Arsenal, confused

Arsenal left a confused mess as hope dissolves amid Unai Emery’s lack of clarity – Mirror Online



November 8, 2019
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Another disappointing result, albeit against a good Wolves side, should not have been a watershed moment for the club.

But Emery’s post-match comments have made it so.

WolvesoutplayedArsenallast weekend and, as usual, Unai Emery’s bizarre tactical decisions were largely to blame.

He again deployed a narrow diamond 4-4-2 despite Wolves possessing two of the division’s best attacking wing-backs, who duly took control of the open grass in front of them.

But not according to Emery.

Emery was happy with how his tactics were applied in the draw with Wolves

“It’s a bad result, but tactically it worked how we wanted,” he told reporters after the game.

The moment it becomes unmistakably clear fans and manager are on completely different wavelengths – are essentially watching different sports – sacking becomes a question of when, not if.

Supporters’ loyalty is entirely premised on the manager’s tactical vision being at least comprehensible, if not visible.

Once that evaporates so does hope; so does belief that things are moving in an upward trajectory. Tactical projects are like fairies. If you don’t believe in them they cease to exist.

An animated Emery on the touchline in Portugal – where Arsenal changed to a 3-4-3

Unai Emery might have been building something.

He might have been just a couple of tweaks away from everything suddenly clicking into place, like it did for Jurgen Klopp.

It might be that his tactical configurations are so complex they manifest as total chaos right up until the moment of completion.

But no matter; nobody inside the Emirates believes in it anymore.

Arsenal totalled an xG of just 1.15 against Wolves – who themselves reached 1.98

There were glimpses of Emery-ball last weekend that perhaps explain the manager’s now infamous comments.

Having four central midfielders bunched together did allow Arsenal to dominate through the middle, a four-on-two leading to some lively short-passing sequences in the first 45 minutes.

But that’s just the problem.

The tactical elements meant to define Emery’s football are only ever visible in little bursts of confetti, in five minute spells here and there that allude to an idea we never get to see.

Arsenal players after the 1-1 draw with Wolves

Emery’s ideology, as seen at Sevilla, was to fuse counter-pressing football with a deliberately risky short-passing game that draws the opposition forward. He wants incisive vertical passes rather than prosaic possession, hard pressing rather than reorganising into shape.

The ultimate aim is to release two or three quick forwards to run directly at the back line, triggered in one of three ways: a counter-attack (funnelled through crisp short passing among defenders and midfielders), winning the ball in the opposition third, or artificially creating a counter by dallying near your own box.

This third method is the most unusual, but it helps explain why Arsenal continually try to play their way out of danger. The riskier the passing, the higher the chance opponents will push too hard, opening themselves up to a sudden change in tempo.

Emery enjoyed huge success in Seville, winning three successive Europa League titles

There are quite a few reasons why this hasn’t worked.

Arsenal’s centre-backs just aren’t good enough on the ball to doggedly pass from the back, while relying on their second-choice full-backs has not only limited Emery’s creative output, but has affected the team’s confidence in their defence.

Confidence is crucial to such an aggressive, forward-thinking tactical philosophy.

Arsenal don’t consistently press high, don’t consistently rely on high-tempo short passes, and don’t consistently pour forward in numbers precisely because they have so little faith in what’s behind them.

Losing and not replacing Aaron Ramsey has also had a huge impact.

Matteo Guendouzi is the only Arsenal midfielder with the attributes to deliver Emery’s tactics, and the club badly lack an energetic box-to-box player who can link their potentially-ideal front three with the rest of the team.

Guendouzi is one who can do the box-to-box role Emery wants

Again, if their first-choice full-backs had been fit this season the lines would have been considerably more connected. But it would be wrong to blame the failures of Emery’s tactics on personnel.

He has been the architect of his own impending downfall. Those comments after the Wolves draw merely confirmed what many already suspected; that Emery’s tactical analysis is scarcely connected with reality.

Maddening tactics are commonplace.

For the 3-1 defeat byLiverpoolArsenal deployed the narrow diamond 4-4-2 and were inevitably hammered by Jurgen Klopp’s full-backs. The same thing happened to allowWatfordto come back from 2-0 down a few weeks later.

It got even weirder in the 1-0 defeat to Sheffield United.

At Sheffield United, Arsenal struggled

Emery’s 4-2-3-1 was lifeless in the first half because Joe Willock badly struggled in the No.10 role, leading to flat possession in the middle of the park.

So, the Spaniard switched to a wider 4-3-3 and things began to improve – only for Emery to inexplicably switch back to 4-2-3-1, with full-backs who didn’t hit the opposing byline and allowed the Blades to shut the game down.

Average player positions against Sheffield United and passing combos – showing a lack of width

In-game formation changes are usually all-too common at Arsenal, and yet in the 2-2 draw withCrystal Palacehe kept an oddly flat 4-4-2 formation for the entire match, even though Palace’s equaliser came in the 51 st minute.

It was a far cry from what normally happens at the Emirates, which is a mystifying initial formation that is then corrected at half-time.

Emery’s oft-baffling tactics led fans to call for Ozil to return

These wild oscillations have caused distrust to build between manager and supporters, and while many gave Emery a free hit in his transitional season any sympathy has since been withdrawn.

Now more than ever football fans need a project to believe in; a coherent vision from the manager to encourage patience and unconditional support. It is no surprise that Arsenal fans, after ten years of drifting under Arsene Wenger, are particularly tetchy on that front.

There have simply been too many changes for supporters to grasp Emery’s meaning, too many eccentric calls for them to feel an affinity. The end is nigh.

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And yet Emery might have come good.

His weird tactical choices might eventually have settled as his coaching methods were slowly internalised by the players.

After all, changing the culture at Arsenal was always going to take considerably more time than the single year of grace given to the Spaniard.

But none of that really matters now.

The tactical decisions have been too inscrutable for fans to keep sight of the core idea. One cannot keep faith in a manager who will praise an ambling 1-1 draw with Wolves.

Forget what Emery sees. It isn’t working how Arsenal fans wanted.

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