The best team performance this season saw tactical tweaks and the B team staking a claim for a starting position.
That’s 9 wins on the bounce with 6 coming in the league. Arsenal also head into the international break just 2 points off leaders Manchester City. Not many Arsenal fans would have envisioned this scenario especially with the rocky performances that have come during this run.
The match against Fulham was one of Arsenal’s best so far under Emery and it had the hallmarks of a typical Emery team – tactical flexibility, energy and swift attacking play. Below are 5 things we learnt from the game that won Arsenal the game in style.
1: Flexibility in formations
Many Arsenal fans have heard of Emery’s meticulous attention to detail with tactics and that was on show today. Midweek saw the team play a 3-4-3 formation to mixed effect but the team operated very astutely against the Cottagers. In attack, the shape resembled Emery’s preferred 4-2-3-1 with Lacazette up top in front of Welbeck, Iwobi and Mkhitaryan who took the supporting attack positions from left to right.
However, the team adopted a 4-4-2 shape when defending to counter Fulham’s 3 man backline. Lacazette patrolled the central areas with Welbeck lurking in a support striker role, covering the lateral space where Fulham looked to play the ball out and closed down passing channels.
The team’s seamless transition between the offensive and defensive shape was a positive, making Arsenal unpredictable and harder to play against. A big part of this is due to the 3 players in the attacking midfield positions. Which leads us to….
2: Welbeck, Iwobi, Mkhitaryan
Arsenal’s performances have been a mixed bag this season. They have been able to blow opponents away due to raw firepower but they have struggled for fluency and cohesion. That is in part to the 3 players who usually support Lacazette. Aubameyang lends very little to the build up play on the left. Ramsey, in my opinion, is much better bursting from central midfield rather than dictating play as the no. 10. And Ozil on the right negates his impact on the ball and sees him drifting infield, leaving our right back with no defensive cover nor passing combination options.
The 3 who played in these positions against Fulham, though not poor players by any measure, may not be blessed with the same individual quality as the incumbent but are more flexible tactically and positionally. This has led to a better flow in attack – something we’ve seen in the cup games where they have played in.
I was hoping to see Aubameyang start up front to run in behind Fulham’s backline as I expected the home team to push up to attack. Unfortunately, the Gabon forward was just coming back from a bug and it was Lacazette who started. Welbeck took his chance to cause problems for the backline as he regularly ran in behind the Fulham defence down the left. He further used his athleticism to great effect as an unorthodox target man on the left wing, laying down any long balls for the midfield to pounce on. It was this exact tactic that saw Welbeck assisting Lacazette with his second goal – cushioning Torreira’s clearance for the Frenchman to receive, spin around and strike from outside the box.
Iwobi’s resurgence has also been a major highlight of this season. Inventive, powerful and sharp in his play, he looks a different player from last year. His ability to carry the ball and dribble in tight spaces is a unique one in this Arsenal team who lack wingers and dribblers. He has added some trickery to his bow too with a nutmeg on a Fulham defender on the left channel. His vision and touch are rapidly improving, threading in a pass for an overlapping Monreal who cut back for Lacazette’s first goal. On the evidence of his performances, Iwobi has never been more confident and productive and he deserves to start more games for the Arsenal.
Mkhitaryan had a relatively quiet game but his place on the right did help Bellerin cover the right flank a little bit more than Ozil (though that’s not too hard to do) and provided some simple combination play to allow the right back to advance and attack.
The performances of these 3 is a conundrum for Emery. They do help the team play better but politically, it’s hard to justify dropping Aubameyang, Ramsey or Ozil due to their elevated profiles in the team. The manager head coach needs to channel his best man management abilities to balance the needs of the team and the players’ egos over the course of the season.
3: A luxury of forwards
I can’t recall the last time Arsenal had such a world class array of forwards. On this form, Lacazette is crucial to Arsenal’s build up play and he must be commended for regaining the forward role after being relegated to back-up for January record signing, Aubameyang. His 2 goals were clinical strikes of top technical quality. However, his all-round player was just as important and sometimes goes unnoticed. He pressed (and eventually fouled) Seri in the centre circle to stop a counter and played a key role in keeping the ball alive in the lead up to the Harlem Globetrotter-esque team goal for Ramsey. Lacazette is more than a great striker, he’s a fantastic team player.
I’ve waxed lyrical on Lacazette’s strengths in our post on the top 3 players in September and at this rate, he could prove to be one of the league’s top forwards and may even oust Giroud in the French national team. Elliot would be extremely pleased with that, I’m sure. #giroudhater
Personally, I would play Aubameyang against teams which hold a high line as his runs behind and movement in box are almost always timed to perfection. Combined with his electric pace and lethal finishing, there is almost no one better in world football who plays like this. He was instrumental in going behind the defence (albeit on the wide left) to cut back for Ramsey’s exquisite back heel goal. Aubameyang’s first goal showed predatory instincts to receive the ball from Bellerin and strike on the spin. The second goal was all about the aforementioned movement, pace and finishing we’ve come to know about him.
These 2 are excellent options for Emery who could (or perhaps, should?) take a horses for courses option when it comes to planning for the opposition. Either way, opposition defences should be terrified when facing Arsenal.
4: Defending wasn’t so bad, was it?
Arsenal has struggled all season to keep out goal scoring chances from the opposition but they seemed to have had a relatively comfortable performance against Fulham. Mitrovic was well marshalled by Mustafi (in other news, icicles are forming in hell), Holding looked confident and Leno had a relatively quiet day in goal. The full backs both contributed assists and were mainly solid.
A big part of this improvement has been the protection in midfield provided by the Torreira and Xhaka axis. Torrerira’s impersonation of the Tasmanian Devil allows Xhaka time to control the game with passes from deep and get into space when defending. It wasn’t just his robust tackling that caught the eye but the Uruguayan also displayed fantastic ability to win aerial challenges despite his diminutive size. When Guendouzi came on, Torreira was seen moving upfield in a box-to-box role and didn’t look out of place as he held the ball up well, passed efficiently and made some darting runs into the box.
Could Torreira be the next Kante?
5: Positivity, energy, good performance
It’s nice to see Arsenal play the type of football we’ve come to know of them with a touch of modern tactical flexibility. The players look genuinely happy to work for each other and even Lacazette and Aubameyang, rivals for the sole striker position, have a bromance that even rivals that of Ozil-Flamini.
Emery needs to keep this positivity up which is key to Arsenal’s continued improvement. He’s made the subs feel like a big part of the process and Arsenal need the whole squad to be performing optimally to ensure the team ends the season with some silverware. Here’s to hoping for 10 straight wins after the international break.
Follow Hatta on twitter @chatwithhat