In our Arsenal season preview, we pick out three challenges facing Unai Emery as he prepares for his first campaign in charge…
After 22 years under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal are stepping into the unknown. Unai Emery’s appointment was confirmed back in May, giving him an entire summer to prepare for his first season in charge, but no one can be sure quite what to expect. Can he breathe new life into the Emirates Stadium? Can he make Arsenal contenders again?
It remains to be seen how quickly Emery will be able to get his ideas across, but he has been helped by a productive summer in the transfer market. Arsenal’s midfield has been bolstered by Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi, with Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Stephan Lichtsteiner strengthening defence and Bernd Leno arriving in goal.
There is quiet optimism around the club, with supporters excited to see how Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette will combine up front, but Arsenal’s 25/1 title odds reflect the scale of the job facing Emery. Here, we take a look at three of his key challenges and get the expert verdict.
Last season: 6th
Title odds: 25/1
Relegation odds: 2000/1
Major ins: Stephan Lichtsteiner, Bernd Leno, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Matteo Guendouzi, Lucas Torreira
Major outs: Per Mertesacker, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere
Key player: Mesut Ozil
Upping the intensity
Emery arrived at Arsenal with the promise of an exciting new style of football. The former Valencia and Paris Saint-Germain manager favours a high-pressing approach, with players required to work tirelessly to win back possession in dangerous areas. Applying that philosophy has been the focus of Arsenal’s pre-season preparations.
It’s a considerable challenge. The Spaniard is an obsessive coach who uses hours of video footage to educate his players, which is a sharp contrast to Arsenal’s more laissez-faire approach under Wenger. Indeed, it is notable how many players have commented on the dramatic changes to training in the new regime. Emery will hope the preparations pay off.
Sorting out the defence
Arsenal’s biggest weakness last season was undoubtedly their defence. Wenger’s side conceded 51 goals in the Premier League – more than seventh-placed Burnley and more, even, than 10th-placed Newcastle. It was, in fact, the most they had conceded in a single season under Wenger.
Tightening Arsenal up must be a priority for Emery but it will not be easy. There are still question marks at centre-back. Sokratis arrives in London having been unable to hold down a starting spot at Borussia Dortmund, Laurent Koscielny is aging and injured, while Shkodran Mustafi, Rob Holding and Calum Chambers have been error-prone in the past.
Emery will hope his coaching methods can bring about improvement, and his efforts should also be boosted by the presence of a specialist holding midfielder in Torreira, who offers the kind of defensive discipline and diligence the Gunners have previously lacked.
The Ozil conundrum
One of Emery’s priorities will be to get the best out of Mesut Ozil. The 29-year-old endured a traumatic World Cup campaign with Germany, but his subsequent withdrawal from international football will allow him to focus on club football. It will also increase his recovery time throughout the campaign.
Emery has already placed his trust in Ozil, handing him the captaincy in the 5-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain and saying he intends to use him “where he feels most comfortable”, but can he coax consistency from him? Ozil’s form has fluctuated throughout his time at Arsenal. Emery’s task is to get him playing to his full potential as regularly as possible.
Charlie Nicholas’ verdict
I’m very happy with Emery’s arrival; you can guarantee these Arsenal players know that if they don’t perform they will be moved on. Lichtsteiner will play if Bellerin doesn’t, Leno pushes one of the other goalkeepers out and, with two central midfielders holding, Ozil will finally play in the No 10 role where he’s most effective. I think Aubameyang and Lacazette will be able to do damage, so I’m really pleased with how it is taking shape. I’m very hopeful Ramsey will sign a new contract and I’d like to see it sorted before the season starts.
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