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Emery's Arsenal: Why Liverpool trip no barometer for manager's work

COMMENT: Unai Emery and Arsenal. Has he had it any better? The money to strengthen where needed. But also the freedom to go with youth, even ahead of the club's biggest earners.

That line-up for the win over Burnley nailed Emery's approach. The big signings were in place where needed. David Luiz at the back. Dani Ceballos in midfield. But there was also room for four kids. Two of which - Matteo Guendouzi and Joe Willock - were paired together and given the task to run the game. And against the Clarets no less.

In the aftermath, not enough was made of the significance of this result. Of how this Gunners line-up saw off Sean Dyche's men. Along with Guendouzi and Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Reiss Nelson also started for the 2-1 win. And none of them were intimidated. Where past Arsenal teams, teams of far greater experience, have shrivelled and cowered in the face of opposition like Burnley, this lot stood toe-to-toe. No backward step was taken. It wasn't a free-flowing, swashbuckling performance. But that's not what's needed against the likes of Burnley. Emery's team dug in. They fought. They scrapped. And found a way to win that ran against their natural game.

Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday is being billed as the game where we learn what this Gunners team is all about. But there was enough from the Clarets test to show these players are a different model to past versions.

The manager now has his hands on the levers. Emery wants to work with youth. He finds it quicker to get across his ideas to a young player, rather than a battle-hardened veteran. His selection for the Clarets game was proof of that. There was even a place on the bench for 18 year-old Gabriel Martinelli. Plucked from little Ituano over the summer, the Brazilian is a project player if ever there was one. But Emery saw enough in preseason to fast-track him into his first team.

You only have to consider what was said on Thursday to recognise Emery's approach. The manager leaving no-one in doubt over his opinions of Shkodran Mustafi and Mohamed Elneny. He didn't say it point-blank, but was pretty close. You've become a distraction. A disruption. And it's time to move on. Go and prove me wrong elsewhere.

"Last year with Mustafi and Mo," Emery explained, "when they didn't play they weren't happy and I spoke with them a lot of times last year and this pre-season and I think it is positive for them to leave and sign for another team where they can be protagonists and be happy and continue their careers."

That's not to say he doesn't value experience. And the decision to reunite with his former PSG defender Luiz on deadline day perhaps points to a maturing of the Basque's management.

The connection is obvious. And both men made the right soundings as Chelsea agreed to allow Luiz to move across town. Perhaps time does heal olds wounds. But it must be said, Luiz's split from PSG was solely down to Emery three years ago. It was the first significant decision made by the new PSG coach. Freeze out Luiz and go with the younger Marquinhos. Emery telling the now Arsenal centre-half his decision face-to-face in an infamous meeting inside his club office. It was a showdown which set the ball rolling for Luiz's dramatic deadline day return to Stamford Bridge.

But credit to the player. While some of us learned of this clash via club sources, it never came from the Luiz camp. And it could've. Just consider Lucas Moura. The Tottenham midfielder has never backed away from hammering his old PSG coach for how he was treated in his final months with the club.

While he's viewed as a stop-gap for William Saliba, it still took a change of opinion from Emery. A reassessment of Luiz's qualities - three years on from drawing a line through his name. But he did it. And Luiz's new teammates should take note. The manager isn't one to hold grudges. And he will change his opinion if you give him the chance.

Saturday at the European champions is no barometer. You don't need a game at Liverpool to know this Arsenal team is on the right path. Emery has been backed in the market - and also with the academy.

And by giving their manager this freedom, not for some years has Arsenal had it so good.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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