Arsenal is in the middle of a season that’s proving difficult to judge. The Gunners are going to have to scrap and claw to secure entry to the Champions League, which is frustrating for any top club.
However, they have also performed fairly admirably for a team working with its first new coach in over 20 years, and have essentially played to the level of a top-three EPL squad following the opening weeks of the season.
It will take time to assess what exactly happened this season once it’s all over and we see how Arsenal places. What we can already look at however, which should shed a positive light on the season to date, is what all has changed in the transition from Arsene Wenger to Unai Emery.
Defensive Focus Is Noticeable
Defense has been a problem at the Emirates for many seasons now, and where Wenger seemed largely unable to address it, Emery appears to have made progress. Most notably as far as existing personnel goes, Lucas Torreira has been put in a position to succeed as a featured defensive midfielder assisting Emery’s evident desire to play out of the back more effectively. Torreira has looked so good at times that in the autumn there were articles about Arsenal supporters comparing him favourably to the likes of Kante and Pogba. Now, this doesn’t mean that the defense is by any means a strength. Arsenal is still conceding far too many goals, and many are calling for reinforcements during the winter transfer window. But there is at least some clear effort to fix the problem, which is a nice change.
Forwards Have Been Empowered
The last several years have been marked by good but not great forward play for Arsenal, which has been frustrating given some of the talent that’s passed through. Emery, though, has made the most of his own considerable group of forwards, and is getting all Gunners supporters could have hoped out of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Playing the two together has produced significant results, with Aubameyang in particular thriving to the tune of a possible Golden Boot. This tandem, coupled with a Mesut Ozil who seems somewhat rejuvenated under Emery, has turned Arsenal’s attack from capable into fearsome.
There’s More Media Openness
There can be something nice about a tight-lipped manager insofar as it helps to play down drama and keep club moves internal. However, Arsene Wenger could take this to a maddening level. Indeed, he was so stoic and standoffish with the media at times that a piece on athletic figures displaying poker-like tendencies stated that his interview poker face could put Phil Hellmuth to shame (Hellmuth being a renowned pro poker player). Again, there are positives to this, but Emery’s more open approach is a nice change of pace. He’s relatively expressive in interviews and clear about his intentions, and this may well have contributed to a shifting mindset in the club.
Mentality Has Shifted For The Better
In addition to the club feeling a bit more cohesive, perhaps because of Emery’s more open approach, there’s a growing sense that Emery has essentially toughened the Gunners up as well. The new head coach has changed the mindset of the players, it’s been said, basically by demanding more. He has spoken about wanting the players to suffer in tough matches, and rewarding aggression, and above all else wanting them to demonstrate that they want to win. It all sounds simple, particularly when dealing with professional athletes. But it’s also hard to argue against the results, not just in the stats but in the style of play.