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Hoping For A Tactical Revolution By Emery

2 games, 2 wins, for the first time in 10 years. Burnley were tough, physical opposition, and Mike Dean was Mike Dean. But two great goals from our dynamic duo up front were enough to give us the win.

There were some encouraging signs in how we played out from the back. Of course Dani Ceballos had a lot to do with it, even though he nominally started in the No 10 position, he often dropped deep to help us against the Burnley press. But the biggest contributor to it in my opinion was David Luiz. He brought not just his passing ability and forward movement, but also some sense of calmness to the defense. Never would I have thought I’d welcome David Luiz to Arsenal, but I was happy with his signing, and the Burnley game showed why he was brought in.

Many of our fans seem convinced this is the blueprint for how Emery wants to play. Maybe it is. Maybe he just needed Luiz and Ceballos to play the way he wanted to all along. Or maybe it was just a home game against Burnley where it was possible to play around them. Liverpool will be a sterner test and could provide some answers.

High Risk, High Reward?

I saw Ceballos and Guendouzi both play the ball across our box in what to me seemed a dangerous manner. Klopp’s legendary Gegenpress will seek to capitalise on any slip up in possession/passing within our half. But it appears to be the plan to invite the press high, so as to have space behind them. It’s a risky strategy.

I also have some doubts about how high the potential for reward is. Especially if we set up the same way as the Burnley game. The forwards still seemed isolated up front. The centre of the pitch wasn’t as vacant as at Newcastle, but there was still a lack of support for the forwards. Ceballos registered 2 assists, but neither of them were from what you would call creative play. Both goals came from individual brilliance rather than carving the opposition open.

Despite these worries, I think going all out is the only way to approach this game. If we try to sit back, we’ll be demolished. Liverpool are on a higher level right now, but we cannot surrender the initiative to them. Our best hope of scoring will still be on the counter, but our best hope for not conceding is in not sitting back. We need to be prepared for the intense pressure Liverpool will put on the ball, and have the awareness to hit it long sometimes even at the cost of losing possession. But maintaining possession would be the best bet for dealing with Liverpool. If Emery sticks to playing this way, it would also address one of the biggest criticisms aimed at him. Namely, of lacking an identity.

My playing XI

Inspired by the hope of a tactical revolution by Emery, I am doing what I normally wouldn’t, and that’s discussing at length which players I think should start. Not necessarily something everyone will completely agree with. I’d be surprised if anyone did. But I’ll try to put forward some reasons along with the picks.

First up, controversial as it may be, I’d play Ozil as part of the front 3, and keep Ceballos as an 8-10 hybrid that Emery loves. Ozil is an underrated threat on the counter. He’s faster than people realise, while his vision and touch are sublime. Playing him with Ceballos ought to help us maintain possession and an attacking threat. Either of them alone will be easier to mark out of the game. He’s reportedly back in full training. Now would be a good time to show the player and the fans that he belongs here.

Up front, Aubameyang has to start. After that it is again, a tough call, but I’m going to put Lacazette on the bench and go with Pepe. It’s a gamble, but his speed and dribbling ability will give Liverpool something to worry about. Lacazette can always come on later, and as he tends to do, make a difference.

I had to think long and hard about the midfield, and I was tempted to go for a Guendouzi and Willock partnership to keep the higher mobility and dribbling. But I think Guendouzi tends to put himself under pressure when he’s not with a deeper player, Willock is too attacking, while Xhaka isn’t mobile enough. So I’ll hedge my bets and go for Torreira as a sort of middle ground, with Guendouzi next to him.

In defense, I almost went with Kolasinac owing to his superior speed and that we’ll need to deal with Salah and Mane running at us. But Monreal is the better defender and the better technician. So he still starts. The rest stay the same.

XI: Leno, Monreal, Luiz, Sokratis, AMN, Torreira, Guendouzi, Ceballos, Ozil, Pepe, Auba

Subs: Martinez, Kolasinac, Chambers, Xhaka, Willock, Mkhitaryan, Lacazette

We’ve not really played well so far, but Liverpool haven’t exactly set the world alight either. The two remaining 100% winning records go head to head, in what should be an exciting, if nervous game of football for us. I’ll be looking for the players to step up to the challenge, and for the coach to stick to his guns and impose his philosophy on the game. Time to gauge ourselves against one of the best teams in the league. On their turf no less. We’ve done it before. It’s up for grabs. We have the talent. Let’s hope we make it count. COYG!

(Editor’s Note: This article was drafted prior to Emery’s pre-match press conference expressing doubts about the availability of Mesut Ozil due to lack of match fitness.)


  1. Can’t be having a team without Xhaka.

    • I love him too George, but he’s not the quickest. With both Ceballos and Ozil we should have enough creativity, especially with Luiz to hit the long balls.

      But of course, Ozil may not play. And you could say the same about him as about Xhaka about not having a team.

  2. Playing personnel aside, this match will show us if people are right that Emery is now going to establish a style of play. Not that I count playing out from the back an actual philosophy, especially when it gets stuck at midfield. But if he does stick with it this time, and can coach the players to get better and better at it, I will be more favourably inclined towards him. It’s a big if on all those counts though.

  3. Alas Shard I don’t see any evidence to support the hope that Emery had the capacity to use Ozil in a front three.

    This is in spite of that spell in the 343 where he famously combined with Alexis behind Welbeck against the then champions in 2017, or winning the WC in a 433 in 2014.

    We can observe: Over the years various different coaches have shown more coaching skill with this player then our current coach. And this is not an opinion.

    What everyone saw was him asking Ozil to do something in May 2019, that he’d probably been better off asking Lacazette to do whilst freeing up Ozil. You know, a bit like how the two combined so effectively at times already in their games together specifically that amazing 3-3 draw with Liverpool where an understrength Arsenal were unlucky to draw against this Liverpool team, the best quality PL game of recent times IMO.

    Ah well.

    Last week we saw more of an orthodox 433 no need for any protagonisation talk about Willock and Dani swapping FFS. we all saw the video of Pellegrini describing the flexibility of most 433’s.

    But Emery won’t play Ozil up top or anywhere else TBH which tells us more about his limitations then Ozil’s.

    • Why rain on my fledgling parade my man? Why? I mean, you know if I had my way Emery would be out on his ear, and never allowed to come back. But there’s only so many times you can say he’s not good enough.

      I chose to take the route where I’m wrong, and people who say Emery has a plan, and just hasn’t had the right players to execute it for a whole season and more are correct. We did start off ‘playing from the back’ (a pretty meaningless term on its own) and then Emery went Chameleon. Oddly enough, he dropped the players he’d started with for not fitting the system? But then didn’t play the system anyway, and didn’t play the best players either. The normal takeaway would be chants of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’, but this is a Brave New World where cowardice and cheap shots are praised. So, here we are. I’m just trying to make the most of it. At least in the preview.

      Btw, I’m not a huge fan of Liverpool or Klopp either. I think they are overrated, and were massively helped by referees in the league last season. I rate our players as good enough to take them down. But they play to a plan. We play to the coach’s whims. Maybe he’ll have a whim about Ozil. You never know.

      • Sorry!

        It’s just that the natural born goalscorer Nketiah scoring freely at Leeds makes me think that a coach who was chasing a goal to save his season and subbed on three midfielders who hadn’t a goal between them (more or less) in their careers whilst leaving Eddie on the bench has already hit the peak amplitude of their trough.

        Everything’s in Emery’s favour to get a top four. I hope he can but I’ll probably have one eye on the dishes whilst the footy is on and I’ll be going to less games this season as I don’t like to pay to watch coaches mismanaging the resources that they have available.

        • Haha. I was kidding fins. I thought that was clear. In any case, you don’t need to apologise. I totally get it. I don’t disagree. But I’m here presenting a hope that people are right about Emery and I am wrong.

          As for Mustafi, El Maestro has made it clear he should go. No way he plays now. Sad about our values. In effect it amounts to hounding the players out, or demeaning them in front of the fans. Things tend to come full circle though. We’ll see.

      • I guess we won’t see Ozil in the front three at Anfield though that is probably the perfect contest to try it out in as both Torreira and Ozil are behind in their fitness.

        Fingers crossed we see it sometime soon! You never know Emery did give Mustafi a chance at RB – I’d like to see start Mustafi there at Anfield but it looks like he might not play again.

  4. I want to commend Shard for freely expressing his point of view on one of the most divisive topics that face the Arsenal fanbase week-in, week-out, the matter of team selection. He went even further and explore the underlying philosophy of the coach and his hope for a “tactical revolution.”

    Having said all of that, let us all remember this is a blog not a corporate social media site where employees dissent at their own peril. Even friends have strong disagreements.

  5. PS: Shard asked that I correct the graphic. He sees Ozil playing on the left rather than Ceballos. Unfortunately I can’t replace the graphic without trashing the blog. Cheers.

  6. So it appears no one agrees with me. Not about the team, and not about Emery. This was a success.

  7. This is very strange, as an Arsenal fan, and especially in the era of Emery. Even more especially, playing against this Liverpool team. But I woke up today convinced that we are going to win. 2-1 to Arsenal.

    • Shard

      Just checked the line up from the 3-3 at Anfield where Liverpool salvaged a late draw.

      Similar tactical line up to yours above.
      Inferior squad to the current one especially on the day as Alexis was out and Walcott & Cambpell were the wide players!

      I think it’s a good line up.
      But I don’t think Ozil is fit enough to start, and I’d go for Xhaka’s experience over the kid that “runs around a lot”. Maybe Torreira won’t even start as he too isn’t fully fit.

      Ignoring the fitness issues if the coach is more of a lion today and less of a chameleon then he won’t start 532.

      I’m off to the bookies to go for a 532 punt.

      Arsenal’s best performance away to a rival last year was when Ramsey took out the freehold on Wembley stadium, and they had four at the back that day. Hopefully my punt above is wrong.

      • I will be fuming if we went with 532.

        It’s true about experience. I admit I hadn’t thought in those terms. I think I worry about speed because Emery is incapable of coaching a defense and it is up to the players to recover.

        Xhaka and Torreira even showed some promise last season before Emery abandoned that too. If I had the stomach, I would re-watch last season’s matches to see just how many times this chameleon cost us points. But I don’t and I won’t.

        I just saw Emery’s comments on Nelson needing to learn tactics. Sigh. He’s going to ruin our youth too. Can’t get rid of him soon enough.

        But we’ll still beat Liverpool. Although I fully expect Adrian to play like he’s got 8 limbs with suction cups and the speed, balance and agility of a ballet dancing cheetah.

  8. < 3-3 at Anfield in 15/16

  9. To answer Shard’s question I went and re-watched last year’s game at Liverpool, the 5-1 debacle by which time our 22 game unbeaten run had come to a grinding halt and the flaws of the team was fully exposed. Quick points:
    • Was a 4-2-3-1 set up comprising from left to right: Leno, Kolasinac, Sokratis, Mustafi, Lichsteiner, Xhaka, Torreira, Iwobi Ramsey, Maitland Niles and Aubameyang.
    • The back four was poor and disorganized allowing Firmino to slash through the middle to score 2 goals to put them up 2-1 and give them the momentum.
    • Arsenal was able to trouble Liverpool with attacking play down the left flank in particular via Iwobi who was great at linking up with Ramsey and Xhaka; his cross across the face of the goal set up AMN to score.
    • Ramsey was the primary attacking threat operating as a #10 hustling from box to box.
    • Long balls over the top to Aubameyang were not effective.
    • Bringing on the experienced Koscielny in the 2nd half to replace Mustafi improved the defending.
    • Xhaka was pivotal in CM in receiving and distributing the ball pre-empting Torreira, then flavor of the month.

    With younger, less experienced players but fabulous transfers can we build on the positives and overcome the negatives?

  10. 442 diamond?


    • Classic “chameleon” Arsenal under Emery: 1) brand new formation, 2) no offensive identity, 3) defensive sub when needing a goal, 4) change formation to 4-3-3 when the game is lost.
      Shard was hoping for a “tactical revolution” . All we got was “tactical confusion”.

      • You make it sound better then it was Shotts.

        He didn’t go for the back three but he went for a front two in front of ten defenders! The old 8-0-2 formation.

        Lump the ball into the channels at every available opportunity. Not once or twice a half or maybe more if they’re really trying to gegenpress but on every play.

        There’s better coaching available to watch in the local U-11’s leagues.

        • Perhaps Emery’s mistake was to play two forwards and not one!

          After all we all remember Eto at LM in the CL final.

          Why not play Auba and Pepe as his wide midfielders, They’d probably have a better ideo of where to stand then poor Guendouzi?

          That was where Emery went wrong!


  11. This is to announce that the experiment with positive faith based posts has failed and will be discontinued. We will return to our regular schedule of telling it like it is. No matter how boring it gets, I think it fares well against the entertainment value a certain chameleon puts out.

  12. Well Shard, you did get 80% of the line up right, ( are smiley emojis banned here? ). As for the tactical revolution, maybe in March like last year! I get trying to be tighter defensively, I still wonder why we didn’t get a real defensive midfielder this summer, Torreira may be the closest we have and sat….if we were going to rely on on getting the ball to our strikers you’d think we could use one of the best players in Europe to do so….didn’t even make the bench! Having said that, Auba and Pepe had chances, if we were going to get anything from the game we couldn’t waste them.

    Ceballos got a reality check, he’ll get a couple more, one next week against even faster pressure and later when he gets the shit kicked out of him on the road, I hope he adjusts….

    It will be interesting to see how we adjust and line up next week….

  13. I tried to post an image of the heatmap. It’s a thing of beauty. If you’re a fan of tragi-comedies at least. Which, let’s face it. All football fans, and especially Arsenal fans are to an extent. Totally worth taking a look.

    • Send me the heat map Shard. Am very busy on a family project but I will post it until Baba submits his match report.

  14. My conclusions after Anfield:

    It was not the outcome that surprised me; it was the shockingly negative tactics adopted by Emery. A 4-4-2 diamond is notionally a positive team formation but Emery contrived to make it a defensive approach with the 4 at the back narrow in width just within the penalty box, protected by 4 midfielders in a line 10 or so meters ahead and two forwards somewhere on the fringes living off scraps. We totally conceded the flanks to Liverpool’s fullbacks and they had the freedom of Anfield to lob in in both long and short crosses. We were under the cosh from the start with the occasional break by Auba and Pepe. Yet he never changed tactics until around the 80th minute.

    But there are gooners here and elsewhere who after 14 months want to give Emery more time. Nah. There is sufficient evidence at Arsenal and his spell at PSG to conclude is totally unsuited to coach a big club like ours. Unlike Pep, Klopp and Pochetinno, after 12 months we cannot identify his system his philosophy and evidence that we are going forward. Instead the football is abysmal; a chameleon coach who will play uninspiring football that may get us in top-4 but bore us to death. I am convinced; Emery-Out.

  15. Interesting data in the whoscored site, Ceballos was dispossessed of the ball 6 times, all 6 in our half of the field and 4 of them by the 18yrd box. Still wonder why he wasn’t pulled at half time. Liverpool lost the ball 5 times in their half of the field (26 total) while we lost possession 22 times in our half from 36 total….I think we got lucky to only concede 3.

    I don’t understand the logic in playing it from the back as we did when lpool are pretty much the press masters in Europe, at home and we’re fielding a team that has 3 new players and 1 academy rookie, it doesn’t strike me as a sound plan. Maybe after the players have gelled as a unit and used this against easier opponents but game 3 at Liverpool? I get the parked bus part but inviting deep pressure seems ridiculous, we’d have been better hoofing and hoping to keep them further out imo….

  16. Shard,
    Emery started a 4231/433 in the 5-1 last season.
    No way he was going to go with that this time, and he knows the good coaches and teams can work out his 3412, so, he split the two forwards and negated his own best strength and asked Cabellos to get lost alongside Matteo in midfield.

    Dani might one day be a world class midfielder but that won’t come at this young age in his first PL season.

    Same as in the Euro final his inability to use Laca in that role means that he just can’t get the best from this squad IMO. I mean Mourinho got Eto to play LM hahaha and I’m not even joking here.

    Chameleon? Charlatan?


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