Arsenal 2019/20 Season Preview
The second year of a manager’s tenure is arguably more important than his first one. The first year usually goes by in adapting. Players adapting to the new manager, the manager adapting to the new squad. By the time the second year comes around – expectations increases and most notably, considerations decrease. With ever-shortening managerial spans becoming the trend in the new game, and having had enough time to acclimatize himself, this could be a make or break year for Unai Emery. Let’s assess the strengths and weaknesses that are present in the current squad for Arsenal 2019/20 season.
This comes as a no-brainer, Arsenal’s attack is far above the rest of the team. The combination of Lacazette and Aubameyang resulted in a combined total of 35 goals scored in the league lasts season. With Danny Welbeck gone and Eddie Nketiah promoted to the first team, there’s an added weight of responsibility on the duo’s shoulders to better their figures.
Arsenal scored 73 goals last season, which was only behind the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City. With Ozil showing early signs of promise with his top-notch performances in preseason. However, his consistency will obviously have a part to play in deciding their final position.
The academy trio of Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah have been promoted to the first team and will certainly push to give Emery selection headaches.
Arsenal’s defence is clearly a cause for concern. While they scored the third most goals in the league last season, their defence was only the 10th best, as far as goals allowed. They were also 10th in the league in terms of volume of shots faced per 90.
This clearly depicts how shambolic things were at the back. The situation might have been even worse for them had their attack not been enough to bail them out on numerous occasions.
Having analysed Arsenal’s defence, the problem is a combination of both tactical deficiencies and individual errors. The former can be worked on but the latter depends entirely on player positioning and awareness.
Emery has spent a significant amount of time on the training ground on solidifying defensive transitions. However, the sheer nature of the offensive duties of the fullbacks meant that Arsenal always kept getting caught on the break.
Objective For Arsenal 2019/20 Season
Arsenal will bid a third Europa League season. The lack of Champions League football has proved to hurt the club in more ways than just on the field. This giving the club a very limited transfer budget, which hinders recruitment of players.
So getting into Europe’s most prestigious competition should be their primary objective. Furthermore, a top four finish wouldn’t entirely convince the fanbase. After three lackluster seasons, the fans are in the right to demand for more silverware – domestic or otherwise.
To expect the club to challenge Liverpool or Manchester City so soon in the re-building process would definitely be naive. However, it certainly can’t be ruled out. In short, the fans want nothing more than seeing the club head in the right direction and nothing speaks better than on-field performances.
Arsenal’s transfer activity certainly doesn’t look good, with Gabriel Martinelli being their only acquisition so far. A new centre-back is something the team desperately requires and as of now, there haven’t been any targets. The only player who has been a target is William Saliba, an 18 year old centre-back who plays for Saint-Etienne. The deal is most likely to reach fruition. However, the player will stay on loan at France as a part of an agreement by both parties.
Arsenal have also been pursuing a move for highly-rated Celtic left back Kieran Tierney. There is an expectation that the club will launch a third bid of £25m. Additionally, this meets the valuation set by Celtic after having the previous two bids rejected.
Another player whom they are close to signing is Real Madrid’s dynamic midfielder Dani Ceballos, who looks set to join the club on loan in the coming days. Arsenal have agreed to pay the entirety of his £3m wage. However, there is no interest in Real Madrid making the move permanent.
On the other hand, there have been a lot of departures from the club. Petr Čech, Danny Welbeck, Stephan Lichsteiner have all left but the one loss that will affect the club the most in the next season is that of Aaron Ramsey. He was the only senior player in the side who could play in an 8/10 hybrid role. The team will miss his unique attacking role of getting behind defences. Additionally, the only other viable option within the squad is Joe Willock.
To make things worse, club captain Laurent Koscielny looks set to leave for France. This, after having refused to travel to the United States with the rest of squad for the club’s pre-season tour. His departure will definitely hurt the club as they are lacking in the central defence department.
Emery has his own philosophy on how to play the game. It borrows a few ideas from the modern approach of positional play. His ideas root from possession-based football with intense pressing off-the-ball. Tactically, he’s experimented with a few different formations – the 4-2-3-1, 3-4-1-2. He has even used the 4-4-2 variants but the different elements remain the same – wing-backs providing width, a double pivot and a very hard-working number 10.
Off the ball, he likes to hold a high-line with his defenders stepping up to win the aerial balls and pressing. The press initiates with the forwards (who try to move the ball out wide) with the midfielders protecting the space and covering the passing lanes in the centre of the park.
Wenger preferred a 4-2-3-1 as well and yet, despite the apparent similarities in formations, Arsenal’s offence is significantly different from Wenger’s.
The structure of the attack is one of the biggest differences. If you compare this to Wenger’s last season at the Emirates, Emery prefers a more organised approach in the final third. What this means is that the attacking players are no longer given the fluidity to move around as they please and combine wherever possible. One of the reasons behind this change is to make defensive transitions easier to manage. With 17/18 Arsenal, so many players out of position meant that it became easier for opposition teams to counter-attack.
One of the strengths of Wenger’s Arsenal was their unpredictability in attack. The pace of the offence, the quick combinations and the movement in between the lines made it difficult for teams to maintain defensive organisation. However, with Emery’s Arsenal, the lack of alternatives shows through when they face teams who are well-prepared to deal with the wide overloads and cutbacks.
Tweaks in the Point of Attack?
Shown below is a comparison of Mesut Ozil’s heat-map from 2018/19 to 2017/18.
As it can be seen, he’s moved wider to help out his wing-backs, which often restricts him from moving into his coveted number 10 position – from where he’s able to inflict maximum damage on the opponent’s defensive block. The lack of traditional wingers in the side also meant that Ozil was required to operate on the flanks on a lot of occasions last season. This further dented his and the team’s creativity.
The lack of other attacking mechanisms meant Arsenal looked lifeless against teams which sit in a low-block and defend in their own box.
Hence, amongst the many challenges Emery’s facing, one of them is to also add more nuances to their attack. It’s possible that the addition of youngsters in the form of winger – Nelson and striker – Martinelli, might help the team find the right offensive balance.
Formation Next Season
Emery has tried incorporating Sead Kolasinac in a four-man defence. However, he has several doubts over his defensive abilities as he’s often seen venturing about on that left flank, leaving the defence vulnerable whenever Arsenal are caught on the break. If the club do succeed in bringing over Kieran Tierney, they might move back into Emery’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.
Something Arsenal have to improve under Emery is their ball progression via the central spaces. The addition of Dani Ceballos could perhaps help in doing so.
A New Club Captain?
Last season, Emery selected Laurent Koscielny as his main captain. Cech, Ramsey, Ozil and Xhaka were all named in his leadership group. Now with Cech in retirement, Ramsey off to Juventus and Koscielny adamant on leaving the club, Emery will forcefully look at other options in the current squad, who are captain material.
In a recent press conference, he said, that one or two of the five captains need to be English and from the academy. This will give the club a subtle hint that both Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin are in contention to take over the responsibility from Koscielny.
The players who’re most likely to be a part of Emery’s new leadership group are Monreal, Ozil, Xhaka, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Bellerin/Holding.
Arsenal are indeed going through a difficult phase. A host of issues still pervade the club, apart from the issues discussed above. The lack of leadership in the team, a strict transfer policy and the most crippling of the lot, their abysmal away form, are some issues that still prevail at the club and need immediate fixing.
If they’re to challenge for the top spots in the league, their away form has to drastically improve. Otherwise, they’ll be destined for another underwhelming season.
It goes without saying that the next season will be very crucial for Arsenal, and for Emery. Second seasons usually are.
Written by Adithya Narayan
Photo credit to Arsenal via Twitter