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Arsenal preview: Emery changes are seismic - and just what's needed

Arsenal kick off a Premier League campaign without Arsene Wenger prowling the touchline for the first time since 1995.

It will take a long time to get used to the sight of Unai Emery bellowing instructions from the sidelines, and it will take a long time for those instructions to get across to the players. A summer of monumental change was welcomed after years of stagnation under Wenger, but patience is the operative word on the eve of the 2018/19 season. There is a lot of work to be done.

New signings have been at a premium with key positions, namely central midfield and centre-back, not strengthened enough this summer. Since Manchester City are arguably the best team in English football history and Liverpool have invested heavily challenging for a top four finish is surely all Arsenal are thinking about. Even that will be a struggle.

The announcement that Stan Kroenke, who prefers paying out dividends to investing in his sports clubs, is about to strip power from the fans by seizing 100% control of Arsenal is a devastating blow. The proposed sale has been described as "absolutely disastrous" by Ian Wright, whose thoughts echo those of fans and pundits alike.

But in the short-term there is plenty for supporters to be excited about. Emery's tactical philosophy is thrilling to watch and he is blessed with superb attacking options to repeat the system that saw Sevilla win three consecutive Europa Leagues. That competition could be a smoother path to Champions League qualification than the Premier League.


Emery's tactics

The Spaniard arrives with a slightly tainted reputation after failing to make his mark on the Champions League as Paris-Saint Germain manager, but for clues regarding Arsenal's future tactical philosophy we must go back to Sevilla.

In Seville, Emery played counter-attacking football that focused on rapid transitions from back to front, often focusing on three or four players swarming the central column of the pitch. Arsenal's shape will be considerably less expansive than under Wenger, the three lines highly compressed as the Gunners look to press in bursts only. They will be more cautious, sharper in the tackle, and more ruthless going forward compared to the prosaic style of his predecessor.

The tactical changes are huge, then, requiring all of Emery's fastidious work and incredibly detailed tactical drilling. The laissez-faire days of Wenger's coaching are over: Arsenal will be watching endless video analysis and attending long lectures on their tactical roles. After so many years of stasis, this can only be good news.


New signings

Lucas Torreira adds much-needed clout to central midfield but the Uruguay international, signed for £26.5 million from Sampdoria, may need time to settle; Arsenal's historical flimsiness in the middle heaps pressure onto the 22-year-old's shoulders. Sokratis Papastathopoulos is a difficult one to judge while goalkeeper Bernd Leno has been less impressive in pre-season than Petr Cech; it is possible neither player will feature for the time being.

Stephan Lichsteiner will have more influence in the dressing room than on the pitch, his leadership skills a valuable asset now that Per Mertesacker has joined the coaching staff. It has been a mixed summer for Arsenal, who could have done with another experienced central midfield and a top-class centre-back.


Key Strength

Emery's counter-attacking football is tailor-made for Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Alexandre Lacazette, while Aaron Ramsey is a favourite of the new coach and consequently should be much improved in 2018/19. Arsenal will be a serious force going forward, even if Aubameyang, scorer of eight goals in ten games last season, is shunted out to the left wing.


Biggest Weakness

The Gunners have done nothing to patch up the defining flaw of the late Wenger years. Opponents may still walk through the centre this season, with Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi, both injury prone, still the first-choice defenders. If Torreira doesn't settle quickly then Granit Xhaka will once again be relied upon, although Emery's tighter overall shape should make the Swiss look a better player.


Opening fixtures:

Arsenal host Man City on the first Sunday of the new season before travelling to Chelsea and hosting West Ham United. It's a baptism of fire for Emery. However, sitting deep and bursting forward on the counter could be the ideal tactic to knock City off their perch this weekend (Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan will fancy their chances in the spaces vacated by Benjamin Mendy) and the Hammers look extremely vulnerable defensively.


Prediction

Unlike the mess David Moyes inherited at Manchester United after 27 years of Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsenal are already at a low ebb. The pressure is off for Emery, who surely cannot do worse than matching Wenger's sixth-place finish - which is just as well. Such a dramatic change in tactical direction requires a transitional year; finishing sixth, with a decent run in the Europa League, is Arsenal's realistic aim for 2018/19.

Alex Keble
About the author

Alex Keble

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