mindset either. Under Wenger last season, Arsenal went from the turn of the year to the very last game of the campaign without picking up a point away from home. This season, the Gunners have gone six Premier League away days in succession without a win, also suffering a defeat away to BATE Borisov in the last 32 of the Europa League.

Emery wasn’t just appointed to impose a new style of play on a team that had lost its identity. He was appointed to change the mentality at the Emirates Stadium and the early signs are that he has so far failed to do that, at least going on the frailty of Arsenal’s recent performances on the road.

“We can have better balance [in performances] when we prepare by thinking it’s going to be very difficult,” Emery said ahead of the trip to face Huddersfield this weekend. “I spoke with the players [and told them] we need to think this match is very important for us. Every player needs to be ready, be focused and be thinking we need to win this match.

“We must impose ourselves from the first minute and throughout the 90 minutes but first is the mentality. It’s to think this match will be very difficult. For us tactics are the second issue. The first is to think we need to win and after that it’s how we can win – preparing tactically and individually.”

Defeat to the relegation-threatened Terriers this weekend would really expose the issues in the minds of the Arsenal players right now. Earlier this season it seemed that progress had been made under Emery. Now, that is in question. A rebuttal is needed. And soon.

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Why is Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri ready for the sack when others aren’t?

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One of the most bizarre stories to come out of the Premier League this season is the impending doom of Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri. It’s even more scarier that it appears to be true and that Sarri may be sent his marching orders from the Chelsea hierarchy after just 6 months in charge.

But why is Sarri facing the sack when nothing is being said of other managers? Most notably look at Arsenal’s Unai Emery. Now he doesn’t deserve the sack but if it’s good enough for Sarri then why isn’t it good enough for Emery. After all both teams have 50 points.

The pressure on Sarri makes no sense at all, it’s not like he is having a Jose Mourinho 3rd season Chelsea stint. The Blues are in the top six and just one point from being in the top 4. They are also let’s not forget in the final of the Carbao Cup and still in the FA Cup and in the knock out stages of the Europa League.

So Sarri being announced as one of the managers who is under real pressure feels like a sad day for football. And of course we know that Chelsea do not mess around once those rumours swirl up.

It is true of course that Chelsea’s form over the past few months has dipped and they have just been smashed by Manchester City 6-0 and the other week they lost away to Bournemouth 4-0. They are having a bad time of it away from home- but let’s not forget that they also beat City at Stamford Bridge earlier this season winning 2-0, in what was an utterly professional display.

So yes The Blues form has slipped and it does look like Eden Hazard will be leaving the club. But even with all of this considered, to sack Sarri despite the promise he has shown in what is his debut season is to punch the philosophy of football in the face. Why are Chelsea not considering keeping Sarri on at least for another season?

There are possibly two reasons for this; The first is that he criticised the players the other week after their listless loss against Arsenal. In this day and age you just can’t do that. The second is that the league has become all about finishing in the top 4, and right now Chelsea are heading for more Europa League football. But it is so tight up there anything can still happen.

Sacking Sarri feels like it will be Chelsea’s loss, and actually they are imitating somewhat the chaotic circus that was Real Madrid from the mid 2000s. History says stick with your man just a little through the hard times, but Sarri’s number seems up.

Manchester City can forget the title if they lose to Arsenal

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Defeat at Newcastle United on Tuesday night has put Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola in an unpleasant situation. Their fourth defeat of the season, the Citizens find themselves five points behind their title rivals after Liverpool’s draw with Leicester City. A defeat against Arsenal on Sunday afternoon could well put a huge dent in their title aspirations with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool looking much more consistent. Continue reading

Arsenal don’t want Mesut Ozil anymore as PSG loan deal falls through

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When PSG reportedly came in for Arsenal playmaker Mesut Ozil to take on loan until the end of the season, whisper it but The Gunners and in particular head coach Unai Emery would have been delighted, but Ozil turned down the chance to play for the Ligue 1 champions.

It is clear that Emery does not feel the need to keep Ozil and the ex German international who quit the national team has played just 13 games in the league this season. Ozil simply doesn’t work in an Emery team and it seems only a matter of time before Ozil is put up for sale, Arsenal want rid, but therein lies the problem.

Just how can Arsenal shift Ozil who is on a whopping £350,000 a week? Former manager Arsene Wenger made an error it seems in giving Ozil a new contract a few months before he retired, the result is that Ozil is tied to the club until 2021. Why would Ozil leave knowing that most clubs will not match his wages?

Having said that it does feel that Ozil has made an error not accepting to play for PSG until at least the end of the season. He would have been playing more regular time as Neymar is side lined until at least March and he would have won his first league title. PSG are currently 13 points clear at the top with 2 games in hand. So it does seem odd that Ozil didn’t join up with PSG. If the worst came to the worst, he could go back to Arsenal for the beginning of next season.

For Arsenal this is a frustrating time. On one hand they can’t justify paying a player that much money when he sits on the bench, on the other they have to respect the manager who doesn’t see Ozil in his long term plans. The PSG loan deal falling through is a bitter blow to The Gunners. Had Ozil played and shined, interest would have been rekindled in the player and perhaps a transfer to PSG or another European club could have been completed this summer. Instead Ozil won’t go and Arsenal do not want to fully admit that he isn’t needed with the club.

Ozil’s best years are past him, and whilst he is an incredibly talented player, he never really reached his own personal achievements. Bottom line is that he won’t be thought of as one of the Arsenal legends, sorry Mesut but a statue outside the Emirates will not be forthcoming.

For now Emery and Ozil cannot be parted, but one senses that one will be gone in the summer, and it won’t be the Spaniard.

Same old Arsenal as season is unravelling for the Gunners

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Arsenal dropped more points at the weekend when they went to West Ham and lost 1-0 and quite frankly this season is looking just like any other under Arsene Wenger.

That isn’t to say that new coach Unai Emery hasn’t stamped his presence on the team, because he has and the Gunners in general have been more willing to attack and take chances especially away from home. But one glance at the league table and after 22 games Arsenal just aren’t bringing anything fresh to the table or their season.

Not too much criticism should be put upon Emery- coming into a side that have been so used to having Wenger in charge for more than two decades, a change takes some doing and it isn’t going to happen quickly. Having said that Emery will be under more pressure next season.

This latest loss though means that Manchester United have been able to catch up to them. Just before Christmas they were a good 8 points adrift, so it just underline how very average the Gunners have been lately.

The defeat against West Ham also means that they have slipped 6 points behind a top 4 finish, and with United right on top of them it means that Arsenal now have to challenge both Chelsea and possibly a resurgent United for that top four place. In short it looks as it Arsenal will miss out on a Champions League place for the 2nd time in a row.

Because of this we can say that Emery has failed in his objectives this season which must have been to put Arsenal back into Europe’s elite competition, right now that looks like a distant dream. Emery’s salvation could come by way of the FA Cup, a competition the Gunners have won 3 times from the last four years.

There is also of course the Europa League where Arsenal have made it to the knockout stages. If they win that then they will qualify for the Champions League, so not everything is at a dead end for them. However fans will be alarmed at some of the clubs latest stats.

Emery’s team have just one win in their past four and on form the club would not be in 5th place but in 10th. And maybe no fans want to hear this but this time last season Arsenal had 39 points, there really is nothing in it between Wenger’s last season and Emery’s first.

We can say that on the face of it Arsenal have not got any worse, but neither have they got any better. That doesn’t mean the future isn’t bright with Emery in the hot seat but it is clear that he will need a big budget this summer in order to compete at the top.

Arsenal must continue their rebuild in January window

Unai Emery can be satisfied with his first few months in England. Arriving at Arsenal in the summer, the former Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla boss was faced with one of the biggest jobs in Premier League history. Somehow he had to untangle an entire legacy, the legacy of his predecessor Arsene Wenger. He hasn’t done that yet, but progress has been made.

Indeed, Arsenal are at least on an upward trajectory again. They are playing well and Emery has gone some way to instilling a winning mentality at the Emirates Stadium. As demonstrated against Spurs in last weekend’s North London derby, and to a lesser extent against Manchester United on Wednesday night, the Gunners are capable of competing with the elite.

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Nobody was really sure what to expect from Arsenal. Their summer business raised eyebrows, spending money, but not the sort of money usually splurged by the top teams in the Premier League. Now, their business looks to have been shrewd, with Lucas Torreira giving Arsenal the sort of bite they have missed in midfield for years. Sokratis Papastathopoulos has nailed down a place at centre back, while Bernd Leno and Matteo Guendouzi are now considered first team figures.

But if Arsenal are to continue their improvement, they must pick up their rebuild again when the January transfer window opens. Emery has found a starting lineup that can carry out his instructions, but that isn’t to say that they can’t get better. Arsenal’s top four place still isn’t certain. It’s entirely possible that they could fall away in the second half of the season, leaving them locked out of the Champions League for a third straight year.

Most of the transfer speculation surrounding the club at present concerns players potentially leaving the club. Before his season-ending injury, it was thought that Danny Welbeck would depart the Emirates in January. Aaron Ramsey is another who has been linked with an exit, with the Welsh midfielder’s contract set to expire at the end of the season.

Then there’s the Mesut Ozil saga. The German playmaker has fallen out of favour in recent weeks, with suggestions that Emery no longer sees him as a part of his long term plans. It’s unlikely that Ozil will leave mid-season, but that hasn’t stopped the rumour mill churning out conjecture.

Arsenal need to buy players, though. They could still do with another body in midfield, especially if Ramsey is to leave soon. Lyon’s Tanguy N’Dombele would fit the bill. They could also use a playmaker if Ozil is to depart, and so Isco, whose future at Real Madrid is far from certain, would be a blockbuster addition.

Emery is the coach and he has done well with what he has this season. Now, he needs the club, people like Sven Mislintat, to continue the rebuild in the transfer market. He needs more to work with.

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Arsenal can show Man Utd what they are missing

It was the best performance of Unai Emery’s time as Arsenal manager so far. Indeed, the Gunners’ display in the North London derby against Spurs on Sunday was everything the club’s fans wanted to see from their team in the post-Arsene Wenger era. It was fast and furious. There was a game plan. And most importantly, there was a victory.

One wonders what those Manchester United supporters who just so happened to catch the game thought of what they saw. 24 hours earlier, their team had struggled to a 2-2 draw against Southampton- the bottom team in the Premier League. It was in stark contrast to what Arsenal served up.

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Now, the two teams will face each other on Wednesday night. For both teams, this could be a season-defining clash. Man United are in desperate need of a win to give their chances of finishing in the top four a shot in the arm, while Arsenal also need a victory to shore up the progress they have made in recent weeks.

In terms of a sporting identity, there are plenty of parallels between Arsenal and Manchester United. They were fierce of rivals for years, when Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson locked horns for major honours, but in retrospect, there was more to unite them than there was to divide them.

Both sets of fans expect their team to play attractive, dynamic and attacking football. They also expect their team to challenge for silverware having grown accustomed to success. In recent years, the parallels have become even clearer, with Arsenal and Man United left looking upwards at teams like Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and even Leicester City.

But while United have festered and allowed malaise to grow at the club, Arsenal have taken measures to overhaul themselves. The replacement of Wenger with Emery in the summer was the most public- most significant part of that overhaul- but changes have also taken place behind the scenes.

This has manifested itself in what we have seen on the pitch from Arsenal so far this season. They have a transfer strategy, a clear and coherent notion of what they want the club to be, and of what they want the club to represent. This led them to the hiring of Emery through a comprehensive recruitment process in line with this approach.

United, on the other hand, are utterly dependent on one man, Jose Mourinho. And that one man is charged with imposing an identity on the club. This is an infrastructure that rarely works in the modern game, and we are seeing that in the way United have struggled this season.

Arsenal can show Manchester and their fans what they are missing on Wednesday night. They can show the Old Trafford club what happens when there is a plan and when that plan is implemented properly.

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After 19 games unbeaten, has Emery stepped out of Wenger’s shadow?

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Unai Emery is being hailed as the new messiah by Arsenal fans after the club convincingly beat their arch rivals Tottenham 4-2 at the weekend.

The Gunners have now gone 19 games in all competitions unbeaten after losing their first two matches of the season. But still question marks remained over the club because they had not beaten a top 4 side- at the weekend that changed with victory over Tottenham, and it was a win to saviour for the Arsenal faithful.

Not only did Arsenal beat the team they most want to beat every season but they also leapfrogged them into 4th place on goal difference, which has been richly deserved this season. This version of Arsenal, Emery’s version is slick, attacking and determined. Sure there is still some naivety at the back which allowed Tottenham back into the game but the team had fighting spirit circa Arsene Wenger’s team from 2004 and it showed this past weekend.

Every fan at the Emirates seems to have forgotten about Wenger, well at least the last couple of seasons version of him and all praise has rightly been aligned to Emery who has been a massive success for the club given that this is his debut season. The fans wanted change and were finally given it and Emery for now seems like the perfect coach to have been chosen. But have the club really improved this season from last?

It may be surprising to note that at least statistically almost nothing has changed at the club from last season. This time last season after 14 games Arsenal had 28 points under Emery they have 30. If this trend was to continue then Arsenal may finish the season with 5 points more than last giving them 68 points and perhaps missing out on  a top 4 place. But this is simply talk and this Arsenal team look like they will kick on.

But of course it is in how the Gunners are playing, and there is a massive change in how the team approach their games under Emery. The belief has been reinstalled and it was interesting to see how they reacted once going 2-1 down after leading the game. That should tell you everything that we needed to know about how Arsenal are playing now under Emery.

The real tests are yet to come, games such as playing Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United away from home. But for now considering Emery is just 4 months into the job, the man deserves respect and 10/10 for effort. Arsenal look like they are going places and that can only be a good thing for a team that have suffered from a lack of confidence for the past decade.

 

Unai Emery should be praised for his flexibility, not criticised for it

As soon as Mesut Ozil was spotted on the Arsenal bench for the weekend’s away day at Bournemouth, there was gossiping. Was this a sign that the German no longer had a place at the North London club? Or that there had been an argument between the playmaker and Unai Emery? Would he be off in the January transfer window?

As it turned out Emery had an explanation for Ozil’s omission from the Arsenal team. “We thought about how we can be better in the match today, with a very demanding match physically with their intensity against us and we decided,” the Spaniard said after the 2-1 win on the south coast.

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In essence, Emery opted for a more physical style to combat what Bournemouth would throw at his team. In the end, it was a strategy that worked well, as Arsenal claimed all three points to edge them closer to the Premier League’s top four places, just a single point behind Chelsea.

Rather than being criticised for his flexibility, Emery should be praised for it. For years under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal were typecast, with good reason, as a team that would play one, and only one, way. It didn’t matter the opposition or the situation, Wenger’s side would attempt to impose their natural game.

Of course, that didn’t always work and Arsenal suffered for it. Now, Emery is taking measures to be more pragmatic, to make better use of the squad he has, and against Bournemouth it worked. The Gunners didn’t need Ozil to grind out the win over Bournemouth and as manager Emery was entitled to take the decision he did.

Increasingly in the modern game, it’s assumed that every top player will play every minute of every match. We perhaps have Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to thank for this zeitgeist, such is their superhuman drive to do exactly that – play every minute of every match. It should, however, be entirely normal for a manager to alter his team depending on the task at hand.

There have been suggestions that Emery and Ozil don’t always see eye to eye, that the two figures clashed earlier in the season. If that is truly the case, it’s unlikely the German will have been enamoured with the decision to leave him out of the team on Sunday, even if Emery could offer vindication.

In so many ways, Emery is the manager Arsenal have needed for years. He is in the antidote to the latter part of the Wenger era, and his versatility and pragmatism is just another aspect of that. Dropping Ozil, just as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was benched for a spell earlier in the season, demonstrates this. Let’s move on from the hysteria of the Spaniard’s decision on Sunday.

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Unai Emery is right about Arsenal’s defence

The first step to change is the acceptance of a problem in the first place. This seemed beyond Arsene Wenger, who time and time again refused to acknowledge Arsenal, under his charge, had become a soft touch at the back. Everyone could see their defence was vulnerable, prone to weakness at the worst possible moments, but Wenger couldn’t.

This is just one of the reasons the Frenchman was pushed out of the club at the end of last season. In Unai Emery, the Gunners now have a manager who is intent on changing things, and progress has been made over the first few months of the season, with Arsenal once again one of the most exhilarating teams to watch in the Premier League.

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However, at the back the same old problems persist. Arsenal have, more than once, looked shaky in defence, but at least Emery recognises there are problems to be addressed. That’s more than could have been said about Wenger, whose stubbornness became his worst quality over time.

“Before Wenger came, Arsenal celebrated 1-0 and were based on defensive solidity,” the Spaniard explained in an interview given to the Spanish press earlier this week. “With Arsene, joy came from attacking, with players of good standing. And the perfect combination was the Invincibles.

“But over time, only technical quality and offensive freedom were taken care of, losing the defensive structure. What I want is to unite both essences and be more competitive. Arsenal was in decline. We had to stop it and start climbing.”

As demonstrated across the Premier League, defensive resolution is difficult to instil in a team. There is a global shortage of top class centre backs at the moment, explaining why Liverpool were so desperate to sign Virgil Van Dijk for a club record fee of £70 million last January. Emery has yet to settle on his defensive formula, at least one that works.

So far Shokdran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos have been used as Arsenal’s centre back pairing, with Hector Bellerin on the left of the defence and Nacho Monreal on the left. Bellerin has rediscovered his form this season, with Monreal his usual consistent self. But at the heart of the defence, Mustafi and Sokratis have proved less than convincing… and that’s putting it mildly.

It could take some time for the former Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla boss to get things right at the back – just look at how long it took Jurgen Klopp to settle on a defensive line at Liverpool. But as least Emery knows there is a problem. Whether it’s through coaching or through signings made in the transfer market, the defensive process has only just started at Arsenal.

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