The win against West Ham was obviously very welcome, but so too was the honesty that came in the post-match reaction from the manager and the players. Footballers often have a tendency to look at a result and focus on that, but the Arsenal players – and Unai Emery himself – were fairly open in their assessment of what happened.
Emery: It it’s clear we need to improve and we need to improve on working to not concede many chances
Nacho Monreal: Obviously it hasn’t been our best performance and we have to improve. In the first half we conceded, but we could have conceded a few more so we need to learn about that.
Aaron Ramsey: We found it difficult in the first half and we were perhaps too open at times.
In our three Premier League games so far, we’ve allowed the opposition 44 attempts on goal. The breakdown of that is 17 v Man City; 24 v Chelsea; and West Ham had 13 on Saturday. It wasn’t really the quantity of the opportunities the Hammers had that was concerning, but the quality of them. Better finishing, better decision making, and they’d have really made life more difficult for us.
It’s clear the team are still coming to terms with the kind of football Emery wants us to play. Ramsey spelled it out, saying:
He wants us to press and press really high up the pitch, so that’s the biggest thing really and then obviously we’re trying to figure it out going forward as well, so hopefully we can combine the two next week and get another win under our belt.
This goes back to the balance that Emery referenced in his comments after the game, and it it’s going to be interesting to see how this team develops over the coming weeks and months. We talked about some players not suiting the style, some will fall by the wayside as others flourish, and we’re perhaps seeing early signs of that. But, as I keep saying, this is just three games in and it’s impossible to make definitive judgements in such a short period of time.
Overnight, there’s been a bit more on the Mesut Ozil thing with a raft of stories about how the German has got to work harder and that Emery expects more from him. When asked if he’d planned a positional change for the 29 year old, the head coach replied ‘Maybe’, which doesn’t tell us a great deal. Being on the bench is a positional change, I guess, but it’s hard to see where he fits right now.
The obvious place is ahead of the two deeper lying midfielders, in the role that Aaron Ramsey played on Saturday against West Ham. I don’t think it’s beyond his capabilities to do that job, he’s capable of doing the running, but it’s hard not to wonder if Ozil is a leopard whose spots can’t be sufficiently changed at this point in his career. He’s a player who wants to be on the ball and has had others do the fetching and carrying for him. Now, he’s expected to do some of that work himself.
It’s not a particularly unreasonable request, and again we don’t really know a great deal about Ozil’s willingness, or not, to carry it out. The next few weeks will tell us plenty about it though, and I hope he’s ready to do what the team needs. Like it or not, when you earn what he earns, there’s an expectation that you are ready to give 100% however or wherever you’re asked to play. I mean, that’s true of every player regardless of their salary but as the club’s top earner, as someone who was happy to sign that contract knowing it would bring that spotlight, you have to expect extra focus.
Aside from that though, we often saw Arsene Wenger deploy Ozil wide, in a kind of free role from the right which gave him licence to roam around the pitch to try and create. In Emery’s system which sees the full-backs get forward, midfield protection is key. It’s not the sole preserve of the wide midfielders, but they have a significant part to play, and it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Ozil is pretty weak defensively. That means right now it’s hard to see him start wide.
So, we have a situation where our ‘number 10’ is between our gifted but mercurial record signing who appears to be going through the most difficult period of his career and whose pay-packet makes him very difficult to move on should we so desire, and a player who has yet to put pen to paper on a new deal and could potentially leave on a free next summer.
In that context you have to feel for Unai Emery a bit. Those are two tricky situations to manage at the best of times, but coming into a new club that is going through seismic changes on and off the pitch, and having to deal with them while learning a new language and trying to get a group of players to understand a new style of football when they’ve been so ingrained in something else for so long makes it all the more difficult.
I wish him luck, because it’s not easy, he might have to make some decisions which will perhaps affect the team in the short-term to ensure what he’s building in the long-term has the right foundations. Anyway, let’s see what develops on this over the course of this week, and his team selection as we go away from home next weekend will give us a little more insight into what’s happening and how he’s dealing with it.
Right, that’s your lot for this morning. James and I will be recording the Arsecast Extra this morning, so if you have any questions or topics for discussion, please send them to @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra.
The final thing is our list of winners of the Alan Smith book competition. They are as follows: Milan Kriz, Adam Gresswell, Nick Ladwa, Ashley Yates, Jennifer Palmer, Tony Porter, Napoleon Selim, Raza Gaskari, Jiten Vaja, and Chris Shilling. Well done to you, I’ll be in touch at some point today to get your details, and if you didn’t win, make sure to pick up Alan’s book in the shops, and I think they have some signed copies in The Tollington too.
Cheers for now.