Fans were treated to their first glimpse of the new look Arsenal on Sunday as they lost out to defending champions Manchester City. A loss is never a good thing, but since it is the first match of a new season and a new era, losing to arguably the best team in the world can be taken in stride.
The sample size may be small, but we did learn a few things about Unai Emery, his players and what to expect from the year ahead.
The New Look Arsenal: Early Assessments
During the Wenger era, the Gunners’ pressing was woeful, to say the least. Often, there was almost no communication between the forwards tasked with disrupting opponents’ backline. The results were an ineffective press that left the midfield exposed.
Against Guardiola’s City, however, the Arsenal attack was far more unified. While Manchester City did beat the press on a number of occasions, there were several times during the match that the home side nearly forced a turnover deep in the attacking third.
The new look Arsenal press mainly featured Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey with Mesut Özil helping from time to time. Once the ball got near the centre circle, the midfielders would also join in on the press.
The ferocity of this high pressing game forced a few mistakes from the City defence. It also made playing through Arsenal’s midfield, something that was all too easy for opponents in previous seasons, very difficult.
Playing Out From the Back
At the other end of the pitch, life was far more difficult for the new look Arsenal. They attempted to play out from the back to start their offensive moves, with very little luck.
Case in point was Petr Cech’s near-own goal when attempting to pass the ball. The Czech shot-stopper played a back pass first time looking for Mustafi but put it behind for a corner instead, with the ball just missing his far post by millimetres.
While there are a number of highly technical players at the club who can play such a game, this tactic should have been abandoned after the first half. Manchester City’s players are, in addition to technically gifted, physically imposing and capable of running opponents down fast.
This made them very capable of thwarting the home side’s buildup play, resulting in a number of turnovers. While Arsenal’s long passing can’t always be relied upon, Emery should have changed tactics to deal with Guardiola’s press.
Just like with Arsenal’s high press, their defensive play will in all likelihood improve when the players have a chance to get more familiar with each other. This tactic will also be much easier against the rest of the teams in the division, as City are a class above everyone expect maybe Liverpool right now.
Chance to Impress
The final main theme from Emery’s inaugural Emirates defeat is the fact he trusted young players in important positions. Not the least of which is highly-rated Matteo Guendouzi.
The opening phase of the match did seem to rattle Guendouzi a bit, but he grew into the game well. He didn’t go hiding and he tried his best to impact the match in a positive way.
The youngster tried a few brave passes, with varying degrees of success. He happily charged into the press to support his teammates and made himself available to receive the ball.
He did make two memorable mistakes. The first came on Raheem Sterling’s goal where Guendouzi was too eager in his challenge and allowed the striker an angle on goal. The second was after a corner when he couldn’t field the clearance, allowing Aguero in on goal.
Lucas Torreira was even more impressive on his debut and really packs a defensive punch in his diminutive frame. The Uruguayan provided good cover for Hector Bellerin on the right, allowing the Spaniard to go forward on the attack.
Torreira’s passing impressed as well. The two that really stood out were the chip to Stephan Lichtsteiner and the through ball to Aubameyang. With both, the midfielder sat deep and allowed his teammates to make the run, making sure not to overextend himself and leave the defence vulnerable.
The accuracy of his passing also makes Torreira one of the players to watch this season in north London.
The Last Word
Defeat never feels good. However, this new look Arsenal can take a few positives from the opening day loss. Unai Emery is imposing his vision on the team, and getting some decent results already.
It is important to understand that rebuilds like this take time, even with the best managers at the helm. Guardiola’s City, for example, were unimpressive at times in his first season in charge before running away with the title in year two.
Similarly, it would be foolish to expect great things from the start from the new Arsenal. However, there are a few encouraging signs from matchday one.
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