Now that the dust has settled on last weekends match at Stamford Bridge, it’s time to take a look back at Unai Emery’s first two games in charge in North London – what worked and what didn’t.
It would be easy to look at the table and see zero points and say the start of the season has been disastrous but I’m inclined to disagree and say there has been plenty of positives from the games against Manchester City and Chelsea.
But first, the negatives - starting at the back.
The centre back pairing of Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Shkrodan Mustafi are playing very far up the pitch considering their pace, or lack of it.
Both opening goals at the weekend can be put own to the defence being awry. Hector Bellerin isn’t free from blame, but Maurizio Sarri’s side exposed a weakness that paid dividends with their pace early on, and stuck to it.
Laurent Koscielny may offer some respite to this issue upon his return, but he is a few months off yet with the Achilles injury he sustained last April.
One very prevalent issue against Chelsea was the lack of chances converted. Arsenal did well to bring the score back to 2-2 after being two goals down in the first half, but in reality, they could have been 3 goals up at half time if they scored the gilt-edge opportunities that presented themselves.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a fantastic forward player, this much is known from his relatively short time at Arsenal thus far, and especially for his time with German giants Borussia Dortmund. What supporters of Dortmund will tell you is that Aubameyang misses chances – lots of them. That’s not to say he doesn’t score goals – often the opposite.
The Gabonese forward gets into the kind of positions he needs to be in – or thereabouts – so frequently that he does miss his fair share of efforts. That was seen against Chelsea – none more so than 55 seconds before the Blues second goal, where he blazed over from the penalty spot with an open goal before him – but for every easy miss, there’s an impressive finish.
In the first 45 against Chelsea, Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan and Iwobi put the ball over from 6 yards out. If these easy chances – which at least are being created – then Arsenal would have came out victors in their first away match of the season.
In terms of goal keepers, it is probably the issue in-relation to Arsenal that has been most-discussed since the beginning of the new season. It seemed a safe assumption that Bernd Leno would be the man between the sticks at Arsenal this campaign, but two games in and he hasn’t got a sniff.
Petr Cech is far more experienced to the German, but has had to adapt to a new playing style under his new manager, that many have questioned, and perhaps rightly so.
The side is clearly one in transition, and appear to be nowhere near settled into a routine or starting line-up yet, but the signs are there.
Onto the positives.
Arsenal haven’t been as bad as their point total suggests. I wrote prior to the season that Unai Emery had the hardest job in football ahead of him, giving credence that the situation the Gunners currently find themselves in – 0 points from 2 games – was not only a real possibility, but a likely one.
Manchester City are the best team in the league – arguably by some distance – so having them for a first game was almost certain to end badly. In reality, while it was a loss, it wasn’t disastrous and seen some bright sparks.
City’s second game of the season seen them demolish Huddersfield Town. This won’t be the only team that City annihilate this season, and does not necessarily represent Huddersfield’s quality either.
Arsenal could have beat Chelsea on their home ground, only for the luck of the draw (and plenty of poor finishing and positioning). After being two goals down within the first 20 minutes, this isn’t bad.
Arsenal’s midfield is a very interesting conversation following the first two games. The only player to have played all 180 minutes is Matteo Guendouzi. Aaron Ramsey was dropped after the first game, and Granit Xhaka was removed after 45 minutes last weekend.
Lucas Torreira has featured for just over an hour in total now, and the Uruguayan international is surely edging towards a start of his own. What this means is that no one is guaranteed a position in central midfield, with the places up for grabs based on merit, as it should be.
The other thing, and there will come a time where it will no longer be a relevant defence, is that it still incredibly early days in Unai Emery’s time at the club. And even with this being the case, there are already clear changes being implemented, such as the ball being played out from the back.
Not all of these changes have been positive – as mentioned, the defence were caught short on far too many occasions on Saturday afternoon.
Also, and it maybe perhaps a little harsh, but it wasn’t the defensive mishaps that ultimately caused the goal that would see Arsenal make the trip across London empty-handed – it was Alexandre Lacazette.
The Frenchman’s poor back pass – and even worse attempt to trackback after it – was what allowed the Blues to break free late-on and for Marcos Alonso to find the scoresheet. One of the lingering criticism surrounding Arsene Wenger during his time in charge was his resistance to putting a foot down around mistakes such as this
One potentially worrying sentiment that can’t really occupy much of Emery’s thinking is that after two games, many teams have had excellent starts.
Chelsea are one of six teams that have claimed two wins from their opening two games. They are joined by Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham – and all four will be harbouring realistic hopes of being in the top 4 come May 2019.
Arsenal’s next few games, are, on-paper at least, a lot easier than the games thus far for Emery (West Ham United at home, Cardiff City away and Newcastle United away are the next three fixtures).
It’s cliched, but the season needs to start now for the Gunners, with little-to-no-heed passed of the previous results, and the focus to remain on improving the weaker elements of the side’s game.