Talking Tactics with ZIKO EZEKIEL
Aside players we sign or sell, What Emery must improve on this season
While it’s clear that Arsenal needs to sign players to improve certain positions and the overall quality and depth of the team if they intend to do better in the coming season, this article points out what Emery must do in order to improve the team’s performance regardless of Arsenal’s transfer activities this summer. These are issues that are not down to personnel or individual quality or a lack of it but down to the approach, the set-up, the mentality, the structure and organization of the team.
* Must define his style: At that start of the season, after the pre-season training and matches, Emery should be able to look at the set of players at his disposal and have an idea of a main style of play and formation that he will employ for at least majority of the season. He must create a system, a philosophy, a style(preferably a dominating and attacking one) that the players must play to. In an interview at the start of the 18/19 season, he downplayed the importance of having a system as he admitted to be more focused on having a competitive team.
"My first idea is getting better day-to-day with our players and working hard with our players, to transmit my ideas. The system for me isn’t the most important. For me, the most important thing is to be and to create one competitive team. And then, we have the quality" - Unai Emery (July 2018)
While some might argue that he has spent only one season and fans should be patient with the process, they have to remember that a process should be aimed at mastering a style, system or philosophy. A process is building up to look like what’s on the blueprint. From last season there was no indication that the team is moving towards a particular system. There is no progress attained that we can build on in the coming season. Pep, Klopp and even Sarri after their first season, one could tell what their team is all about and that it was just a matter of acquiring better players in certain positions and the system will be perfectly implemented. Emery wants a hard working team but he must also be tactical enough to create a system in order not to just have a hardworking team but more importantly a smart-working team.
* Emery must abort the defensive and over-cautious mentality and setup especially against smaller teams: It’s true that our result against the top six teams improved last season( apart from the games away to City and the one against Liverpool especially) compared to recent seasons. This is as a result of the more defensive consciousness in the team, credit to Emery. But while this has worked against the big boys, it has produced rather frustrating displays and results against smaller teams. While we can all agree that the squad is far off from good enough to guarantee dominance and wins against the big boys, we will only be undermining the team and the pedigree of the club Arsenal if we think we can’t comfortably dominate and win mid-table and especially bottom-table teams.
There’s no hiding of the fact that the defence at Arsenal is bad and due for new signings, but that should even be more reason the team should be on the front foot in games, in order not to expose the defence to more pressure. A games where a team has about 70-80% possession and keeps the opponent sitting back ensures the defence faces less pressure and is prone to less errors. I wouldn’t have any problem sacrificing playing possessive and attacking football(which every fan would prefer to see their team play) if it actually does improve the defence and ensures the three points which is like a lose-win situation, but no, we defend more and still concede more; lose-lose, against opponents who we can dominate and win if only we go all out; win-win. We have 38 matches in the Epl, 10 against our fellow big boys and 28 against relatively smaller teams i.e. 84 attainable points against smaller teams alone(we finished last season with a total of 70 points in 38 matches). As much as we try to do well in taking points against the big team, we must maximize points against smaller teams.
* Mentality in away games: Yet again we are talking about mentality. It’s clear that even more than the quality and inconsistency of the players, the major problem that cost the team points was the mentality going into games. Away games especially, it’s so difficult to explain but the team always somehow plays like totally different sets of players at the Emirates and at away grounds. They move like fishes in water at the Emirate and like fishes on sand in away games. Same set of players, far different performances. Against the same 19 opponents we lost only twice at home and lost 8 times away and most times the performances were even worse than the results. I think it’s part of the coach’s job to ignite the best out of the players so that they can replicate those performances they give at home in away matches. If they can do it at home against those same opponents then there is something wrong why they crumble in away matches. Emery’s line up alone most times show a little too much respect to the opponents in away matches. Cases like using Ozil for home games and benching him in away games show intentions to be less creative and dominant but more defensive, already giving the opponent’s psychological edge at the start of the game.
* Make Arsenal a difficult team to play against: No doubts winning is the most important thing in football, but win or lose, from fans’ point of view what we want to see is EFFORT. In many of his interviews, Emery has emphasized hard work as a key factor for his team yet we have seen several games where Arsenal play like there is only little or nothing at stake, we have seen matches that Arsenal have drawn or lost not because of insufficient quality but insufficient effort. Personally, I think it’s the most difficult job a coach has to do; preparing your team to go out in every single match putting total effort, full concentration, a fighting performance, playing with confidence and zeal. But to be a top manager and in a top club like Arsenal that’s what is demanded game after game. Few times last season we see Arsenal play in that manner and it shows you just how good the team can be which makes it even worse the many other times you see them play sluggishly. The performance against Liverpool and Spurs at the Emirate show how good the team can be when they turn up, such performances would not be criticized even if the result were different. No doubt Man city has better quality than Arsenal but the match at the Etihad was more down to lack of effort rather than quality. Arsenal made it easy for them same way we have made ourselves easy for so many opponents, for even smaller opponents to stand up to. Look at the performance in the Europa League final, it was more of Arsenal’s lack of effort than Chelsea’s excellence, many cases like that through the course of the season.
Emery must make sure we play like a pain in the ass to the big teams and like a ruthless team to fear to the small teams. Either way and regardless of whatever tactics and formation we use in any match, we must be tough and very hard to beat.
I hope we do well this season. COYG!