Modern football loves nothing better than a snap judgement – with players and managers written off or over-hyped on a tiny window of evidence. At Arsenal this season, people are bound to be rushing to a conclusion about the Unai Emery era after the departure of Arsene Wenger.
Yet, thus far, the Gunners have probably defied a neat and tidy definition – despite how hard some might have tried to do so.
The opening four games brought two wins and two defeats, eight goals for and eight against and the general suggestion that punters might be well advised to keep an eye on the goals related odds when they open up their Betway account.
It’s only natural that, at this stage of the proceedings, there are more questions than answers. In the manager’s words, the team is ‘evolving’. Emery will have welcomed the breather of the international break and the fact that, after starting the season against Manchester City and Chelsea, the only top four contender that awaits between now and December is Liverpool at home (in November).
With the Europa League and League Cup, games are set to come thick and fast, however, so what will the Spanish coach be pondering?
1How should Lacazette and Aubameyang be used?
The new boss has inherited two the league’s more exciting attacking players – as well as a conundrum over how to use them. While most people probably want to see both players let loose in the same line-up, it’s clear that each would probably like to be seen as the main man through the centre.
In a 4-2-3-1 that probably means one starting from the left, which isn’t necessarily ideal. It’s clear that the two haven’t quite clicked as well as they might just yet – and that Emery might have to fashion a system to accommodate both. Whether it’s an intricate style in which they continually swap roles to baffle opposition defences or a formation that lets both loose in the middle, it’ll probably take time – and a little bit of trial and error – before this one is sorted.
2Who should play in goal?
Petr Cech’s best days are definitely behind him and it has been something of a surprise to see the 36-year-old stopper begin the season as first choice. Critics have pounced on his apparent inability to play the ball from the back and while the stats don’t necessarily suggest that this is completely fair, it feels like time to pass the baton on to Bernd Leno, ten years his junior.
The German keeper, as painfully pointed out by his ex club on social media, is much more suited to this passing style.
3How will we get the best from Torreira?
Lucas Torreira’s first few games in an Arsenal shirt have been impressive cameos from the bench – and he’s surely shown enough in those outings to suggest he’s destined for a starting role. The 22-year-old Uruguay international could be an important part of making the Gunners’ midfield more solid, although an injury while away with his country might hold him back a little.
Fielding the big money signing from Sampdoria probably leaves Emery with a choice between Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi. The performances of the latter were a highlight of the first four games and it shouldn’t be seen as a given that he’ll have to make way.
4How can the defence be fixed?
While there are worse tags to be given than ‘entertainers’, Gunners fans should be under no illusions that part of this comes from the fact that we’ve looked leaky at the back. Switching Cech for Leno and bringing Torreira into the midfield might help, but Emery might also want to switch things up in defence.
Stephan Lichtsteiner might be 34 now but he’s been a part of one of the most miserly defences in Europe at Juventus and might bring the leadership and ruthlessness needed at the back to cut out silly defensive mistakes.
5Where should Ozil be used?
Even before Mesut Ozil’s departure from the international scene, he seemed to operate amid a whirlwind of speculation and criticism that other players don’t attract. Rumours of his future, plausible or otherwise, continue to circulate.
You feel that Mesut needs to get stuck into a run of games to put off-field events behind him, but there are questions about whether he could or should get that. If Aubameyang and Lacazette start then that leaves Aaron Ramsey, Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan competing for two spots. The German should have enough quality to earn a place in the team, but maybe the competition for places – and the chance for rotation with European games on the horizon – will allow Emery to handle him with care and help him to focus on his football.
6Do we need to make signings in January?
Regardless of how much slack you give the manager in a ‘transition season’, the club will still want to mount a challenge for the top four positions this season. With the two Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Chelsea and our North London rivals to contend with that is going to be a tough ask. Emery might well need reinforcements to his squad in January to keep up with the pace at the top of the table – and to mount a serious cup challenge – and that means starting to identify key targets now.
The January window is notoriously poor value for money, meaning that its key to identify any priorities well in advance and try to get them lined up before a bidding war breaks out. Sven Mislintat and co might be well advised to start scouring the leagues for defensive talent now in preparation.