How quickly things can change. A 2-0 win over Newcastle on April 1st saw Arsenal leapfrog rivals Tottenham into third place in the Premier League and in prime position to see Unai Emery achieve a top four finish in his first season at the club.
However, a run of four defeats in five games, culminating in a 3-0 drubbing at Leicester this weekend, has seen the Gunners slump to fifth place in the table with just two matches remaining.
The North Londoners are now left hoping for the teams around them to slip up if they are to achieve Champions League qualification via the league.
While the club could still end the season on a high by winning the Europa League, their downturn in form domestically is worrying for anyone at The Emirates.
Emery, who joined the club from PSG following Arsene Wenger’s departure, may be afforded a period of grace in his first year at the club, but there are unquestionably key issues he needs to address if he is to take the team forward next time around.
At the Emirates, Unai Emery’s side have been formidable. Even if they drop points against Brighton, the Gunners will finish the season with the third best home record in the Premier League. A record only bettered by runaway title-chasers Manchester City and Liverpool.
On the road however, it’s a different story.
Arsene Wenger’s final season at the club famously saw the Gunners pick up just 16 points away from home and with the team just 6 points better off this campaign ahead of a last day trip to Burnley, it’s a problem the new manager has, as yet, failed to address in his debut season.
Emery himself has the unwanted accolade of having gone through the entirety of his final season at Sevilla without an away win in La Liga, and recent thumpings at the hands of Wolves and Leicester need to serve as a wake up call for both the team and manager moving forward.
Misery of Defence
Upon his arrival at the club, Emery proudly declared that he would prefer his teams to win matches 5-4 than 1-0 which should have set alarm bells ringing regarding what was to come.
49 goals conceded and just eight clean sheets in the league already reflect badly on the team before you take into account the 13 errors leading to goals they’ve committed is more than any other team in the division.
Injuries and suspensions have obviously contributed but there also seems to be a lack of coherent defensive strategy coming from above, with Emery often switching between 3 and 4 at the back - sometimes within a single game.
While the likes of Shkodran Mustafi and others have come under fire for their individual failings, the added confusion collectively certainly doesn’t help.
Beyond simply signing ‘better’ defenders, tactically, this is an area Emery needs to work on.
Striking a balance
Any manager coming into a new team would be ecstatic to be handed not one, but two of the better strikers in the division.
Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have a great on-pitch relationship and that has translated into 32 of Arsenal’s 69 league goals between them so far this season.
However, Emery has often struggled to accommodate the pair, opting to sometimes start one over the other or shoe-horning one of the two into an unfamiliar wide position when fielding both.
If his aim truly is to outscore the opposition, Emery needs to get his frontmen in sync because as a partnership, they are probably capable of doing far more damage than we’ve seen so far.
If there is one thing that’s clear about Emery’s tactical approach, it’s using pace on the wing, either from his wide midfielders or marauding full backs.
With the absence of natural wingers at his disposal, Emery has been forced to deploy players in these positions who, to put it kindly, are not quite suited to the role.
For all their best efforts, Sead Kolasinac, Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have not delivered on a consistent enough basis this season.
If Arsenal are to continue to focus the majority of their attacks down the flanks, Emery’s summer spending priority may well need to be in this area.
Fixing the Mes
The £350k-a-week elephant in the room.
Undoubtedly Arsenal’s crown jewel but one that far too often seems to be in need of a polish.
Emery, like the rest of us, has only been treated to flashes of the German’s brilliance this season but arguably could have handled things better with his star player.
The tough love approach hasn’t been a roaring success with Arsenal often looking a far more toothless side when Ozil is forced to miss certain games with ‘injury’.
With the impending departure of Aaron Ramsey, the lack of creativity from midfield is stark, so unless Arsenal go out and spend big on a playmaker this summer, it’s imperative Emery gets more out of Ozil for longer periods next season.
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