After winning their opening two Premier League games, all looked to be going well at the Emirates Stadium. However, without a win in their last three league games, the mood has shifted drastically at Arsenal. It is fair to say that the majority of the goals which Arsenal have conceded this season have come from individual errors which could have easily been avoided. I believe, upon reflection, the individual mistakes have in many ways covered over how poor Arsenal have actually performed in their opening five games. In the five games, you would be hard-pushed to say that Arsenal looked convincing in any of them, riding their luck and leaning on the brilliance of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up front to nick results. Let’s take a look back on the opening five matches and dig into how well Arsenal actually played in those games.
We can look at these games together as they were both good results for Arsenal and there weren’t the obvious errors as there has been in the last three games.
At Newcastle, Arsenal looked relatively solid but much of this was because of the ineptitude of Newcastle’s attacking play. Despite getting the win on the day, Arsenal’s attacking play at St. James’ Park lacked any real cutting edge (something which is will be a theme of this article). Aubameyang had one chance which came from a Newcastle mistake. It was finished expertly after a great assist from Ainsley Maitland-Niles and a typically cool finish from the striker. Overall on the day, it was a satisfactory performance but without Newcastle handing Arsenal the chance to snatch the win, it could have been a different result.
The Burnley game at the Emirates will be remembered as Dani Ceballos’ full debut. Without a doubt, it was one of the most impressive debuts seen at the Emirates stadium. The Spaniard was outstanding on the day and dictated large periods of the game but again, Arsenal relied on some magic from Aubameyang to get the win. The Gabonese striker again pounced on an opportunity and dispatched it emphatically beyond Nick Pope in the Burnley goal. This was the best attacking performance Arsenal have put together this season and still it wasn’t a comfortable win. In the Arsene Wenger days, this would have been a four or five-goal performance as the team was set up in such a way to get the best out of all the attacking talent that Arsenal have at their disposal. In the end, though, Arsenal ended up hanging on to a one-goal lead as Burnley launched long ball after long ball into the Arsenal penalty area. There were a number of balls which broke kindly for Arsenal which on another day could have resulted in Burnley goals. Again, this was a satisfactory performance but not a performance to blow your hair back.
The Liverpool game was one where the individual errors from David Luiz took a lot of attention after the game. The Arenal set up on the day, which bizarrely seemed to work for a large portion of the first half, was a plan that was always doomed to fail. The narrow midfield diamond that Emery opted for, allowed Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Roberston the freedom of Merseyside to get forward and put in as many crosses as they needed until they eventually found a breakthrough. This came on the stroke of half time from a poorly defended set-piece. The game was all but over shortly half-time as David Luiz gave away a silly, unnecessary penalty for a pull on Mo Salah. Attacking wise at Anfield, Arsenal were never really given a chance by the setup. The midfield was so narrow that it was easy for Liverpool to close down and keep Arsenal pinned back in their own half. The same can be said for the Watford game but we’ll get to that. Overall, it wasn’t a bad defensive performance for large periods of the game but Arsenal never looked like they had a chance to get a result on the day or even believed that a result was possible.
The game at the Emirates will definitely be remembered for the two individual mistakes which granted Tottenham a two-goal lead in the first half. A crazy piece of defending from Sokratis left Arsenal completely exposed for Christian Eriksen’s opener and of course, Xhaka’s ludicrous tackle on Son gifted Harry Kane yet another goal from the penalty spot at the Emirates. The brilliance of Lacazette and Aubameyang got Arsenal back into the game and rescued a point but defensively Arsenal were set up to be exposed. On countless occasions throughout the game, Son, Kane and Dele Alli to name a few were able to get in behind Arsenal with ease and found themselves 1v1 with the last defender. You simply cannot give these players that many opportunities and expect regular success. Arsenal were lucky on the day not to be punished on the counter-attack by Tottenham as they must have had at least five or six chances on the break where they could have won the game. Attacking wise, Arsenal failed to create a chance to win the game despite having the vast majority of the possession after equalising at two-two. Again, in past seasons, Arsenal would have torn the tired Spurs defence to shreds, as they did in the five-two wins in 2011 and 2012. This Arsenal side seems to lack the ability to put games to bed when they get ahead or gain the momentum in the game.
From start to finish in the game at Vicarage Road last weekend, Arsenal were appalling. Two moments of magic from Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil gave Arsenal a two-goal lead at the break which it must be said was against the run of play. Again, Watford’s goals came from two, individual mistakes which were punished but the performance overall must be looked at just as harshly as those errors from the centre backs. Seeing an Arsenal team get thoroughly outplayed by a bottom of the table Watford was grim viewing. Watford had more possession than Arsenal and an incredible 31 shots on goal. The most that Watford have ever had in a Premier League game and the most that Arsenal have ever conceded in a Premier League game. This has resulted in Arsenal having faced the most shots of any team in Europes’s top five leagues this season. This must be down to the setup. Particularly in midfield where Arsenal seem to be really struggling and honestly, at times look like they don’t know what they are supposed to be doing. This is something which can’t be allowed to continue if Arsenal have any hope of qualifying for the Champions League and if Unai Emery wants to stay in charge at the Emirates for the long-term.
Overall it’s been a very disappointing start to the season from Unai Emery and Arsenal. The midfield shape is providing no cover to the back four and not providing any creativity for the strikers. It really does look like there is no plan in place and every game seems like a completely fresh start. To have success Emery will need to decide on how he wants his team to play and get it implemented immediately. Otherwise, this season could be over before it’s even begun and Unai Emery could be on his way out of the Emirates.