A Work in Progress: Assessing Unai Emery's start at Arsenal
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The collective cheers that greeted Danny Welbeck's 93rd minute goal against West Ham United on Saturday were less triumphant cries of victory and more out of relief than anything. Having trailed from Marko Arnautovic's early goal, the Gunners turned it around through Nacho Monreal and a fortuitous own goal by Issa Diop. Yet, this could be Arsenal's most important result of the season. Most realistically, Arsenal fans did not expect anything from the opening two matches - Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and home to the champions is a hard start for anyone - but, you would expect them to beat West Ham United, especially considering that Manuel Pellegrini's new-look outfit are struggling badly in the opening weeks. Emery's Arsenal is very different to Wenger's incarnation of the side. Gone is the patient possession, long goal kicks and the three-at-the-back that they deployed last year. Instead, there is a focus on playing out from the back, traditional widemen and a faster transition between attack and defence. Arsenal's current squad is nowhere near being ready for this style of play. They are struggling to really buy into Emery's thinking, the languid nature of the final fractious years of Wenger's reign still painfully evident. Although the Frenchman will always be remembered rightly as an Arsenal legend, there are strong reminders even now that he perhaps overstayed his welcome. So where does Emery's squad stand, a couple of months into the brave new post-Wenger era? Petr Cech has been a wonderful goalkeeper and an icon in the Premier League, but his powers are waning and you imagine Bernd Leno will seize the No. 1 jersey soon. Emery signed the German because he can play out from the back, but the Czech's leadership qualities on and off the pitch seem highly valued. The defence is a much harder puzzle to solve. Although Emery plucked Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Borussia Dortmund, the big Greek is struggling to adapt to the English game with his lack of pace being badly exposed. The frustrating and inconsistent Shkodran Mustafi has flopped badly since his big-money move from Valencia and Hector Bellerin's defensive skills pale against his offensive assets. Monreal is solid, if not spectacular, but he is the wrong side of thirty. Emery is a fan of dynamic attacking defenders and you wonder if Monreal will fit into the picture in the longer term. The back four were exposed many times last week against Chelsea, were absolutely hopeless against City and lacked confidence against West Ham. It is no surprise that Arsenal was linked with names like David Luiz at times in the summer - Emery wants ball-playing central defenders and you suspect it will take several transfer windows to get a squad in his image. The midfield is another area of contention and Arsenal look poorly equipped in this area. Although Mateo Guendouzi has impressed in the early weeks, he is still only nineteen and will be inconsistent at times. Aaron Ramsey's contract negotiations are threatening to relegate him to the reserves, whilst Mo Elneny appears to have fallen out of favour. Lucas Torreira has impressed in bursts after being substituted in and the bite he provides is much lacking from the Arsenal midfield, which has been too soft and weak for a number of years.
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