Arsenal went into the 2019/20 campaign with a lot of hope and promise. So far many are torn between considering the Gunners’ start bright or a faltering.
Regardless of how it might seem – the disappointing loss to Liverpool and the missed chances for glory against Tottenham – it would appear the Gunners have indeed taken a step further from last season.
Emery’s men are one point better (7) after four games than they were at last season (6). They are also in the top-four shout level on points with fourth-placed Crystal palace and to make it better, the likes of United, Chelsea and Tottenham are trailing behind.
Not bad from an Arsenal point of view so far. But still, there is room for lots of improvement.
Burnley and Newcastle United were overcome early in the season, just as they had been in the previous years, whilst Liverpool proved too much for the Gunners once more.
In fact, the only result that did not match those picked up in Emery’s debut campaign was the home north London derby. Once more Arsenal fought back from a first-half deficit, though in this case they were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw.
If Arsenal are to get to blistering form, there are areas they must improve.
For instance, a weird stat so far – the Gunners have conceded more goals than winless Wolverhampton Wanderers – but there are also plenty of reasons why the North Londoners are well set to improve in the weeks ahead.
Here are some things Emery can do to put his side on the right path.
Slot in the reinforcements – quickly
Arsenal’s defence may have looked shaky early in the season but there is quality to come, particularly on the flanks.
First-choice full-backs Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin are yet to kick a ball this season and it certainly will be some time before Emery is able to unleash the full potential of a dynamic, aggressive and energetic pairing.
In particular Bellerin, sidelined since January with a knee ligament injury, will require patience in his recovery and it will be several weeks of first-team training before Emery is able to return the Spaniard to the squad.
But when both he and Tierney are firing on all cylinders Arsenal will be a different prospect indeed with the full-backs able to push higher up the pitch to win possession back and to offer a threat on the overlap whilst Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe dart infield. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac do not lack for quality going forward but at the back the pair have certainly been shaky heading in the other direction.
Bellerin is certainly not perfect defensively and Tierney is untested in the Premier League but it is hard to envisage either player constituting a downgrade on the full-backs Emery is currently using.
Then there is the matter of Rob Holding, a player whose reputation has only grown stronger since he was sidelined with ligament damage of his own last season.
For all that a centre-back who has not played since last November cannot turn around an ailing defence single-handedly, there is a reason why Arsenal did not lose a game last season in which the former Bolton defender started.
Give Pepe and new signings more game time
For all the excitement of the summer transfer window, it should be noted that early in the season Emery has largely leaned on the players that ended last season in an Arsenal shirt and not on new arrivals. Not one of the signings featured against Newcastle on the opening day and two – Gabriel Martinelli and Tierney – are yet to start a game at all.
Those who have been seen so far have exhibited rich promise and plenty of room to grow, none more so than Pepe. The reality that he is without a goal four games into his Premier League career should not obscure a player who has shown signs of improvement on every occasion that he has taken the pitch and who is clearly adding something to this Arsenal squad that it did not previously have.
The fact that no player has completed more take ons than Pepe’s 15 in the Premier League this season and he has started just two of four games so far is room for much promise.
Pepe is not the only player flashing exceptional promise. Dani Ceballos’ home debut against Burnley was the sort of masterwork of midfield manipulation that delights Arsenal supporters more than any and his cameo off the bench in the north London derby was impressive.
As long as Emery gives them more time, the best will emerge. After all it took Thierry Henry nine games before he scored his first Arsenal goal.
Embrace more ruthlessness
Arsenal have shown an unlikely usual approach by clearing out more than 10 players over the summer (one of the highest outgoings in the EPL).
If the Gunners are to go far in this season as well, the same approach must be applied on the pitch as well. All sentiments must be avoided and only the best performing players must be selected at all times.
Be it Granit Xhaka, Bernd Leno or Mesut Ozil, players that don’t warrant a place in the starting lineup should simply not get it and a string of bad performances should be met with a brief demotion to the bench or longer as the case may be.
Stop unnecessary gambling
In a nutshell, this simply means Emery should stick with his best team at all times.
Against Liverpool, Emery altered the normal Arsenal formation and opted for a midfield diamond trio (one which saw central midfielder Dani Ceballos play on the flank rather than in his preferred position).
Of course, the formation backfired massively and the Liverpool fullbacks were afforded lots of space that ultimately led to Arsenal’s doom in the aftermath. Also, Joe Willock is a talented youngster but should not be starting those calibre of games when a fit Lucas Torreira is available.
Emery is well famous for his gambling techniques but if Arsenal are to mount any genuine top-four aspirations, the Gunners boss has to keep a rational head at all times.
The level of competitiveness in the Premier League now means the so-called “lesser teams” now have their own talisman and any mistake or complacency would be highly punished.
Build on the easy fixture list
If Arsenal are broadly on track early in the season they now have a chance to push their slight lead over Chelsea and Manchester United with a promising run of games in the Premier League.
Though they have to head to Old Trafford later this month that should hold no fear. It is the only occasion in which they will face a top six rival before December.