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Unai Emery is slowly perfecting the art of rotation at Arsenal

Monday 4th March 2019

Unai Emery's Arsenal reign polarises opinion. Fans expected a magician who makes the Gunners' problems disappear, transforming the North Londoners into a champion much like his previous club, Paris Saint-Germain. Instead, they received an engineer whose groundwork, like a concrete foundation, took time to settle. In part, the delay involved time taken to study his environment.

The Gunners won three from their last four games. Even the Tottenham draw felt like a win. Arsenal were the much-better side betrayed by Lady Luck. Consistency stands out in their recent form despite Emery applying various tactics and lineups.

By tinkering with his side, he discovered the best combinations. The Spaniard sent out different sides during this unbeaten run, revealing his tactical acumen.

In the crucial Europa League second leg against BATE Borisov, Emery reverted from the 3-4-3 formation which cost them in Ukraine, switching to a more traditional 4-2-3-1. After much anticipation, Mesut Ozil returned. Emery paired the German with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, shifting Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang forward. Granit Xhaka’s brilliant deliveries and the overall defending stole headlines but Ozil ran the show, combining with the wingers in a fantastic effort.

With Emery at last playing to his strengths, Ozil's creativity is in full bloom. He loves spraying passes for his wingers to run onto. Mkhitaryan and Iwobi emphasise maintaining possession. Mkhitaryan and Ozil combine like, dare I say it, Fry and Laurie. The duo works together to provide for Aubameyang, who lives to beat offside traps and latch onto their defence-splitting passes.

Following the BATE victory, Emery did not stick with the same XI. One school of thought says don't fix what isn't broken. The Spaniard refuses to be predictable. He took no time in changing the lineup, choosing Aaron Ramsey and Alexandre Lacazette to spearhead his attack. He also added Saed Kolasinac for further attacking vigour. The Bosnian's incursions destabilised Southampton’s defence.

Lacazette scored against the Saints. His impressive link-up play with Ramsey stole the show against Spurs.

The Spaniard pulled another trick from his playbook against Bournemouth, moving to a 3-4-3 formation. Eddie Howe’s side wasn’t prepared for the tactical change. Arsenal's attacking trio ran riot. Mkhitaryan, Ozil and Aubameyang lit up the Emirates.

But Emery understood that attacking approach would play into Tottenham's hands. In a heated North London derby, he picked the more efficient Ramsey and Lacazette. Nacho Monreal reclaimed his spot from Kolasinac to provide defensive stability. Ramsey’s brilliance lit up Wembley once again. He linked up with Lacazette superbly, playing a clever one-two before surging through on goal to give the Gunners the lead.

While poor officiating later undid the Welshman's good work, the gaffer's tactics worked perfectly. Changing Arsenal’s shape in the second half by bringing in Ozil and Aubameyang to add more mobility worked too. The penalty miss followed by Lucas Torreira's red card aren't possibilities you anticipate.

Unai Emery spent months tinkering with his squad like a backyard mechanic trying to fix an old car. Now that he understands his squad’s strengths and weaknesses, Arsenal purrs like a finely tuned engine. 

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Uttiyo Sarkar

A freelance writer who loves all things football. Writing about the beautiful game has been a passion of mine for years now and discussing the fine things about it is something I admire. A Manchester United fan for over a decade and an admirer of the English Premier League and Italian Serie A in particular. Also a discreet movie critic on the sidelines and occasional gamer. 


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