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It couldn’t have gotten worse for Arsenal heading into the international break.
Following Granit Xhaka’s captaincy debacle came a run of five games without a win, crowned by the 2-0 defeat at Leicester City. The Gunners were left eight points adrift from the top four and to top things off, only scored one goal from open play in the Premier League in their last five games.
Despite the disappointment that preceded the international break, Unai Emery’s side could be better off after it. Although it may not seem so, there are signs that lead to happier days in the Arsenal camp.
Pressure makes diamonds
More than ever, wins are a necessity for Emery. His side’s poor run of form has seen them plummet out of the Champions League places and with just three points separating Arsenal in sixth and West Ham in 16th, a possibility of sliding down even further is very real.
Now with their backs truly against the wall, the Gunners must fight to get back amongst the race for a top four finish. The international break will give a chance to regroup but most importantly, their proximity to the bottom half of the table should be enough motivation to get their first league win in over a month.
Luckily for Emery, Arsenal’s record for consecutive league games without a win stands at 23 (from September 1912 to March 1913) so it is highly unlikely he will break that. But with pressure mounting on him because of the Gunners’ poor performances and form, he has no choice but to improve matters after the international break.
Time to focus
With everything going wrong, the international break came at the perfect time for Arsenal. Stopping the rot, Emery now has time to focus on how he wants to attack the next block of games which will only benefit him.
Should the Spaniard use the break effectively, he will streamline his running of the team to ensure his messages are understood and that Arsenal can kick-start their season. The first thing he needs to do to make sure this happens is by settling on what/who he sees as key parts of his team.
Too often leading up to the November break did Emery change his tactical systems and personnel. In his last five games, he has used midfield diamonds, three-man defences as well as systems that suit wingers. Without any cohesion, it’s not a surprise that Arsenal have struggled in the last few weeks.
However, this break will allow Emery to choose what system he wants and run with it. Rather than changing it every few days, he needs to stick with one and help his team become more familiar with how to implement his style properly.
With this, the Spaniard will also be able to determine who is and isn’t needed in his team. His constant switching between systems has meant players have been dropped with no explanation. Nicolas Pepe has been the most recent example as he was sacrificed when Emery used his midfield diamond and the three at the back against Leicester. Becoming more authoritative and making tough choices will be something the Arsenal boss must do to improve after the international break.
The fixture list
Although games aren’t played on paper, the fixture list following the international break will read well for Arsenal.
Kicking things off by hosting 19th placed Southampton, there seems to be no better chance to get back to winning ways. Without a Premier League win since September, the Saints have been dire this season. Their two wins have come away from St. Mary’s but yet to beat Arsenal on their turf, it’s hard to see Ralph Hassenhutl’s getting the better of Arsenal.
Rock bottom Norwich will put up a better fight at Carrow Road but they too are winless since September. Matches against Brighton and West Ham follow before hosting Manchester City so Arsenal’s chance to fire back up the table really does lie in their first two games back.
The Gunners struggled away against relegation-threatened Watford earlier this season so starting this block of games at home will be vital. Getting off to the best start possible against Southampton should be the focus but Emery must use it as a building block for games to come.