OPINION: Emery must swallow his pride to succeed at Arsenal

Alan O’Brien 

After 14 years of protracted decline under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal fans are entitled to feel excited. Unai Emery, a so-called serial winner, represents a welcome new dawn for Gunners supporters. Unlike Wenger, the Basque has not adhered rigidly to one true style of play throughout his managerial career.

In three full seasons at Sevilla, armed with a counterattacking 4-2-3-1, Emery won the Europa League every time. At PSG, however, Emery found European success elusive with a possession-based, pressing-oriented 4-3-3. Which of those masks the former midfielder chooses to wear, and when, will ultimately decide his Emirates Stadium fate. Continue reading

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ANALYSIS: Blues fail to best Barrett’s barmy back-three

Alan O’Brien 

Since he last faced Waterford, Tommy Barrett’s luck had not exactly been in. In the eight games following May’s 6-3 RSC victory, Limerick FC managed only one win. Good performances, achieved in the teeth of cashflow problems and player departures, were met with scant reward. Barrett, in other words, was due a touch of good fortune. And on Friday night he finally got it. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Lucky Lilywhites have it all to do in Larnaca

Alan O’Brien 

Shorn of five first-teamers, AEK Larnaca still won the tactical battle against hosts Dundalk. Playing with a heavily depleted deck, novice manager Andoni Iraola outmatched Stephen Kenny on his first night in football management. Level ahead of Thursday’s second leg in Cyprus, the Lilywhites will struggle to succeed where Cork City have failed before them. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Belated Byrne powers ponderous Pat’s to victory

Alan O’Brien 

St Patrick’s Athletic’s win drought is over. Having presided over seven straight defeats, shipping 18 goals along the way, Liam Buckley’s thirst was in danger of becoming terminal. The Saints only bagged three goals of their own throughout that abject run, too. And, on the basis of the first-half here, it’s easy to see why. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Defence enough for fortunate France

Alan O’Brien 

Despite never coming close to engineering a cohesive team performance, Didier Deschamps possesses the World Cup trophy for the second time. Individual talent, shining through at both ends of the pitch, dragged France to glory. Croatia, who executed their gameplan to near-perfection, can only reflect on what might have been. Continue reading

PREVIEW: Vrsaljko has what it takes to vanquish France

Alan O’Brien 

Over the course of this captivating World Cup, only Spain have favoured the left flank more than Croatia. But if the Vatreni are to spring an upset, and emulate La Roja‘s first-time triumph in 2010, a change of tack is needed. The path Zlatko Dalic chooses will ultimately decide his nation’s fate: the right fork may lead to glory, but the left will surely invite the wrath of Kylian Mbappé. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Sundgren sunders Bradley’s harmless Hoops

Alan O’Brien 

This was Stephen Bradley’s shot at glory. Despite boasting eight full internationals, AIK arrived in Tallaght with precisely zero interest in controlling proceedings. Shamrock Rovers, therefore, were invited to give the Swedes their best shot. But, alas, their visitors escaped with nary an eyelash out of place. The Hoops, in short, were absolutely harmless here. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Croatia full-backs punish Southgate stasis

Alan O’Brien 

This was to be Gareth Southgate’s greatest test yet. After a facile route to the semi-final, throughout which England’s 3-3-2-2 was never seriously tested, the question was this: could Southgate adjust when the going got tough? The answer, after an enthralling clash with Croatia, is an emphatic no. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Martinez’s Belgian waffle finally falls to France

Alan O’Brien 

Little of the laudatory coverage hailing Roberto Martinez’s apparent tactical victory over Brazil made any sense. Belgium’s haphazard hybrid shape offered up chance after chance to Tite’s wasteful troops on Friday. France, just as defensively sound as Brazil here, simply did not suffer the Selecao‘s incredible misfortune. Finally, therefore, Martinez was made to pay for his hubris-fueled tactical codology. Continue reading

PREVIEW: Croatia 4-3-3 may spell curtains for Southgate

Alan O’Brien 

Neither England nor Croatia have reached the last-four of a World Cup in a generation. Both fell at the penultimate hurdle last time out, in 1990 and 1998 respectively. But now, with all the favourites fallen by the wayside, a golden opportunity to progress further has materialised that only one nation can grab. And, with Gareth Southgate firmly wedded to his preferred system, it’s difficult to avoid the following conclusion: victory and defeat depend almost exclusively on the tactical whims of one Zlatko Dalic. Continue reading