As we’re all aware, Arsenal are on a nine match winning streak. This is clearly a good thing. A positive thing. A happy thing. We’re just two points off the leaders, we’re in the top four, and after the start to the season we had, it’s been a fantastic response and the team has shown resilience, character and a will to win that nobody can really take issue with.
At the same though, as Unai Emery’s work has begun at a new club, there have been some easily identifiable problems, particularly defensively. Until the Fulham game where everything seemed to click on the the day, the amount of chances we were giving the opposition was a real worry, and but for some wastefulness and squanderousness* from the opposition, the results might not have been so good.
I’ve written about it here and spoken about it on the podcast. Not to be critical exactly, but I think when you’re analysing a football team – or anything for that matter – you can’t just cherry pick the bits you like and ignore the rest. It’s not honest, and it’s important to consider all the aspects of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.
It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the winning, nor does pointing out some flaws mean you’re moaning for the sake of moaning. These are simply observations, matters of fact.
‘We won again and I am happy about that’ is as true as ‘We let OPPOSITION take lots of shots from dangerous positions’. The thing about saying things like that nowadays is that they’re free from the Weight of Wenger, and I think that’s a curious part of looking at Arsenal at the moment. By that, I mean that our former manager had become such a ubiquitous and divisive figure that every aspect of our football and what we did or didn’t do on the pitch ultimately came back to him.
The loudest voices at either end of the in/out divide are no longer there, or now basically irrelevant, so there’s no baggage to analysis of Emery. It might well be a thing in the future, but right now it isn’t, and the Spaniard’s comments at his press conference yesterday really resonated with me. Asked if he’d expected to have such a big impact with nine successive wins, he wasn’t about to blow his own trumpet. Instead he chose that moment to demand more from his players, and to remind fans that while those victories are to be enjoyed on their own merits, we shouldn’t think there isn’t work to do:
I think we need to improve a lot. I think we have to continue doing a lot of the things to get better. Our demands need to be very high. The supporters can enjoy it with us but also we’re speaking with our reality every day. We need to improve because for example the match against Fulham was a very good result and a very good game for 90 minutes.
But in the first 45 minutes I thought we needed to do better. If we are remembering the last match at the Emirates [against Watford], we won but not playing like we want, with the control against the opposition.
He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to get carried away, and I suspect his newness in the job is part of this response. Without wanting to draw direct comparisons between himself and Arsene, I think we’d have heard a lot about mental strength from the former boss about a nine game winning run, whereas Emery is playing it down and looking for more. It’s natural, he’s still in the very early stages of trying to assemble a team that is cohesive from an attacking point of view but without being too open at the back.
We know he’s the kind of manager who will pore over the fine details, so you can be quite sure he’ll have seen the stats, watched the videos, and done all the analysis which illustrated how many chances we were conceding in every game. Hopefully the Fulham game was a step forward in that regard, the kind of performance that can be repeated in the weeks and months ahead, but I do like that there’s not even a hint of resting on our laurels.
Headline tomorrow: AFTER JUICE BAN, EMERY REMOVES ALL LAURELS FROM ARSENAL FOR FEAR OF PLAYERS RESTING ON THEM.
My point is, this kind of attitude is exactly what we need at this point from the new man. There’s still plenty to do, of course, and this season is going to have some downs as well as ups. Keep the demands high though, and we’ll have a much better chance of achieving something this season. And let’s remember that discussing and analysing the problems in our game or performances can be a healthy thing. Just ask Unai.
For some extra reading this morning, Tim Stillman’s column looks at Arsenal’s need to become a ‘selling club’ again as we appear to be heading towards a situation where tens of millions of pounds are being left behind when that money could have been used to replenish the squad. It’s one of the first things the new Head of Football, Raul Sanllehi, has to get on top of, and hopefully his years of experience in the game will help him do that as the soon-to-depart Ivan Gazidis clearly could not.
Finally for today, a brand new Arsecast for you, chatting about Unai Emery, the improvements he’s been making, and lots more. Listen/subscribe below:
*I know it’s not a real word but I like how it sounds when you say it out loud