Two Games, Two Losses
The biggest, most notable stat of the weekend for Arsenal fans is the two games, two losses to kick off the season, a feat not achieved by Arsenal since 1992. While everyone appreciates that an opening pair of fixtures such as City at home and a trip to Chelsea is a baptism of fire, it is hard to see how the previous Arsenal manager would have fared any worse at this stage.
It is not Unai Emery’s fault, he is here to do a job, and he is still determining which players fit best into his system. But in the first season since Wenger, comparisons will naturally be drawn.
This is tough on him, playing such a difficult opening set of fixtures. But the reason for fans frustration towards Arsene Wenger was his ineffectiveness against big teams. So far, it is hard to see what Emery brings that changes that.
In the Premier League, particularly under Wenger, Arsenal have always been a passing team. Initially, this passing was quick, purposeful, and performed by players that knew what they wanted to do. In recent years, particularly against big sides, Arsenal players have looked panicky, and pass success has become an issue.
Pass success is not a strong indicator of how a manger sets up. It is more an indicator of how switched on the players are. In the league, Arsenal have averaged a pass completion rate of 84% over each season. In Emery’s opening two games, players have completed 81% of passes.
A small sample size against two very good pressing sides, this stat may be premature. But it is clear that players are still liable to panic under pressure from good players. This is even more of an issue under Emery, who prefers his players to move the ball methodically from defence to attack, even under pressure.
Calmness and Patience
As the Arsenal players master the technique, hopefully it will prove successful. Certainly, the goal scored by Iwobi was much more like the fluid attacking play that we have come to expect from Emery, so the signs are there.
A player who, it is clear, will be an effective component of the transition from Wenger to Emery is Nacho Monreal. He missed the game against City, but demonstrated his versatility versus Chelsea, slotting into a new system without any dramas, and racked up an 88.6% passing success rate, the highest of any Arsenal player to have played at least 90 minutes this season.
His calmness and composure on the ball could be an invaluable influence on a shaky defence. Combined with the experience of Lichtsteiner, who may make his first starting appearance in the coming weeks, the Arsenal defence could begin to come to fruition, which is likely to stand the team in good stead going forward.