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Unai Emery at Arsenal: Tactical Approach & Key Players

Hrishi Anand writes about what Arsenal fans and the Premier League can look forward to with the arrival of Unai Emery.

Following Arsene Wenger’s departure from Arsenal, Unai Emery has been appointed as the Head Coach and faces the rigors of the Premier League. Arsenal have made a bold move appointing Emery, a very capable coach, to take the club forward.

Who is Unai Emery?

Hailing from a footballing family, Emery had a humble playing career, making a handful of appearances for Real Sociedad and plying his trade in the lower leagues before having his career ended by injury at Lorca Deportiva. He was later appointed manager of Lorca and won promotion to the second division. The Spaniard then moved to UD Almeria where he really showcased his managerial talent, taking the side to the first division and then finishing in the top half of the table in the Spanish top-tier. This was followed by a move to the more high profile Valencia. His stint at Valencia was impressive as well, with third-placed finishes amidst competition from the likes of Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Villarreal but came to an end following dissatisfaction with a lack of trophies from the fans and Board. A spell at Spartak Moscow was forgettable but Emery returned to Spain taking charge of Sevilla. His tenure at Sevilla brought three consecutive Europa League titles, an especially impressive feat considering Sevilla’s modest budget. His success attracted an offer from Paris Saint Germain and Emery took charge of Le Parisiens, winning the league and 6 domestic cups in two years.


Tactical Approach

Emery has a very clear footballing philosophy. His sides tend to be hardworking and industrious with an emphasis on possession and off-the-ball pressing. Emery favors the 4-2-3-1 and occasionally rotates to a 4-3-3. The importance of the defensive midfielder is especially relevant in his tactical setup with physical defensive midfielders like Steven N’Zonzi taking up important roles in his midfield. His sides are also well-drilled defensively, much thanks to his trusted assistant Juan Carcedo who is known for being animated on the touchline. In his first press conference as Arsenal boss, Emery made it clear that he wanted his side to be effective in possession but also emphasized on pressing the opposition when not in possession of the ball. Pressing has not really been a feature of Arsenal in recent years with Wenger’s sides preferring to sit back and let the opposition move the ball freely. It will definitely be interesting to see how the players at Arsenal respond to the intensity that Emery demands. It’s likely that Arsenal under Emery will be similar to the attacking sides that the Gunners have had in recent years, largely possession based and giving great importance to movement. At the same time, Arsenal will also have a counter-attacking aspect to their potent attack.

The priority for Emery should be solving the defensive issues that have plagued Arsenal for well over a decade. Under the watchful eyes of Emery and Carcedo, a lax defensive attitude will no longer be tolerated and the starting 11 will definitely be required to put in a collective defensive effort. Arsenal have been especially poor in games against the top sides but with Emery’s experience with underdogs like Valencia, Almeria and Sevilla, a much more organized and intelligent approach to the games against top 6 sides can be expected.

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Arsenal have a plethora of attacking options available. The two world class strikers in Aubameyang and Lacazette pose the biggest problem that Emery faces. Both seem too good of options to leave on the bench but it’s likely that Aubameyang will start as the lone forward, at least initially. In midfield the arrival of Lucas Torreria will have a massive effect on Arsenal’s defensive solidity. With Torreira as defensive backup, both Xhaka and Ramsey will have the license to put their skills to use without as much defensive restraint. Ozil and Mkhitaryan should start as both are world class attacking midfielders. In defense, Emery has to decide upon his center back pairing. With Laurent Koscielny injured for a long period and Mustafi looking as error-prone as ever, Calum Chambers should be afforded the chance to prove himself alongside new signing, the experienced Sokratis. Hector Bellerin’s career has seemingly plateaued slightly after he burst onto the scene nearly 3 years ago but with the guidance of the new staff and a new training routine, his improvement is an aspect to be noticed with great interest. At left-back, the ever-reliable Monreal offers a much more solid option over the less agile Kolasinac.

Key Players

Lucas Torreira: A standout player for Uruguay at the World Cup, Torreira signed for Arsenal from Sampdoria and has all the qualities that Arsenal’s midfield has been lacking for years. The diminutive midfielder has the aggression and stamina that a quality defensive midfielder requires as well as a great level of technical ability with his tackling, passing and set-piece delivery. His arrival means that Arsenal have an uncompromising defensive midfielder very similar to N’Golo Kante who will definitely offer much needed defensive stability.

Aaron Ramsey: Touted as a potential club captain, Ramsey is one of the longest serving players currently at the club and has been at Arsenal for more than 10 years. His contract situation poses many questions but if he stays, his ability as a goal-scoring box-to-box midfielder cannot be doubted. Ramsey’s incredible stamina and penchant for being in the right place at the right time require that he should be one of Emery’s key players in the upcoming season.

Pierre Emerick Aubameyang: It still feels strange that Aubameyang actually plays for Arsenal. For just around 55 million pounds, Arsenal actually purchased a truly world class striker. The Gabonese striker has settled into the Premier League well, scoring 10 goals in just 13 appearances for an out-of-sorts Arsenal side. One can imagine how many goals he will score if Emery can implement a fluid attacking system to support him with the abilities of Ozil and Mkhitaryan. The prospect of Auba’s first full season in England is exciting to say the least.

Arsenal will, for the first time in 22 years, have a new boss in the dugout. Unai Emery’s appointment has created an atmosphere of excitement in North London and hopefully the intelligent Spaniard can bring Arsenal back to Champions League football while having them challenge for trophies elsewhere as well. Decent signings and an entirely new backroom staff mean that Arsenal are a side to watch closely this campaign.

Hrishi Anand

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