Emery, revitalised

How Unai Emery has revitalised the ‘Arsenal DNA’



October 8, 2018
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It’s only been two months since Unai Emery’s Arsenal tenure truly began, but the word Wenger is rarely muttered round these parts anymore. The rumblings of discontent which occupied the steps leading from Arsenal tube station to The Emirates pitch have subdued. In fact, only somewhere in-between does the last remnant of the Arsene Wenger era lie. 

A pair of Japanese tourists exchange photographs in front of the cast bronze statue of Thierry Henry. A baldy old-timer attempts to tackle Tony Adams’ historic celebration. But there his bust sits, stuffed away in the entrance to the directors’ box. Well, half a bust. The greatest manager in Arsenal’s history has only been preserved for his head and shoulders.

As the fans sung “we’ve got our Arsenal back” on Sunday at Craven Cottage, it felt as though Wenger’s influence at the club had truly been confined to that statue, to history. The juncture at which the rehearsal under Unai Emery could be declared as over, as successful. The dress curtain lifted to reveal the workings of the new stage director.

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1/22 Fulham: Marcus Bettinelli: 6 out of 10

He was disappointed not to get to Lacazette’s second but few keepers would have done. A great save from Hector Bellerin just prior. Could go nothing about Arsenal’s other goals.

REUTERS

2/22 Denis Odoi: 6 out of 10

Covered well several times early on but faded as Arsenal blew Fulham away.

Getty Images

3/22 Tim Ream: 5 out of 10

Not his best afternoon. Embarrassed a couple of times in the first half and then sacrificed early in the second half as Fulham moved away from the back three. Competed well in the air, as you would expect.

REUTERS

4/22 Maxime Le Marchand: 7 out of 10

Three last-ditch interventions made Le Marchand Fulham’s clear defensive standout. Looked the most comfortable of the centre-halves in the back three

PA

5/22 Cyrus Christie: 5 out of 10

Christie never looked comfortable at wing-back, being caught too far upfield too often in the first half.

AFP/Getty Images

6/22 Andre-Frank Anguissa: 5 out of 10

Slow in possession, and it is telling that Anguissa was taken off in a straight swap with plenty of time still left for Fulham to get back in the game. Broke up play relatively well.

AP

7/22 Jean Michael Seri: 6 out of 10

Promised much; delivered little. Neat and composed on the ball but Seri failed to make a telling contribution going forward. Loves a little clipped pass to the back post – tried several today: none came off.

REUTERS

8/22 Ryan Sessegnon: 6 out of 10

Clearly a good talent and showed glimpses but failed to really impact the game. Moved to left-back before Fulham capitulated in the second half and a little exposed at a position he hasn’t really played this year.

REUTERS

9/22 Luciano Vietto: 7 out of 10

Lively performance from Vietto, who notched his fourth assist of the season with a nice little ball for Schurrle.

AP

10/22 Aleksandar Mitrovic: 5 out of 10

Too quiet throughout. Didn’t worry Arsenal’s defence and could have done better with a couple of chances.

REUTERS

11/22 Andre Schurrle: 7 out of 10

The German took his goal really nicely, lifting the ball cleverly over Bernd Leno.

Getty Images

12/22 Arsenal: Bernd Leno: 6 out of 10

Relatively quiet. Impressed with his positioning and made a good early save.

REUTERS

13/22 Hector Bellerin: 7 out of 10

Grew into the game and became a potent threat down the right. An assist for Aubameyang a highlight from a good performance from Arsenal’s right-back.

AFP/Getty Images

14/22 Shkodran Mustafi: 6 out of 10

Partnered well with Holding. Didn’t allow himself to be bullied by Mitrovic.

REUTERS

15/22 Rob Holding: 7 out of 10

Showed improved defensive positioning to prevent Fulham finding the final pass several times in the first half. Solid showing.

PA

16/22 Nacho Monreal: 6 out of 10

An awful giveaway for Schurrle’s goal, but otherwise a good performance and an assist for the opener.

Getty Images

17/22 Lucas Torreira: 8 out of 10

Quietly excellent. Used the ball superbly, made several crunching tackles and was positionally sound throughout.

REUTERS

18/22 Granit Xhaka: 6 out of 10

Captained the side but gave the ball away poorly early on and looked out of position defensively at times. Grew into the game – Xhaka and Torreira’s burgeoning midfield partnership is far more balanced than any Arsenal have seen in recent years.

AFP/Getty Images

19/22 Henrikh Mkhitaryan: 7 out of 10

Drifted in and out of the game in the first half but surged on strongly in the second half. Influential later on as Arsenal pulled away.

AFP/Getty Images

20/22 Danny Welbeck: 6 out of 10

Quiet, and didn’t add much to Arsenal going forward. Iwobi and Mkhitaryan more effective.

AP

21/22 Alex Iwobi: 8 out of 10

The standout Arsenal player in the first half, Iwobi looks a revitalised force in recent weeks. Lovely bits of skill to exploit Fulham’s vulnerabilities on the right. Another good performance from Iwobi.

Getty Images

22/22 Alexandre Lacazette: 8 out of 10

Two excellent finishes and a lively all-round performance. One lone striker is perhaps the way forward for Unai Emery and Lacazette showed his credentials in strong fashion today.

Getty Images

1/22 Fulham: Marcus Bettinelli: 6 out of 10

He was disappointed not to get to Lacazette’s second but few keepers would have done. A great save from Hector Bellerin just prior. Could go nothing about Arsenal’s other goals.

REUTERS

2/22 Denis Odoi: 6 out of 10

Covered well several times early on but faded as Arsenal blew Fulham away.

Getty Images

3/22 Tim Ream: 5 out of 10

Not his best afternoon. Embarrassed a couple of times in the first half and then sacrificed early in the second half as Fulham moved away from the back three. Competed well in the air, as you would expect.

REUTERS

4/22 Maxime Le Marchand: 7 out of 10

Three last-ditch interventions made Le Marchand Fulham’s clear defensive standout. Looked the most comfortable of the centre-halves in the back three

PA

5/22 Cyrus Christie: 5 out of 10

Christie never looked comfortable at wing-back, being caught too far upfield too often in the first half.

AFP/Getty Images

6/22 Andre-Frank Anguissa: 5 out of 10

Slow in possession, and it is telling that Anguissa was taken off in a straight swap with plenty of time still left for Fulham to get back in the game. Broke up play relatively well.

AP

7/22 Jean Michael Seri: 6 out of 10

Promised much; delivered little. Neat and composed on the ball but Seri failed to make a telling contribution going forward. Loves a little clipped pass to the back post – tried several today: none came off.

REUTERS

8/22 Ryan Sessegnon: 6 out of 10

Clearly a good talent and showed glimpses but failed to really impact the game. Moved to left-back before Fulham capitulated in the second half and a little exposed at a position he hasn’t really played this year.

REUTERS

9/22 Luciano Vietto: 7 out of 10

Lively performance from Vietto, who notched his fourth assist of the season with a nice little ball for Schurrle.

AP

10/22 Aleksandar Mitrovic: 5 out of 10

Too quiet throughout. Didn’t worry Arsenal’s defence and could have done better with a couple of chances.

REUTERS

11/22 Andre Schurrle: 7 out of 10

The German took his goal really nicely, lifting the ball cleverly over Bernd Leno.

Getty Images

12/22 Arsenal: Bernd Leno: 6 out of 10

Relatively quiet. Impressed with his positioning and made a good early save.

REUTERS

13/22 Hector Bellerin: 7 out of 10

Grew into the game and became a potent threat down the right. An assist for Aubameyang a highlight from a good performance from Arsenal’s right-back.

AFP/Getty Images

14/22 Shkodran Mustafi: 6 out of 10

Partnered well with Holding. Didn’t allow himself to be bullied by Mitrovic.

REUTERS

15/22 Rob Holding: 7 out of 10

Showed improved defensive positioning to prevent Fulham finding the final pass several times in the first half. Solid showing.

PA

16/22 Nacho Monreal: 6 out of 10

An awful giveaway for Schurrle’s goal, but otherwise a good performance and an assist for the opener.

Getty Images

17/22 Lucas Torreira: 8 out of 10

Quietly excellent. Used the ball superbly, made several crunching tackles and was positionally sound throughout.

REUTERS

18/22 Granit Xhaka: 6 out of 10

Captained the side but gave the ball away poorly early on and looked out of position defensively at times. Grew into the game – Xhaka and Torreira’s burgeoning midfield partnership is far more balanced than any Arsenal have seen in recent years.

AFP/Getty Images

19/22 Henrikh Mkhitaryan: 7 out of 10

Drifted in and out of the game in the first half but surged on strongly in the second half. Influential later on as Arsenal pulled away.

AFP/Getty Images

20/22 Danny Welbeck: 6 out of 10

Quiet, and didn’t add much to Arsenal going forward. Iwobi and Mkhitaryan more effective.

AP

21/22 Alex Iwobi: 8 out of 10

The standout Arsenal player in the first half, Iwobi looks a revitalised force in recent weeks. Lovely bits of skill to exploit Fulham’s vulnerabilities on the right. Another good performance from Iwobi.

Getty Images

22/22 Alexandre Lacazette: 8 out of 10

Two excellent finishes and a lively all-round performance. One lone striker is perhaps the way forward for Unai Emery and Lacazette showed his credentials in strong fashion today.

Getty Images

Emery has only been at the helm for twelve games, but with each Arsenal has steadily become a team of his grain. It wasn’t with the splash of a wellington which he has imprinted his, but a slow streak of the foot across a silk carpet, meticulously sweeping each thread into a unanimous direction.

The opening stanza on Sunday was the archetypal Arsenal performance of recent years. A crooked leaking gutter of a back line and a lack of imagination in the final third. Although Fulham could only rob one on the half-time whistle, they should have had three if it weren’t for their wasteful finishing.

But it was in the second half that mud did fly. It’s not to say Arsenal won’t revert from the glorious football that saw them score four goals in the second half to the drear first, but it will no longer be a regression into the old Arsenal, Wenger’s Arsenal. This is a squad, a kingdom of a club, now firmly under Emery’s reign. 

Emery has breathed new life into Arsenal (Getty)

But there is one vital aspect which Emery has restored rather than originated: youth. Wenger’s reputation was often defined in unearthing and evolving prospects, whether from the club’s academy or from overseas. But during his last decade at the club, of the 16 players aged 23 or under brought in only two became established first-team regulars – Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka.

But in the short stint since taking over, Emery has already revitalised the identity known as the ‘Arsenal DNA’. If Jorginho has been described as the metronome of Chelsea’s midfield, Lucas Torreira (22) is the cartoon wrecking ball, theatrically thwacking into a titchy house in a Tom & Jerry cartoon. The diminutive Uruguayan made six of Arsenal’s thirteen interceptions and recovered the ball eight times at Craven Cottage and was honour with the theme of a chant last reserved for Patrick Vieira. 

Matteo Guendouzi (19), who was sourced from the backside of the French second division has played more games at Arsenal than he had in his entire senior career prior to joining. His introduction on Sunday, and immediate tendency to lift through balls from the midfield anchor in the ilk of Alex Song, showed how he is every bit the successor to Xhaka whose passing has become a lateral constancy. 

Torreira made six interceptions on Sunday (Getty)

Emile Smith Rowe (18), said he never had the chance to speak to Wenger in his nine years in the academy but looks to be one of the most exciting prospects in English football.

And, at this point, nobody more so than Alex Iwobi (22) himself will have been surprised to receive a rapturous standing ovation when substituted on the 67th minute at Craven Cottage. Iwobi was the final academy graduate to cement his position at least in the squad during Wenger’s final years but became increasingly laboured and benched last season.

The introduction – or reformation in Iwobi’s case – of these four players epitomises how Emery has revived the cycle of youth which breathes new life into a team – such is the ‘Arsenal way’. Hungry prospects who enforce that pre-existing players take on paternal responsibilities as seniors in the squad, as leaders – a role which has been shirked in an effectively captainless side. 

Just over six years ago, Arsenal played out a drab 3-3 draw here at the Emirates. Yesterday, just ten miles south, the crowd joked “we want six” after securing their ninth win in a row. And while Wenger may be confined to holidays in Corsica or an insufficient statue sheltered by visiting swathes to the directors’ box, his ideology has returned to the pitch rather than the concourse.

Because for all the rebranding under Emery, the ‘Arsenal DNA’ which Wenger so famously birthed then betrayed has been resurrected in his a

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