Opinion: Arsenal's attacking philosophy has gone missing
Photo: Getty Images - Gareth Copley

Opinion: Arsenal's attacking philosophy has gone missing

Arsenal have struggled for creativity under Unai Emery. 

Matt Dawson

Let us cast our minds back to October. The weather was still slightly warm. The Premier League ball was not an unnecessary neon-yellow colour, and Arsenal were playing good football.

"We've got our Arsenal back" were the chants from the Gunners faithful as they witnessed their team smack five goals past a lacklustre Fulham side.

But flash forward to February and fans of the red and white of north London are realising they, in fact, do not have their Arsenal back.

This team Unai Emery has built since he took over is as far from your classic Arsenal DNA as you could wish for and there is only so much patience you can give the Spaniard.

This is not a relentless dig at the Arsenal manager, but it is alarming that the Gunners cannot stop conceding and at the other end, struggle to create scoring opportunities.

In Arsene Wenger's final years in Islington, Arsenal were woeful at the back but they still had that arrogance and joie de vivre going forward.

Yet under Emery, it looks as though that progressive fast attacking fluidity has disappeared.

There may have been signs earlier in the season that he was getting it right, but the Gunners are now staring at a stark lack of improvement from last season.

No creativity

Where is the creativity? A major part of Emery's issue this season has been his inability to find a balanced team. Arsenal always had superb creative players under Wenger; think Dennis Bergkamp, think Cesc Fabregas, think Santi Cazorla. Even now, there isn't a lack of them in the squad but there seems to be a real issue over who actually plays.

There is something seriously wrong with Mesut Ozil. Emery has repeatedly left the German out for tactical reasons whilst he's missed multiple games through a supposed illness. That included the recent win over Huddersfield where again Arsenal's creativity was lacking despite picking up three points. Even against a team who are destined for relegation and concede goals regularly, the side from N5 struggled.

There's also the Aaron Ramsey issue. The Welshman has had a solid campaign when he's actually been picked, but like Ozil, there is a problem. Ramsey is leaving at the end of the season and as a result hasn't been selected on a regular basis. It's a decision that continues to baffle supporters.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan is another player you'd look towards providing a spark. Yet his performances since signing for Arsenal in January 2018 have been hugely underwhelming.

A loan move for Denis Suarez last month may well help with proceedings but at the moment Emery is getting his team selection all wrong.

There have been games, particularly against Huddersfield at home, earlier in Emery's tenure where he's played three defensive-minded midfielders in Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi.

That simply isn't needed against a side who are willing to sit back away from home, and it's that sort of selection which has come back to bite Arsenal in some matches.

Against West Ham at the London Stadium last month there was an alarming lack of creativity and penetration coming from midfield and the same issues continue to arise when the likes of Ozil and Ramsey don't play. 

Arsenal boast two of the most lethal forwards in the Premier League; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette so it's even more bewildering that Emery can't find a side that accommodates the pair of them alongside some creativity.

At the beginning of the season, there was plenty of positivity surrounding the Emirates Stadium. There were signs of progression, but Arsenal's football and performances as a whole have taken a huge step back since. 

Defensive crisis

If the club's attacking philosophy has taken a hit, then the days of no-nonsense central defenders in Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Martin Keown are certainly gone too.

Arsenal's defensive situation has been well documented for what feels like an eternity and the fact there was no money to spend on new acquisitions in January didn't help matters either.

Emery was always going to have a job on his hands rebuilding the club and in particular the defence but there has been no improvement in that area of the pitch.

There are plenty of reasons for this, most out of Emery's control, but the defensive problem was the concern Arsenal fans would have been hoping would be resolved sooner rather than later.

To lose Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding long-term have been bitter blows whilst niggling injuries to Shkodran Mustafi who is better off leaving the club as soon as possible, and Sokratis haven't aided the cause either.

Laurent Koscielny has shown a few signs of getting back to his best but he's just come back from a horrible injury and isn't getting any younger.

The issues under Wenger were never going to be fixed overnight but the displays lately have almost shown that in some sense Arsenal have got worse since he left. 

So just how patient do Arsenal fans have to be?

Discovering a system

This season will likely go down as a  bit of a write off for the Gunners. The sole goal this campaign was to get into the Champions League ahead of next term. That may still happen, and given the teething problems this season that would now be a phenomenal achievement.

We're in February - a month synonymous with the club for failure, and once more they are in danger of having a season that wilts away during a similar point of the season. Simply, Emery has to find a way of injecting more creativity for his two strikers otherwise discontent will grow even larger.

There have been a few rumours over the size of Arsenal's transfer budget for the summer but before any new players come in, a tactical system on the pitch needs to be established. The Gunners new head coach still doesn't know his best side six months into the season. 

Supporters of the club in generations gone by may have grown up chanting "1-0 to the Arsenal" but that isn't the club's DNA anymore.

Newer generations have witnessed world-beating attacking football and it's a desperate shame that supporters of the club and neutrals are now not being treated to the same.

Just how much time Emery is given to sort things out will be fascinating to see.