Talk about a rude awakening. Unai Emery is already finding himself under criticism from some sections of the media after overseeing consecutive defeats in his first two Premier League games in charge of Arsenal. But it’s easy to forget that the Gunners have faced two high-quality opponents in that time – reigning champions Manchester City and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge – and the new era in north London is still very much a work in progress.
Instead of focusing on the negatives, of which there are admittedly a fair few, here’s four key decisions Emery got right on Saturday despite his Gunners side succumbing to defeat at the hands of the Blues…
Playing a high line away from home may have painted a picture of Emery as painfully naive, especially as a simple ball over the top gave Alvaro Morata practically an entire half of the pitch to run into for Chelsea’s second goal. But in fact, it was only when Arsenal’s defence moved much deeper to accommodate the introduction of Eden Hazard that they truly became unstuck – Mateo Kovacic managed to get himself on the ball in midfield almost constantly, and Arsenal seemed to lose that route out of trouble whenever they turned over possession.
Before that, while using the higher line, Arsenal had scored twice and made a relatively even game of it. Perhaps dropping deep was an inevitable reaction to Hazard coming into the match, but maybe Emery should have gambled and stuck with his setup in search of a crucial away win.
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Alex Iwobi isn’t a hugely popular figure at Arsenal, having struggled to show adequate progress since making his first-team debut all the way back in 2015. But the Nigerian international could be a crucial presence for Emery this season simply because Arsenal’s senior squad is short of natural wide-men and the variety he offers really told against Chelsea, with Iwobi drifting inside to net an impressive equaliser. The real difference, however, was off the ball; whereas Manchester City simply tore Arsenal apart down the left-hand side the weekend previous, Iwobi tracked back and dug deep – tellingly, Chelsea’s first and third goals came from the Gunners’ right instead, the other being a speculate punt over the top.
Emery could have easily benched Mkhitaryan after struggling to have any influence on the game against Manchester City, and it’s painfully clear that Petr Cech simply doesn’t fit the style of play the Spaniard is trying to bring to north London. But the new Arsenal boss kept his faith in both, changing Mkhitaryan’s position to better suit his game and giving Cech the nod over Bernd Leno, and they were probably Arsenal’s best performers on the day. While Cech made a whopping eight saves, the Armenian attacker scored the visitors’ first goal while assisting the second.
Emery seemed to give Mesut Ozil and Granit Xhaka the benefit of the doubt during his first Premier League clash despite being completely anonymous against Manchester City but he wasn’t going to make the same mistake a second time around. After another aimless performance in the first half, Xhaka was hauled off at the interval for Lucas Torreira while Ozil was subbed in the 67th minute having touched the ball just 29 times. Perhaps Emery should have been brave in dropping both players completely, but removing Ozil from the action was a telling moment and a sign to the rest of the squad that nobody is safe under the new regime.