Five Pressing Issues Emery Must Address at Arsenal
NEWS DIGEST – Unai Emery ended Arsenal’s strenuous search for a successor to Arsene Wenger when it was announced that the Gunners would be appointing him as their new head coach.
The Arsenal job should be one of the most attractive managerial positions in football. Instead, Emery inherits a poisoned chalice from his predecessor. He has been tasked with kick-starting the post-Wenger era and has a testing job on his hands. Here are five issues he must address at the club:
It is trite saying that defence wins you championships. Former Man United Manager- Sir Alex Ferguson once said “attack wins you games. Defence wins you championships.” Legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant also famously said “offense sells tickets, defence wins championships”. This same thought was echoed by former Milan director Adriano Galliano who enthused “defense wins championships”
Liverpool are not renowned for having a parsimonious defence but what they lack in the rearguard, they make up for it in the final third. However, what happens when you have a shambolic defence without a Liverpool-like ruthless attack to make up for it? You set an unwanted record for Wenger as his first ever third round exit in the FA Cup after a disgraceful 4-2 defeat to Nottingham Forest (a team that would eventually finish 17th in the Championship table). You have your pants pulled down by Man City in the Wembley Carabao Cup Final. You get dumped out of the top four hierarchy again because you have just finished the league in a disgraceful 6th place and you were bundled out of the alternative back door to the Champions League by Atletico (who would do a world of good to lend you their defense manual).
With a whooping 51 goals shipped in during the course of the just concluded Premier League Campaign, Arsenal have the third worst defensive record of all teams that finished in the top ten. Burnley conceded 39 goals while Newcastle let in 47. When it gets to a nadir where minnows who just returned from relegation in recent years can boast of a better defensive record than Arsenal, then the scale of their troubles at the back becomes more gargantuan than ever. Petr Cech is way past his best years; Ospina is unreliable at best; Konscielny has been ruled out for six months with an achilles injury; Mustafi was named in goal’s worst team of the season; Bellerin is inconsistent; Kolasinac started brightly after his switch from Schalke but was soon banished to the bench; Holding, Chambers and Mavropalos are not experienced enough to be thrown into the heart of defence in an unforgiving league, leaving Nacho Monreal as the only good pick of the pathetic bunch. A major surgery is required to fix Arsenal’s defensive woes.
Arsenal have needed a defensive midfielder for a while. It is a horse that has been beaten to death for over 10 years and counting. The current defensive midfielder in the team is Granit Xhaka . This isn’t necessarily a piece to degrade his utility and his quality, though that certainly plays a part. Xhaka is a perfectly average player who does have some useful traits, if pandered to correctly. Rather, the reason Arsenal are in dire need of a good defensive midfielder is because of the importance of the position.
Fernandinho. Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante. N’Golo Kante. Nemanja Matic. Fernandinho. These are the players that have played the defensive midfield position for the Premier League title winners in the past five years, including the the just concluded one. All are significantly better than Xhaka.
Similarly, Casemiro. Casemiro. Sergio Busquets. Xabi Alonso. Bastian Schweinsteiger. These are the defensive midfielders that have won the past five Champions Leagues. See a pattern emerging?
The defensive midfield position is one of the most important in the whole of football. It provides stability and security to the structure of the team. It screens the defence, collecting loose balls, winning tackles, breaking up counter attacks. It dictates the tempo of the match with accurate, precise passing. It initiates attacks from deep positions with time and space to orchestrate and create. Xhaka is not good enough. He’s not bad. But he’s not good enough.
RESTORING THE CONFIDENCE OF AN UNCERTAIN FANBASE
Seeing thousands of empty seats at the Emirates became commonplace in recent months as Arsenal’s Premier League campaign fizzled out in disappointing fashion. About one third of all seats in the 59,000-capacity stadium gaped empty for the 3-0 win over Stoke. The atmosphere during the match was like a library, with the shouts of players and managers easily audible. It was a similar story in the 3-0 loss to Manchester City following the team’s dismal defeat in the Carabao Cup final. Arsene Wenger came up with a variety of explanations for the poor turnouts – including Easter and the snowy weather ahead of the Man City game. But they were just excuses that could not buy him more time as his fate was already sealed. Unai Emery must restore the confidence of the Gunners fanbase and remember that the empty seats at the Emirates in the second half of the season helped seal Wenger’s fate.
THE OZIL CONUNDRUM
Ozil’s numbers in the 2017-18 season are respectable if not astonishing: He accumulated four goals and 12 assists in all competitions. At times, he has been sensational to watch. There was a period just after Christmas when he seemed to playing with a purposefulness that has been largely lacking during his time in England.
It was around that time that he put pen to paper on a new long-term Arsenal contract. With Alexis Sanchez having left the club to join Manchester United, Ozil’s decision to commit was regarded as a huge coup for Arsenal. He was identified as the player with the stature and the talent to lead Arsenal into the new era, and he was rewarded accordingly.
The mercurial German has a tendency to go missing in games. Since signing his new contract, the quality of Ozil’s performances in the matches he has turned up for appears to have dropped off significantly. Accommodating Ozil in a successful team has arguably not happened thus far in his five years in England. A team with Ozil at its heart is yet to challenge seriously for the Premier League title.
Some pertinent questions will have to be answered by Emery. Will Ozil continue to be afforded his favourite spot on the pitch? Similarly, will his capacity to go missing within games be tolerated?
One thing is clear: Jettisoning him is not an option. Arsenal’s decision to make him one of the highest-paid players in world football effectively priced him out of a move elsewhere. Ozil will be at Arsenal for the foreseeable future. If Arsenal are to be successful next year, harnessing his volatile talents will be essential.
LOCATE A LEADER
Arsenal teams of old do not resemble this current side. Gone are the days of Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira. The Gunners have not had a commanding voice on the pitch since then. Arsenal have a recent history of captains who cannot stay on the field to actually captain the team. Mikel Arteta was named captain in 2014, and played only sparingly over the next two seasons. Part of this was due to injury, and partly due to not being able to force his way into the team. After he left, Mertesacker was named captain and promptly suffered a knee injury. He did not start a match until the FA Cup Final on May 27 2017. Laurent Koscielny is the current captain but he is not a vocal leader and organiser, plus he is enduring a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Having a vocal and respectable leader on the field and in the dressing room would strengthen Arsenal mentally. In the twilight of his career as Arsenal manager, Emery may soon be looking to move that responsibility on.