Why Unai Emery’s Arsenal side look susceptible
Background photo: Zakarie Faibis, CC BY-SA 4.0
Arsenal returned to winning ways with a 2-1 victory over a Huddersfield side whose only hope to avoid relegation is for maths to be outlawed. Spoiler alert: the North Londoners were the better side thanks to two well-taken goals in the first half from Alex Iwobi and Alexandre Lacazette. The win moved them one point within a point of fourth-place Manchester United. A Champions League place is there for the taking if the Gunners can exploit a comparatively easy run of games while the Red Devils deal with Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain. The problem? Recent performances don't suggest the Gunners can rediscover the form that delivered a 22-game unbeaten run. Their second-half performance against Huddersfield showcased their inconsistency.
The two defeats against Chelsea and Manchester City to begin the campaign convinced Unai Emery to move away from Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey in favour of younger players. Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira formed a midfield pivot. Alex Iwobi finally proved a creative force on the wing. Although the contract negotiation with Ramsey turned into a fiasco and the Welshman reportedly committed to Juventus for 2019/20, he's found his way back into the Spaniard's plans for the run-in. Ozil has not.
The new set-up provides industry and work rate the previous regime lacked but increasingly sacrifices Arsenal's trademark creativity in attack. In moments like the first half against Huddersfield, the Gunners are dead-eye shots. Then you blink and so do they. The more impotent the team becomes, the more fans question why their German playmaker sits on the bench in good health?
In fairness to the manager, Emery consistently iterates his desire for more steel in the middle of the park and no one can deny Ozil is too often a paper tiger.
While Ozil is healthy, injuries continually impede the new manager's progress. Just as Laurent Koscielny returns, Hector Bellerin is lost for the season. Squads develop chemistry by playing together for long stretches. Trotting out a different XI for each match invites inconsistency. Unfortunately, Emery has had no choice in the matter.
It is a damning statistic that Arsenal can't keep a clean sheet away from home in this Premier League season. Failure to defend turns wins into draws and draws into defeats. It also affects goal difference. Only the fact that United were so woeful under Jose Mourinho keeps the Gunners within a point and a goal of the Red Devils.
Scoring two goals early and cruising as they did against Huddersfield seldom occurs these days for Arsenal. After 26 games, only nine clubs ship more goals. Emery's side remains the fourth-best attack in the top flight but United are poised to overtake them. If the Gunners rank outside the top four in both attack and defence, it will be a challenge to accumulate sufficient points to bring the Champions League back to the Emirates.
The new manager's work is cut out for him. If he wants fans to get behind him, performance must improve. His squad needs clean sheets and not just against sides mired in the relegation fight. In addition, the attack has to be more consistent. To truly succeed Arsene Wenger, Unai Emery's Gunners must be strong on both sides of the ball.