Arsenal are still in transition under new manager Emery, but nine successive wins across all competitions would undoubtedly have helped in earning the approval of the Gunners home support. A return to consistency is vital in wake of last season’s fragilities. The team has generated momentum on their ascent to the top four, but Arsenal should be cautious to prevent underlying flaws, that has been obscured by recent results, from unsettling their long-run success.
At face value Arsenal’s three most recent league wins appear comfortable and, in fairness, victory last week was after some clinical finishing took the game away from Fulham. Yet home victories against Everton and Watford weren’t as straight-forward as the two 2-0 score-lines suggest. Watford managed fourteen shots at the Arsenal goal from just a 37% share of possession before Arsenal were able to sucker-punch the Hornets with two quick goals in the closing stages. Petr Cech was awarded man of the match as Marco Silva’s Everton were defeated in similar circumstances. In fact, Arsenal now rank 17th in the Premier League for shots conceded. Only Fulham, Brighton and Burnley have allowed more shots on their own goal.
It is hard to imagine any of the current Premier League top three affording the opportunity for their opponents to leave such an attacking footprint on the game, particularly at home. Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea play with an imposing high-tempo and appear in control even when out of possession.
Emery isn’t a manager who arrived at the club with a fixed philosophy. He doesn’t value possession in the same way as Wenger and is willing to adapt his team to suit the players at his disposal. This has been demonstrated in the opening weeks of the season where Arsenal have experimented with various formations and attacking combinations. Aubameyang started the season as Emery’s lone central striker, which initially switched to Lacazette and has since developed into the Frenchman occupying that position with a partner. It feels like Emery is slowly deducing his first-choice personnel.
The Spaniard’s approach to managing his playing staff has given the squad a refreshing feel that has manifested itself in the team’s performances. Matteo Guendouzi was rewarded for the positive early season form with a run in the side, and Rob Holding has more recently retained his place in the team by doing the same. New signing Torreira has been able to make an immediate impact, and the functionality of others such as Lacazette, Bellerin, Iwobi and Xhaka seem to have been furthered since Emery’s arrival.
Arsenal used a 4-2-2-2 formation against Fulham to good effect. Deep-lying midfield pivot Xhaka and Torreira are utilised conservatively, rarely moving from their posts. The four attackers ahead of the pair possess most of the team’s creative responsibility with Iwobi and Mkhitaryan playing fluidly as inside attacking midfielders rather than conventional wingers. This created space for Bellerín and Monreal to overlap and Iwobi was able to provide sound defensive cover for Monreal compared to other games. Lacazette has been Arsenal’s stand-out performer so far and benefitted from having the mobility of Welbeck alongside him; a role that produced two goals for Aubameyang after his introduction in the second half.
A 5-1 victory probably flattered Arsenal in the end, but their change of shape kerbed any genuine Fulham attacking threat and delivered improved variety going forward. Emery will recognise that without gradual improvements his side’s current position won’t remain sustainable in the long run but will be comforted by the fact that his side are showing signs of progression and still accumulating points while he searches for an effective formula.