Is Unai Emery responsible for Arsenal's midfield imbalance?
Unai Emery in deep thought  - Image Source: Getty images - Clive Mason

Is Unai Emery responsible for Arsenal's midfield imbalance?

Unai Emery's honeymoon period is over.

Harry Symeou

Unai Emery’s Arsenal fought back from two goals down to salvage a draw versus their North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend.

The Gunners certainly showed fight, determination and mental strength but wherever you turn the post-mortem is dominated by questions regarding Emery’s midfield selection.  

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Questions to ponder of Emery's midfield selection

Granit Xhaka made yet another high profile error as his rash challenge gifted Spurs with a spot kick from which Harry Kane doubled their lead. 

Xhaka is a player who divides opinion amongst the fanbase, with many calling for him to be dropped or even sold at the first opportunity. 

So what is it that Unai Emery see’s in the Swiss midfielder that makes him one of the first names on the Gunners team sheet?

An ability to spread the ball left and right from deep with brilliant accuracy is what sets Granit apart from the rest of Unai Emery’s midfield options.

The Swiss improved dramatically in the second period when he was able to get on the ball and start dictating the play.  Whilst Xhaka will be criticised for his reckless challenge, and rightly so, the problems in Arsenal’s midfield run a lot deeper. 

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Midfield balance is key

It was clear that Emery failed in selecting a midfield with the right balance from the start but you could understand why the Spaniard came to the conclusions he did. 

With a front three of Pepe, Aubameyang and Lacazette the Head Coach would have felt additional protection for his leaky defence and industry in the middle of the park was a must. 

However, the lack of width in the Arsenal midfield and, at times, inability to hold and use the ball effectively caused Spurs to overrun the trio of Xhaka, Guendouzi and Torreira

Add to that, the absence of a link between the midfield and the Gunners’ explosive forward line, it was clear something needed to change if the the home side were to wrestle back the impetus.

The role of a midfielder has evolved and the days a central midfield player was just that are long gone.  As tactics and players  themselves have developed we now find ourselves labelling these players far more specifically as specialists in a particular aspect of what the midfield role can entail. For example, there are defensive midfielders, attacking midfielders, playmakers, deep lying playmakers - the list goes on.

The ‘complete midfielder’ is a thing of the past and whilst having specialists in their areas should in theory enhance the quality of your football, it makes the job of a manager or head coach far more difficult.  

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Unai’s greatest challenge?

Finding the recipe for success or the perfect blend in arguably the most crucial area of the pitch isn't always as straight forward a task as some would have you believe.

It can be dependent on your opponents, on the way you wish to set out your stall and at times, selection can be driven by form and fitness.

When it comes to the midfield area, the Arsenal squad is full of quality but there is clearly an imbalance despite the club having signed no fewer than 11 players since Emery’s arrival. 

The improvement must be made sooner rather than later; perhaps it's about maximising the outputs of those already at the club as opposed to turning to the transfer market.

Arsenal must return to the Champions League and after a largely positive summer transfer window the talent is certainly available to Emery and his team. 

Perhaps it's time to stop bemoaning over the players who aren't at the club and turn focus to a manager whose honeymoon period is over. Let's watch on as he searches for the right balance in that ever so crucial area of the pitch - his greatest challenge yet...