ANALYSIS: Emery diamond stops Sarrismo at source

Alan O’Brien 

Following last weekend’s chastening defeat to West Ham United, Unai Emery’s Arsenal project looked in danger of falling asunder. With that said, the visit of Chelsea, who easily sidestepped the Spaniard’s high-press back in August, looked incredibly ill-timed. Jorginho, Maurizio Sarri’s tempo-dictating pivot, was key to his side’s success on that occasion. But the famously passive Mesut Ozil was the regista’s direct opponent then; Aaron Ramsey, fielded here in Jorginho’s face at the tip of an Arsenal diamond, proved nowhere near as forgiving. Continue reading

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ANALYSIS: Pellegrini’s big team mentality trumps unpenetrative Arsenal

Alan O’Brien 

If anything, Declan Rice may be too mature for Manuel Pellegrini’s own good. The teenager’s all-seeing performances in holding midfield may have convinced his manager it was safe to revert to 4-4-2 back in November. One central midfielder was therefore dumped, as the 4-3-3 that plugged West Ham United’s yawning early-season gaps fell by the wayside. Fortunate victories over Cardiff, Crystal Palace and Fulham masked the lack of balance this switch engendered. A subsequent festive period run of one win in four, therefore, came as little surprise to more keen-eyed observers. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Unbalanced Arsenal outgunned by pacy Palace

Alan O’Brien 

Only five Premier League sides have conceded more shots, on a per-game basis, than Arsenal. No Premier League club has outperformed their expected-goals tally more than the Gunners either. Nonetheless, Unai Emery’s side remain in fourth, having extended their unbeaten run to eight games with an extraordinarily fortunate draw at Selhurst Park.

It’s fair to say therefore that in the Spaniard, Arsenal may have found themselves a lucky general. Emery’s work-in-progress transformation holds great promise, but well-worn vulnerabilities still persist. Crystal Palace are just the latest side who failed to prevail upon them fully. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Cavalier Cottagers leave no-one minding the house

Alan O’Brien 

To say Fulham went all-in during the summer would be something of an understatement. Promoted as the Championship’s top passers, the Cottagers faced a stark choice: stick to their guns, with the same players, and go straight back down; stick to their guns by signing a whole new side at great expense; or foist a more defensive style on a squad wholly unsuited to such. In the end Slavisa Jokanovic plumped for option two, spending upwards of £100m before the transfer window slammed shut. But, two months on, the Serbian is still no closer to moulding Fulham’s 11 newbies into a cohesive unit. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Shoddy defensive transitions blight sparkling Sarrismo

Alan O’Brien 

It’s been seven years since this fixture saw the like. Such chance-laden drama called to mind the events of October 29, 2011: the beginning of the end for André Villa-Boas at Chelsea. On that fateful day, when Arsenal prevailed 5-3 at Stamford Bridge, two high defensive lines were undone by incoherent pressing. The disorder within Chelsea’s ranks was worse, however, and Robin van Persie took full advantage. Villas-Boas, with his super-slow defensive cohort, was doomed to fail. Roman Abramovich, fingers burned, dared not risk appointing a progressive coach again — until now. Continue reading

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

Ascendant Arsenal pierce Palace lines with ease

Alan O’Brien 

It took 30 harrowing minutes for Roy Hodgson to give up the 4-4-2 ghost here. Four goals down when the stable door was finally closed, the Arsenal horse had already bolted, lived a full life in the wild, and expired of natural causes. Continue reading

Central midfield chasms result from Wenger’s latest bout of Conte copying

Alan O’Brien 

Back in August, Antonio Conte deviated from his title-winning 3-4-2-1 system for a big game just like this one. Tottenham Hotspur were frustrated, and bested, by a more conservative Chelsea 3-5-2. Its inception was designed to ensure greater defensive security against stronger sides. Yet, on Wednesday night, in another London derby, it achieved anything but. Continue reading

Premier League: Three tactical talking points from Matchday 16

Alan O’Brien 

1) Hard-running Hammers consign sluggish Slaven days to memory

If Slaven Bilic’s West Ham United had greeted the champions in this manner, claret (and blue) would surely have spilled. Continue reading