So here we are, preseason is done, next week we take on the champions as we kick off the new era of Unai Emery. I’m excited, you are excited, we’re all f**king excited.
There’s pause for concern. I think the reality of the new regime is you don’t quickly fix a house that’s been left neglected in woods for 14 years. There are so many agenda items the new backroom team need to address in a short period of time just to bring us to elite parity from a setup perspective. The dream that we’ll be chasing down Manchester City in season one are fanciful, if we’re totally honest, 5th is probably a fair expectation of where we’ll finish, 4th would be the stretch target.
Is that a negative way to look at things? Absolutely not. We have to be realistic. If it took Pep G a year to bed in his ideas, with a team that had won the league 3 seasons before he took over, you can imagine how hard it’s going to be to embed ideas into players who have no success anywhere near the bloodstream in over a decade. The closest most of them have come to a league title is watching 89 on Netflix. Even players like Ozil who had some success at Madrid were there when Mourinho was relevant.
Emery is having to teach a lot of the players how to exist in 2018. You can see that in the way we’re playing at the moment. Yesterday’s Lazio game was a comfortable win, but the Italians just aren’t in the same league as City and we simply won’t be given time or space like that over the next three months.
It’s fascinating to work out what the fuck Emery is going to do. Someone mentioned to me they were concerned that we hadn’t found a system yet. I’m not fussed about that, the best teams in Europe can dance between multiple ideas. Part of the new era of football is being tactically fluid, having players that are actually intelligent enough to change the way they play after 15minutes. Think American football playbooks in the Premier League.
We jumped between 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and what looked like 4-2-2-2 at one point yesterday. I absolutely love seeing us trying new things. My worry isn’t about the system, it’s knowing how to play it. We’re looking very sophisticated at the back at the moment, Calum Chambers and the players we’ve switched in are very comfortable moving the ball around. It’s quite incredible how much width and space we generate simply by having a keeper who is comfortable with the ball at his feet. Arsenal is opting for a slow, methodical approach to moving the ball out of the back. It’s a system of patience, maybe a little too patient at times. It’s certainly not the blitzkrieg style of Klopp, or the electric directness of Pep G.
I think the challenge we’ve had is transitioning the ball from midfield to attack. I don’t know if it’s just a tough adjustment, a lack of experience, or just preseason jitters… but there’s a lot of heavy touches and a bit of panic moving the ball forward. When it works, it’s great, when it doesn’t, there seem to be calamitous effects.
The positive for this season is I struggle to see past a Torreira and Guendouzi being the two midfielders at the base. Their movement, passing variety and mobility is going to put them in prime position to relegate Xhaka and Elneney to the bench. The difference those two are going to make this season could be immeasurable. Again, the big issue is there’s a whole team trying to learn on the job, and our two best deep-lying midfielders are new to the league.
Still, what a potential pairing, eh? Guendouzi makes some dumb decisions on the pitch, but he’ll stump that out and no doubt be a force by the end of the season. He’s so confident on the ball, demanding touches at all time. I also like that he’s an aggressor. Torreira had a solid game, tough to read too much into his performance, but I feel he’s likely going to be one of the shrewdest buys of the summer.
Our back 4 are going to cause us issues this season. We still lack quality. Lichtsteiner is an immense competitor, you just feel he’s 3 years too late to be a monster in our starting 11. That said, he was a beast all game. No one fucks with him. He’s dark arts shrewd. He looks fit. That ball he played to Lacazette was the next level Wenger was talking about.
Sokratis looks very slow. Mustafi just isn’t good enough. Jury is out on Mavrapanos and Holding. I love the idea of Vida, because he looks the sort of guy who’d cut your throat for talking too loud at a Tesco Express, but he’s 29 years old heading over from Besiktas. That move reeks of World Cup excitement. We need whoever the next Umtiti is coming in. Not sure we have the wedge to make that happen.
Our real strength this season is going to come from Auba and Lacazette. You can mop up a lot of mess having two deadly attackers there to finish off anyone’s long ball. It’s probably not a bad thing that they have a bit of a bromance going.
Overall, I’m very comfortable about next week. There’s only so much you can do in a summer, and if you count the revolution starting from January, it’s been a beast of a ride. I think the key for fans here is expectations. We have to go with the flow. You’ll have to ignore the bitter Wengerites who will jump on any loss as ‘UNACCEPTABLE IF THIS WERE WENGER’ because it’s irrelevant.
Everything that happens now is something new. If Emery wins an FA Cup, it will be bigger than Wenger’s. If he wins a league cup and takes it seriously, it’ll be more important than Wenger’s FA Cup. If he wins the Europa League, we’ll all celebrate it like it’s a World Cup, because it’s more important.
Everything positive that happened in the last 5 years was diminished when placed against the bigger picture of progress. That’s not me being miserable, that’s just giving you real talk. As we patted ourselves on the back for FA Cup wins, we slowly slipped out of the Champions League, we lost our identity, we shipped our best players, we became the go-to for meekness when describing a team. As we ignored jobless elite managers, dishing out a new deal to ‘the best in Europe’, inferior clubs built out exciting squads and rose from nothing to Champions League finalists.
Moving forward, everything that happens is a building block to something better. Even if things go to shit this season, at the very worst, we’ll have a club with upgraded thinking and players ready to move to the next level with a better manager.
Arsenal is making moves, whatever happens.
Enjoy the ride, keep the faith, and let’s have some good times this season.