Arsenal Tactics under Unai Emery – Unai the Masterplanner

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Arsenal Tactics under Unai Emery - Unai the Masterplanner

Arsenal underwent a serious change in this summer as Arsene Wenger’s 22-year reign came to an end. The Frenchman was renowned for his laissez-faire approach, giving freedom to individual talent and imposing a free-flowing attacking game on the opposition. His Successor, Unai Emery could not be more different.

During successful spells as manager of Valencia, Sevilla and Paris-saint German. Unai Emery earned a reputation for his obsession with details. He unlike Wenger prefers structured football and is open to altering strategy depending on the opponent thus his challenge at the Emirates Stadium was not only to improve results but to change a tactical culture that had been ingrained over decades…

So far, Unai Emery has lined his arsenal side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation though, in keeping with his aforementioned flexibility, he has experimented with the back three in Europe and the 4-4-2 shape in 5-1 away win against Fulham. When attacking, this 4-2-3-1 becomes more of a 2-4-4 with both fullbacks pushing down their respective flanks and the win is coming inside to join the attacking midfielder and striker. These movements are not done only to increase the number of viable passing options for the player in possession, but to undermine the opponent’s defensive structure. When building out from the back, arsenal centre-backs are typically given three forward options. They may go diagonally out wide to the fullback, inside to the nearer central midfielder or vertically to the winger in the inside channel. The number of possibilities available, as well as the staggering of players on different lines, allows for multiple passing combinations to effectively advance possession…

Arsenal 2 – 0 Newcastle

Emery’s high positioning of the fullbacks – Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal allows the wingers to take up more central roles, meaning that at least two players are operating between the lines of opposition’s defence. This causes a decisional crisis to the opposition should they sensibly decide to protect the centre and block passes through to Arsenal’s attacking players. Space is freed up in the wider zones for Bellerin and Monreal to receive and drive forwards. The positioning of the Spanish duo can also stretch the opposition backline horizontally. Drawing out the opposition and creating space in the inside channels for one of Arsenal’s attackers to move into and exploit. This ploy was used consistently and successfully against Chelsea who is still getting used to playing with a back four under Maurizio Sarri. In order to facilitate the movement of fullbacks, Unai Emery asks his central midfielders to stay close to the central defenders and buildup. This helps to safely bypass the first line of pressure and also provides stability in case of a turnover. Something Arsenal often lacked towards the end of Wenger’s reign. The tactical profile of players chosen for central midfield roles only underline the increased focus on stable possession…

Usually, Granit Xhaka will stand alongside one of Lucas Torreira or Matteo Guendouzi. None of the three is particularly risky passes and all are aggressive defenders. Defensively the most obvious change implemented since Unai Emery succeeded Wenger has been a higher and more active backline. This makes Arsenal a far compact unit without the ball making them tougher to play through due to the reduced distance between players and lines. However, a lack of pace in central defence has caused issues when trying to catch opposing strikers offside.

The recent introduction of Bernard Leno, a sweeper Keeper signed in the Summer from Leverkusen in place of Petr Čech may help to solve this problem. Unai Emery is not afraid to switch defensive systems, moving away from a 4-2-3-1 to a clear 4-4-2 shape against Fulham. This gave Arsenal better access to Fulham’s back three – improving their chances of success when passing. In future, the 4-4-2 system may help to fit in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang alongside Alexandre Lacazette upfront, allowing the pair to combine with one another in advanced areas and look to get behind defences. Results may have picked up of late though the transition post-Wenger has been far from smooth as well as issues with the high defensive line. There have still been too many giveaways while Mesut Ozil has struggled to find his best form in the nominal right-wing birth. However, offensively and defensively, Arsenal are a more organized and versatile outfit – thanks to Emery

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