Arsenal's away record is Unai Emery's Achilles heel
Background photo: Zakarie Faibis, CC BY-SA 4.0
Arsenal’s race to finish in the Premier League top four may rest on the Gunners’ away. The North London club maintain a stellar record at the Emirates in all competitions but struggle on the road following a robust 22-game unbeaten run in autumn.
Unai Emery’s squad dominates most statistical categories in front of home fans. When they travel, it’s a different story, especially in the Premier League. Imagine a team fighting to finish in the top four who can’t keep a clean sheet away from home all season. No wonder Arsenal can claim only three victories when visiting Premier League opposition [Bournemouth, Cardiff and Huddersfield]. It’s night and day compared to their home form [second only to Manchester City].
The story of Arsenal under Unai Emery inspires. The Spaniard has managed the team to within touching distance of the Champions League. The former Sevilla boss may not need to push his Europa League luck to capture the goal that's eluded the team the previous two seasons. Adding a fourth trophy in that competition would be nice, though, if only to keep the three he won with the Rojiblancos company. Arsene Wenger never did conquer Europe. Regardless, the Gunners are fifth going into the weekend action, a point behind Tottenham and three short of Chelsea while claiming a game in hand against the Blues.
Emery operates under a limited budget compared to Liverpool and the Manchester clubs, yet remains competitive. His tactical set-up allows the Gunners to match any side on their day, provided that day is one where the squad doesn’t leave the house.
It’s a dilemma the new man inherited. The team was woeful away under Wenger as well. It doesn’t appear Emery can solve the problem in the six games remaining. He’ll have four opportunities in that stretch. None look promising. The first chance comes Monday at Vicarage Road against FA Cup finalists Watford. The second is at Molineux on Wednesday the 24th versus the Hornets’ defeated semifinalists, Wolves. The final game in April, on the 29th, takes place at the King Power where Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City await. Last but not least, Arsenal close the season at Turf Moor where Burnley should be safe from relegation but are still a tough nut to crack.
Unbroken trends tend to settle into the mind. Players are confident they can win at home but fragile when facing adversity away. Strong, vocal leaders are necessary. Emery’s first campaign added Sokratis but no player prepared to take charge in midfield or further forward. Finding one or two more field commanders must be job one in the summer.
The club’s top players as it stands do not fit the bill. Mesut Ozil wears a cowl whenever he’s not in a match. No one’s going to hear him if he does shout. Aaron Ramsey will be gone in the summer. Laurent Koscielny might retire. Granit Xhaka must develop his own consistency before holding others accountable. Lucas Torreira leads by example but, at 5’6”, isn’t going to intimidate anyone. For all their skill, that’s Arsenal’s problem. Football doesn’t give you anything. You must take it.