Plenty to ponder for Unai Emery as Arsenal sign off pre-season with Lazio win

Arsenal’s win over Lazio in the last of their pre-season outings added a coat of gloss to an already successful campaign, with Unai Emery’s side unbeaten but for a notional penalty shootout defeat to Athletico Madrid.

Victories over Lazio, as well as Borehamwood, Paris St Germain, and Chelsea, have caught the eye and there seems to be no shortage of hope and excitement going into the Premier League season.

So, with less than a week before a daunting curtain-raiser against Manchester City, what do we know and what have we still to learn about this team at the dawn of a new era.

Working it all out in defence

A great deal has been written and said – including by the manager – about the desire to organise the team defensively and to encourage a more progressive pressing style, starting from the front.

While we have seen patches of that during games this pre-season, the team have yet to do it over the course of a full 90-minute match. Indeed, it seems to have been the Gunners who have been pressed more than anything else.

Whether Emery is focussing on pressing ‘at the right time’ or whether he will look to ‘gegenpress’ in the style made famous by Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp remains to be seen but it would seem that tweaks still need to be made before the season gets under way.

Old habits die hard

Many fans hoped, perhaps foolishly, that a new manager would immediately sweep away all the old habits and quirks of the previous incumbent but it has not necessarily been the case.

Of course, much has changed about this Arsenal side but a few less-desirable things remain as the new boss seeks to embed his philosophy. Most prominent among them is the tendency to give the ball away in silly areas of the pitch.

In the modern game, almost all teams play out from the back and, at the same time, almost all teams now commit four men into a high press to prevent that process working smoothly.

In recent seasons, our opponents have enjoyed a great deal of success pressing the Arsenal defence and holding midfielders high up the pitch, with a frightening amount of goals resulting from such errors.

It’s a facet to our game we could really do without but, as was seen in the Lazio game, it remains stubbornly in place for the moment. Perhaps, given the desire to retain possession at all times, it will always be a risk but, let’s hope that when the situation demands it, the ball is simply cleared long, rather than loitered on.

A vulnerability to direct, pacey attacks from wide areas was also starting to become a weakness of ours in the last few seasons under Arsene Wenger and, particularly in the first half against Lazio, that flaw was still much in evidence.

Breaking the mould

It was a rare occasion indeed in which Wenger would set his sides up to play on the break from the outset.

There were innumerate occasions when Arsenal broke quickly and scored some quite wonderful goals, but it was incredibly rare that the Frenchman would ask his side to sit deep and move the ball forward quickly, particularly via means of a long ball.

On a couple of occasions this pre-season, Emery has charged his sides with doing just that and it has made for interesting viewing. It is something the vast majority of us will not be used to seeing.

But variety is no bad thing and a quick release upfield to Pierre-Emerik Aubameyang or Alexandre Lacazette could give this side another dimension when, at times in years gone by, we have lacked unpredictability in our game.

Competition for places

Every fan has their favourite players and favourite formations and will have a view on who should feature in our starting XI for next week’s season-opener.

For the first time in quite a while, however, it is impossible to predict quite who the manager will start and whether he will stick with an XI for the majority of matches.

My guess is that he will not and that it will vary in almost every match as he tailors his side to the opposition.

From the goalkeeper right through to the centre forward, there seems to be an extraordinary amount of competition for places and, you would feel, pressure on those who do make the cut to retain their level of performance.

And it is not only seasoned professionals waiting in the wings, the Gunners have a crop of immensely promising youngsters who are hungry for a starting berth.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson, Chris Willock, and Emile Smith-Rowe are all hard on the heels of their senior colleagues and this could be a real breakthrough season for the young Gunners.

A certain level of unpredictability in our formation and line-up might also serve us well in terms of our opposition, with managers and tacticians not quite so confident in being able to predict what we plan to do and who we plan to field.

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