Intensity – The Hallmark of the Gameplan

It’s difficult to assess exactly what Unai Emery and his coaching staff have judged is achievable by the current crop of players at Arsenal over the first 11 games of the season. In the tough start with defeats against Manchester City and Chelsea, there was an obvious intention to play from the back with Petr Cech working with the defence to find ways out of the press to varying degrees of success. Then came a run of 9 wins culminating with the rout of Fulham at Craven Cottage, with the team line-up changing game-by-game through injury, rotation, adaption and what seems to be Emery tinkering to find the right balance of attack and protection for the defence. There have been an unusual amount of half-time substitutions often seeing changes in midfield to correct the balance and change the type of build-up approach the team uses, along with finding the right partnerships and complementary selections to get the most out of the squad available.

Most encouraging has been the tactical flexibility shown in the opening games. Having stuck predominately with a clear 4 at the back, there was a brief cameo of a defensive 3 in Europe and after long spells with 1 obvious centre-forward, there were also been occasions where Emery has seen fit to start a front 2. What we are seeing here isn’t a manager struggling to find his strongest team, and unsure of who to start, but a manager adapting to the makeup of his squad and to the specific opposition. Rather than always looking to impose his style, there is an acceptance that the opposition strengths pose various threats as well as having weaknesses in other areas. The team selected has been picked on the ability to carry out specific functions in and out of possession rather than on stature. In the last few years we’ve seen players out of form be undroppable, and combinations of players whose styles were incompatible, occasioning performing in spite of the clashes in playing style, but often only doing more damage to each other’s games than good. In the attack, the intense pressing, defensive tracking of runners and recovery work into position in front of the ball suits the natural games of Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck, who were far to often left isolated and unchecked in wide attacking roles previously. Both Alex Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have intelligently adapted their games to fit into this structure fighting back to recover possession those in the final third or form a denser block for the opposition to work through.

With all these changes in personnel, in style and in the formation, among the variables, it’s difficult to find the constants. The playing out from the back is certainly one, as is the change to the way the team presses and the narrow structure out of possession, but the real change in style is the intensity that these things are being done at. The work rate, determination and aggression are at a level above what we’ve been used to. It’s easy to point to the fact the team has covered more ground and looks sharper and fitter than before, and credit must go to the conditioning and high-performance team for this, but the coaching team have instilled a different desire in this squad. Mentality and lack of aggression was a massive flaw in previous seasons as the team were all too often bullied and outworked by inferior teams, but from the training to the matches the intensity the team has played with been improved drastically. By all accounts, the player instructions and level of detail in the analysis has made the team more focused and the coaching team is more demanding of all players to perform roles for the team. There have been sacrifices made by some players to play different roles or performing less glamorous tasks within the system for the benefit of the team, with no impact on togetherness and chemistry.

As the systems applied have adapted and the players have come in and out of the side, the intensity of the play has kept high. The run of wins is a clear showing for a mental strength often talked about under the previous manager but not shown on a consistent basis for many years. The planning, preparation, training and analysis all add to the level of detail and purpose that the squad has and we are seeing a group of players in a physical and mental zone that they weren’t at last year. Still developing players like Hector Bellerin and Alex Iwobi whose progress had stalled have regained confidence and look set to move forward and the more experienced Aubameyang and Sokratis look highly motivated and energetic.

Going forward, whatever selections Emery cares to go with, whatever adaption to an opponent he puts in places or signing the recruitment team make, we will continue to see this demanding and intense style reap rewards.

CJ Idun

Leave a Reply Text

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.