Why is Denis Suarez so important to Unai Emery?
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Three major themes played out in the Premier League's first stanza. Liverpool's invincibility, Jose Mourinho’s dour Manchester United and the leaky defence at Arsenal. While Manchester City brought the Reds back to reality and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer cleaned up Mourinho’s mess, the Gunners frailties at the back lingered.
Unai Emery’s impact has been instant at the Emirates. A firm disciple of attractive football, he revived the Gunners as a possession-centred, high-octane side. Unlike Arsene Wenger, he added some resilience and grit, explaining why his team nicked the most strikes from the bench (10) in the season's first half.
The goal flow isn’t just a substitute affair though. Arsenal’s offence is firing on all cylinders. Only Manchester City (56) and Liverpool (49) fared better than the Gunners' 46 in the final third. They've failed to break the duck in just one league outing. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 14 strikes lead the division.
With Danny Welbeck ruled out for the entire campaign, the burden clings to Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette. As much as the Gunners could do with an extra man in the final third, defensive reinforcements were expected to top Emery's shopping list. Certainly not Barcelona midfielder Denis Suarez, his former disciple at Sevilla.
Arsenal's defence has been a mishmash. If it isn't the unreliable, erratic Shkodran Mustafi, then it is Stephan Lichtsteiner, the erstwhile Old Lady nearing menopause. Even the sometimes brave Greek warrior Sokratis Papastathopoulos appears to have joined the bandwagon. Without Laurent Koscielny, Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal, they rotate the hall of shame walkway.
Emery’s team are shipping goals for pleasure. With 31, they are just one better than West Ham United for the worst backline in the table's top half. The Gunners have recorded a paltry three clean sheets the entire campaign. Yet Emery has reportedly made the midfield his priority.
The Spanish Suarez is nothing compared to his Uruguayan namesake at Barcelona although he is talented. The thing is Emery knows the 25-year-old like the back of his hand. When Barcelona seemingly didn’t rate him beyond La Masia, the ex-Paris Saint Germain gaffer offered the midfielder a podium. He featured 47 times for an immensely successful Sevilla side who went on to win their second successive Europa League title.
Since returning to Barca in 2016, Suarez struggles for game time. The playing standard and absurd consistency demanded from attackers prevent him from securing an extended run in the side. That's to be expected when people like Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho keep walking in the door and Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi are already in residence.
Suarez's skill-set will suit the Gunners. He is something between Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey. Quick, capable of short, incisive passes and a good dribbler, he will score and create goals. Suarez rarely looks perturbed in possession. His nimble footwork can carry him through hordes of opponents, the ball never straying from his foot.
Emery rates him as Ramsey's potential successor. The urgency is questionable, though. The Welshman still has at least six months at the Emirates. Rather than a department that appears overstocked, the defence should receive critical attention. A reputable central defender is a necessity. Whether or not Suarez joins, Aubameyang and company will continue scoring but their goals amount to nothing without a steadfast defence.
The ball is in your court, Senor Emery.