Liverpool’s high-intensity pressing style and their front three’s ability to run through defences was always going to be the ultimate test for Arsenal.
Well, they did manage to pass that test yesterday, when a late Lacazette goal gave them a point against a strong title contender.
Unai Emery had won the Europa League with Sevilla defeating Klopp’s Liverpool in 2016 and he was seen as a manager who has an answer to Klopp’s pressing style. The playing out from the back style and pushing the full backs further forward were seen as traps which Arsenal may fall into when Liverpool would run through them, but the confidence with which Arsenal played the ball from the back in yesterday’s game is commendable. Full marks to Bernd Leno for sticking on to the manager’s instruction and not playing it long.
Arsenal played with Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and it was a bold move, given Unai’s preference of Iwobi against bigger teams for the work rate he provides.
Lucas Torreira was once again impressive and could well have scored the equaliser himself after running through the middle and shooting straight at Allison.
We look at three things which show the progress Arsenal have made under Unai Emery.
#1. The positive environment inside the Emirates
Wenger’s last days of his 22-year reign were full of negativities with the crowd failing to instil confidence in the team. There were times when the players, as well as the crowd, played the waiting game and no one pushed really hard.
Yesterday’s match was completely different. Emery’s positive approach and his constant show of energy on the touchline has made the Emirates a difficult place for the visitors. Some of the tackles made by Torreira and Granit Xhaka were greeted with loudest of cheers. Ozil was greeted with the famous ‘We have got Ozil’ chant every time he touched the ball.
Something tangible to come out of the atmosphere will still take time, but one thing is for sure, the fans have really taken a liking for Unai’s tactics and enthusiasm.
#2. Patience and belief to come back into a game
Arsenal has won more points from losing positions than any other Premier League side in 2018-19 (8).
The ability to play with patience even when the chips are down and to execute the plans in the second half of a game are the hallmark of this Arsenal team.
The substitutions are quick and Unai doesn’t wait up till the 65-60 minute mark to make his substitutions. Alex Iwobi’s impact in the last 15 minutes of the game yesterday was amazing and he filled the team with new energy.
Torreira was seen making tackles even in the 89th minute and the players as a team are not giving an inch to the opposition which was not the case under Wenger’s last days.
It takes a big call to replace Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with Iwobi in the second half, but these are the decisions that Unai has been taking and they are paying off big time.
#3. Bold decisions on the field
Under Wenger’s regime, the Gunners were seen as a very soft team that failed to make big decisions which backfired sometimes. Times have surely changed.
The biggest example was to play Bernd Leno in the Goal when Peter Cech was available for selection.
Cech has been a legend in the Premier League but Unai has the guts to play someone who better fits his style of play rather than play someone on reputation. The substitution of Aubameyang also falls into this category.
Mkhitaryan was also taken off at the right time. Even a great Arsenal servant like Aaron Ramsey finds it difficult to get into this team as he is not seen as an Unai Emery type of player.
Ozil is not the lethargic and uninterested player he was in the Wenger regime, he is more vocal and his actions show a return of passion. Big decisions make a big team and Unai is making sure there is no lack of it.