CHANGES NECESSARY FOR ARSENAL TO LIFT THEIR AWAY PERFORMANCES by Nicholas
Arsenal are involved in two footballing contests remaining this season. The first is a 4-team dog fight for two remaining places that guarantee Champions League football next season. Of course, this is assuming that the first two slots will be taken up by either Manchester City and Liverpool. The other contest is winning the Europa League.
In the race for EPL top-four slots, Arsenal face challenge from Tottenham, Chelsea, and Manchester United. Arsenal are 6th in the EPL log and have taken the lead in their Europa quarter-finals match-up with AS Napoli, beating the Neapolitans 2-0 in their first-round home game. The next two matches will establish if Arsenal will remain favorites to grab one of the two Champions League slots in the EPL and advance to the semi-finals of the Europa Champions league.
It essentially comes down to Arsenal’s away form as these two key matches are being played away. Arsenal’s home record is impressive but away, Arsenal have not managed to keep a clean sheet this season. The last time they played away, Arsenal surrendered their EPL race for top four advantage over their rivals by losing a 1-0 to Everton. Their next game is Watford away and three days after that they face Napoli away in Turin to protect their 2-0 lead from the first round game played at the Emirates .
What, then, should Arsenal do to start getting results away from home?
#1 Persist with the winning pattern
Arsenal’s winning game plan starts with the playing pattern. With three in the back, 2 wingbacks, 2 midfield anchors, a free role attacking midfielder, and a center-forward duo seems to be the pattern that gets Arsenal ticking. In the last five matches, Arsenal have won four of these and lost one. They scored nine times and conceded once. Only that they lost the game that they conceded. It is also that the four matches they won, were home matches. The other coincidence is that in three of the four matches they won, they played 3-4-1-2 as noted above. One of the two matches that they deployed 3-4-2-1 pattern was the away match that they lost against Everton. The other was against Newcastle and they only managed to kill off the match when Aubameyang and Lacazette were eventually in the field.
#2 – Play the best players together
Emery likes to change patterns and change players. Perhaps, he is doing it too much. In the Everton game, maybe this was because he was trying to keep players fit to be ready for Napoli and ended up losing the rotation balance. However, playing Elneny and Guendouzi in central midfield and playing with a different playing pattern meant he ended up leaving Aubameyang and Ramsey in the bench. If the question was Aubameyang was sick, it would be better to draft in a player like Nketiah and have both Ramsey and Aubameyang start and when the goals have come to replace them to save them for the next key match. Keeping them out meant Arsenal started slowly and it impacted the match as there was not enough time to win back the initiative fully as Everton had developed a game plan to keep them at bay.
#3 Start matches strongly
In the first half of the EPL, the major concern for Arsenal was that they did not even manage to win a game in the first half of a match and always went into the break either equal or chasing a match. They even developed a reputation as comeback kings and most of their goals came in the second half. Well, this meant that some games ended up either drawn or lost altogether. I’m convinced that Goodison Park is a classic example of how Arsenal’s approach allowed the opposition to grow in their belief and added some tinge of a doubt to Arsenal players. This was because away, Emery would usually change to one striker. As a believer in the concept of the best defense is attacking, I feel that if Aubameyang or Lacazette are not ready to play due to illness or whatever, the pattern should remain with other players given the roles but the attacking formation should start the match so that Arsenal will start strongly.
These changes should start right from the next game, against Watford.