Tough start makes Arsenal’s Emery evolution a slow burner
Unai Emery couldn’t have asked for a tougher start to life as Arsenal manager as hot on the heels of defeat to Manchester City in his Premier League bow, the Gunners travel to Chelsea on Saturday.
The task facing Emery to turn Arsenal merely back into contention for the top four, after missing out on the Champions League for the past two seasons, let alone title challengers was laid bare as City cruised to a 2-0 win at the Emirates.
Reversing seasons of decline towards the end of Arsene Wenger’s 22-year reign was never going to be a quick fix, particularly with Arsenal’s spending over the summer not near the top of the Premier League arms race.
Emery’s decision to not start £20 million new recruit Bernd Leno in goal was therefore even more of a surprise as Petr Cech kept his place.
Veteran Cech, 36, struggled with Emery’s demands to play out from the back against City and almost scored a comical own goal by passing the ball inches past his own post.
Cech subsequently became embroiled in a Twitter spat with Leno’s former club Bayer Leverkusen and Emery’s tactics were branded as “stupid” by former England manager Sam Allardyce.
However, Emery insists he will keep faith with Cech on his return to Stamford Bridge, where he enjoyed 11 years as a Chelsea player, and vowed to stand by his principles.
“You shouldn’t change your mentality if you lose the first game. I want consistency,” said Emery on Thursday.
“Against Manchester City, the team kept their ideas, kept their spirit in the game for the full 90 minutes, even when we were losing, and didn’t let (their heads) go down.
“That was a good thing, despite us losing 2-0. I want us to continue with this work and to be competitive for 90 minutes, but with a better performance than on Sunday.”
Building from the back
Despite the early gloom, there remains plenty of hope for the new era at the Emirates.
An attacking quartet of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Ozil will pose a serious threat when afforded more of the ball than against City.
And Emery has already begun to address systemic problems Wenger was long accused of overlooking.
On top of Leno, Arsenal’s summer signings have all be brought in with an eye to strengthening a porous defence.
Defenders Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Stephan Lichtsteiner may be in their thirties but provide an experience and a cynical edge Arsenal have lacked for so long.
Meanwhile, Matteo Guendouzi and the tough tackling Lucas Torreira bring a youthful energy to the midfield that should provide a more solid base behind the creative talents of Ozil and Mkhitaryan.
Arsenal’s wretched away form in the Premier League last season is what cost them a place in the top four and finally Wenger his job.
The Gunners won just four of their 19 away trips and failed to even muster a single point on the road between December and the final day of the season. A record Emery is keen to improve on quickly.
“Saturday is a very good option to show our personality, our capacity against a big team like Chelsea, and away from home,” he added.
“(We) have an opportunity to change last year’s difficulties when the team played away. On Saturday we need to be a more competitive team on the pitch to change these away performances.”