Tactical Watch: Arsenal

By SFC Media time Wed 20 Nov Arsenal v Saints
Photo by Getty Images | David Luiz

Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe takes a closer look at Southampton's next Premier League opponents, explaining why there is room for optimism when Saints take on Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday...

This weekend Southampton travel to the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal. It’s a fixture that, over time, has often stirred up fear in the visiting ranks, but in 2019 feels like an opportunity to get points on the board.

The Gunners are winless in five in all competitions, have struggled mightily with Portuguese minnows Vitória de Guimarães twice in the Europa League and dropped points at home to both Crystal Palace and Wolves.

Despite being able to point to a number of attacking stars and international calibre players, they’re oddly fragile and can be taken advantage of. Let’s take a look at why.

What are Emery’s Arsenal?

Emery’s Arsenal are a strange creation; words like confused, incoherent and inconsistent go some way to describing them, but don’t go the whole nine yards.

Their on-paper strength rarely translates to the pitch, and even when it does, it does so in waves of 10 or 20 minutes – never in totality, much to the manager’s frustration.

It means the Gunners never truly control games in full, despite it being something Emery so desperately craves and references in seemingly every press conference.

He wants his side to press, control and create chances, but they struggle to marry the three together at any one point.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 22: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal celebrates scoring his team's third goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium on September 22, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Leading marksman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is well clear at the top of the Arsenal scoring charts

They have good patches, then very bad ones. They take 2-0 leads and squander them, or roar back from 2-0 down to draw level, then fall flat again. 

This is the source of Arsenal fans’ frustrations. How, after 18 months in the job, have the basic principles which Emery extolls weekly not sunk in yet? 

It leads to hot-and-cold performances that can deal serious damage to opponents, but also leave the door wide open at the other end.

Defensive weaknesses

The lack of certainty in approach filters from Emery to the pitch. 

He’s been more consistent with the shape of his team this season compared to last (where he chopped and changed frequently), but photographs of his preparation board against Crystal Palace illustrated two primary formations and two reserves; were Arsenal in a good place this would be hailed as genius planning, but given they’re not, it simply looks chaotic.

Their incoherence in attack could be masked or coped with if they were defensively solid, but at the back they’re as leaky as they ever have been. 

It shouldn’t surprise that David Luiz replacing Shkodran Mustafi at centre-back hasn’t proved the desired panacea.

They’ve given away four penalties in 12 Premier League games and concede most of their goals from relatively simple balls into the box. 

An insistence on playing short from goal kicks has bitten them too, with Watford and Leicester City just two of the clubs who have ruthlessly taken advantage of mistakes made.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 22: Nicolas Pepe of Arsenal converts his sides penalty and scores their first goal of the game during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium on September 22, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Club-record signing Nicolas Pépé has taken time to settle since his summer arrival

The game plan

Southampton should be confident in their ability to hurt Arsenal this weekend. 

Quick play between the lines will expose the lack of positional nous the central midfielders suffer from, early balls into the box will cause chaos and penetrative runs forward can result in great set-piece opportunities.

All of that will have to come in tandem with Southampton’s own defensive improvement, though, as the attacking portion of Emery’s side is quite something. 

The trio of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pépé hasn’t exactly clicked yet, but if and when it does, sparks will fly.

What’s key for Ralph Hasenhüttl’s men is remembering that when you play Arsenal in 2019, going behind doesn’t mean you’re out of it. 

Such is the fragility that grips the team, there’s always a route back in.


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