Assessing Arsenal’s Progress This Season After Unai Emery’s First 50 Games in Charge at the Emirates

​A customary scramble for Champions League football and shoddy away form continue to raise questions over Arsenal’s season, but progress at the Emirates is clear after Unai Emery’s first 50 games in charge.

The Gunners sit fourth in the Premier League with five games remaining heading into the weekend’s fixtures, whilst Thursday’s 1-0 victory away to Napoli saw the north Londoners advance to the the semi finals of the Europa League for the second consecutive season.

The clash in Naples marked Unai Emery’s 50th game in charge of ​Arsenal, and his 32nd victory in that period.

Recent struggles on the road have led many to question just how far the Gunners have come under the Spaniard this season. Last Monday’s 1-0 win away to ​Watford was just the second time Arsenal have won on the road in the Premier League in 2019.

The victory at Vicarage Road was only the Gunners’ fifth away win of the season, and the first time they have kept a clean sheet on the road this term. 

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However, if the sloppy away form tells of a struggling giant failing to move forward, the broader picture tells a different story.

Arsenal have the third best home record in the Premier League, having won just two fewer games at the Emirates this term than imperious reigning champions ​Manchester City have managed at the Etihad, with 14 wins from 17 home games in the league for the Gunners this term.

If Emery held the responsibility of upholding Arsene Wenger’s mantle of imposing attractive and free-flowing attacking football this term, the Spaniard has certainly done so – Arsenal are also the third highest-scoring team in the league, only behind City and title-chasing ​Liverpool.


There is still much work to be done defensively though. Arsenal have conceded 40 Premier League goals this season, 20 more than Liverpool – but that stat alone does not fully illustrate Emery’s work on the ‘other side’ of the game at the Emirates this term.

The 1-0 win at ​Napoli on Thursday showed impressive maturity and composure in the Gunners’ game management. Many fancied that the Italians would ramp up their attacking engine in response to the feisty atmosphere at the Stadio San Paolo, but Arsenal had other ideas.

One of the greatest credits to Emery’s reign so far has been his tactical diligence and pragmatism, as well as clearly structured and well-regimented game plans.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan,Laurent Koscielny

The Spaniard took criticism for a ‘negative’ team selection for the visit to Wembley to face ​Tottenham in February, but was quickly praised after the game for leading his side to a hard-fought 1-1 draw in a game in which few gave the Gunners a chance.

Thursday’s performance showed similarly steely grit and determination to do the necessary and grind out a result, in a manner which many tend to suggest Arsenal are not capable of.

The 3-4-1-2 formation provided the perfect balance between defensive solidity and attacking prowess in the Gunners’ setup, as Emery’s side largely nullified Napoli’s plentiful attacking threat and offered plenty going forward themselves in a tough environment,


The powerful presence of Sokratis Papastathopoulos in defence and the tenacious energy of Lucas Torreira in midfield have been key additions in strengthening previous problem positions through the Gunners’ spine.

Likewise, the wing-back system has been utilised to decisive effect, with ​Sead Kolasinac and Ainsley Maitland-Niles both coming on leaps and bounds as tailor-made outlets to offer attacking threats, natural width and defensive cover on the flanks.

The Gunners no longer appear so open and exposed in crucial areas of the pitch, as Emery’s system provides greater cover and discipline in places where Arsene Wenger’s team were previously torn apart at times.

Alexandre Lacazette,Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang,Granit Xhaka,Sead Kolasinac

Emery has also shown great coaching ability in terms of management. ​Mesut Ozil and Granit Xhaka were generally the two players within the Arsenal ranks most regularly derided from virtually every angle in previous seasons at the Emirates.

However, this season, Emery has yielded results from Xhaka’s clear potential, guiding the Swiss international from an error-prone under-performer to a consistently vital cog in the Gunners’ engine room.

Meanwhile, the Spaniard’s omission of Ozil from a succession of matchday squads around the turn of the year sparked widespread suggestions that the mercurial German’s Arsenal career was virtually over, as he apparently did not meet the criteria of Emery’s meticulous demands.


However, having spoken of wanting a reaction from Ozil in leaving the playmaker out, Emery’s tactics have certainly paid off. The World Cup winner is back in favour once more and playing some of his best football in an Arsenal shirt to date at a crucial point in the season.

Up front, ​Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and ​Alexandre Lacazette have consistently proven to be among the most potent strike forces in the Premier League this season.

Emery’s decisions on whether to play the star duo together in attack or which of the two to pick with only one up front have drawn a lot of commentary, but the Spaniard’s management of his strike force has proved well-judged.

Lacazette did not feature in the victory over Watford last Monday, when Aubameyang scored the winner. Three days later, the Frenchman’s strike decided the game in Naples, whilst Aubameyang remains Arsenal’s top scorer and in the race for the Premier League’s Golden Boot.

Having spent just £70m over the course of his first season in charge, in which he has succeeded Arsene Wenger’s 22-year reign at the club, Arsenal’s progress under Emery this term is clear.

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The legendary Frenchman won nine fewer matches than Emery during his first 50 games in charge, and the Gunners already have three more points in Premier League this term than they had by the end of the campaign last term, with five games still to play.

After less than a season under the Spaniard’s reign, Arsenal are already showing considerable improvements with Emery at the helm. 


Regardless of how the Gunners’ top four challenge and Europa League quest pans out over the remainder of the season, it has already been a successful campaign in many respects, and there is surely only more to come.

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Arsenal vs Crystal Palace: Unai Emery’s Best Available Gunners Lineup

​Arsenal host Crystal Palace on Sunday afternoon as Unai Emery and his team look to cement their spot in the top four of the Premier League.

With top four rivals Tottenham losing at Manchester City and Manchester United facing tricky a tricky trip to Everton on Sunday, a win for the Gunners could go a huge way to guaranteeing their place in next season’s Champions League.

Following a battling victory away to Napoli on Thursday night, Emery faces a quick turnaround to prepare his side for Sunday’s fixture against the Eagles. Injury to Aaron Ramsey and suspension to Sokratis will force the Spanish manager into some changes for this tie as the Gunners contend with a busy fixture schedule.

Here’s a look at how the ​Gunners could line up for ​Sunday’s clash…


Goalkeeper & Defenders

Bernd Leno

Bernd Leno (GK) – After making way for Petr Cech for Thursday night’s Europa League tie, Leno is expected to return between the sticks for Arsenal on Sunday. The German will be looking for a repeat of his last game, where he made a number of key saves on his way to a clean sheet against Watford.

Shkodran Mustafi (RB) – Suspension to centre back Sokratis may force Emery to rethink his back line. The former Valencia man could find himself at right back on Sunday with the tough job of keeping ​Wilfried Zaha quiet.

Konstantinos Mavropanos (CB) – The 21 year-old has spent much of this season injured, but recently returned to Emery’s starting XI for their impressive victory at Vicarage Road. The Greek defender is expected to deputise once more in the absence of the suspended Sokratis.

Laurent Koscielny (CB) – Arsenal’s skipper has been a mainstay in the team this year and will lead his side out at the Emirates on Sunday. His leadership will be key to overcoming a ​Palace team whose playing style is best suited to playing away.

Sead Kolasinac (LB) – The Bosnia international has spent most of this season playing at left wing-back, but may return to a more reserved role on Sunday afternoon. With Palace providing threat out wide, Kolasinac may have to restrict his usual attacking play.


Midfielders

Mesut Ozil,allan

Matteo Guendouzi (CM) – The long-haired Frenchman sat out of Arsenal’s battling win in Naples on Thursday, so Emery is likely to bring him in to freshen up the engine room. 

Granit Xhaka (CM) – Thought to be carrying a knock from Thursday, the Swiss midfielder will be assessed closely going into Sunday. However, the 26 year-old is expected to make it and feature in Emery’s starting team.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan (RM) – ​Having only featured as a substitute on Thursday night, the Armenian could come in to provide some fresher legs in an Arsenal midfield that has been hit by the injury to ​Aaron Ramsey.

Mesut Ozil (CAM) – As is the norm these days, ​Ozil did not start in both of Arsenal’s previous two fixtures as they were both away from home. Now they return to the Emirates Stadium, the German is likely to regain his spot and attempt to break down a solid Eagles team.

Alex Iwobi (LM) – The Nigeria international impressed in the last Premier League outing at Watford. Having only featured from the bench on Thursday night, ​Iwobi is set to return to the team and look to cause problems for the Palace back line with his direct style of play.


Forward

Alexandre Lacazette

Alexandre Lacazette (ST) – With the busy fixture schedule at the end of the season, Emery has opted to rest one of his striking duo for Premier League games. ​Lacazette scored the crucial goal on Thursday night and this may be enough to earn him a starting spot on Sunday.

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Hakim Ziyech Hints at Ajax Stay Beyond This Season Amid Links With European Giants

Ajax star Hakim Ziyech has hinted he could stay at the Eredivisie giants beyond the end of the season amid transfer speculation surrounding the club’s top performers.

The 26-year-old Moroccan has bagged 15 goals and 12 this season in the league and it comes as no surprise that Europe’s biggest clubs are waiting in line to sign Ajax’s free-flowing attacking, young players.

Frenkie de Jong, the 21-year-old midfielder, has already agreed a move to Barcelona next season, and players such Matthijs de Ligt and David Neres are also being eyed up by Europe’s giants.

David Neres,Hakim Ziyech,Lasse Schone

However, Ziyech, linked with Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, and Manchester United, has revealed  he is no hurry to leave the Johan Cruijff Arena and will only consider an alternative option if the move was right.

Ziyech told Inside Ajax, as quoted by ​Goal: “Anything is possible. I am always someone who is very picky and there must be a club that I want to trade in for Ajax. That doesn’t just happen.” 

Ziyech added pace and creativity during Ajax’s eliminations of Juventus and Real Madrid and has been used on both flanks and in midfield this season, but has often lit up games from wherever on the field. 

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Ajax now face a busy summer transfer window but have a Champions League semi final against Spurs that will see two fast-paced teams go head-to-head in what is sure to do the European stage justice.

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Aaron Ramsey Expected to Return From Hamstring Knock in ‘2 or 3 Weeks’ After Going Off in Napoli Win

​Arsenal manager Unai Emery has claimed that midfielder Aaron Ramsey will return to action in ‘two or three weeks’ after going off during their Europa League win over Napoli. 

Ramsey, 28, had to be substituted 34 minutes into their 1-0 quarter-final second-leg win with what appeared to be a hamstring injury – prompting fears the Welshman had made his final appearance for the Gunners.

Aaron Ramsey

The midfielder will join ​Juventus at the end of the season once his contract with the north London club expires, although Emery is confident fans will see ​Ramsey in an ​Arsenal shirt again before the end of the campaign. 

Speaking to ​Sky Sports, Emery said: “His progress this season is amazing. At the beginning (of the season), he was a little confused maybe, because he is in the last year of his contract.   

“For us, and for me, he is a very important player but his confusion maybe did not help us at some moments in the season – not like his performances now.

“In his last few performances he has been helping us a lot – and in some of the key moments of this season. His injury is bad news and I don’t know how long he will be out of the team, maybe two or three weeks.”

It means that Ramsey could in fact make his final appearance for Arsenal in the Europa League final May 29, provided they beat Valencia in their semi final, setting up a final between either Eintracht Frankfurt or Premier League rivals Chelsea. 

Ramsey has scored 65 goals in 371 games for Arsenal since arriving from Cardiff City in 2008, winning three FA Cups in what’s been over a decade at the Emirates. 

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90min’s Definitive European Power Rankings: Week 29

​Following a week where, I mean Jesus, what didn’t happen? Seriously, Jesus, on this Easter weekend, please tell me what didn’t happen in the world of football this week, because I’m at a loss. Essentially:

– Ajax did it again.

– Juventus cratered as an institution. No seriously – ​they did.

– United Jose’d again.

– Tottenham DIDN’T Tottenham.

– Liverpool Liverpool’d.

– Chelsea didn’t Chelsea, then drastically did.

– Europa League Unai Emery Europa League Unai Emery’d.

But that was just a tiny portion of what went down, so to help us explain the rest, we’ve employed dramatic comedy and soul-searcher extraordinaire, Noah Baumbach, and all his filmography, to help us slog through it. Never been to Prague? Let’s go. 


15. Paris Saint-Germain (Down 5)

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“Dear Starbucks, in your attempt to manufacture culture out of fast food coffee you’ve been surprisingly successful for the most part. The part that isn’t covered by ‘the most part’ sucks.” (Greenberg)

How are Paris Saint-Germain still kicking around in these here rankings? Well, they’re still Ligue 1 champions in waiting, and their French Cup final is coming up. 

The part that isn’t that? The part where they endured consecutive losses to Lille (5-1) and Nantes (3-2)? The part where they’ve attempted to manufacture culture out of football?

Yeah, that sucks.


14. Atletico Madrid (Re-Entry)

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​“I found myself writing ‘wake up’ and ‘go to bed’ in my day planner as if they are two different events.” (Kicking & Screaming)

It’s true. Atletico Madrid don’t have much to play for these days after their Champions League exit to Juventus and subsequent loss to Barcelona, which all but ended their La Liga hopes too. 

But still, a 2-0 win against Celta Vigo…that’s good going, guys! Whack that one in the diary. 


13. Valencia (New Entry)

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“‘So what do you do?

‘Eh…It’s kinda hard to explain.’

‘Because what you do is complicated?’

‘Eh…Because I don’t really do it.” (Frances Ha)

A new entry! And at this late stage! How exciting!

And Valencia have earned it, truly, by reaching the semi finals of the Europa League. What an achievement!

How did they do it, you ask? Have I watched a second of this vaunted Europa League campaign, you ask? No, but I’m certain they did do it. Good enough for me. That quote’s become meta now, hasn’t it? 


12. Chelsea (Up 2)

Pedro

“Oh, I’ve been to Prague. Well, I haven’t ‘been to Prague’ been to Prague, but I know that thing; that, ‘Stop shaving your armpits, read The Unbearable Lightness of Being, date a sculptor, now I know how bad American coffee is’ thing.

‘They have good beer there.’

‘Now I know how bad American beer is thing.’” (Kicking & Screaming)

​Chelsea have now definitively been to Prague. And they discovered just how good Petr Sevick’s right foot is, and how bad they can be with a 4-1 lead at half-time. 

Still, European semi final number 14 is on the way.


11. Lille (New Entry)

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“It’s like their apartment is full of everything we once threw out, but it looks so good the way they have it.” (While We’re Young)

Another new entry! What exciting times. And, again, this is fully deserved. 

Lille absolutely spanked the soulless Ligue 1 leaders 5-1 to delay their (still inevitable) coronation.

And they cherry-on-topped it with a goal from Jose Fonte. Sure, they have probably-generational youth talent like Nicolas Pepe, but still, Jose Fonte!!! And he looked so good, didn’t he?


10. Eintracht Frankfurt (Up 5)​

Timothy Chandler,Mijat Gacinovic

“If Plato is a fine red wine, then Aristotle is a dry martini.” (Kicking & Screaming)

I could say something equally faux-profound about Eintracht Frankfurt’s remarkable 2018/19 season, but I won’t.

I’ll just say that Luka Jovic is very good. As is Ante Rebic. As is Filip Kostic. Blues beware. 


9. Juventus (Down 5)

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“What I used to be able to pass off as a bad summer could now potentially turn into a bad life.” (Kicking & Screaming)

Another year, another European dream shattered right in front of the Old Lady’s eyes. Juve are now broken. Seriously, seriously broken. 

Sure, they have an eighth consecutive Scudetto to look forward to in the next fortnight (at most), but look around, there are no other Serie A teams in these rankings as it stands. And that tells you all you need to know. 


8. Borussia Dortmund (-)

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“Sometimes it’s good to do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it.” (Frances Ha)

Finally, FINALLY, ​Borussia Dortmund did what they’ve supposed to have been doing during this Bundesliga title race run-in – win. And comfortably, too. 

A Jadon Sancho brace was just what the doctor ordered. More of the same, please. You know how much faith we placed in you. Some confirmation that this wasn’t misplaced would be nice. 

Thanks.


7. Arsenal (Up 1)

Ainsley Maitland-Niles,Allan

“For the first time in my life I’ve stopped thinking of myself as a child imitating an adult.” (While We’re Young)

All of a sudden, Arsenal look like a team of grown ups, especially in Europe. Of course, the stewardship of Europa League savant Unai Emery must help, but still, the improvement in their midweek continental maturity has been stark. 

Brandon Stark? Yes, ‘Game of Thrones‘ is still a thing, and if I had the time to insert Bran into this picture – cause, you know, he’s everywhere man! – I would.


6. Bayern Munich (Up 1)

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“You know, me and Jamie, always wondered, ‘how are we gonna get old?’ And the answer is…just like everyone else.” (While We’re Young)

At times this season, Bayern have looked just like a team of their age should look: bedraggled, off the pace, out of touch etc. 

But at others, they’ve appeared as ageless as a bunch of boys from Neverland.

The only way we’ll find out which assessment is true is by waiting for the sands of time to do their work. How profound. 


5. Manchester City (-)

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​”Josh, you know the world isn’t a giant conspiracy against you.” (While We’re Young)

Replace Josh with Manchester City and, yep, you’ve got it. A bitter, bitter, way to lose? Sure. A Var-spiracy hell-bent on keeping your plucky side of misfits from touching European glory? Give over. 

That may have been harsh. Because I genuinely did feel for City fans on Wednesday night – there can’t be many worse ways to lose than that, after a game like that. So here, have another Baumbach quote, on the house:

“How do you make God laugh? Make a plan.” (Kicking & Screaming)

Feeling better yet?


4. Barcelona (Down 2)

Lionel Messi

“It was like walking barefoot through broken glass to get a milkshake. I loved the milkshake, but, you know, my feet were bleeding.” (‘The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)’)

Yes, it’s only a matter of time before Barcelona win La Liga, and yes, they won their Champions League quarter-final second leg with ease. 

So why the bleeding feet?

Well, it can’t be pleasant playing 180 minutes against Manchester United, can it? 

In other film-milkshake related news, ​Lionel Messi is coming for your milkshake, Europe, and he wants to drink it all up.


3. Tottenham Hotspur (Up 3)

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“It’s huge to finally embrace the life you never planned on.” (Greenberg)

In their wildest dreams, ​Tottenham fans would never have ‘planned on’ reaching the Champions League semi finals. They may have hoped and dreamed and prayed. But never ‘planned’. They’re not like that. 

Fortunately, that’s not how their club were thinking. That’s not what their players were thinking. That’s not what their manager was thinking. For years, they’ve been plotting this moment. Sure, there’s been some praying on the way too, but Wednesday night wasn’t the result of prayers.

It was planning at its best. 


2. Liverpool (Up 1)

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“I haven’t had that thing yet, where you realise that you’re not the most important person in the world.” (Margot at the Wedding)

Sure, Liverpool vanquished some demons when they dispatched of Chelsea on Sunday at Anfield, and then vanquished Porto altogether in their ​Champions League tie, but are they the most important club in the world?

They may feel like it, but clearly, given their runner-up medal in these here rankings, they’re not. 

Sorry.


1. Ajax (-)

Matthijs de Ligt,Daley Blind,David Neres,Lasse Schone

​”Don’t mind me, I’m just trying to get your attention.” (Frances Ha)

Well, by God, De Godenzonen, you’ve got it. Ten times over. Christ, we love you. We love your style of football. We love your infectious youthful naivety, your generational talent, your once in a lifetime collective, your never-say-die-attitude. We love it all. 

The fact that these words are uttered by the God Adam Driver should not be ignored, either. Driver was an up-and-comer for a millisecond, and then, deservedly, he was an A-grade actor. There was no in between. No stint in Hollywood purgatory. He’s just great, in everything does. 

A lot like Ajax.

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