Arsenal manager Unai Emery has done the unthinkable: win, and keep winning.
The last time the Gunners won nine straight Tomáš Rosický scored a brace, Calum Chambers, Per Mertesacker, Gabriel Paulista and Kieran Gibbs lined up in front of Wojciech Szczęsny, and midfield terror Francis Coquelin roamed the pitch in a 2-1 win over Reading in the 2014/15 FA Cup semi-final.
Arsenal’s most recent run feels a lot like the side that concluded the last: confusing, unorthodox, and – frankly – completely unexpected.
Arsenal’s Miracle Run is Just That: a Miracle
When Ivan Gazidis proudly announced that the Spaniard who had disappointed at PSG and made a name for himself off Europa League success would be the next manager of the Arsenal, it was met with the kind of confidence that Arsenal side of ‘14/15 inspired.
But manager Unai Emery found results.
He rebounded from a start that matched him against two of the best sides in England and began the most unlikely of runs.
An unsettled win over Cardiff City saw some 14 shots fired at Petr Cech, and a nervy 2-0 victory over Everton off the postage-stamp perfect strike of Alexandre Lacazette masked a side that wasn’t just struggling to score but conceding chances at a rate that would make even the most free-flowing Wenger sides blush.
Even against Qarabag, it was a pair of standout saves from Bernd Leno that made the difference.
The Gunners are Overperforming, but is That Cause for Concern?
All of this is to say that after nine unbeaten matches, Arsenal are two goals off the top four and just four points off pace. It’s flattering, but the results shouldn’t be understated. A fan-base that just months ago was clamouring for wins has seen nothing but for a month.
My expected points table fro the Premier League. Arsenal have been the most fortunate team on getting points compared to what is expected. pic.twitter.com/uO5Tvm6FYl
— Scott #Project24 Willis (@oh_that_crab) October 5, 2018
There are very real concerns about the process. Concerns about Emery’s preference to play his centrebacks wide, and his preference for a high line. Worries that Emery’s insistence on playing out from the back won’t work for a team that struggles to progress the ball through midfield.
Add to that egos to be managed, contracts to resolve and a dearth of attacking talent that is vying for minutes but only a select few seem to be contributing.
There are real problems with this iteration of the Arsenal, and it doesn’t take an expert to see it. It would be foolish to believe a man who won the Europa League three consecutive seasons, who topped Ligue 1, and who was crown European Coach of the Season and La Liga Manager of the Month – twice – doesn’t see those problems.
His dilemma is much simpler: how do you fix a broken machine that keeps working?
If Emery does nothing history suggests that regression will eventually take hold, and the chances Arsenal continuously concede will eventually be converted; but if he tinkers and they lose, he’s at fault.
After the Gunners loss to Chelsea, Gary Neville argued on Monday Night Football that a manager shouldn’t change his ideas.
“I think it’s dangerous for any coach to expect. I know this from my biggest learning in Valencia, I set off on a path of what I was going to do, didn’t get results. The minute I started to adapt, and get away from my idea, and change things…all the sudden the players had threw away the three or four weeks of work I’d done.”
Gary Neville’s managerial experience may not be the best appeal to authority but the point he made stands.
Emery is a new manager, and new systems and style will take time to implement. There is always growing pain, confusion, and above all, dropped points.
Arsenal was always expected to struggle to adapt; they might as well struggle and win.
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