Four ways that Emery can improve to make Arsenal’s season a success

What Unai Emery should do to avoid being the main reason Arsenal end up losing out in both Europa and top four races by Nicholas Oyoo

Arsenal’s ping pong season continues to unravel with every single game that the team plays. In the last 8 games in all competitions, Arsenal have won four and lost four. The losses have come against West Ham United, Manchester United, Manchester City, and BATE Borisov. Notable wins have come against Chelsea and BATE Borisov. All the wins have been at home and most of the losses away.

Emery has been changing tactics so often sometimes getting it right more often than not. But what can we tell about Arsenal’s top four and Europa ambitions from the last eight matches? Is Emery getting it right in the top four dog fight against Chelsea and Manchester United? And will he lead Arsenal to success in Europe against the like of Inter Milan, Napoli, Benfica, Sevilla, Valencia, Villarreal and the giant killer Salzburg?

#1 Squad Planning
Unai Emery boasts a fearsome attacking potential in Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, despite not having the services of Welbeck (who is out injured) to back them up. In midfield, Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi are looking like the answer to Arsenal’s long-standing central midfield problems. The recent return of Mkhitaryan and Ozil , who has finally started the last of the eight matches, and Denis Suarez, has added options in the midfield and together with Ramsey and Iwobi, there should be quality enough in the attacking third. 

In defense, Emery has seen a going and coming from injuries of players, which admittedly can be destabilizing. Notable long term injuries from the defense include Bellerin and Holding, who were Key players, but he has had Koscielny, Mavropanos, and Sokratis return to full fitness. However, Koscielny, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sokratis seem just about to get injured every other game. 

Over the last eight matches, three weaknesses that could do in Emery are defense, right-wing and play pattern. In defense, Emery has deployed three-man or four-man defense interchangeably. On the right, following the injury to Bellerin, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Stephan Lichtsteiner, and Carl Jenkinson should have been more than enough cover. However, Ainsley Maitland-Niles seems inconsistent, Lichtsteiner is 34 and too slow and, as we saw against Manchester city, easily exposed by speedy wingers, and Carl Jenkinson still waiting to prove himself The right wing has become fearfully the weakest side. It does not help that this is Shkrodan Mustafi’s side of the center-back pairing, and he makes goal conceding blunders in an uncomfortable frequency. Clearly, Emery knows about this right weakness point and when he tried to bring on some Energy through playing Iwobi, the plan backfired against Manchester City and Iwobi had one of his worst outings. 

#2 Playing Patterns 
If Unai Emery is to get the best from this team for the remainder of the season, playing three defenders could help him avoid playing Mustafi at all, when he has Sokratis, Koscielny, and Monreal available. However, there is a virtue of play four defenders in some instances. Whatever he decides, it should be clear what his preferred patterns are so that players are not confused and become specialists in the areas and roles they are supposed to be playing for the team. 

In the 3-man defenders pattern, he would have three options available in 3-4-1-2, 3-2-3-2, or 3-3-1-3 formations. I would personally recommend the last of the three because utilizes the wings when necessary with the wing-forwards, central midfielders and in some cases even full backs able to operate there in shared and intricate teamworking.  In the 4-man defense options, I would be in the 4-3-3 pattern or 4.4.2 diamond pattern. It is in this pattern that I believe Emery would offer Mustafi the option to remake his career as a right back. it is a role he is capable of playing but has played just six times competitively but here he
might become an answer to a problem the team is faced with, a competent right back. I would recommend the 4-4-2 diamond pattern that we have used before and won against Tottenham and Chelsea.

#3 – Substitutions
This season, there is no area where we have seen Emery’s tactical nous brought through to cause interventions that rescued a game that was going to be lost, or win a game that was becoming problematic. But of late, Emery’s substitutions have just become routine and no longer game changing. In some cases, they have come in too late to effect any change. For instance, against Manchester City, the attacks were coming through the right wing and Emery did not respond early enough and by the time he did respond, the game had already been effectively lost.

#4 – Player Management
Emery player management tactics have been wanting causing some super grade players such as Ramsey and Ozil ending up not to be trusted to feature much in his First XIs. His trust issues had caused Rob Holding to stay out until an injury forced his hand and Rob Holding went on to prove himself. If there are younger players doing well in training, he should fast track these players into the first XI. The big story about Arsenal versus BATE Borisov is that Ozil started the match, played 90 minutes and was one of the better players in terms of performance on the night that Arsenal went away with a clean sheet. There is some light at the end of the tunnel since Ozil last started against Cardiff City. Let’s hope both partners in this Emery – Ozil saga
now know what they should do to keep their working relationship ticking. If this is a truce, then it comes at a good time because it can help Emery and Arsenal power themselves to top four and win the Europa trophy.

Arsenal now know that they are playing Rennes, a team they may be playing for the first time. But with Emery having been in France with PSG for three seasons, and Arsenal having played against French opposition 22 times, winning 13 times drawing 7 times and losing twice, it should be an easy passage to the quarter-final stage. However, this is Arsenal and you never know which Arsenal turns up, it might not be so easy to conclude that this draw is an easy passage to the next round.



  1. Durand says:

    I thought it was a well written article. I consider it healthy to analyze the squad and ask questions when perplexed. It doesn’t mean you are against the manager or stirring up trouble.

    We learn more from failure than from success. The sin is not in failure, but in not learning. Who can argue against that?

    Emery has had his trials, and IMHO has shown himself to be more than capable of leading Arsenal. His ideas, methods, philosophy, and searching for HIS style are new to us. Asking questions shows we are learning and understanding him, and these questions are necessary for all of us to grow.

    His first year is about learning and growing, we give him the time and benefits to do so. Next year we should have our answers regarding the major issues:
    1. His ambitions
    2. A leader or a “yes man” for ownership
    3. Is he improving us, or merely kepping us afloat?
    4. Is he the right manager for Arsenal?

    He should be given time, support, and patience to prove himself to be right or wrong. The difference between given time and “free reign” are the questions asked of him.

    The sin is not in asking, but rather refusing to answer or to learn.

    We are all Gooners, and we have enough people against us, we don’t need to turn on our own.

  2. Break-on-through says:

    Emery actually reminds me of Wenger in his early days. Wenger was successful from playing a powerful counter attacking game. He had two defensive players in front of defence, but they knew how to play too and when to attack. This is what Emery is trying to do, he had that at Seville, and he tried for it at PSG but I doubt he had enough say on signings there. Klopp too has reverted to this two in front of defence so to steady his ship. Arsene changed after Pep’s Barcelona and became obsessed with possession and walking the ball in. His best sides were not like that, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you. They aren’t exactly alike but I can see the direction Emery is trying to bring us in. The language barrier is a problem and no easy feat to overcome as someone smartly pointed out yesterday. We do not have the same pull in the transfer market that we used to have neither, but maybe we can get back there. This guy needs your support, the competition is huge and there simply is no easy quick fix for us.

    1. gotanidea says:

      Spot-on about Wenger’s preferences in his successful period and after that. Wenger had Bergkamp, Vieira and Gilberto that were no pushover and quite tall, but he collected smail-build attacking midfielders to play tiki-taka after the Invicibles

      Probably because Wenger saw that EPL has changed, his opponents knew his tactics and he couldn’t rely on his old strategy anymore. I believe Emery also sees that he cannot always use a no 10 tactic, therefore he changes the setup based on the opponents

      To the fans that think their favorite players have to play to make Arsenal better or more entertaining, please keep supporting Emery, despite he excluded the stars in some games. There are a few games left to see how Arsenal could end at the end of this season and you could condemn him later if Arsenal’s league position doesn’t improve at that time

  3. gotanidea says:

    Nicholas Oyoo, if you remember, Guardiola used 3-5-2 at the beginning of last season, then 4-1-3-2 and finally 4-3-3 with various players

    I believe Guardiola wanted all his players to understand his concept by using different but interchangeable formations. I guess Emery is trying to do similar thing, hence we saw different formations and line-ups from him

    I’d prefer to wait until he can replace some of the current players with his own choices and until Arsenal give him big transfer budget after this season

  4. Jah son says:

    Emery now have a fairly fit squad of players to pick from we’ll all see what he’s bringing to the table tomorrow.
    For all the people who think Emery is doing great because we are one point off top four. How do you sleep when United who we left eleven points behind catches us in less than two months. Bate beat us square. For us teams have no fear and our football is crap. Why did he sign Suarez?

  5. Tissiam says:

    I think it is too early to judge him,you could be the best chef in the world but if you don,t have the right ingredients you have to do with what you have and can,t expect to do your best work!do you remember when people were mocking ranieri for being the tinker,well today changes,rotation are part and parcel of the game,the same with wenger people complained he didn,t take into account the other team,now I bet those same people are complaining because unai uses different tactics,players…and don,t forget most are due to injuries and not having the players he needs to play his style,also can you clear something for me,do you blame the manager for holding being injured?what about players looking like getting injured at anytime?it,s non sense all players could injure themselves for many reasons,because of other players contact,bad luck,bad fall…..

  6. Achala says:

    “3-4-1-2, 3-2-3-2, or 3-3-1-3”

    Nobody and I mean nobody plays 3-2-3-2 and 3-3-1-3

    It’s either 3-4-2-1, 3-4-1-2 (very rare as you’re relinquishing the control of the midfield), 3-5-2, or 3-5-1-1

    – Conte played with 3-4-2-1 during their title winning run (often erroneously quoted as 3-4-3), but the next year all too often played 3-5-1-1 which was too negative, but which we should use in games against top top opposition and in games when we cannot afford to lose. (with Ozil or Mkhi the player behind either Laca or Auba)

    – With 3-4-1-2 we lose control of the midfield, so hardly any coach uses that…

    – 3-4-2-1 would be okay for more attacking games, but I still feel 4-2-3-1 is the best we can do to control the games and also give some rest to our attackers who will have to play Thursday-Sunday a lot in the following months…

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