Arsenal and Emery at a Crossroads: Two Main Choices

Where are we going? What should happen this summer?

The last post on BK covered where I think we are as a club under Emery:

Arsenal players wave to fans from the bus

Today’s post will cover the two questions at the top.

Where are we going (under Emery)?

Many fellow Gooners believe that Unai should be given time and that a club like Arsenal should not sack managers willy-nilly, and especially not after one season. So let’s assume Emery will stay and ask ourselves the questions where we are going under him the coming season.

Will it be more of the same or something totally different?

I am going to hope for the latter, so let’s go with that. But it all depends on whether the BoD will give Emery actually the time to build something up and do not just require him to finish in the top four next season. If they tell him to do the latter then I am afraid we will see more of what we saw last season but with the hope that we will make it this time round. The short term obsession/business necessity(?) with finishing in the top four is probably one of the biggest threats to our club: it may keep us back from (re)building the team around a vision and our values and therefore erode what Wenger had tried to build up during his tenure.

But maybe the club realise that they need to take a strategic view and ask Emery to tell them what he needs to make us structurally competitive, so we can win the title in say 2-4 years. I have my doubt about Emery having such a vision and being able to bring it to fruition at Arsenal, but I could be wrong of course (and would love to be wrong… of course).

What should happen this summer?

I would like Arsenal/Emery to make a decision on what our style of play/formation will be next season. There are two main options if you ask me:

  1. Play compact at the back and aim for quick turnarounds and counter-attacks.
  2. Push opponents back into their own half and pass and press them into submission.

Last season we did a bit of both; more of option one at the start of the season and more of option two in latter part. But we never played it with conviction and Emery kept changing things, even within games. It made our players look crap at times and we seldom looked like a focussed, energetic team that rose above itself.

For option one  we need Bellerin and Holding to come back strong at the start of the season. We also need to allow Xhaka and Torreira (and AMN/Elneny) to stay deep and in a horizontal line as much as possible. To make it really work we need better options on the wing, both in defence and attack. We need to buy a quality, ready to rock LB and a quality winger on the right (or left). Another CB would complete my wish list for option one.

Option two is what I believe Emery would really like to do. For this option he needs a beast of an all-round DM: dynamic, fast, strong and big. AMN has potential to become such a player but he is too young right now. We would need to buy such a player whilst AMN gets better over the seasons. Emery can then play two attacking midfielders in front of that DM beast, which could be two out of Ozil, Iwobi, Mkhi, Torreira, Guendouzi and Smith-Rowe. He would also need very dynamic CBs of which we do not have many. He would also need to buy quality mid-winger(s) as to give the AMs better opportunities to make things happen.

I reckon option two suits Arsenal better LONG TERM but will take a few seasons to get really right. It would also mean that Xhaka would need to leave as this system does not suit him (he needs to play deep, supported by Torreira or AMN). It also means buying quite a few players and working hard with our young talents to come good.

Option one should be much easier to implement given the squad we have in terms of style and qualities of key players, but it is un-Arsenal and un-Emery like and that’s why we struggled so much last season imo.

Of course these options can be nuanced and there will be variants, but I reckon the main decision the club have to make is whether we absorb and pounce or push forward and pass and press our opponents into submission. Whatever it is I will support, as long as a clear choice will be made and structural player investments will be made to make it a success, especially long-term.

By TotalArsenal. 

25 thoughts on “Arsenal and Emery at a Crossroads: Two Main Choices

  • TA, good questions posed.

    WHERE ARE WE GOING: Not yet discernible is my answer. But if the question is where we should be going then with a self sustaining model, we should be going for CL qualification min. The sooner the better.

    WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN THIS SUMMER: Invest on quality not numbers. Instead of buying 5 average players that leaves us on the same spot buy 3 quality players. That would be building slowly but building surely. At the worst by the next two windows we’d be there.

  • Good post TA.

    On the road ahead of us (the “where we are going” part), we need to have a DoF to vision a path ahead, and ensure that Emery focus on the tactical setup. We need him to be more focused on football.

    There are the remnants of Wenger, the players that are used to Wenger’s style and if the desire to do well is brought back, we are then capable of winning silverware.

    This summer, we need to get what we need, not what we want. A centre back, a DM, and a hell of a left footer is the way to go.

  • The posers are ideal, TA, considering what we made of last season. For the first (where we are going under Emery), I certainly hope in the right direction with something different, consistent and progressive. One of the shortcomings of the man seemed to be his penchant for chopping and changing things, which is the reason the boys looked unsure of tactics, at times. He needs to believe in something we can do well, stick with it, while adapting the approach in line with the opposition.

    With regards what we should be doing this summer, pretty much like what PE expressed, plug the gaps with quality, not numbers. If you read much into what the media is putting out and some Arsenal fans lapping up, you’d think we need to “sell” every play bar a few (Auba, Laca, Leno, Bellerin and maybe Sok.). That’s impossible and no one really does that without consequences. We need a flying winger, a constitutional DM and pure, rugged CB; if we throw in a left back (to compete with the at times disappointing Kolasinac, I won’t complain either.

    As far as your options go, I would love Option 2, but find Emery incapable of building the consistency-leading to confidence in it- to sustain that style, so I will go with option 1 till we are well drilled at it and the winning habit returns.

  • Eris, you’ve chosen the expression “chopping and changing”. I’d go fo the one you used earlier in the season when we started having our first doubt about Emery and that is that “he over thinks it”. Overthinking it is one of the hallmarks of inexperienced coaches.

    They say that’s how Wenger started and slowly evolved into close to hands-off coaching. When one invests too much on details the tendency would be to lose grips with the salient points. Anyway people are remolded slowly …. like one thing at a time.

  • Absolutely spot on, PE. What’s troubling is Emery isn’t one you can refer to as “inexperienced”, yet he didn’t seem capable of making his players play a relaxed, confident game. They, most games, looked like they were trying to stick to a script or operating manual, such that a deviation from it is cause for anxiety at not pleasing the new manager, who had a reputation for making changes at half time. It wasn’t what the team was used to; and there’s nothing wrong with rocking the boat, if done positively.

    The whole team (manager and players) were eager to show that things were different and changes have been made from the ‘Wenger way’; and this hurt performance, in my view.

    The above were symptomatic of the “over thinking” of things.

  • They say that when Villas-Boas came to Chelsea, from day one he tried to change everything and failed. When the very experienced Ancelloti arrived he started by changing nothing but somewhere along the line Chelsea were playing differently.

  • The reputable CIES Football Observatory using an algorithm that takes into account many variables including performance, age, contract status, etc came up with the 100 most expensive players in the top 5 European leagues. Arsenal has 5 players in that list. Not sure I agree with the ratings and the valuations but interesting all the same.

    Xhaka 94th @£55-5m
    Guendouzi 62nd @£62.4m
    Lacazette 54th @£66.6m
    Torreira 49th @£67.6m
    Aubamayang 47th @£69m

  • PE, actually trying to change nothing and going with what the team is comfortable with does the trick. The only issue is that will Emery learn and do this?

    Apparently the lads started playing out from the back since Wenger’s final year, and this year we were more proactive in winning back the ball, which pleases those that watch the game. We did that very well for the first half of the year, but something changed and we were back to playing Wengerball. Something might have happened then. And everything went downhill from there.

  • Hi TA… Sorry to only be getting around to this post after it has lingered for the better part of a week (a hectic one for me). It’s another good one, of course, and deserves a lot more response than it has gotten…In my opinion…

    Arsenal are gonna stick with Emery because we’re a “big club” is an interesting assertion, but sure, let’s go with it. (Of course, I see it very differently as I’ve been trying to point out for the past couple of years. The Kroenkes ended up spending big money on Gazidis WASTING some serious cash with his absurd handling of the Wenger firing. Then Ivan fecks off and Sven rushes back to Germany… Big savings for our bottom line but never a good sign when the rats jump ship and would rather try their luck swimming…)

    With your two options–and stumping for the latter–I think you’re giving (waaayyy…) too much credence to Emery’s original declaration about being protagonists. We pressed (from the front) for about a split second last season and almost ALL our play went out wide and then back in, at least once we crossed into the opponents half. Ideally it was on the break (with the opponent out of position) and not via our (exceedingly tiresome) playing it around in our half. Beyond that opening speech, I saw NOTHING that indicated that this was not the Emery system. It’s all based on positioning and trying to keep the ball ahead of the center of our defense–meaning our 3 CBs and 2 deep sitting mids. (Only our wingbacks and CFs are given the freedom to actually follow the ball forward…) Did it work? No, it did not… Did Emery try anything different? Well, you could argue that he went with a traditional 2 CB line a few times, but less and less as the season ground down to its (miserable) end.

    Do I see it changing? No, I do not. We need reinforcements at CB for the aging Kos and Nacho and the 35 million pound guys who leave their brains outside the box when they step in to defend. (Xhaka and Mustafi). IF you can keep the ball in front of those guys (or at least use them on attacking set pieces) those guys have value…but the Wenger-haters probably make some sense when they assert that AW spent all that cash because he ignored their defensive shortcomings hoping they could help us in his (much more attack-minded) system…and now the management team should probably just try and cash in (on them) as part of their remake…

    Obviously, I think the players are better than the sum of their parts under Emery and a new manager is the way to proceed…

    That ain’t gonna happen until we’re that sort of mid-table club (truly) under-performing down towards the relegation places. Whatever it’s come to, it hasn’t (yet) come to that…

    But a mid-table mentality we’ve got and (somehow) playing like a mid-table team (but with slightly better players, maybe, and forwards who can score a few) will get us back to the top was how Mourinho saw things at Chelsea and ManU. And it worked (at least those couple of times in South London, over and now getting onto a decade ago)… In these times, I just don’t see it, but I also don’t (can’t make myself…) watch as closely as I used to. So, I’d be grateful if you could tell me that I’m wrong…

    And even more grateful if I saw evidence to the contrary come August…

    Looking forward to part 3… 😀

  • Well thank you all for commenting. It will be interesting to see which direction the club and Emery will take next season, but the lack of updates by the club is worrying to start with. By now you know my views and let’s see what will happen. Just 20 days from now will be our first friendly and we may have some new players by then and one or two will have been sold. It looks like Emery is staying on, so I am with 17HT – I think – to keep watching but with relatively low expectations. I genuinely feel that we are at a crossroads and about to take the wrong turn. That is ‘my truth’ and I realise it is not ideal for the blog, but there you are.
    Have a fab Sunday!

  • TA, I understand where you are coming from, given that this season the lads haven’t been playing well and winning games we should be.

    I would give Emery half a season more to bring his tactics across, and his man management have to be brilliant enough to bring the lads together.

    This blog is about positivity. I would rather think positively and hope that the team with great minds can come together and act as a team rather than as a team of individuals. The lads that we bring in have to be mentally strong enough to turn a loss to a win.

  • Cheers 84, I am happy to give positivity a chance next season but we first need to hear from the club and Emery where we are going next. As soon as there is news we will write about it.

  • Hi TA,

    I just clicked on to your blog, it looks great.
    I will be back later to read some of your posts.

  • Guys, after browsing through newsnow it seems that the non Gooners have wanted the board to bring in established players rather than youngsters, which getting youngsters had always been the Arsenal philosophy.

    Question for all: Established players or youngsters the way to go?

  • A good blend of both is probably best for the long term growth of the club. It has always been the philosophy, though in the recent times, it’s been hard to balance this as we were under pressure to compete for some thing or the other.

    We need to give the academy kids something to aspire to, with a fair number graduating into the senior squad each year. It also lets you know you are doing something right.

  • We can’t eat our cake and have it. We can’t be asking that our team be challenging with the best in Europe and at the same time not be going for the best. With our financial handicap our compromise should be quality but at a slower rate. That means quality complimented for numbers from our academy. Over 2 or 3 more windows we’d be there.

  • Eris, PE, good comments.

    We all agree on the academy lads being brought up to the first team gradually. The only team(s) that do this currently is us and Barca. You don’t really see other teams bringing so much academy lads into the first team, and the top 6 (except for spuds) buy big rather than promote youngsters.

    This season we have some good youngsters that we can promote to first team. We have AMN that we can bring him back to the midfield position, Reiss Nelson and Bukayo Saka can terrorise the wings and provide firepower to our forwards, and Bielik can provide a good backup in defense.

    If we get one more experienced defender we should be good enough, but for depth’s sake we need one or 2 more to complete the squad.

  • Hi Eris, that is quite a big change, I reckon. Ljunberg working with the likes of Ozil and Iwobi should do us good. We need more balance in midfield and maybe Freddie can bring this.

  • All is fine with me TA, your site is like a breath of fresh air.
    Do you accept headline posts from other bloggers? If so I would be interested in writing some.

  • Hi GN5, yes we do and you are very welcome to post articles on BK. Had a look at AA and I hope you can all sort things out between yourselves. In the meantime, you are very welcome here and I would be honoured to issue your finely worked posts, as I am sure they will be very much appreciated by the BK community.

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