Is Unai Emery picking the best Arsenal team?

Published on: August 26, 2019
Author: Sam F
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Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat by Liverpool showed everything that was wrong with the Gunners. From silly defensive mistakes to some perplexing tactical choices, it seemed that Arsenal made things relatively simple for the Champions League winners.

Arsenal had made a strong start to the season with wins over Newcastle and Burnley. But they were clearly outplayed by Liverpool and there are big questions about whether the Gunners have what it takes to claim a Champions League place this football season.

With a summer of big spending, there’s plenty of talent within the Arsenal ranks. So is Unai Emery to blame for picking the wrong players?

The question of David Luiz and the Arsenal defence

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The Brazilian defender was made a scapegoat for Arsenal’s defeat against Liverpool and it’s easy to see why. His tug on the shirt of Mo Salah led to Liverpool’s penalty and it was a reckless move from Luiz. Furthermore, the 32-year old simply couldn’t keep up with Salah’s blistering run in the 58th minute and had to watch the Egyptian racing away to get Liverpool’s third goal.

The move of Luiz from Chelsea to Arsenal was one of the surprising signings of the summer. Few people would question the Brazilian’s strength of character, but it’s still questionable as to whether Luiz is really the right person to shore up Arsenal’s weak defence.

Unfortunately, Emery doesn’t have too much choice in picking the back-four. Shkodran Mustafi might be a more consistent player than Luiz, but he fails to inspire much in the way of confidence. There is hope that Calum Chambers might be able to seize the moment to stake his claim to play in the heart of the Arsenal defence.

But regardless of the players, the team’s decision to continuously try and play out of defence on Saturday was bewildering. Despite huge amounts of Liverpool pressure, Arsenal kept trying to overcomplicate things at the back rather than getting the ball into safety. Ultimately, Emery has to take the blame for this decision, and it raises big questions about whether the Spanish manager could be the next Premier League manager to go.

Why didn’t Lucas Torreira start the game?

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Emery’s decision to continually leave Torreira out of the starting eleven is getting more and more perplexing. The Uruguayan star has plenty of experience and would have delivered a much grittier performance at Anfield than the likes of Xhaka and Guendouzi.

Barring a commendable performance from Joe Willock, Torreira’s brief time on the pitch was more inspiring than the rest of the Arsenal team put together. His goal in the 85th minute showed the kind of energy and determination necessary to play against a team like Liverpool, and Emery must be asked why the Uruguayan didn’t start the match.

Is Ceballos in the wrong position?

Dani Ceballos was excellent in Arsenal’s 2-1 home win again Burnley, but he looked out of sorts last weekend against Liverpool. Not only did he seemed to tire relatively quickly, but the former Real Madrid player continually gave away possession in some very risky positions.

The worst example of this was when he played a perfect ball to Roberto Firmino when trying to clear early in the match. The announcement that Ceballos would be coming to Arsenal on loan gave Gunners fans plenty to celebrate, but there remains a question of where best to play the 23-year old.

In order to get the best out of Ceballos, it would seem that you need to put him in the centre of midfield. The Spanish star was in this position against Burnley and made some wonderful connections between the defence and the attack. But Emery’s decision to play Ceballos out on the wing against Liverpool was truly mystifying, and will have done little to help the player’s confidence.

Failing to make the most of the Aubameyang-Lacazette partnership

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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette scored 35 goals and had 13 assists between them in the Premier League last season. But the deadly partnership wasn’t allowed to feature much in the Liverpool match as Lacazette only came on as a very late substitute.

It’s uncertain as to why Emery would choose to not submit Liverpool to this dynamic pairing. Record signing Nicolas Pepe made the starting line-up on Saturday, and it is questionable whether the star should have made his debut starting appearance against a team like Liverpool.

Pepe had a great chance to score but threw away an opportunity to change the dynamics of the match. Although he rattled the Liverpool defence and held the ball up well, it might have been a wiser decision to start with Aubameyang and Lacazette and bring in Pepe to shake things up later.

Too much faith in Xhaka?

Unai Emery clearly likes having Granit Xhaka in his team, but the Swiss player was dreadful against Liverpool. Not only was his midfield partnership with Guendouzi uninspiring, but Xhaka routinely slowed the game down when Arsenal needed to press forward.

The Swiss international has gained a bad reputation for his negative play, and his willingness to give the ball away against Liverpool was baffling. Arsenal clearly didn’t miss Xhaka when he was left out of the squad in the Burnley match, and the energy and defensive qualities of Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi seemed to work well ahead of the shaky back-four.

Arsenal’s game against Liverpool seemed to be poised to try and make the most of any counter-attack. But Xhaka’s sluggishness in the midfield killed any momentum that the team might have had. By frequently making passes that were either sideways or backwards, Liverpool had the chance to quickly regroup and nullify any potential Arsenal attack. As a result, there are big questions about whether Xhaka will make a starting appearance against Tottenham next Sunday.

Positives to take away from the Liverpool match

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Any game where you lose 3-1 is not going to be a good thing. Despite this, Unai Emery can take some comfort in a few positive points from Arsenal’s otherwise lacklustre performance.

Plenty of promise from Pepe

Nicolas Pepe might have missed one of Arsenal’s best chances, but the new signing quickly showed the strength and speed that earned him his £72 million transfer fee.

The fact that he managed to get into such a strong goalscoring position should set him up well for games against smaller teams. And although that miss will have knocked his confidence, Pepe is shouldn’t have too much of a problem in recapturing the devastating form that he showed for Lille last season.

Big things expected of Joe Willock

Joe Willock showed plenty of grit and determination in the Liverpool match. While big-name players like Dani Ceballos were largely anonymous, Willock continually caused problems for the Liverpool players. In addition to this, the youngster clearly wanted to push forward in a way that was the direct opposite of the negative play shown by the likes of Xhaka and Guendouzi.

What’s all the more impressive is that Joe Willock is just 20 years old. Although Arsenal may have spent a lot of money on big signings this summer, the fact that Emery is willing to take a chance on young players like Willock should provide some hope for the future.

A make or break season for Unai Emery

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Stepping into the shoes of a legendary manager like Arsene Wenger was going to be no easy task, and Emery has survived so far. But Arsenal have repeatedly failed to deliver the goods against any of the ‘big six’ teams. Not only have they failed to win any of their past 23 away Premier League against these sides, but they have conceded 53 goals and kept only one clean sheet.

Arsenal have shown plenty of courage and determination in their campaign so far. But that fact that the Gunners were easily taken apart by Liverpool shows up the simple fact that teams like Liverpool and Manchester City are simply better sides.

At the moment, it looks like Emery’s most realistic task is to try and get a top-four finish for Arsenal. If he can get a promising attacking line-up like Aubameyang, Lacazette and Pepe to work together, this could be a straightforward task. But with ongoing questions over the Arsenal defence, it looks like there is plenty of difficult work ahead.

Emery came to Arsenal in May 2018, and suffered two swift defeats against the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea. However, he seemed to find his feet later on and the Gunners enjoyed an exceptional 11-game winning streak in autumn 2018.

But with an inconsistent second-half of the 2018/19 season, Arsenal had to settle for a fifth-placed finish – one point behind their North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Their disappointing Europa League final performance against Chelsea capped off what was a fairly uninspiring season for the Gunners.

As a result, it was hoped that the summer transfer period would give Emery the chance to rebuild the side and get them back to their best. The arrivals of Nicolas Pepe and Dani Ceballos certainly showed lots of ambition from the Arsenal manager, but with David Luiz being the only big-name addition to the Arsenal defence, it seems that Emery still hasn’t found the solution to the major weak point in the Gunners’ game.

Arsenal’s next match is against Tottenham at the Emirates on Sunday. This game always delivers plenty of emotion and it’s hoped that Emery’s new signings will realise their potential. But unless the Arsenal manager picks the right players and chooses better tactics, the Gunners could easily have another disappointing weekend.