Neithernor played particularly poorly in the first half of Sunday’s north London derby, but manager Unai Emery knew the status quo wasn’t enough. After a ferocious start to the match, the Gunners broke for the half at a 2-1 disadvantage. All the high pressing and intensity that overwhelmed in the opening stages had died down. and had begun to take control.
Emery was unwilling to wait and see if the match corrected itself. He was unwilling to be Arsene Wenger. So he hauled off Iwobi and Mkhitaryan forand at half-time and changed his formation ever so slightly from a 3-4-3 to a 3-4-1-2. Emery dared to change the dynamics of a game that had hung in the balance.
Arsenal tend to drop their heads in the opening stanza. They’d have zero wins, 10 draws, and four defeats if games ended at the interval, but Emery once again made sure his team responded once they re-entered the pitch.
Sensing that Arsenal had recaptured momentum, Emery reverted to a back four in the 60th minute, replacingwith . The attack-minded substitution was a just reward for his team’s increasing tenacity. Four minutes later, Lacazette scored what would stand as the winning goal.
The series of changes provided a necessary kick up the backside that carried through the rest of the team. Lacazette stretched Tottenham’s defenders and created pockets of space for his teammates to infiltrate, while Ramsey cut through Spurs with a number of timely runs. The two connected on the winning goal, which wouldn’t have happened without Ramsey’s tussling and graft in midfield. It was the Welshman who won possession offin the buildup to the goal.
Even that wasn’t enough. Emery continued to prowl on the touchline, never satisfied with what he was seeing.
It’s that insatiable appetite that’s been missing from Arsenal over the past few years. Emery holds every player accountable, and he isn’t afraid to drop his biggest players. It made no difference on this occasion thatsat out with a back spasm. It’s difficult to imagine a healthy Ozil – a floater more than a worker – lasting through those hard-fought 90 minutes.
It’s clear Emery’s ruthlessness has shaken Arsenal from their years-long slumber, and it’s happened in just a few months. Emery has put pressure on his players to perform. Thierry Henry had only last year accused Wenger of letting his players off the hook. It was, but not anymore. It’s a more demanding existence under the Spaniard.
There were traces of Emery’s vision as early as August against. Although the season opener ended in defeat, the Gunners showed they can press and hem as prestigious an opponent as City in the defensive third. But that was just the beginning. has now established himself at the base of the midfield, and the fullbacks have become more prosperous and ambitious on their respective flanks. Everyone on the pitch is pulling his weight.
Even a player like Ramsey, whoat the end of the season, is buying into Emery’s philosophy. It’s confirmation of Emery’s man-management skills that a player who’s on the way out is still playing a contributing role and thriving.
He and his teammates enlivened the Emirates on Sunday, encouraging a chorus of “ole” chants in the final minutes of the 4-2 win. When the final whistle blew, Emery went to shake hands before heading straight down the tunnel, already focused on the next task: Wednesday’s trip to Old Trafford. It may be 19 matches unbeaten, but there’s still the second half of the season to go. He won’t rest on his laurels.
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