It wasn’t so long ago, following consecutive ugly losses to fellow top 6 contenders, that Unai Emery’s tenure at Arsenal was already under intense scrutiny. While there are certainly still plenty of questions to ask of this Arsenal side, the furor has subsided considerably after his Gunners made it 6 wins on the trot with a 2-0 victory over Everton at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. The win found Arsenal back in the top 6 places of the Premier League, just 1 point shy of Watford in 4th place and level with Tottenham.
No Chance For Theo To Celebrate
Sunday’s match may not have been Theo Walcott’s first against his former club, with that occasion coming on 3 February of this year, but it was once again strange seeing the former Gunner in Everton blue. On his first visit to the Emirates Stadium, a 5-1 Arsenal win, any chance of an emotional display of affection for the former Gunner was dashed by the excitement surrounding the Premier League debuts for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in an Arsenal shirt.
Heading into Sunday’s match, Walcott had been quoted saying he had fallen ‘out of love’ with football at Arsenal and that, if given the chance, he would have no qualms about celebrating a goal against his former club. Unfortunately for him, he and his Everton teammates were unable to find the back of the net in spite of a spotty Arsenal defence. His day was summed up perfectly when, in the 12th minute as he tried to start a counter attack out of the Everton end, he was effortlessly reeled in by a pursuing Aubameyang, forcing Walcott to dribble out of touch. For the man who once held all of Arsenal’s records in sprint testing, the metaphor was clear; his former club have moved on without him.
Cech Continues to Earn His Place
Petr Cech had an answer for those supporters who have pined for summer signing Bernd Leno to take the 36-year old’s place on Sunday: not so fast Gooners. His struggles playing out from the back have been discussed ad nauseam, but his shot stopping this season has been largely superb. A susceptibility to low shots aside, Cech has kept the Gunners in most of their matches this season with his excellent play.
On Sunday, with a struggling defence in front of him, Cech brought his game up to another level, making save after save in the first half to keep his team in the match. He did not lose his focus after the break, and despite 6 Everton shots finding the target, none were able to get past the Czech shot-stopper. The clean sheet was Unai Emery’s first as Arsenal head coach, and all but ensured that Bernd Leno’s place would remain on the bench for the foreseeable future.
Habitual Slow Starts Could Become a Problem
At what point does a tendency become a habit? In every match but last Thursday’s Europa League clash, the Gunners have failed to put their best foot forward at the opening whistle, nearly letting winnable matches get away from them in the process. In some ways, it is a carryover from last season when Arsene Wenger struggled to get his players to perform with any level of consistency and effort, but despite all the talk of a shifting philosophy and hard work, issues still remain.
The lack of urgency at the opening whistle is unsettling to Emery, who has yet to see his team play a complete 90 minutes of positive football. The players have struggled to put his high pressing system into action early in proceedings, leading to easy scoring opportunities for opponents who manage to settle in quicker, as Everton did on Sunday. There was little doubt that Marco Silva’s side were the superior team in the first half, with the lion’s share of the match’s best chances falling to them. Petr Cech’s match-saving performance stole the headlines following his first clean sheet of the season, but if Arsenal are to have any hope of challenging their top 6 rivals, they must improve dramatically in their first-half performances.
Torreira Gets The Start
Fans finally had their prayers answered when, an hour before kickoff, the starting XI was released with Lucas Torreira’s name included. It was only a matter of time before the diminutive Uruguayan was handed a starting role after multiple influential appearances as a substitute. Perhaps no player was happier to see his new teammate’s inclusion than Granit Xhaka, who despite not having his best match on Sunday against Everton, was finally freed from his role as Matteo Guendouzi’s personal on-pitch director. It had been the Xhaka-Torreira pivot that arguably spurred the Gunners on to each of their last two Premier League matches, and they were finally given the chance to start together by Emery.
Torreira brought all of the energy and tactical awareness that is already becoming his calling card, but he was very nearly denied the chance to complete his first Premier League start after picking up an early booking and, after leaving Lucas Digne in a writhing heap on the pitch following an aggressive challenge, he could have conceivably been sent off before the half. However, the late tackles subsided as the match went along, and by the second half the Arsenal midfield looked far more settled. Torreira’s best play of the day came in the buildup to Alexandre Lacazette’s wonder goal when he intercepted an attempted clearance with a foot up around his ear, directing the ball back toward Aaron Ramsey who found Lacazette for the goal. It was the exact sort of “at all costs” play that Arsenal have desperately needed from a player for years. In Lucas Torreira, it appears they have found that player.
Batman and… Batman?
Seemingly every week so far this season, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre
Lacazette gives fans something to cheer about. Once again on Sunday, it was the Gunners’ dynamic duo who sealed all 3 points with their uncanny ability to find the back of the net. First, it was the Frenchman, who found himself a half yard of space inside the Everton penalty area before stroking an inch-perfect curling effort toward the top corner, completely removing Everton and England first-choice goalkeeper Jordan Pickford from the equation with his accuracy. Aubameyang followed up with an easy finish just minutes later, though he was aided by a linesman who missed the dual carriageway’s worth of space between the Gabon striker and the last defender, which should have been flagged immediately for offsides.
As good as the duo have been in front of goal since first teaming up last season, their solid performances have made it difficult for Unai Emery to experiment with an XI that might lack some of the firepower of this current side, but would perhaps fit his pressing defensive philosophy better. When the Arsenal attack clicks, they have the ability to outscore nearly any side in England, but if the ultimate goal for Emery is to massively improve a shaky defence, an XI with Mesut Ozil and Aubameyang on the flanks could hinder their quest to develop a consistent high press. However, if his biggest concern as a manager is having to play 2 world class attacking players in less than suitable positions, Emery find it difficult to garner the sympathies of his contemporaries.