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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Giles Grimandi exit underlines Arsenal overhaul

The exit of Arsene Wenger and the subsequent hiring of Unai Emery as his successor was widely recognised the symbolic changing of the guard desperately needed at Arsenal. In truth, though, the overhaul had started at the Emirates Stadium long before then.

Indeed, much has changed around Arsenal over the past 18 months or so. The club has implemented a new structure, with Sven Mislintat the most high profile appointment made in preparation for Wenger’s departure. The former Borussia Dortmund chief now has more power than anyone else at the Gunners, but influence is spread across a whole team of figures.

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Now, it emerges that Giles Grimandi is set to leave Arsenal. The former defender was a key figure in the Wenger camp, overseeing the club’s scouting operation in France, where the Gunners sourced many of their best players over the years. Grimandi played a significant role in the creation of the club Arsenal became under Wenger.

This is why his exit is so symbolic. Arsenal, in every way, are moving on from the Wenger era. They are implementing a new, more comprehensive infrastructure that will see them become the modern football club. A scouting overhaul will help them do that. They have already made progress when it comes to scouting Germany, where a number of new signings have been sourced over the past 18 months or so.

And yet while Arsenal are doing their best to move on from the Wenger era, they are rediscovering the identity that made them so successful under their former manager. Emery has brought back the brand of exhilarating, dynamic football that hasn’t been seen seen at the Emirates for years.

When it comes to scouting as well, Arsenal are seeking a return to the ways of old. In the mid 2000s, there was no club in the Premier League better at scouting talent. The Gunners managed to keep up with their rivals through shrewd moves in the transfer market. They rarely spent big, with the £12 million signing of Jose Antonio Reyes standing as the club’s transfer record for years.

Arsenal have already flexed their scouting muscle by finding Matteo Guendouzi, signed for around £7 million from Lorient. To keep up with the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United, they will need more like the French midfielder. The Gunners, it seems, will become increasingly dependent on their scouting system.

Great progress has been made at Arsenal over the last 18 months or so. Most will focus on the way Emery’s team are playing this season, exciting fans once again, and most importantly, winning. But the real marker of progress can be found in the off-the-field detail. Grimandi’s exit is just the next part of the process.

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Would Ousmane Dembele be the right fit for Arsenal?

From the moment Ousmane Dembele arrived in Barcelona as the most expensive teenager, and the second most expensive player, in football history, questions were asked. The French winger was the replacement for Neymar, sold to Paris Saint-Germain in the sale of the summer, possibly even of this century, but he is not a player in the mould of the departing Brazilian.

Injuries hampered Dembele’s first season in Spain, but even when he did make it on the pitch he looked short of confidence, sometimes even short of ability. Some doubted whether he would truly ever be good enough for Barcelona, even at such a young age.

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A full pre-season and a run of games saw Dembele hit the ground running at the start of the season, but familiar doubts have started to rise to the surface once again. The Frenchman has made headlines in Spain over the past week, with it being reported that Barcelona are growing increasingly concerned at what they view to be a lack fo discipline from their player.

Some of this criticism has been grossly unfair on Dembele, who has shown himself to be a valuable member of Ernesto Valverde’s team a number of times over the past few months. He has scored important goals and has started to forge relationships with the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

Nonetheless, there are rumours that Dembele could soon leave Camp Nou, with Arsenal reported to be leading the chase for the French winger. So would Dembele be a good fit for the Gunners? Or would Unai Emery suffer many of the same problems in trying to fit him into his team that Valverde has over the past season-and-a-half?

If Arsenal can get Dembele for a cut price deal, around £60 million as has been mooted, then they would be foolish not to make a move. At just 21 years old, the former Borussia Dortmund winger is still growing as a player, and as a person. It would be a pretty solid investment in the future, even if Dembele currently suffers from dips in form. It’s the same for most young players.

What’s more, Emery’s system and approach would suit Dembele better than Valverde’s presently does. Arsenal have taken to playing with speed and directness in the final third under their new Spanish manager this season. This has seen Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette find their groove.

There’s space for Dembele on the right side of their attacking line, with Aubameyang on the left, Lacazette as the central striker and Mesut Ozil in behind. In fact, he could be exactly the player Arsenal need to rebalance their team which, at present, places too much of an emphasis on the left side. If Barcelona are selling, as unwise and as hasty as that would be, Arsenal should be in line to buy.

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Unai Emery’s Arsenal are losing pace with the favourites in the Premier League

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There is no doubt that there has been such an uplifting feeling at Arsenal this season, in with the new and out with the old, has seen fans feeling super refreshed about their team. This campaign has already seen the Gunners claim a 10 game in a row batch of wins and the club have remained undefeated in any competition since August. Under new manager Unai Emery the good times seem to have returned to the Emirates, or have they?

After tearing up the league table and claiming a succession of away wins, something that Arsenal under Wenger really struggled for last season the club seem to have hit a wall. Slipping back down to 5th place and currently out of a Champions League position they have drawn their last their last 4 games in all competitions and their last three in the Premier League. The Gunners last win came against Leicester when they won the game 3-1 on October 22nd.

These recent draws have knocked the stuffing out of the team and they are 3 points behind Tottenham in 4th and a massive 8 points behind league leaders Manchester City. Whilst it is true that nobody was realistically expecting Arsenal to challenge for the league, the question should be why not? As we have seen from Maurizio Sarri- also his debut season in the Premier League and yet Chelsea are in 3rd place, just 4 points behind the current champions.

This isn’t to discredit Emery, who has done a fine job after a tough and shaky start that saw his tenure at Arsenal start with 2 losses. But that can be overlooked given that they had to play the last 2 champions of the league in Manchester City and Chelsea. Fans can point to their recent and decent 1-1 draw against Liverpool of proof that this side are getting better and playing better than Arsene Wenger’s team last season.

But of course football is all about moving forward and to do so and keep your job you have to do it rapidly. After 12 games this season it is interesting to see that Arsenal have 24 points. Last season under Wenger at the same amount of games they had won 22. So yes there is an improvement of sorts but for now it is so minimal.

The good news is that the team are playing a different kind of football and are playing with much more confidence, in the long run if Emery is given the time this is a great sign. For now though it might be better if some fans and press in the words of a certain Larry David, curbed their enthusiasm.

Liverpool match a barometer of Arsenal’s progress

Since losing to Manchester City and Chelsea in the opening two games of the 2018/19 season, Arsenal have embarked on a 13-match unbeaten run, winning 12 and drawing just one. The Gunners have looked the part under their new manager Unai Emery, with some of their football the most exhilarating in the Premier League.

However, if one criticism can be angled at Arsenal over their unbeaten streak it comes in the level of the opposition they have seen off. The Gunners have beaten West Ham, Cardiff City, Newcastle United, Vorslka Poltova, Everton, Brentford, Watford, Qarabag, Fulham, Leicester City, Sporting Lisbon, Blackpool, also drawing against Crystal Palace. These are all teams that Emery’s side should have beaten. They were favourites in every single instance.

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When Arsenal have come up against a higher calibre of opposition this season, namely Chelsea and Man City, they have been comprehensively beaten. That’s why Saturday’s game against joint-top table toppers Liverpool is so significant. It will act as the first true barometer of where the Gunners are under Emery. It will indicate whether any real progress has been made.

There can be no denying that Arsenal have played some fantastic football over the past few weeks, most notably in the second half of last month’s win over Leicester City. The Gunners have rediscovered their identity under the former Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla boss, and that counts for something.

But while their possession-based, dynamic game works against teams they will naturally dominate, will it work against a team like Liverpool? After all, Jurgen Klopp’s side also like to move the ball through the pitch quickly, and they are generally more effective than doing so than the Gunners.

Against both Chelsea and Manchester City, Arsenal looked out of their depth. They struggled to get on the ball, to break up opposition moves as they were cut open pretty much at will. Of course, the argument could be made that this was still very early on in Emery’s tenure for any real conclusions to be drawn, but that was three months ago. This weekend’s match will provide a clearer indication.

While Arsenal boast an attacking line capable of causing damage at any level, their defence still reeks of the Arsene Wenger era. This was evident in the way they folded late on against Crystal Palace last week. Against the likes of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, Emery will have a job on his hands to sufficiently bolster his defence.

Liverpool were in a similar position to Emery’s Arsenal not so long ago, but they have since plugged the holes at the back and instilled a winning mentality that has turned them into genuine title contenders this season. In that, the Gunners must take encourage and draw hope from. In more than one way, this Saturday’s fixture at the Emirates matters.

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Arsenal are still burdened with Arsene Wenger’s defence

And so the run stopped at 11. Arsenal had gone two months without dropping points in a competitive fixture, but Crystal Palace found a way to disrupt their momentum, coming from behind to claim a point in a 2-2 draw. It underlined that while the Gunners have made progress this season, there is still a long way to go.

It was probably Arsenal’s worst performance of the season under new manager Unai Emery. The Spaniard has got his ideas across very quickly since replacing Arsene Wenger at the end of last season, turning the Gunners into one of the most dynamic, entertaining sides in the Premier League.

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But while Emery has made some progress in eradicating the culture of mediocrity that had festered towards the end of Wenger’s reign, Arsenal are still burdened with the defence left over from the Frenchman. On Sunday’s evidence, the Gunners won’t reach the top of the English game until something changes at the back.

Emery has started to change the mindset at the Emirates Stadium, exemplified by his comments made after the weekend’s disappointing draw at Selhurst Park. “I think we suffered in the match,” the former Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla boss said, “but I want to suffer.”

Indeed, Emery has instilled a work ethic in his players that wasn’t there under Wenger. This is evident in the comments of his squad. They speak of intense training sessions which are in stark contrast to what they had become accustomed to in recent years. Wenger made a point of not pushing his players too hard on the training pitch. Emery is the complete opposite.

But it’s not just that Arsenal’s players are now working harder under their new boss, they are a far better organised outfit. Each and every one appears to now know their role. Players like Mesut Ozil and Granit Xhaka, who would drift through games under Wenger, have now been revitalised. This is no coincidence.

At the back, though, it’s a different story. Arsenal are still extremely vulnerable defensively, with their back four lacking any real courage in their convictions. They lack a true leader, someone to see the game ahead of him and let others know. All great teams boast a defensive leader – Liverpool have Virgil Van Dijk, Manchester City have Vincent Kompany – but Arsenal don’t have anyone in that mould.

It’s not just about personnel, though. Arsenal must strengthen their mentality at the back. 2-1 up with just minutes left to play, they should have been able to see out Sunday’s game against Crystal Palace. Instead, they faltered. It was inevitable that they would. That’s what Emery must eradicate – the sense of inevitability that Arsenal will, some way, somehow, falter.

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