Identity. Personality. A playing style. It’s something that’s been lost over the last few seasons and the true #Wengerball of old was only seen in fits and spurts. For a while Wenger and his players seemed to be trying anything and everything to rediscover our USP as a football club, in terms of playing style. For 95% of the Wenger era, we as fans as well as the opposition, knew what to expect: total football with a tinge of brittle. The tinge grew and grew over time and began to supersede the total football aspect. Enter Unai Emery, the so called ‘catalyst for change’ that Gazidis had spoken of, on a number of occasions previously.
He is ripping up the playbook and trying to ingrain something completely new, which as we all know will require some time. What we maybe didn’t anticipate is the lengths that he might be willing to go to get there. There’s already rumours of rifts between our star man Ozil and captain fantastic Ramsey in that they aren’t willing to commit to the style or are falling short of the standards required for the style. Coupled with the dinosaurs of the football world laying their boot in on how playing out from the back is folly when up against Man City and Chelsea. Emery needs to have his Kevlar well and truly strapped on as the pressure exerted on him will only increase. At the moment he has the good will of the fans on his side, though at 1-0 down vs West Ham this weekend just gone the thought did enter my mind as to how long we as fans could go before results became more important than the identity.
In my heart of hearts I truly want us to get the identity bit right first and foremost, however wanting to win at all costs is an emotion that takes over when in the emotion of the game. As it turned we were (just about) able to turn the game around and bring home all 3 points. It means that slowly but surely the players will start to believe the approach and hopefully drown out the noise that the tactically misguided fans make from the sidelines. I get that some people are crying out for pragmatism above all else, however they are the same people that were crying out for change in the first instance. Patience is the key, as we can’t have everything in this imperfect world.
Emery seems to be keen on deploying a 4-3-3 formation and the key problem he has to solve to make the rest of the team work is the midfield three. He’s tried a multitude of variations with this, however has not yet started our most defensive minded midfielder in Lucas Torriera. My inclination is that prior to a ball being kicked his preferred midfield three would have included Torreira, Xhaka and Ramsey. Guendouzi, however, has had different ideas and has been a stand out for us thus far. I do feel that at the tender age of 19, he shouldn’t be someone that we totally depend upon for the season. It’s not fair to him nor the club in all honesty. He may well be big enough to cope with the pressure, however for his own sake as a player it’s important to bed into a club and a philosophy over a lengthy period of time to ensure the best for both the player and the club.
While the season is still young, it seems that Torreira is being given time to fully recover from his World Cup exploits with Uruguay and therefore might be why we haven’t seen as much of him. Though losing track of Alonso vs Chelsea can’t have helped his cause as our first choice defensive midfielder. One thing that has become abundantly clear with Unai Emery at the helm is this; he will not take an ounce of slacking from any player as well as the fact that he’s not afraid to adapt to in game situations if it means sacrificing our star men to achieve the result. He substituted Ozil with 20 minutes to play vs Chelsea, made half time substitutions to adapt to in game situations and in turn has fueled the rumours that Ozil hasn’t been working hard enough and therefore wasn’t in the squad for West Ham. It’s quite the ‘rap sheet’ so to speak within the first 3 games of a new Premier League campaign.
With the new style of play we have to consider where indeed Ozil might fit into the system. We’ve signed him up for the next few years at Arsenal and thereafter brought in a coach who we might have thought would be able to get the best out of our star man. Currently it doesn’t quite look as though Emery has worked this one out and that in itself is worrying. It would be acceptable to believe that Ozil is a player you would build your team around as a new man coming in, however sickness or no sickness, his position in the team remains unclear. It comes back to the midfield compilation and trying to find one that gives us the right balance, enough of a balance to include the likes of Ozil in the team to go ahead and create.
The process, system, personnel, style and most of all, identity will take time to instill. We should therefore be patient regardless of what Sam Allardyce might tell us to do. I did quite enjoy Phil McNulty, a BBC Sport correspondent, tweeting that Big Sam might not be the best authority from which to glean any advice on playing Man City, having been 3-0 down at half time to them with Everton and registering a record breaking low 18% possession throughout the game. Time will tell whether he is indeed a good appointment for this club, but we as fans need to be patient with him. Wenger said it best, support these players through it all, as they really do deserve it. Don’t fall into the click-bait trap of crisis, drama and rumour when we have the chance to support our great club. Let’s not waste the good will on what ifs, rather use it on pushing the team forward. Lord knows the players will require it as they grow into their new roles within the team.
Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.