With just four games into the new campaign, Unai Emery faces a challenging task in leading Arsenal back to being title contenders and once again one of the most formidable teams in the country.
After an encouraging pre-season the newly appointed Arsenal head coach was handed tough opening fixtures against current Premier League Champions Manchester City and Chelsea. Despite successive defeats, there were encouraging signs from the Gunners in Emery’s first two games as manager, with the Spaniard evidently encouraging his players to adopt a more possession based style, something which has come under some scrutiny and criticism.
Although they secured their won their last two games against West Ham and Cardiff, they are several important issues Unai Emery must seek to address at Arsenal this season.
Improve central defence
Arsenal’s defence has been notoriously vulnerable in recent years, and Emery must look to significantly strengthen the central defence in particular if they are to become serious contenders once again.
With key defender Laurent Koscielny being a long term absentee, one of Emery’s first summer acquisitions was Greek International Sokratis, a reliable defender but questions still remain over his defesnive understanding and mobility
Arsenal’s remaining centre backs include Shrokdan Mustafi, Rob Holding, and Konstantinos Mavropanos who have showed good ability, but do not give many fans confidence and Emery will be required to use his infamous attenntion to detail to improve them individually and collectively
Get the best out of Lacazette and Aubameyang
When Alexandre Lacazette arrived from Arsenal last summer from Lyon, fans finally got the striker they were crying out for of real top class ability.
However, despite a good start to in the Premier League, the Frenchman began to struggle, with the Gunners then buying Pierre Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund in a record £60 million deal in January.
In the first three games of the season Emery favoured Aubameyang and left Lacazettte out of the starting line up, but the Frenchman made his first start of the season at the Cardiff City stadium on Sunday.
Lacazette was impressive, linking up well with Aubameyang throughout particularly for the second goal before rifling in an 81st minute winner in the 3-2 win.
While Emery typically starts with one striker, the challenge is in playing in the two together but the display against Cardiff showed they are more than capable of playing together and form a very potent partnership. Emery must aim to find a system in which they can both excel on a consistent basis.
Fix defensive midfield
An area which they have struggled since the likes of Patrick Viera and Gilberto Silva departed the club, Arsenal lack a defensive minded player in central midfield capable of providing the defence real protection
While summer acquisition Matteo Guendouzi has shown real promise, showing real enthusiasm and willingness to get on the ball in the opening games, to expect the young Frenchman of being the man to protect the back four on a consistent basis is another question.
Other defensive midfield options include Granit Xhaka and Mohammed Elneny. The Switzerland international is undoubtedly a very good technical player with an eye for a pass but is not defensive minded midfielder and can often be lethargic and give possession away in dangerous positions, such as the disastrous pass which led to Cardiff’s fist goal on Sunday. They are both gifted but neither have the defensive qualities or attributes to be a reliable option in defensive midfield.
Finally Emery has Uruguayan Lucas Torreria, bought from Sampdoria in the summer, as a option within that position. Torreria, who had an impressive World Cup with Uruguay is a player with real energy and tenacity but whether he is able to provide solid protection to the defence remains to be seen.
On Sunday Torreria was once again omitted from the starting line up by Emery at Cardiff, but when introduced into the action in the 70th minute and made a huge impact on the game with his dynamism impressive technical ability, evident within the assist for the winner for Lacazatte.
Torreria pefromances merit a starting postion in the central of midfield, and perhaps the dminutive Uruguyan will be the man capable of providing genuine defensive protecton in central midfield.
First Choice Goalkeeper
Summer arrival Bernd Leno was expected to be a key figure when bought by Emery in the summer from Bayer Leverkusen but has so far been playing second fiddle to Czech Petr Cech.
Emery has entrusted Cech in the first four league games but has struggled in playing out from the back and with his distribution. Petr Cech best attributes have always been his ability to make himself big and commanding and to make saves.
While Leno possesses excellent distribution skills and is renown for the ability to play with his feet, attributes highlighted when Emery bought he 26 year old from Bayer Leverkusen. While Petr Cech is undoubtedly still an excellent keeper, it may be time for Emery to consider bringing the German into the team.
Perhaps on of Emery’s biggest challenges is to help Ozil fullfill his full potential for Arsenal once again, with the German capable of being one of the best playmakers on the planet.
Following the victory against Cardiff, Emery praised Ozil for both his skill and work rate in the hard fought victory and something which he hopes Ozil can continue to show.
The German playmaker is a world class player but has struggled in recent times, with a poor end to last season followed by Germany disastrous performance at the World Cup.
However, if Ozil can continue to deliver the type of performances displayed against Cardiff, it will make them a far more dangerous team and will install fear into rivals, knowing the German has the creativity to unlock any defensive with his superb technique and vision.