Happy Saturday folks. It’s one of many this season in which Arsenal aren’t playing but yesterday Unai spoke to the official site about the game tomorrow and there’s a word he said a few times that keeps ringing in my head as I compose some of my usual garbled thoughts this morning:
Unai spoke about the importance of the balance between our attacking prowess and our defensive solidity and it’s fair to say that right now, certainly for the latter, there’s a distinct lack of it. To be competitive at the top of this division the right blend of knowing when to go forward hell for leather and when to be more astute in your defending is essential. We just don’t have that at the moment and it’s clear to all of us that watch The Arsenal so frequently that we’re not there when it comes to that balance.
I think it is in part down to the composition of the squad, because Emery hasn’t had enough time or transfers to get his players in through the door yet. We all know he has to work with Raul and Sven to identify his targets and this summer has felt more like Sven picking good players he thinks will work rather than players that will fit a system that Emery wants to play. I guess that’s understandable given Emery only came in a few months back but as we get through this season there will need to be more work done by Sven to adapt and understand the style of Football Emery wants, then to seek out the players that fit that style.
That’s going to take time though and we have a whole season in front of us that we want to see play out successfully, so what are the options for Unai right now, if the balance isn’t working?
For me he’s in a difficult position because it feels like his options are either to change the set up of the team from a formation point of view, or persist with the formation and style he’s got and run the risk of this balance in the team not really working perfectly all season.
The team feels like it’s set up to have three central defenders and two strikers. Emery wants to have his full backs pushed higher up the pitch, he wants them to cover ground and naturally that is leaving us with gaps when the ball turns over and teams get behind our press. With three central defenders it affords the full backs to push forward and there still to be cover.
The only challenge is that we don’t really have the experienced centre halves, but Holding and Chambers (yes I know he’s on loan but he’s still an Arsenal player) both looked more comfortable in a three than in a two. The same can be said for Mustafi.
Herein lies our problem and it’s a problem throughout the team: we aren’t balanced enough in some positions to play the way Emery wants. We don’t have Koscielny fit, Holding and Mavropanos still have question marks (naturally because of their respective ages), but if we play with three at the back it feels to me like we’d have more round pegs in round holes across the rest of the pitch.
I still think Kolasinac could come good and if he’s playing as a wing back then certainly it favours him more. Bellerin has the pace to get forward and his sometimes questionable defensive duties are not under the microscope as much.
Midfield would have a two of Xhaka, Guendouzi, Torreira or potentially Ramsey to pick from. Ramsey is probably the player that least suits this formation as he is a forward runner and I suspect you need a couple of distributors in the formation, which the other midfielders we have all have the passing range for.
The other alternative for Ramsey is to play in front of that two but for me, it’s either Özil or Mkhitaryan that play there, which is just behind Lacazette or Aubameyang. Those two clearly have a good on and off-field partnership that could be developed and both have proven to be capable of bagging goals as well as linking well so for me it feels like a natural choice.
Whether or not this formation is the right one depending on opposition is also a question to be had, as is the fact that it leaves us very narrow as a team but that’s the conundrum Emery has at the moment, because he was left with an unbalanced squad and very little width in it anyway. So does he stick with playing his way and try to get players to play wide – like Auba in our current front three – or does he shift the formation of the team to suit the natural positions of so many first team players?
If he does change it perhaps it’s just an interim policy until he gets his players in? I’d be up for that. It would show tactical flexibility and also allow the players to slowly transition across to his thinking.
That word ‘balance’ is key in all of this and runs as a thread throughout my thinking today. We’re not quite getting it right and hey, we’re picking up points now and that’s ultimately the most important thing, but I do wonder if we’re going to get to a crossroads when Emery has to make a decision; stick with your plan or adapt to the players and their best positions and strengths by adapting your plan – even if it is just in the short term.
What do you think?