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UNAI EMERY has gone back to basics at Arsenal… by teaching his defenders where to stand.
The Spanish tactician has overseen a 14-game unbeaten run at the Emirates culminating in Saturday’s impressive 1-1 draw with Liverpool.
Now he aims to clinch Europa Leaguequalification with another clean sheet against Sporting Lisbon on Thursday.
And his methodical approach to keeping things tight has impressed centre-half Shkodran Mustafi, who has noticed a marked defensive improvement in recent weeks.
The German World Cup winner says: “The biggest difference I have noticed is that the coach is someone who really knows what he wants from each player.
“He tells you exactly what he wants you to do but at the same time he gives you the freedom to express your talent.
“For example, when we don’t have the ball he tells you exactly where to stand and how to get possession from the opponent.
“And when we do have the ball he gives us the options we can choose to use.
“So for me it’s a good mix between freedom, discipline and having the same plan throughout the whole team.
“That’s something we saw against Liverpool at the weekend. That was the first game when I felt we came out from the first minute and we were in the right positions everywhere until the 90th minute.”
Having won their first three Europa League games, Arsenal will definitely qualify for the knock-out stage with a win against Sporting tonight.
And they will be guaranteed first place in Group E if Vorskla Poltava fail to beat Qarabag away in the other group game.
Mustafi has often struggled to live up to his £35million price tag at Arsenal but is feeling much more at ease this season with Emery’s greater emphasis on defensive security.
He explains: “Because we are a very good attacking team, that makes the defensive work a bit easier.
“Now when we lose the ball in attack, we are pressing straight away and immediately trying to win the ball back high up the pitch.
“That makes it easier for us to defend because we don’t have to come back 60 or 70 yards to win the ball back in our own box.
“We are still very good going forward but now even when we are attacking we try to focus on preparing for when we lose the ball and making sure we are in the right position to recover it as soon as possible.”
Mustafi has been particularly happy with the midfield assistance he has been getting from Lucas Torreira and says: “He recovered a lot of balls against Liverpool and that makes it easier for the whole team.