Arsenal have toiled in their play in recent weeks. If they are to surge through the second half of the season and finish in the top four, Unai Emery must find some creativity, and quickly.
One of the most frustrating things about watching Arsenal play last season was the style of play: slow ponderous football trying to pass through a packed defence and always playing one pass too many with no players willing to take a shot or dribble or risky pass.
When this passage of play failed whoever had the ball would pass back to midfield, then it would be back to defence then finally back to the goalkeeper and the whole attack would have to be built again.
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In Unai Emery’s first few months this particular style disappeared with the players taking on a more carefree, progressive approach. Alex Iwobi said in a later interview that due to Emery’s style and approach the players were no longer afraid to take risks and could take risks without the repercussions of the crowd — and the manager — getting on their backs.
Over the last few games, however, that ponderous Wenger style has reared its ugly head again. The attacking play has been the strong point for years. Arsenal arguably have the best attacking in three the Premier League. But in their last 2 away games, they have generally lacked any kind of creativity.
The situation between Mesut Ozil and Emery has been the main talking point over the last few weeks. I understand that Emery is stamping his authority on the team and wanting to be respected. But it might well be his decisions that are currently costing the team.
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If you are going to take out one of the most creative players in the team, you cannot then go and start with an idealess midfield of Granit Xhaka, Matteo Guendeozi and Lucas Torreira; if you’re going to bench or drop Ozil then at the very least Aaron Ramsey should be starting in his place, a player who offers the similar attributes to Ozil.
It is not just the absence of Ozil, though, that is hurting the attacking ingenuity and ultimately production of the team. The decision to frequently substitute Alexandre Lacazette is baffling. Despite not scoring since the first North London derby of the season in November, he is a constant menace with his surprising strength and control providing a crucial focal point for the attack. Pierre Emerick Aubemeyang works better with Lacazette in the team with the two combining effectively whenever they start together. Ozil plays with that extra element of freedom, there is another yard of space out wide because of the added attention that Lacazette demands.
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I praised Emery early this season for his decision-making and risk-taking, but currently, at a critical stage of the season, his decisions are looking very desperate and don’t seem to be well thought out. Emery must recognise the importance of getting Arsenal back into the top four, and for that, he needs creativity.