What have we learnt from the pre-season? by DS
Emery has experimented with a few different formations (we have seen them try 3 at the back and even a 4-4-2) although he seems to prefer a 4-2-3-1. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more regular changes to our formation from week to week or even changes during matches – this was not common from Wenger. He seems to like having one very deep-lying play-maker so it almost becomes a 4-1-4-1. Guendouzi has done particularly well in that role; He is very confident on the ball and his distribution has been fantastic (although he won’t get that much time on the ball in the competitive premier league matches!). Arsenal have shown a dedication to playing the ball out from the back on the ground, with goal-keepers rarely going long. Centre backs go very wide, fullbacks get high and the central midfielders drop in to get the ball from goal-kicks on the half turn. At times it has looked impressive as we have broken a press with one or two clever passes, allowing us to get into great attacking positions. Clearly Emery has worked on co-ordinating these movements/passes in training, however, we have occasionally gotten ourselves into trouble and have turned the ball over in very dangerous positions.
We have also shown a willingness to press high up the field when we don’t have possession. With the pace we have in our forward line we have the ability to put the opposition defenders under a lot of pressure which can lead to turn-overs. But do we have the pace in our backline to play with such a high line?
It is hard to gauge if Emery has a clear picture of our best starting 11. Leno will probably start ahead of Cech although Cech was brilliant against Chelsea. I suppose the centre-back pairing will be Mustafi and Sokratis but he has had a close look at all our defenders. Holding has made me the most nervous when we have tried to play the ball out from the back and while Mavropanos has great physical attributes he lacks a bit of experience at this stage. Chambers has perhaps impressed the most – comfortable on the ball and fairly assured in his defending.
There is competition for places in the fullback positions. Lichtsteiner offers experience and consistency whilst Bellerin offers pace and creativity so it will be interesting to see how that plays out in the next few weeks. It seems Maitland-Niles will start at leftback, as there are injuries to Monreal and Kolasinac.
One would think that Xhaka and Torreira would be the starting central midfield combination. They have joined the squad late because of their world cup exploits over the summer and were only involved in one preseason match, so maybe the impressive Guendouzi will be given a chance. Ramsey has picked up a minor injury and might be distracted by his ongoing contract negotiations. Ozil has mainly been used as a wide forward rather than a central number 10, and he has looked pretty good. In the last match against Lazio, Mkhitaryan impressed when he came off the bench and played in a deeper, more central role than what he is usually asked to do.
Emery has tried every combination imaginable in the forward line. I suppose the big question is whether he will start Aubameyang and Lacazette, with Auba playing off the left or whether he plays Auba through the middle with Mkhi and Ozil on either side. Iwobi has shown glimpses of brilliance and this might be a breakthrough year for him.
It has been a pleasure watching some of our youngsters but I suspect they will mainly be used in cup competitions. I would love to see a few of them go on loan to get more regular first team matches.
I think the biggest concerns still revolve around our back line. The jury is still out on Sokratis. He has been an integral part of a very successful Dortmund side and he offers experience and steel. But he has looked cumbersome, slow and not particularly comfortable on the ball. If we are going to persist with playing the ball out from the back one might question the logic of this signing as Sokratis is not the best at bringing the ball out. The lack of pace in our backline is also concerning if we are going to play with such a high line as we have been with the pressing game in pre-season. Defending set-pieces and high balls into the box seems to be a perennial problem and there were no signs that this has been addressed in pre-season. I know we were close to signing the young centre-back Çağlar Söyüncü who is more mobile and a more natural ball-playing centre-back, he might have been the better option but let’s hope Sokratis can settle in quickly.
Whilst there are genuine concerns, it has to be said that the change of manager has freshened things up and some players seem to have a new lease of life. The pre-season results have been great and we have played some exciting football. The pre-season has probably put us in a better position than some of our competitors, we made our signings early and we had less players away at the world cup than some of our opponents. This has given us more time to work on our combinations and patterns of play, and I’m looking forward to seeing us get off to a flyer.