Chelsea vs. Arsenal: More pressure on Emery after 3-2 loss

It looks like the summer tour has been of no use to Emery because the Spanish manager still has no idea what his best team is. Time is running out after Saturday’s 3-2 loss at Stamford Bridge. Arsenal hired Emery in May while Chelsea only appointed Sarri last month. Yet, Sarri has adapted more quickly to the Premier League than Emery as the Blues have 6 points from their first two games compared to zero for the Gunners.

Chelsea vs. ArsenalPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Emery relied on a 4-2-3-1 formation again with Xhaka and Guendouzi in central midfield, Ozil in the hole, Iwobi and Mkhitaryan on the wings and Aubameyang up front. I thought the team selection was wrong. That’s the kind of starting lineup you might use in a home game against a weak side but definitely not against the Blues, who enjoyed 62% of ball possession. Although Xhaka and Guendouzi failed to protect the defense against Manchester City, Emery kept persisting with that flawed partnership. And picking 3 attacking midfielders, whose work-rate is questionable, also hurt Emery’s pressing plan.

In the first half, the Arsenal defense was all over the place. There was no coordination in the high press. Chelsea often put the visitors in trouble with balls over the top because the Gunners played a very high defensive line without closing down the ball holder. That’s exactly what happened with the first two goals. Arsenal also struggled again to play the ball out from the back. Like in the summer friendly, the Blues’ high press proved more efficient and they often won the ball back inside Arsenal’s half. What saved the Gunners from a complete disaster was Chelsea’s inability to defend crosses. Arsenal could have led by a couple of goals at halftime but they were let down by some really poor finishing.

The second half was pretty much one-way traffic with the Arsenal defense under siege. The Gunners switched back to the Wenger way with a low defensive line as the first half clearly exposed Sokratis’ lack of pace. Fans sometimes wonder why Arsenal didn’t implement a pressing game under Wenger. Saturday’s game showed why: the French manager had the wrong players for such a tactical ploy.

Better wing play

The Gunners were unlucky to face such a brutal Premier League schedule but at least they learned a lot from those first two games. While Ozil and Mkhitaryan too often drifted inside against City, the Gunners improved their wing play against the Blues as Iwobi and Mkhitaryan stretched the Chelsea defense by staying wide. The Gunners also improved their final ball, which was poor against City. They created some big chances against Chelsea because of the quality of their crossing.

One area that Emery must get right for the next game is the midfield. Jorginho had too much time to release Alonso down our right flank in the ninth minute. Pedro converted Alonso’s cross to open the scoring. If you look at the screen capture below, you will see several mistakes on that play. First, Willian pulled Bellerin out of position, creating space for Alonso to run into. Bellerin shouldn’t be wandering into Chelsea’s half, it should have been Xhaka’s job to track Willian in that part of the pitch. Second, Ozil failed to close down Jorginho when he took Willian’s pass. Third, Mkhitaryan failed to mark Alonso down the right flank. And fourth, the high defensive line exposed Sokratis’ lack of pace. The Greek centerback was 5 yards behind Pedro when Alonso made his cross.

Chelsea vs. Arsenal M09ed Willian pulls Bellerin out of position before slipping the ball to Jorginho. (Photo credit: BT Sport)

The second goal looked similar. Azpilicueta hit a ball over the top for Morata, who toyed with Mustafi before beating Cech with a low shot in the 20th. First, Iwobi made no effort to close down Azpilicueta. And second, it made no sense for the Arsenal defense to play an offside trap on the halfway line for the simple reason that a player in his own half is never in an offside position. From the moment Morata walked back into his own half, Sokratis or Mustafi should have decided to drop off.

Ozil’s poor work-rate

Emery must have a serious chat with Ozil because his work-rate is not good enough. Mendy had too much freedom a week ago because Ozil didn’t close down the City leftback. Emery thought he could solve the problem by moving Ozil to the No. 10 position against the Blues but the Spanish manager made the problem worse. Jorginho capitalized on Ozil’s laziness to dictate play and lead all players with 99 passes. Besides the opening goal, Jorginho created chances by sending balls over the top to Barkley in the sixth minute and to Kante in the 13th.

In 67 minutes, Ozil won 0 tackle and made 0 interception and just 2 ball recoveries, according to the club’s website. By contrast, Barkley who played in a similar position with Chelsea won 0 tackle and made 2 interceptions and 4 recoveries in 60 minutes. It’s quite surprising Emery didn’t realize that Ozil is a defensive liability. When he was the PSG manager, Emery could see how Verratti and Di Maria took advantage of Ozil’s poor work-rate to drop back and send balls over the top in the 2016 Champions League games between Arsenal and the French club.

Ozil’s offensive contribution was just as poor as his defensive work. He made 0 key pass and had 0 shot on target. Monreal gave him a chance to shine in the eighth minute but Ozil’s volley sailed wide of the far post. Ozil then failed to anticipate a teasing cross from Aubameyang in the 47th. Emery replaced Ozil with Ramsey in the 67th and the Wales midfielder proved a greater goal threat in his cameo. Ramsey tested Kepa with a low strike in the 77th before firing a half-volley over the bar in the 90th.

Emery has a big problem on the right wing because Ozil couldn’t contain Mendy a week ago and Mkhitaryan struggled badly against Alonso on Saturday. Obviously, you don’t face leftbacks as good as Mendy and Alonso every weekend but you can bet that other Premier League teams have spotted that chink in the Arsenal armor.

The understanding between Mkhitaryan and Iwobi

Mkhitaryan worked harder than Ozil as he made 2 interceptions and 9 recoveries. He was arguably Arsenal’s best player, finishing the game with 1 goal and 1 assist and leading all players with 5 key passes. The Armenia international found the net in the 37th by pouncing on a loose ball to fire into the bottom corner from 18 yards. Then Mkhitaryan set up Iwobi for the equalizer with a low cross in the 41st. Interestingly, Iwobi and Mkhitaryan seemed to strike an understanding in that game. Iwobi cut the ball back for Mkhitaryan, who blazed over the bar from 9 yards in the 32nd. They swapped roles on the stroke of halftime as Iwobi met a low cross from Mkhitaryan only to miss the target from 12 yards. If Emery had to choose between Ozil and Mkhitaryan, the latter made a strong case that it should be him.

Iwobi’s performance was a mixed bag. On the bright side, he showed end product with 1 goal and 2 key passes. Iwobi picked out an unmarked Aubameyang, who shot wide from 8 yards in the 44th. I believe he still needs to improve his work-rate and cut his turnovers to become a solid starter. The Nigeria international won no tackle and made just 1 interception and 4 recoveries. He also led all players with 6 turnovers and had a passing accuracy dipping to 56%, the lowest percentage for any player according to whoscored.com.

In central midfield, Guendouzi performed better than against City. He not only cut some mistakes out of his game but also won 2 of 4 tackles and 82% of his duels, had a passing accuracy of 94%, and made 4 interceptions, 1 block and 8 recoveries, according to the club’s website. Those are much better stats than Xhaka, who won 0 of 1 tackle and made 0 interception and 1 recovery in the first half. Guendouzi showed an eye for a pass in the 19th by releasing Bellerin down the right flank. The Spaniard made a low cross for an unmarked Aubameyang, who fired over the bar from 8 yards with the goal at his mercy.

Guendouzi as an all-rounder

Obviously, Guendouzi still has a lot of room for improvement, but I can see why Emery started the French teenager. If you love total football and watch the Liverpool midfield or the City midfield, you would think that Guendouzi could make the cut as an all-rounder. He made a timely tackle on Hazard as the last defender in the 83rd and took his chance in the 43rd with a long-range strike that Kepa easily saved. Like Pires some 18 years ago, Guendouzi will have to toughen up a bit. Jorginho brushed him off the ball in the fourth minute to create a half-chance for Pedro.

It’s just a question of weeks before Emery drops Xhaka from the starting lineup because he is not a good fit for the manager’s tactics. Xhaka simply lacks the mobility and pace to press or show for the ball when the team tries to play out from the back. The Switzerland international gave the ball away in the 13th and was booked in the 27th for a late tackle on Pedro. Xhaka was replaced at halftime by Torreira, who seemed to lack match sharpness. Torreira was dispossessed by Pedro on the edge of the Arsenal box in the 52nd and received a yellow card in the 71st for a foul on Kovacic. The Uruguay midfielder was also guilty on the last goal as he failed to track Alonso in the 81st.

Chelsea’s winning goal started with a turnover from Lacazette, who replaced Iwobi in the 75th. Lacazette attempted a risky back pass toward Torreira. Hazard intercepted the ball and the play developed on our right flank where Hazard dribbled past Lacazette to square the ball back for Alonso,who shot past Cech. Lacazette got some stick for his turnover but Bellerin failed to stop Hazard’s cross and Torreira let Alonso run past him.

If you look at the screen capture below, you can see that Lacazette only had one safe passing option: Aubameyang. But Lacazette panicked because he felt Luiz’s presence behind him. Lacazette is simply not comfortable playing with his back to goal. He played as a centerforward for Lyon but he’s still not used to the physicality of the Premier League. I don’t understand why Wenger and Emery both played Aubameyang on the left wing and Lacazette up front when Aubameyang is a more natural choice for the centerforward position. Lacazette should be playing on the right wing or as a second striker.

Chelsea vs. Arsenal M80ed Lacazette ignores his best passing option, Aubameyang. (Photo credit: BT Sport)

Aubameyang could have notched a hat trick with better finishing. Unmarked, he missed the target from 8 yards in the 19th and 44th. He also chased a long ball from Mustafi in the 17th to fire a low effort straight at Kepa. Despite that poor performance, Aubameyang should still retain his starting spot for the next game because he’s more clinical than Welbeck and has more pace than Lacazette.

Lack of leadership

It’s hard to find any positive at the back. Bellerin made the penultimate pass for the equalizer but he’s still playing too much like a wingback. He needs to improve his positional play and find the right balance between attack and defense. Hazard too easily rounded him in the 70th. Bellerin also let his teammates down in the 78th. The Spaniard casually jogged back, letting Mkhitaryan and Ramsey deal with Pedro and Alonso on the right flank. Pedro made a cross for Kante, who headed over the bar.

Monreal initiated Arsenal’s first goal by dispossessing Willian but Saturday’s game also confirmed that he has lost a step. In the 14th, Monreal failed to stay with Pedro, who chased a ball over the top from Willian. Then Pedro easily turned Monreal in the 55th before Barkley rounded Monreal in the 57th to test Cech with a low strike.

Mustafi led Arsenal players with 3 fouls. He got booked in the 77th for fouling Hazard from behind. Mustafi is not a world-class defender like Koscielny and simply lacks the leadership to marshal the back four. Playing a high defensive line will be an issue for Emery because Sokratis has no recovery pace while Mustafi’s reading of the game can be poor.

The Gunners threw caution to the wind in the closing minutes. Cech saved them from an embarrassing scoreline by making a couple of fine saves, parrying an angled shot from Hazard in the 86th and denying Giroud in the 87th and in stoppage time. Cech occasionally played out from the back, but when he felt that it was too risky, he opted for a long kick.

This is a transition season for Arsenal. But the club can’t afford a poor result against West Ham on Saturday. Even Manchester United under Moyes never lost three straight games in the Premier League. And if the Gunners were to fall in the relegation zone, that would be the start of a crisis. In any club, most fans call for the sack of the manager when their team stays in the drop zone for weeks.

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Arsenal vs. Manchester City: Gunners suffer rough start to the season

Emery has become Arsenal’s new manager but this is not his team yet. Sunday’s 2-0 loss to Manchester City looked pretty much like the embarrassing defeats of last season under Wenger. Obviously, it will take more than a season for the Gunners to play the way Emery wants them to.

Arsenal vs. Manchester CityPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

As a rule of thumb, I consider that a manager is entirely responsible for his team only when he has changed more than half of the players in his predecessor’s favorite starting lineup. See Liverpool’s starting XI under Rodgers and how it looks now under Klopp. Assuming every player was fit, Wenger would usually start Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Aubameyang and Lacazette. On Sunday, Emery opened the season with Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Maitland-Niles, Xhaka, Guendouzi, Ramsey, Mkhitaryan, Ozil and Aubameyang. That’s 3 changes to Wenger’s best starting lineup. We can safely assume that Emery would have made only 1 change if Monreal and Koscielny had been available.

Fans already got a glimpse in the summer friendlies of what Emery wanted to change at the club: playing the ball out from the back and pressing high up the pitch. Against City, Cech took more passes than he did under Wenger because Emery tends to see the goalkeeper as a sweeper too. Unfortunately, Cech didn’t really feel comfortable in that role.

Cech nearly scored an own goal in the 22nd minute while attempting a first-time pass to Mustafi. Then he made a risky pass to Guendouzi that was nearly intercepted in the 39th. Tired of the drama, Cech finally opted for a long punt in the 42nd, drawing cheers from the crowd. I’m afraid Cech is not the right goalie to play out from the back. If Emery wants to stick with that idea, then he should replace Cech with Leno just like Pep ditched Hart to sign Ederson.

Choosing the right players for a high press

Implementing a pressing game is still a work in progress. Arsenal enjoyed mixed results against the Citizens. It wasn’t a systematic high press like the one performed by Liverpool under Klopp. The Gunners seemed to choose their moments and often preferred to wait inside their own half. The first high press attempt in the 10th minute led to nothing. Two attempts led to dangerous fast breaks for City, but Aguero’s final ball was blocked in the 18th while Xhaka cleared Sterling’s cross in the 36th. On the bright side, two other attempts led to half-chances for Arsenal but Ramsey received the ball in an offside position in the 45th and Mkhitaryan shot wide on the stroke of halftime after Mendy put him off.

Emery must ask himself if he chose the right players to implement a successful pressing game. You need players who are smart enough to read the game, mobile enough to cut the passing channels, strong enough to make interceptions or win duels, and industrious enough to repeat such a tiring task.

The Citizens love dominating ball possession. It was therefore no surprise to see them enjoy 58% of possession. The real surprise was Emery’s tactical setup with Xhaka, Guendouzi and Ramsey in midfield. You usually play with 2 deep-lying playmakers like Xhaka and Guendouzi when you intend to control the game. That was obviously the wrong option because City dictated play while Xhaka and Guendouzi failed to protect the defense. Emery implicitly acknowledged his mistake by yanking off Xhaka in the 70th to send on Torreira.

The opening goal in the 14th highlighted the poor defensive work from Xhaka and Guendouzi. Sterling cut inside Bellerin and Guendouzi to curl into the the far corner. Xhaka was late to make the block on that play. Guendouzi’s overall performance was a mixed bag. He won 4 tackles and made 4 interceptions, compared to 1 tackle and 0 interception for Xhaka, according to whoscored.com. The French teenager also led Arsenal players with 7 turnovers, compared to 1 for Xhaka.

Coordinating a recruitment strategy

Guendouzi didn’t look out of his depth, but his inexperience means that he will make mistakes this season. He gave the ball away in the 29th, dived in and fouled Sterling in the 55th, and allowed Aguero to be clean through on goal after misjudging the flight of the ball in the 63rd.

On the other hand, Xhaka had no excuse for his errors. Despite starting his third season in the Premier League, Xhaka keeps playing like a rookie. He made a sloppy pass in the seventh minute, was dispossessed by Gundogan in the 27th, and made a cynical foul on Aguero after being pulled out of position in the 52nd. Xhaka is definitely not a good fit for Emery’s pressing game.

Playing in the role of a free-roaming midfielder like he does for Wales, Ramsey was ineffective in great part because his strength mostly lies in the late runs he makes inside the box when the Gunners dominate possession. Running after the ball, Ramsey seemed in charge of leading the high press and there were times when he wasn’t on the same wavelength as his teammates. In the transition game, Ramsey tried to create space with his runs or acted as a water-carrier by finding Ozil in the 33rd and Mkhitaryan on the stroke of halftime.

At the back, Mustafi and Bellerin had a decent game. Mustafi won 4 tackles and made 3 interceptions, compared to 1 tackle and 0 interception for Sokratis, according to whoscored.com. Sokratis is an old-fashioned centerback with limited ball-playing abilities. You kind of wonder whether there was any coordination between Emery, Mislintat, Sanllehi and Gazidis in the recruiting process because Sokratis does not have the profile of a centerback playing Emery’s brand of football. His sluggishness is also a concern. Sokratis was booked in the 27th for a late tackle on Aguero.

A too predictable offense

The Gunners have an injury crisis at leftback. Maitland, who deputized for Monreal and Kolasinac, had a rough time down the left flank. Mahrez in the 13th and Sterling in the 25th got the better of Maitland-Niles. The academy player was so busy defensively that he rarely charged forward. One of his few offensive contributions was a crossfield pass for Bellerin, who beat Mendy only to shoot straight at Ederson in the 21st. Maitland-Niles’ day was cut short by a leg tangle with Walker and an awkward fall in the 30th. He got back on his feet after a couple of minutes but had to be replaced by Lichtsteiner in the 35th.

In his Premier League debut, Lichtsteiner used his experience to cope with Mahrez’s trickery. Lichtsteiner fouled Mahrez in the 39th and then backed down in a 1v1 situation in the 42nd when the Algeria international curled a shot wide of the far post. However, one lapse of concentration cost his team a goal in the 64th. Lichtsteiner failed to track Bernardo, who connected with Mendy’s low cross to fire into the top corner.

The quality of Arsenal’s passing game deteriorated in Wenger’s last season at the club. One reason was the poor recruitment, another was the tactical answers found by the other Premier League sides. Emery started Ozil and Mkhitaryan as wide players. Unfortunately, his plan was too predictable and City easily coped with Arsenal’s attacking threat. The Gunners produced no through ball and were forced by City’s compact shape to resort to long balls.

Aubameyang was deprived of service because the final ball was often poor. Xhaka in the 16th, Mkhitaryan in the 24th and Ozil in the 69th all overhit their final ball for the Gabon striker. Aubameyang finally collected a decent ball over the top from Torreira to chip Ederson in the 79th but his goal was disallowed for an offside position.

Finding the best lineup for the Chelsea game

Both Ozil and Mkhitaryan had a poor game. Ozil finished the game with 5 turnovers and wasted 2 scoring chances with a miskick in the 80th and a heavy touch in the 84th. Mkhitaryan dallied on the ball and couldn’t get his shot away in the 33rd. In stoppage time, Mkhitaryan intercepted a sloppy pass from Ederson, but his final ball for Lacazette was so poor that the France international couldn’t even catch the frame.

The offense looked a bit more lively when Lacazette replaced Ramsey in the 54th. Lacazette added more directness and aggression to the team. His best chance came in the 56th when he took a pass from Aubameyang and lifted the ball to set up a half-volley that sailed wide. Emery will have to think about the work-rate of his wide players. Walker and Mendy did a lot of damage down the flanks. In the eighth minute, Mkhitaryan failed to track a run from Walker, whose cross was cut out by Cech. In the 64th, Bellerin was left in a 1v2 situation with Mendy and Sterling because neither Ozil nor Mkhitaryan tracked the City leftback.

Emery does not have much time to find his best starting XI because the Gunners visit Chelsea on Saturday. If the Spanish manager wants to continue with a high press, then he must switch to an inverted pyramid midfield with Torreira in the No. 6 role, Ramsey on the right and a third player on the left. Guendouzi, Xhaka, Elneny and Maitland-Niles are the candidates for that third spot in midfield and they all have flaws: Maitland-Niles and Guendouzi are inexperienced, Xhaka lacks the mobility for a high press, and Elneny struggles in duels.

Passing vs. dribbling

More aggression and penetration will also be needed in the front three. The Gunners are too predictable with Ozil and Mkhitaryan as wide players. Under Wenger, both would drift inside and the fullbacks would roam forward like wingbacks to provide the width. That configuration is not possible under Emery because of the flatter back four. So it has to be either Ozil or Mkhitaryan, but not both.

Lacazette, Nelson or Welbeck should play on one of the wings because they could stretch play, dribble past defenders and work their socks off to win the ball back. Although De Bruyne and Sane started on the bench, it was quite telling that City finished the game with 11 successful dribbles to 6 for Arsenal, according to whoscored.com. When teams are too well organized, you can’t always crack a defense with a pass, you also need some dribbling skills. That’s why the Reds have Salah and Mane while the Blues can rely on Hazard and Willian. Will Emery be more pragmatic than Wenger?

 

Arsenal season preview

The Gunners face a tricky start to the season with their first three games against Manchester City, Chelsea and West Ham. There’s a real possibility that they might have just one point in the Premier League at the end of this month.

Arsenal Training SessionPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Arsenal addressed some of their defensive issues by signing Leno, Sokratis, Lichtsteiner, Torreira and Guendouzi during the summer. It will obviously take more than a single transfer window to rebuild the squad. Even Klopp and Pochettino needed to wait until their second season at Liverpool and Tottenham to get back into the Top 4.

The main disappointment from the transfer window is that the club hasn’t managed to clear the dead wood yet. The Gunners sold Perez, Akpom and Reine-Adelaide to West Ham, PAOK Salonika and Angers, respectively, while loaning out Chambers to Fulham. But they failed to offload Jenkinson, Ospina, Welbeck and Campbell, 4 players who don’t seem to fit into Emery’s plans.

Let’s analyze the new recruits. Arsenal needed an upgrade in the goalkeeping position: Cech is past his prime and made the most errors leading to a goal in the Premier League last season, while Ospina has struggled to command his area. At 26, Leno is in the peak years of his career. He has better ball-playing abilities than Cech and will cope better with the physicality of English football than Ospina. However, his signing is a bit of a gamble because he missed out on the Germany squad for the World Cup and he has also been let down by lapses of concentration throughout his career.

Koscielny’s Achilles injury meant that Arsenal had to sign an experienced centerback. I’m not really sold on Sokratis. At 30, he only has a couple of years left at the top. The bigger issue is Sokratis’ lack of recovery pace which could become a liability if the Gunners play a high defensive line. You kind of wonder whether there was any coordination between Emery, Mislintat, Sanllehi and Gazidis in the recruiting process because Sokratis is not a good match for Emery’s pressing game.

Improving the starting XI

Did Arsenal really need to sign Lichtsteiner? Maitland-Niles and Holding could have deputized for Bellerin in the rightback position. At 34, Lichtsteiner will struggle to adapt to the pace of the Premier League. Yes, he looked good with Juventus, but Serie A games are played at a slower tempo. Wenger would have been slayed for hiring such an old defender. Fans can still remember the poor performances from Silvestre and Squillaci, who both joined Arsenal when they turned 30.

In midfield, the Gunners finally signed the ballwinner they’ve been missing for years. On paper, Torreira is the best of the 5 recruits. At 22, Torreira already has more tactical discipline and better positional play than Xhaka. Assuming Torreira becomes a key player in the team, the Uruguay international could offer a decade of good service to the club.

Arsenal also spent £7 million on Lorient midfielder Guendouzi, which is an unusual fee for an unproven teenager. Guendouzi has great potential as a deep-lying playmaker but he needs to cut some basic errors out of his game. Right now, he’s simply too casual to start in the Premier League. Expect Guendouzi to get some playing time in the League Cup and the Europa League.

The main issue I have with Arsenal’s recruitment strategy is that only Torreira and possibly Leno will improve the starting XI. Lichtsteiner won’t take Bellerin’s spot while Sokratis is a weaker centerback than a fully fit Koscielny. Remember, the Gunners declined in the past few years because they made the mistake of signing a lot of average players instead of targeting top quality players like Liverpool under Klopp.

Aiming for a Top 4 finish

I don’t expect Arsenal to be a serious contender in the Premier League this year. They finished 12 points outside the Top 4 last season and it will take more than those 5 summer signings to bridge the gap. The title race should be a dead heat between Liverpool and Manchester City, which means that Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham will fight for the remaining Top 4 spots. Let’s compare the big clubs by position:

Goalkeepers: Arsenal (Leno, Cech, Ospina, Martinez); City (Ederson, Bravo, Grimshaw); United (De Gea, Romero, Pereira, Grant); Liverpool (Alisson, Karius, Mignolet); Tottenham (Lloris, Vorm, Gazzaniga); Chelsea (Kepa, Caballero, Green).

Liverpool and the two Manchester clubs have a better No. 1 than the Gunners. The Blues are in the same situation as Arsenal because they still don’t know how Kepa will adapt to the Premier League. Maybe Spurs should worry more than their London rivals for the goalkeeping position because Lloris can be error-prone like Cech while Vorm is past his prime.

Fullbacks: Arsenal (Bellerin, Lichtsteiner, Jenkinson, Monreal, Kolasinac); City (Walker, Danilo, Mendy, Delph, Zinchenko); United (Valencia, Darmian, Dalot, Young, Shaw); Liverpool (Gomez, Alexander-Arnold, Clyne, Robertson, Moreno); Tottenham (Trippier, Aurier, Walker-Peters, Rose, Davies); Chelsea (Azpilicueta, Zappacosta, Aina, Alonso, Palmieri).

The leftback position is definitely a liability for Arsenal. Only the Red Devils have worse options at leftback with Young and Shaw. At Liverpool, Klopp has managed to turn average fullbacks into good ones. City might lack a back-up for Mendy, but Guardiola’s tactical skills mean that midfielders like Delph and Zinchenko can deputize in that role. At rightback, Emery’s main task will be to improve Bellerin’s defensive awareness. The Spaniard’s career has stagnated since his inclusion in the 2016 PFA Team of the Year. Walker, Azpilicueta, Gomez, Valencia and even Trippier seem more solid defensively than Bellerin.

No natural leader in defense

Centerbacks: Arsenal (Koscielny, Mustafi, Sokratis, Holding, Mavropanos); City (Kompany, Laporte, Stones, Otamendi, Mangala, Sandler, Adarabioyo); United (Bailly, Lindelof, Jones, Smalling, Rojo, Tuanzebe); Liverpool (Van Dijk, Lovren, Matip, Klavan, Phillips); Tottenham (Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Sanchez, Foyth, Carter-Vickers); Chelsea (Rudiger, Christensen, Cahill, Luiz, Ampadu).

The Gunners will miss Koscielny for the first half of the season. That makes the Arsenal defense highly vulnerable because they have no natural leader. The situation is so bad that second-choice centerbacks at the other big clubs (Laporte, Smalling, Matip, Sanchez, Luiz) would look like an upgrade on Mustafi and Sokratis.

Midfielders: Arsenal (Torreira, Maitland-Niles, Willock, Xhaka, Guendouzi, Elneny, Ramsey, Ozil); City (Fernandinho, Gundogan, De Bruyne, David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Foden); United (Herrera, Matic, Fellaini, McTominay, Pogba, Fred, Mata, Pereira); Liverpool (Henderson, Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Milner, Keita, Lallana, Grujic, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jones, Chirivella); Tottenham (Dier, Winks, Wanyama, Sissoko, Dembele, Eriksen, Onomah); Chelsea (Kante, Jorginho, Loftus-Cheek, Drinkwater, Fabregas, Barkley, Bakayoko, Kovacic).

The Gunners finally have every type of midfielder in their squad after signing Torreira this summer: a ballwinner (Torreira), a box-to-box player (Ramsey), a No. 10 (Ozil), deep-lying playmakers (Xhaka, Guendouzi) and utility midfielders (Elneny, Maitland-Niles, Willock). The main issue here is the quality. After losing Cazorla, Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain in the past 12 months, the Gunners don’t have the same level of creativity in midfield as Manchester City. And they also lack the work-rate and mobility in midfield to implement Emery’s pressing game and emulate Liverpool and Tottenham.

1-2 punch

Wingers & attacking midfielders: Arsenal (Welbeck, Iwobi, Campbell, Nelson, Mkhitaryan); City (Sane, Diaz, Arzani, Sterling, Mahrez); United (Sanchez, Martial, Lingard, Mata); Liverpool (Mane, Origi, Salah, Shaqiri); Tottenham (Son, Nkoudou, Lamela, Alli, Moura); Chelsea (Hazard, Hudson-Odoi, Willian, Pedro, Moses, Musonda Jr).

In terms of end product, Arsenal wingers and attacking midfielders are far behind the other big clubs. Don’t expect Mkhitaryan, Iwobi and Welbeck to have as many goals and assists as Sane, Sterling and Mahrez at City, or Mane and Salah at Liverpool, or even Alli and Son at Tottenham. Nelson’s presence in the Arsenal squad is a huge bonus for a team that has been missing a natural dribbler since Oxlade-Chamberlain’s departure. But Nelson is only 18, so his performances will lack consistency.

Strikers: Arsenal (Aubameyang, Lacazette, Nketiah); City (Aguero, Jesus); United (Lukaku, Rashford, Wilson); Liverpool (Firmino, Sturridge, Solanke, Brewster); Tottenham (Kane, Janssen, Llorente); Chelsea (Morata, Giroud).

With Aubameyang and Lacazette, the Gunners may have the most fantastic 1-2 punch in the Premier League behind Manchester City. Rashford and Sturridge don’t have the same level of consistency as Lacazette while Janssen and Llorente are poor back-up options if Kane gets injured. Giroud is a decent Plan B at Chelsea but it’s doubtful that Morata could reach the heights of Lukaku or Aguero.

Finishing in the Top 4 would be considered a successful season for Emery while placing 5th or 6th would look normal for a season of transition. But finishing beyond 6th place would be a failure for Emery because Arsenal would then fall into the category of Tier 3 clubs like Everton and West Ham (Tier 1 clubs challenge for the title, Tier 2 clubs chase a Top 4 finish, and Tier 3 clubs only chase a Europa League spot).

Kroenke’s buyout

The start to the season has been somehow overshadowed by Kroenke’s buyout of Usmanov’s shares. Making the announcement this week is smart timing from the owner’s perspective because the fans are unlikely to sabotage Emery’s debut by staging protests against Kroenke.

Most fans obviously fear that Kroenke could take out dividends or even load debt onto Arsenal, which would be ethically unacceptable at a time when the club is still making annual interest payments for the construction of the Emirates stadium. Kroenke could have appeased those fears by purchasing Usmanov’s shares with his own cash instead of financing the buyout with a loan from Deutsche Bank.

Another worry for the fans is Kroenke’s poor track record with his American clubs. As an owner, Kroenke seems more interested in financial results than in success on the pitch. Henry at Liverpool and Levy at Tottenham have shown more ambition without leading their respective clubs to bankruptcy.

Let’s have a quick look at Kroenke’s American clubs. In the NFL, Kroenke has been the majority owner of the Los Angeles Rams since 2010. The Rams have only made one playoff appearance in the past 8 years: they lost their wild-card playoff against the Falcons in 2017. Kroenke’s wife currently owns the Denver Nuggets, who missed out on the NBA playoffs in the past 5 seasons. In the NHL, the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 2001 just a year after Kroenke purchased the franchise. But in the 8 past seasons, the Avalanche missed out on the playoffs 6 times and lost in the first round of the playoffs twice. Kroenke also purchased the Colorado Rapids in 2004. The Rapids won the MLS Cup in 2010 but failed to qualify for the playoffs in 4 of the past 7 years. Their best result during that period was a loss in the 2016 Western Conference final.

Those are average or mediocre results if you consider the context: it is much more difficult to finish in the Top 4 of the Premier League than to make the playoffs in American sports. In the NFL, 12 teams out of 32 make the playoffs. The bar is lower in the NHL with 16 teams out of 31 reaching the playoffs. Also more than half of the teams make the playoffs in the NBA (16 teams out of 30) and the MLS (12 teams out of 22).

If the Gunners keep missing out on the Champions League in the next few years, then the fans could try to force Kroenke out. They got the template from their North London rivals: Sugar had to sell his stake in Tottenham Hotspur after repeated protests from the fans.

 

A few thoughts on the Arsenal tour in Europe

The summer tour has been positive overall with 2 wins and 2 draws, but it is still difficult to see Emery’s impact on the Arsenal team. The Gunners drew 1-1 with Chelsea on Wednesday before defeating Lazio 2-0 on Saturday.

2018 European TourPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Both games raised concerns about the Arsenal defense. Chelsea looked sharper and could have put the game to bed in the first half while Lazio played at a slower tempo and couldn’t find the net despite torturing the Gunners with crosses.

  1. Implementing the pressing game

Pressing is a defensive tool to stop counterattacks but it’s also an attacking tool to create chances. Chelsea and Arsenal both tried to press high up the pitch when they lost possession. The Gunners still have a long way to go. The Blues looked better drilled, forcing turnovers in dangerous areas, while Arsenal’s pressing never really troubled Chelsea.

  1. Same old defensive frailties

The last years of Wenger’s tenure were defined by recurrent defensive issues: the Gunners often looked vulnerable on set pieces and crosses as well as on the fast break. The Blues took advantage of some poor defensive organization to open the scoring in the fifth minute. Rudiger lost Smith-Rowe to head in Fabregas’ corner. A rookie shouldn’t be marking one of Chelsea’s main aerial threats. The problem wasn’t fixed at halftime as Rudiger toyed again with Smith-Rowe in the 57th only to head a corner wide.

The Blues also did a lot of damage on the fast break. Fabregas wasted a counterattack in the 10th by slipping the ball to an offside Morata. Then Hudson-Odoi dispossessed Elneny in the 24th to feed Morata, who was denied by Cech. Three days later, the Lazio game exposed Arsenal’s poor job in stopping dangerous crosses. Yet, Caicedo in the 16th, Lulic in the 37th and Parolo in the 35th and 49th all missed the target.

This is not Emery’s team yet. Fans will need to show a bit of patience for what is mostly a transition season. But if those defensive issues are not corrected by the end of the season, then the club may not have hired the right manager.

  1. The back four is a worry

The Gunners have a problem at leftback. Kolasinac picked up a knee injury against Chelsea and will be sidelined for 2 months, while Monreal didn’t play in any summer friendly and currently has a knee problem preventing him from training with the team. Wenger got some stick last season for playing Maitland-Niles in the leftback position but the irony is that Emery did the same thing against Lazio.

At rightback, Hudson-Odoi had Bellerin in his pocket and even won a penalty when the Spaniard tripped him in the 14th. Bellerin is expected to get a bit of competition from Lichtsteiner, who made his Arsenal debut on Saturday and had a more comfortable evening against Lazio veteran Lulic. There are big question marks about Lichtsteiner’s ability to adapt to the pace of English football. Lichtsteiner performed well with Juventus, but Serie A games don’t really match the intensity of the Premier League.

Sokratis and Mustafi started at centerback against Chelsea and looked vulnerable when Arsenal played a high defensive line. The Blues capitalized on Sokratis’ lack of recovery pace to send balls over the top. Hudson-Odoi collected a long ball from Jorginho in the 42nd but had his effort cleared off the line by Mustafi.

If Sokratis and Mustafi perform poorly or get injured, the back-up options are very limited. Koscielny will miss the first half of the season. That means Holding, Chambers or Mavropanos would have to step up. Chambers was so slow in the 26th that Lulic was able to charge down his clearance. Lulic got again the better of Chambers, who made a cynical foul on the Lazio veteran in the 54th. Meanwhile, Holding put himself in trouble with some poor decision-making, attempting a risky pass that was intercepted in the 31st and losing possession after dribbling inside his own half in the 77th.

  1. The Gunners need more creativity

Over the past 12 months, the club has lost a lot of creativity with the departures of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanchez, Cazorla and Wilshere. The responsibility for creating chances now rests on the shoulders of Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Iwobi. Against Chelsea, Mkhitaryan had an off day. The Gunners played better when Nelson replaced Mkhitaryan in the 72nd. The academy player made a cross that Lacazette converted in stoppage time to force a penalty shootout. Nelson also opened the scoring against Lazio, tapping home a rebound in the 18th after Iwobi struck the post with a low diagonal strike.

At 18, Nelson is a very promising youngster. He can deliver the final ball and dribble past defenders. But he is unlikely to perform consistently in the Premier League. If you add Iwobi’s own inconsistency issues, that means Arsenal can only rely on Ozil and Mkhitaryan for a significant number of assists this season. Maybe the Gunners could sign another creative midfielder this summer if they manage to offload for a good fee the players that Emery does not want.

  1. The Arsenal midfield is too soft

Elneny, Guendouzi and Smith-Rowe started in midfield against Chelsea. That trio would badly struggle against any decent Premier League side. It’s true that Torreira, Xhaka and Ramsey are more likely to be the starters in a three-man midfield. But I can’t help thinking that Wilshere, Cazorla and the Ox were better options than Elneny, Guendouzi and Smith-Rowe.

There’s no doubt that Guendouzi has great potential as a deep-lying playmaker, but the brutal contrast with Jorginho’s flawless performance on Wednesday showed the gap between those 2 players. Guendouzi is simply too casual for such a key position. He put his team in trouble against Atletico by dribbling on the edge of the Arsenal area.

You would have thought that Guendouzi learned his lesson, but he didn’t. The French teenager was reckless against Chelsea, attempting again to dribble on the edge of the Arsenal box. Guendouzi was lucky to draw a foul in the 20th, he nearly lost possession in the 28th, and he was dispossessed in the 33rd as the Blues hit Arsenal on the fast break. As long as Guendouzi doesn’t cut those mistakes out of his game, it would be foolish to start him in a Premier League game.

Torreira finally made his Arsenal debut on Saturday. He’s definitely the kind of defensive midfielder that the club has been missing since Gilberto Silva. His strong tactical discipline and his sound positional play make him a better fit for the No. 6 role than Xhaka.

It was quite intriguing to see Torreira play with Xhaka in a 4-4-2 formation against Lazio. Maybe Emery will use that system if Ramsey is still injured or leaves the club. Ramsey picked up a calf strain while warming up for the Chelsea game and was replaced by Smith-Rowe in the starting lineup. Chelsea and Liverpool seem both interested in the Wales midfielder, who only has a year left on his contract. The Blues don’t have that type of player in their squad while Ramsey would be a perfect fit for Liverpool’s football style.

  1. How much gas does Cech still have left in the tank?

At 36, Cech is in the twilight of his career. Past the age of 35, some goalkeepers can still perform at the top level (Zoff, Van der Sar, Buffon), while others tend to decline sharply (Taffarel, Casillas). Cech was the player who made the most errors leading to a goal in the Premier League last season. Can he catch a second wind?

His performance against Chelsea seems to suggest that Cech may still have one season left at the top. He saved Morata’s tame penalty in the 15th and helped Arsenal stay in the game with a couple more outstanding saves. In the penalty shootout, Cech stopped Loftus-Cheek’s spot kick before Iwobi converted the last kick of the game.

A few thoughts on the Arsenal tour in Singapore

For his first weeks at the club, Emery was able to work with the bulk of the Arsenal squad as only Welbeck, Ospina, Torreira, Xhaka, Lichtsteiner, and Monreal missed out on the summer tour in Singapore. The Gunners drew 1-1 with Atletico Madrid on Thursday before routing Paris Saint-Germain 5-1 on Saturday.

2018 Arsenal TourPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

The first game showed Simeone’s organizational skills. Despite missing Griezmann, Lemar, Hernandez, Vrsaljko, Godin, Gimenez, Felipe Luis, Costa, Koke, Saul Niguez, and Savic, the Colchoneros managed to prevent Arsenal from creating clear-cut chances. The second game exposed PSG’s lack of a deep bench. The absences of Mbappe, Kimpembe, Meunier, Cavani, Neymar, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Dani Alves, and Di Maria meant that unknown youngsters got the nod from Tuchel.

  1. Rethinking the partnership between Aubameyang and Lacazette

When Aubameyang and Lacazette played together against Atletico and PSG, Emery used the same configuration devised by Wenger last season with Lacazette through the middle and Aubameyang on the left wing. I don’t think it’s the most efficient configuration. A 4-4-2 system with Lacazette playing behind Aubameyang or a 4-3-3 system with Aubameyang up front and Lacazette on the right wing would optimize their impact in the final third.

Aubameyang should lead the line because he has more pace and is more clinical than Lacazette, while Lacazette has better passing and dribbling skills than Aubameyang. Playing as a second striker or as a false winger shouldn’t prevent Lacazette from finding the net often: Mbappe and Salah are examples of prolific forwards playing in a wide position.

Emery started Aubameyang as a lone striker on Saturday. The Gabon striker often cracked the PSG defense with his penetrative runs. He set up the opening goal with a sprint down the right flank in the 13th minute before collecting long balls in the 29th and 44th only to be denied by Buffon. Former Arsenal midfielder Diarra struggled so badly to cope with Aubameyang’s electric pace that he made cynical fouls in the 16th and 51st.

Lacazette has a lot to prove this season after failing to make the France squad for the World Cup. He was sharp and motivated in both friendlies, notching 2 goals against PSG and testing Atletico goalkeeper Oblak a couple of times.

  1. Can Emery improve the Arsenal defense?

The Gunners conceded 51 goals in the Premier League last season. That’s too much to have a decent shot at a Top 4 finish. Emery can definitely improve the team’s defensive organization. However, preventing goals also depends on the players’ decision-making and individual skills. The 2 games in Singapore raised again question marks about the defenders’ quality. Mustafi gave away a cheap free kick against PSG in the 19th and caught Weah with a high arm in the 28th after diving in. And Kolasinac was the main culprit for PSG’s equalizer as he missed his tackle and brought down Weah in the 59th. Holding and Chambers didn’t cover themselves in glory either against Atletico. Correa turned Holding to set up the opener in the 41st while Chambers received a yellow card in the 80th for a cynical foul.

  1. Academy players are knocking on the door

Nelson and Nketiah shone last season in the League Cup and the Europa League. The summer friendlies confirmed their strong potential. Nelson made 2 assists against PSG, taking the corner for Holding’s looping header in the 87th and slipping a through ball to Nketiah for the last goal. Named Premier League 2 Player of the Season, Nelson could have also scored in the 87th but Cibois saved his low strike.

There’s a bit of Ian Wright in Nketiah. The 19-year-old striker came off the bench in the second half and cut inside 2 defenders to test Cibois with a curling shot in the 81st. In stoppage time, Nketiah perfectly timed his run to beat the offside trap and score with a diagonal strike. Nketiah and Nelson should definitely play in the League Cup and the Europa League this year. Emery has shown his willingness to trust youngsters at PSG, so he should be able to develop Nketiah and Nelson this season.

While most Arsenal fans already know Nelson and Nketiah, the emergence of Smith-Rowe has been the biggest surprise of the summer tour. Smith-Rowe, who just turned 18 on Saturday, had never played with the first team before this season. The teenager was not really impressed by the crowd: Smith-Rowe notched a goal against Atletico and an assist against PSG. He ran past Partey in the 47th to beat Oblak with a curling shot from the edge of the box. Two days later, he picked out Lacazette, who made it 2-1 in the 67th. If Smith-Rowe can maintain that level of performance, you can bet that Emery will give him some playing time in the League Cup and the Europa League.

  1. A make-or-break season for Iwobi

Iwobi already has 3 Premier League seasons under his belt. Yet, his decision-making and end product are still poor. Nelson and Nketiah could leapfrog him in the pecking order if he keeps stagnating. Starting on the left wing against PSG, Iwobi was denied by Buffon in the 23rd and was replaced by Lacazette at halftime.

  1. Can Emery improve Ozil’s work-rate?

You often hear pundits say that his teammates should do the dirty work for Ozil. But if you look at the big clubs, playmakers like Eriksen and De Bruyne have better stats than Ozil and also work harder. Ozil’s poor work-rate could become a problem if Emery implements a pressing game. When PSG faced Arsenal in the 2016-17 Champions League, Emery took advantage of Ozil’s laziness to have Verratti and Di Maria drop back and send balls over the top. On Saturday, Ozil opened the scoring by converting Aubameyang’s cross in the 13th. Then the Germany playmaker made no effort to win the ball back after losing possession in the 34th, forcing Leno to palm away a powerful drive from Weah.

  1. Investing in youth

The Gunners haven’t enjoyed much luck in the past few years when they signed foreign youngsters. Sanogo, Reine-Adelaide, Bielik, Miyaichi, Eisfeld and Zelalem are examples of gambles in the transfer market that proved unsuccessful. Arsenal might have experienced a change of fortune by signing Guendouzi from French club Lorient for about £7 million. Fans can only hope that the scouting department did a thorough job to pay such a fee.

At 19, Guendouzi looked comfortable on the ball against Atletico. Despite his youth, Emery played him as a holding midfielder sitting behind Ramsey and Smith-Rowe. A couple of times, an overconfident Guendouzi tried to dribble on the edge of the Arsenal area. One of his turnovers led to a scoring chance for the Colchoneros in the 58th. Emery was more cautious for the PSG game as he played Guendouzi alongside the more defensive Elneny. Guendouzi displayed his ball-playing abilities with a pinpoint ball over the top for Aubameyang, whose low strike was palmed away by Buffon in the 29th.

Guendouzi definitely has the profile of a deep-lying playmaker. He’s more mobile than Xhaka and his passing range looks similar to the Switzerland international’s. However, Guendouzi’s inexperience means that Emery will probably use him as a utility midfielder this season. To survive in the Premier League, Guendouzi will need to toughen up. He was brushed off the ball a couple of times against Atletico.

  1. The contracts of Ramsey and Nelson should be the club’s top priority

Ramsey and Nelson only have a year left on their contracts. Voted Arsenal’s Player of the Season, Ramsey is the present of this club. He’s the only Arsenal midfielder who’s on the shopping list of several big clubs. If the board doesn’t want to give Ramsey a salary close to £200,000 a week, then the fans could see the team bleed like when Fabregas, Nasri, Song and Van Persie left in 2011-12. Last season, the Gunners already lost Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sanchez to Liverpool and Manchester United, respectively. They are now just one transfer away from becoming a feeder club again and they won’t be able to blame Wenger for that mess.

Those who have watched Nelson in the Premier League 2 last season know that the teenager is the future of the club. Nelson can carve open a defense with his dribbling skills. Big clubs are willing to pay a fortune for that kind of skill set because smart dribblers can make a difference against teams parking the bus. That’s why Manchester City signed Sane and Sterling while Liverpool recruited Mane and Salah.

 

What awaits Emery at Arsenal

Emery pipped Arteta to the post to become the next Arsenal manager. Some fans might be disappointed because Allegri, Luis Enrique, and Ancelotti were on the shortlist of candidates. But in hindsight the board’s decision makes sense. Wenger’s replacement could only be either a seasoned manager accepting that the club could not contend for the Premier League title or an inexperienced manager having everything to prove and willing to work with a tight transfer budget.

EmeryPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

There’s no way that Allegri, Luis Enrique and Ancelotti could have taken the job for the simple reason that they are used to winning league titles and going deep in the Champions League. If you look at Arsenal’s performances in the past few years and the massive rebuilding job required, those managers would have needed to lower their ambitions. Emery has a more modest profile than Allegri, Luis Enrique and Ancelotti. Before joining Paris Saint-Germain, Emery was a manager at Valencia and Sevilla, two Spanish clubs not contending for the Liga title but fighting for a Top 4 spot.

In the end, Arsenal’s financial priorities limited the hiring options. The board has clearly followed the Borussia Dortmund model since Kroenke took over in 2011. It’s not just about self-sufficiency, it’s also about optimizing the value of the club and ultimately being in a position to hand out dividends. For the record, Kroenke has never put money into the club. In fact, he even pocketed a £3 million consulting fee for two seasons before waiving it in 2016. So nobody should be surprised if the top choices on the shortlist turned down the job. Nowadays transfer funds are a key factor in attracting top managers.

Arteta would have been a bold choice. He has learned a lot under Guardiola and looked like a manager in the making while playing at Arsenal. Maybe Arteta could have succeeded in his first managerial stint like Deschamps at Monaco. Arteta had one significant advantage over Emery: he knows the club and English football. However, the board felt it was a too big gamble and opted for a safer option.

Micro-managing

Emery has obviously more experience than Arteta. He helped Valencia qualify for the Champions League and led Sevilla to three Europa League titles. I don’t think his stint at Paris Saint-Germain will say much about his abilities because the French league is much weaker than the Premier League. Likewise, fans should not read too much into his failure at Spartak Moscow because it’s a completely different culture.

At 46, Emery is young enough to understand and use the latest analytical tools that can help managers in their work. He’s also part of that generation of coaches who enjoy micro-managing. Some Gunners might find that approach a bit intrusive. Emery wouldn’t hesitate to adjust the players’ position on the pitch every minute if that was necessary.

Micro-managing could help young players learn more quickly. Nowadays, youngsters want to know what they need to do in specific situations or even play by play instead of finding out by themselves. Emery contributed to the development of youngsters like Kimpembe, Nkunku and Lo Celso at PSG. He could have a positive impact on the careers of Bellerin, Mavropanos, Maitland-Niles, Iwobi, Nelson and Nketiah.

I definitely think that Emery is a decent choice for Arsenal. The club didn’t screw up like Manchester United did in 2013 by hiring Moyes. However, we shouldn’t go overboard. Emery is not at the same level as Klopp. The Spaniard has a poor record against the top managers. He can sometimes get his tactics wrong. For instance, PSG lost to Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Champions League because Emery failed to anticipate bad matchups: Meunier vs. Neymar and Meunier vs. Asensio. He can also falter in the big games by second-guessing himself. After thrashing Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg last year, Emery decided to change a winning team and replaced Kimpembe and Di Maria with the sluggish Thiago Silva and the ineffective Moura. The move backfired as PSG lost the second leg 6-1.

Finding value in the transfer market

Arsenal’s 2018-19 season will be shaped by what they do during the summer transfer window. Emery must quickly coordinate with Sanllehi and Mislintat to agree on the transfer targets because the window has already opened. Once the World Cup starts on June 14, the players involved in that competition won’t be available for negotiations.

Emery must be aware that the Gunners are stingy with transfers. The Gunners make more money than Liverpool and Tottenham, yet they have spent less than those two clubs in the transfer market. See the spreadsheet I’ve compiled below, using figures from transfermarkt.co.uk.

Arsenal new manager spreadsheet

The Spanish manager had a mixed record for transfers at PSG. He signed flops like Krychowiak and Jese, and gambled on youngsters like Lo Celso and Guedes, while the club’s wealth made the difference to attract stars like Neymar, Mbappe and Draxler. I expect Mislintat to have the last word in case of disagreement.

In the next few days, Emery will have to clear the dead wood and make decisions on contracts ending this summer (Wilshere) and next year (Cech, Ospina, Monreal, Ramsey, Welbeck, Nelson). The future of the club will depend on contract extensions to Ramsey and Nelson. If Emery can’t convince them to stay, then it will be a failure worse than Oxlade-Chamberlain’s departure.

With a transfer kitty around £50 million, Emery, Mislintat and Sanllehi will have to find not just quality but also value in the transfer market. When you see clubs like Manchester City and Liverpool splashing more than £50 million on Laporte and Van Dijk, you can guess that Arsenal will only be able to sign one player if they focus on the big names.

Breaking the vicious circle

In terms of net spending, Liverpool and Tottenham have done a much better job than Arsenal in the transfer market. The Reds and Spurs have only lost £20 million per year while the Gunners have averaged a loss of £44 million every year. The main reason for that difference is that the Gunners have signed average players for the same positions in the past few years. Another reason is that Spurs have found value in the transfer market while the Reds have bought quality.

Sure, Tottenham had a few flops like Janssen, Llorente and Sissoko, but they only spent £14.4m on Alderweireld, £4.41m on Trippier, £4.50m on Dier, £12.96m on Wanyama, and £5.97m on Alli. Likewise, Liverpool made mistakes in the transfer market by signing Benteke and Markovic, but they also built the backbone of their team by spending £36.90m on Firmino, £37.80m on Salah, £37.08m on Mane, £70.92m on Van Dijk, £24.75m on Wijnaldum, £4.41m on Gomez and £8.10m on Robertson.

The comparison between Arsenal and those two clubs really hurts. The Gunners are still looking for the elusive ballwinner who will shield the defense despite spending £40.5m on Xhaka and £11.25m on Elneny. The Reds have Henderson and Can to do that job while Spurs can rely on Dier and Wanyama. At the back, the Gunners still desperately need a commanding defender despite spending £36.9m on Mustafi, £18.21m on Chambers and £13.5m on Paulista. None of them can match the level of a Van Dijk, Alderweireld or Sanchez.

The Gunners must break that vicious circle this summer and stop signing average players who won’t solve the team’s problems. Otherwise the club will be throwing money out the window again and will have to wait for the next transfer window to have a chance of fixing those recruitment mistakes.

Huddersfield vs. Arsenal: Gunners play for Wenger in 1-0 win

The last game of the season was about earning at least an away point in the Premier League this year. The Gunners made Wenger proud by edging Huddersfield Town 1-0 on Sunday. The crowd at the John Smith’s stadium even gave the French manager a standing ovation after 22 minutes as an acknowledgement for his 22 years at the helm of Arsenal.

Huddersfield vs. ArsenalPhoto credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Ironically, the scoreline was the complete opposite of Arsenal’s season. The Gunners finished in 6th place with 63 points, the lowest total in the Wenger era. They also conceded 51 goals, 24 more than Manchester City, for the worst defensive record under Wenger. The only consolation was the number of goals scored (74), which was the same as Spurs’ tally and more than Manchester United (68) and Chelsea (62).

The Terriers were the more threatening team with 18 shots to 9 for Arsenal, but they simply lacked a Mahrez or a Vardy to convert their chances. Huddersfield did a lot of damage in the air, winning 10 more aerial duels than the Gunners. The Terriers also disrupted Arsenal’s passing game by pressing high up the pitch, making 24 interceptions to 7 for the visitors, according to the club’s website. The Gunners will need to sign a ballwinner this summer if they want to improve those stats.

Aubameyang scored the winning goal in the 38th minute by sliding home a pass from Ramsey. Credit must also be given to Lacazette, who played a one-two with Mkhitaryan before finding Ramsey inside the area. Lacazette could have doubled the lead in the 80th. The France striker took a pass from Mkhitaryan only to have his chip attempt well read by Lossl. A minute later, Welbeck, who had replaced Aubameyang in the 67th, dribbled past 2 Terriers but was denied by Lossl.

Turnover machines

Without Ozil, the Gunners’ passing game was poor. Huddersfield forward Pritchard made as many key passes (5) as the entire Arsenal team. The awkwardness of Ramsey and Mkhitaryan didn’t help. Ramsey and Mkhitaryan led all players with 7 and 6 turnovers, respectively, and their passing accuracy dipped to 71 and 73%, according to whoscored.com.

Like in the Leicester game, the Gunners wasted some good situations with a poor final ball. Ramsey missed his through ball for Lacazette in the 17th and for Welbeck in the 74th, Aubameyang’s pass for Kolasinac in the 52nd ran out of play, and the Huddersfield defense intercepted Welbeck’s final ball for Lacazette in the 77th. Before Aubameyang’s goal, Arsenal’s only scoring chance came from a set piece in the 27th when Mustafi redirected a corner toward Kolasinac, who flicked wide from 6 yards.

In the No. 10 role, Iwobi produced another disappointing performance. He made only 1 key pass and showed some poor work-rate with 0 tackle and 0 interception. By contrast, Ramsey won 3 tackles, according to whoscored.com. You don’t expect Iwobi to read the game like Ozil, but there are some basics that a player should master in his third Premier League season. Why does he keep running into traffic even though he doesn’t have the dribbling skills of a Salah or a Sane? Iwobi foolishly took on 3 Terriers in the 53rd and lost possession. The turnover led to a Huddersfield counterattack and ultimately a corner.

Not learning from mistakes

Mounie gave the Arsenal defense a hard time in the air. The Huddersfield striker led all players with 9 aerial duels won, according to whoscored.com. He met a cross from Hadergjonaj in the third minute for a header that Ospina saved. Two minutes later, he headed a corner goalward but Xhaka knocked the ball off the line. Mkhitaryan made the mistake of not blocking Mounie’s run while Holding lost the key duel in the air. With some clinical finishing, Mounie could have notched a hat trick in the first half. Pritchard beat the offside trap to collect a long ball in the 11th. He slipped a reverse pass to an unmarked Mounie, who blazed over the bar. Xhaka failed to track Mounie on that play.

The pair of Arsenal centerbacks didn’t produce a convincing performance. Mounie often got the better of Mustafi in the air. Ince also skipped past Mustafi in the 60th to fire a diagonal strike that Ospina palmed behind. Holding made some glaring mistakes as bad as Mavropanos a few days ago. The English defender was dispossessed by Mounie on the edge of the Arsenal area in the 48th. Then Holding was a split second late in the 65th and fouled Mounie almost as the last defender.

Trying to protect his team’s lead, Wenger sent on Maitland-Niles for Iwobi in the 72nd. That move nearly backfired. Matiland-Niles forgot to track Mooy inside the area in the 88th and the Huddersfield midfielder rattled the bar with a volley on the turn. In stoppage time, Maitland-Niles gave away a dangerous free kick by fouling Lowe. Depoitre connected with Mooy’s free kick for a downward header that Ospina kept out. Ospina couldn’t make a clean catch but reacted quickly enough to gather the ball at his second attempt.

A new manager by the end of May?

The next Arsenal manager can definitely rely on Aubameyang, Lacazette and Ramsey to score goals. If he intends to use a 4-3-3 formation, Lacazette would have to play as a false winger like Salah at Liverpool. But if he opts for a 4-4-2 system with Aubameyang and Lacazette in the front two, then signing a ballwinner this summer should be a top priority to protect the back four.

I haven’t mentioned Mkhitaryan and Ozil for different reasons. Mkhitaryan has struck a good understanding with Ramsey and Aubameyang within a few months, but he has a high turnover rate, he is still adapting to a new club, and his stats are not as good as Ramsey’s or Lacazette’s. Meanwhile, Ozil is a world-class player but he’s unreliable, especially since he got a pay rise. Some of his injuries or illnesses are a complete mystery for the fans.

Here are the stats for Aubameyang, Lacazette, Ramsey, Ozil and Mkhitaryan in the Premier League this season: Aubameyang 10 goals and 4 assists in 13 games for an average of 1.08 goal or assist per game; Lacazette 14 goals and 4 assists in 32 games (0.56); Ramsey 7 goals and 8 assists in 24 games (0.63); Ozil 4 goals and 8 assists in 26 games (0.46); Mkhitaryan 3 goals and 9 assists in 26 games (0.46).

At the back, the next manager will have a massive rebuilding job. There is no solution from within. Even with better coaching, there’s no way that Chambers, Holding and Mavropanos could become as good as Koscielny in his prime. That means finding the solution in the transfer market. And that’s why the board must appoint a new manager by the end of May. If they wait until June, it will be too late to act in the transfer market.