After two games that could be termed as baptisms of fire, Arsenal have finally kicked off the Unai Emery era with their first victory of the 2018-19 Premier League season. While the Manchester City game showed the gulf between the sides, a lot of fans would have felt hard done by the result from the Chelsea game.
Now that Arsenal have earned their first points of the season against West Ham, let’s look at some positive and negative conclusions we can draw from the game.
Positive: Lacazette is key
Arsenal’s attack clicked into gear during the second half after the introduction of Alexandre Lacazette. Preseason had shown a clear bromance budding between Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. But curiously enough Emery hasn’t started both of them together yet. Lacazette has continually shown his worth as Arsenal’s focal point in attack. The Issa Diop own goal came simply because of Lacazette’s drive and tenacity. Hopefully, Emery starts deploying a formation where both Lacazette and Aubameyang can co-exist.
Negative: The Ozil Conundrum
To say the Mesut Ozil had been tepid in the first two games would be an understatement. Many had hoped that he would come into this season with renewed vigour after the racism row. But early evidence shows that Ozil is mostly the same. With rumours swirling of a rift between Emery and Ozil, you’d have to wonder whether it was a mystery illness or Emery that ensured Ozil wasn’t in the matchday squad. Either way, Ozil could find himself on the transfer list as soon as January 2019. Though we have seen that the German can turn on the performances when he’s backed into a corner.
Positive: Xhaka – Torriera could be one for the ages
Granit Xhaka has been a divisive figure ever since he has been at Arsenal. A world beater on his day, the major issue has been that he was not the defensive midfielder that Arsenal needed. The first two matches saw Xhaka’s lack of pace and positional awareness being exploited to the fullest. However, once Lucas Torriera came on against West Ham, Xhaka seemed a man transformed. With Torriera handling the defensive aspect of things, Xhaka was tasked with controlling the pace of the game and he did it with aplomb. As Emery had experimented with Aaron Ramsey at No. 10, the Xhaka-Torriera pivot could be Arsenal’s bedrock.
Negative: The High Defensive Line looks a bad idea
Across the three games, Arsenal’s high backline was exposed brutally. For West Ham, the Marko Arnautovic goal, as well as a gilt-edged Robert Snodgrass opportunity came by picking runners behind Arsenal’s defenders. Felipe Anderson also enjoyed a lot of control placing through balls at will. With Hector Bellerin looking more like a right winger than right back and Arsenal’s centre-backs looking circumspect every now and then, Emery may have to rethink this defensive strategy.
Maybe it’s unfair to expect that Emery would be able to sort Arsenal’s deep seeded issues in a solitary preseason. The signs thus far have been positive none the less.
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