Arsenal FC analysis: Unai Emery's side improving top four credentials by learning to win ugly

We assess Arsenal's season so far - and their hopes of finishing in the top four
We assess Arsenal's season so far - and their hopes of finishing in the top four

Arsenal are quietly going about their business this season and last Sunday's narrow Premier League win over Bournemouth sent Unai Emery's side into third place going into the international break.

A narrow win is not something the Gunners have been too used to in recent years, but it is not the first time they have done that this season.

Narrow was also the margin by which they missed out on the top four last season, falling a point short of rivals Tottenham and instead settling for another season of Europa League football.

So the top four is once again the goal as they continue to adapt to Emery and they have lost just once so far in the league this season after eight games. After starting the season as 6/4 outsiders, questionable starts for some of their rivals mean they are now odds on (4/5) with Sky Bet for a top-four finish and, after their start, they are in with a great chance.

So what have they done well so far, what do they need to improve and can they secure Champions League football again next term?

Distraction in north London

Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino
Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino

The great north London 'power shift' of recent years has seen Tottenham trump their rivals - their new stadium and a Champions League final last season has only heightened expectations.

So that makes the dreadful start for Mauricio Pochettino's side all the more shocking. They currently sit ninth and things are not going great for the Argentinian on and off the pitch, with last week summing it up for them.

First, they conceded seven at home to Bayern Munich then followed that up with a 3-0 loss at Brighton, losing their goalkeeper to a long-term injury in the process. With another win for Arsenal in both the league and Europe, it was a pretty good few days for Gunners fans.

There has been talk of increasing unrest at Spurs and all the compounded misery has, for the better, taken the focus away from Arsenal, who have won seven of 11 fixtures in all competitions.

They are chugging along nicely and going about their business while their rivals continue to make the headlines.

Winning ugly

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette: Arsenal duo celebrate during the win over Burnley
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette: Arsenal duo celebrate during the win over Burnley

Arsenal played some great stuff under Arsene Wenger, but in the second half of his spell as manager they struggled to scrape victories at times and the same could be said of Emery's side last season.

This time around, all four of their wins have been by just one goal and they are arguably yet to hit top gear.

From grinding out an opening 1-0 win at Newcastle to edging Burnley (2-1), Aston Villa (3-2) and Bournemouth (1-0) at the Emirates - all potential banana skins they could easily have slipped on in previous years - they are getting the job done.

Now they must learn to apply this more regularly in order to turn those games that are heading for draws into three points. They have already shared the points on three occasions this season, two of them coming from behind.

They twice trailed at home to Tottenham in their September draw and later in the month Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang equalised at Man Utd. Both good points against top-four rivals on paper, but considering the current state they are in then Emery may be disappointed not to have taken at least four points from these two, especially the latter which was a game lacking in quality.

The more frustrating draw, though, comes from their clash at Watford after the last international break. The Gunners went 2-0 up at Vicarage Road, again through an Aubameyang double, before a dreadful error allowed Tom Cleverley to pull one back and handed the Hornets the momentum in Quique Sanchez Flores' first game back as manager.

The inevitable equaliser came and Arsenal were fortunate not to lose in the end. A lesson for this young squad, but one they have bounced back from since by winning five and drawing once.

One defeat all season

Unai Emery: Lessons learned from Arsenal's defeat at Liverpool
Unai Emery: Lessons learned from Arsenal's defeat at Liverpool

An away trip to Anfield was always going to be tough and that is where their only defeat came, although it has to be said the 3-1 scoreline was a little harsh on their performance.

Even champions Man City have already lost more times than the Gunners this season. However much their defensive frailties have been raised, that is some going.

Other than Liverpool and Arsenal, every other Premier League team has lost at least two games already this season.

Emery's young side

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka celebrate for Arsenal
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka celebrate for Arsenal

We hear so much about their obvious weaknesses in defence and, while they did spend over £100m on three first team players in the summer, they also bought Gabriel Martinelli and William Saliba for a combined fee of over £30m - ones for the future.

But in Emery's teams this season, whether it's in the Premier League, Europa League or Carabao Cup, we have seen young players being given a chance and that is a definite positive.

Brazilian winger Martinelli, 18, has had an impact much earlier than expected with four goals and an assist in four first team appearances while Joe Willock (20), Reiss Nelson (19) and Bukayo Saka (18, pictured above) have all been regularly utilised, as well as regulars Matteo Guendouzi (20) and Ainsley Maitland-Niles (22).

Emery is making use of the club's youth system and so far it has proved effective with Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil still to come back to the fore.

Aubameyang's the man

Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates
Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates

Behind every successful team is a world-class goalscorer.

Losing Lacazette to injury for a couple of months proved to be a blow early in the season, but Aubameyang has stepped up to the plate and continued where he left off last term.

The 2018/19 joint-Golden Boot winner has scored eight goals in 10 appearance so far and those goals have often come when it mattered, to turn those close games into victories.

The Gabonese forward is one of the squad's most experienced players at 30 years old and he sets the example with consistency and a world-class ability in the box to keep Arsenal in the top four as well as chasing another top goalscorer award (he is currently second behind Sergio Aguero and Tammy Abraham on eight).

Win away more often!

The Gunners' away record last year was pretty poor - they were eighth overall in the away table having won just seven, drawn four and lost eight of 19 fixtures on the road.

A slight improvement in these games would have been enough for them to finish ahead of Tottenham in the top four and this year has started in similar unconvincing fashion, with just five points from 12 (10th in the away table), including a loss at Liverpool which is pretty understandable considering the way Jurgen Klopp's side have started.

But last year they came unstuck against their top six rivals away from the Emirates, beaten at Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool, Everton, Wolves and Leicester - all points dropped while strengthening those around them.

To improve this, Emery must alter his approach to these games and show tactical flexibility and intelligence away from north London.

Defensive questions

David Luiz celebrates scoring a goal for Arsenal
David Luiz celebrates scoring a goal for Arsenal - but can he keep them out at the other end?

The signing of David Luiz did little to sure up their defence, which is no surprise considering how much we already knew about the Brazilian.

From inviting errors against Watford to being torn apart with a simple move, defending set pieces and clumsy fouls - the list goes on.

They look so dangerous on the break, with pace and quality, but so frail defensively - like they will concede with every attack they defend. They make for entertaining matches, but not so interesting viewing for Arsenal fans - or their heart rate.

It seems that David Luiz and Sokratis is Emery's current first choice, with Shkodran Mustafi just being used in the cups, but Calum Chambers has also been involved on the right.

With Hector Bellerin returning from injury, Chambers could be pushed further inside as Emery continues to search for a defensive formula that at least looks a little more convincing.


Top four finish odds

  • Arsenal - 4/5
  • Chelsea - 10/11
  • Tottenham - 5/4
  • Leicester - 5/2
  • Manchester United - 4/1
  • Wolves - 16/1

Click here to see the list in full

Odds via Sky Bet and correct as of 2230 BST on 08/10/19


Arsenal stats

Unai Emery handed a home debut to Nicolas Pepe
Unai Emery gives instructions to summer signing Nicolas Pepe

Attacking

  • Goals scored: 13

Goals scored from:

  • Open play: 8
  • Set pieces: 3
  • Counter attacks: 1
  • Penalties: 1
  • Average shots per game: 13.5
  • Conversion rate: 12%

Defensively

  • Goals conceded: 11

Goals conceded from:

  • Open play: 7
  • Set pieces: 1
  • Counter attacks: 0
  • Penalties: 3
  • Average shots against per game: 17
  • Shots against conversion rate: 8%

Next six league games:

Sheffield United celebrate John Lundstram's goal against Crystal Palace
Sheffield United: Up next for Arsenal
  • Sheff United (a)
  • Crystal Palace (h)
  • Wolves (h)
  • Leicester (a)
  • Southampton (h)
  • Norwich (a)

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