Well, it’s no longer a winning run but Arsenal fans will still take pride in the unbeaten run nonetheless. Let’s face it…after 2 defeats at the start of the season, one must have wondered whether Arsenal would suffer from the dreaded post-long-term-manager syndrome (Man United after Ferguson and Nottingham Forest after Brian Clough come to mind). Surprisingly (and I mean it…yes…I’m surprised), the team rallied and went on a double-figure winning run in all competitions, before falling a bit short against Crystal Palace. Well, it was good while it lasted.
Against Liverpool last week, Arsenal was the pre-match non-favourite. In fact, it was suggested that Liverpool would steamroll the Gunners without breaking a sweat. After 90 minutes though, the home team was the one holding the plaudits. Many have spoken largely about how Arsenal are working better than before…or how Emery has energized the team…or how he has ‘changed’ Arsenal.
Let me pause here…and say this: Unai Emery is a brilliant manager who is doing great with the players he has at Arsenal. But I disagree that he has changed much at the club. The only thing new at Arsenal since he arrived…is the consistency of the team’s gameplay.
Going on an unbeaten run is nothing new at Arsenal. The team is famous for an unbeaten league season already so let’s rule that out. A winning run is nothing new as well; Wenger managed that many times too. More importantly, the slick, energetic play we’re witnessing from the team today is something we’re used to. Sharp passing and movement, walking the ball to the net, audacious (needless and risky) flicks and tricks….These are elements that Arsenal produced under Wenger many many times. To those of you throwing jabs at Wenger after watching Emery’s Arsenal…STOP IT.
Nevertheless, Emery deserves credit for how he has led the team so far. First of all, he stuck with the same team from last season. In fact, his biggest signings were Leno and Torreira. The likes of Maitland-Niles, Chambers, Holding, and Iwobi were signed on to new deals while he has shown a willingness to coerce more out of Mustafi and Xhaka (players who were deemed flops under Wenger). Kinda like what Guardiola has done with Sterling…kinda (take it easy…I said kinda).
Like many new coaches, he has added new elements to the team play. The passing is more direct and players are guided on how they can express themselves. Finding a way to combine both Aubameyang and Lacazette is also laudable while ensuring the team maintains its shape throughout each game is a welcome initiative.
Perhaps, that’s where his strengths lie; ability to keep players focused throughout the 90 minutes. Look at how he ‘supervised’ the equalizer against Liverpool on Saturday (go watch the highlights…it’s brilliant to watch). The team, under Wenger, would have lost belief after conceding first but he managed to keep them focused on trying their routines again and again. The goal against Wolves was also as a result of this. This is what Arsenal has lacked in recent times. The boys are keeping at it and that is why they’re getting the results. Keeping at it is why Ferguson was so successful and why Guardiola is such a genius. Consistency Of Team Play.
Wenger once suggested that the Arsenal players needed something new to believe in. I think Emery has brought that. He hasn’t done much, but he’s started with just enough.