Emery’s team with the ball is very much like Wenger’s. He likes to play with a back four but with the full backs pushed up the field to provide attacking width, as he favours inverted wingers. He also prefers to dominate possession. Glimpses from his interviews and the patterns of the last three teams that he has coached show that he is clearly more defence-conscious than Wenger. For example, he demands greater positional discipline from the player sitting in front of the central defence.
But what kind of player does he want in that holding role? Ideally he should want a well rounded footballer who is as good a destroyer as he is a ball player as he is a deep-lying playmaker. Unfortunately, such a supremely well rounded player does not exist and Emery has to choose a player whose skills fall largely within one of the categories, even though the boundaries of distinction are blurred.
In Emery’s interview published by Get French Football News, he gave a clear indication of his preference when asked a question to that effect. He said ……….“But when a team has the ball 70% of the time, that is more important than knowing if you’ll struggle when tracking back. You are the one dominating the matches. That’s why your defensive midfielder’s output during moments when you don’t have the ball is less important. Because those periods don’t last as long. If I were to put a destroyer at defensive midfielder, there’s a significant trade off between what I can do during build-up play, rather than what I can do in defensive situations. Of course, Thiago Motta needs to (do) better without the ball. But if you analyze Xabi Alonso or Sergio Busquets, the same could be said for them. They struggle during those periods, but they contribute so much more while on the ball. I don’t think this position was a weakness for PSG ……..”
He clearly prefers to trade off some defensive attributes for offensive gains. Therefore as far as the holding role is concerned Emery’s views fit with Wengerism. The debate is on the extent, and it is here that Emery’s insistence on greater positional discipline tilts slightly more defensively.
What this means is that our yearnings for a beast of a defensive midfielder is likely out of the window. Either Xhaka retains his position at the base of the midfield albeit with more positional discipline, or we should expect the recruitment of a more athletic Arteta type for that role. For example, Rodri Hernendez of Valencia would have been perfect but Atletico Madrid have already taken him.
Emery’s similarity to Wenger in his attacking philosophy should not be a cause for alarm. To start with, Wenger achieved a lot as a coach. Secondly, Emery is a complete departure to Wenger in his defensive philosophy. He likes front footed defending, winning the ball back quickly, which, we all know, wasn’t so much part of our game under Wenger.
Bearing his preference in mind, who do you suggest Emery should put at the base of our midfield? Or would you insist on a destroyer of a defensive midfielder? We can’t wait to make first hand contact with Emery’s DNA.