At the weekend, Arsenal played their first competitive game under Unai Emery, at home to the champions Man City. Despite a raft of new signings, and a fresh approach brought in by the new manager, it was clear that there is still a lot of work to do if Arsenal are to be successful in any competition this season.
Despite never really needing to kick into the higher gears, City registered 17 shots at the Emirates, almost twice as many as the home side. The Arsenal players never really looked outclassed despite being up against such tough opposition, but they created problems for themselves from the first minute to the last.
The most evident change made by Emery was a concerted attempt to play out from the back at all times. This was a noble endeavour, and considering the renowned skill and ball control of Arsenal players, should have been much more simple than the players made it look.
Despite being under pressure from a City high press, Arsenal were too timid when playing from the back, and were too inconsistent at getting the ball through to the midfield, and the attackers. Indeed, Arsenal made 42% of touches in their defensive third and only 38% in midfield.
Compare that to City, who also played out from the back, but were much more assertive at moving the ball forwards, registering only 20% of their touches in defence, and a whopping 48% in midfield. This put Arsenal under constant pressure, who were unable to reply with anything forceful of their own.
The few positives that can be taken from the game come with a sting in the tail. Lichtsteiner is clearly still of Premier League quality despite his age, but his inclusion was marred by the fact that he was brought on to replace Maitland-Niles, who had been bright until his injury.
The other player of note was Matteo Guendouzi, the young CM. He was undoubtedly the funnel with which Arsenal played, operating in the very centre of it all, registering the most touches and most attempted passes of any player on the field. While this is impressive for such a young player, it is clear that this game may still have been slightly too early to give him such responsibility against one of the finest teams the league has ever seen.
While Emery’s tactics can be questioned, and certainly, player attitudes in the face of exceptional opposition can be questioned, this is only the first game of a new season. It is best to focus on the few positives, and get ready for a Champions League 6-pointer against Chelsea next week.