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2018-19 - Our Story So Far

The international break is upon us once again, just as it seems the Premier League was just beginning.So it seems the perfect opportunity to take stock of our campaign thus far.How have we fared?Well, in terms of points, pretty much what we would have expected from the opponents we have faced.Our first game was against the champions, Manchester City. We faced them with a new coach, new tactics and new players, and it was a combination of this that saw City ride out comfortable 2-0 victors. Unai Emery set out his stall early in terms of what we can expect from our style on the pitch. Pass out from the back, quick transitional play when the opportunity arises, and dynamic movement to stretch teams so our intricate front-play comes off.We didn’t look terrible, but while the scoreline wasn’t a flattering one for City, the manner in which we succumbed to defeat was a comprehensive one. City ripped us open at will at times and yes, we had chances to break our duck but if City had a shred more luck, it could’ve been five.It was a dose of reality for our early optimism, but the challenges weren’t up yet.We faced Chelsea next.The Blues are far from the might of City, but they are still among the contenders for the title, and our record at Stamford Bridge is far from stellar. Plus, the new methods that saw our defence look so brittle the week before were hardly going to have been instilled.Our expectations were reeled in by City, but we had a better chance against Chelsea. They also had a new boss, and new players, so both sets of fans were in for the unknown, but Chelsea had already got off the mark the week previously.We lost the game 3-2, but the mood after the 90 minutes was far lighter, thanks to our attacking display. We created a hatful of chances against the home side, and on another day, we could’ve snatched a win. Instead, it was our backline playing a suicidal high line that done it for us.The high line could have worked, and the intent from Emery was clear, but without the subsequent pressing, it meant that the high line was ripped apart with simple balls over the top.Still, we did get off the mark in our next game against West Ham.While we grabbed the points versus Pellegrini’s Hammers - featuring a plethora of new recruits - we yet again gave away too many chances thanks to our struggle with the new processes at the back. We had signed Bernd Leno as he is better with his footwork than our current number one, Petr Cech. Yet Cech retained the gloves, and while his glovework could not be faulted, with the ball at his feet, he was less than certain. Also, we needed to zip the ball faster from defence - but these are teething problems we must abide with until the new system takes hold.West Ham could have had more than their one goal, but we could have had more than 3, and we were deserved victors.One encouraging sign we have all noticed during these games, is Emery is not afraid to hook players who are not performing. Granit Xhaka, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and others were either replaced at half time or left out of the team altogether, as Emery showed he would pick the team that best suited the occasion - and on form too.He has switched things up, and this was on display in last weeks game versus Cardiff.
Emery finally started with both Aubameyang and Lacazette together, and Alex Iwobi was left out as well as Henrikh Mkhitaryan. It paid off, as our two strikers both scored to grab the win, but at times, it wasn’t pretty.Cardiff stuck to their task and pressured our shaky defenders - and Petr Cech - into mistakes. They should have been a goal up early on if it weren’t for Harry Arter blasting over and it highlighted that if we don’t get to grips with these new instructions, then better sides will punish us severely.As it stands, we have two wins and two losses, but some lessons to learn.Things to improve on? Defenders need their midfielders to press when the high line is in place, and Mustafi needs to get on board with his positioning. We also need a bit of flank cover. Bellerin has been fantastic as an attacking asset, but he can’t do the job of two men, no matter how quick he is. Matteo Guendouzi has been a revelation. He tracks back, he is always looking for the ball, always available. He never stops moving and his ability to link defensive third and attacking third is rapid and effective. His physical attributes are lacking, but that will come. He looks a real find.In terms of attack, Auba and Laca may start in the majority of games, and we will reap the rewards, but in the big games, we have options to keep it tighter, such as Welbeck and Iwobi who track back.Emery is choosing his side well, and needs to continue to remind players that if they have a bad game - no one is safe from the bench. We have winnable games coming up, but unless our defence is switched on, we could make our life far more difficult than it needs to be. We conceded the most amount of shots in the league after three games - more than anyone. It’s inviting danger.We are a work in progress, but there are far more positives than negatives. Let’s give them the backing they need.