Someone’s put Grandmaster Flash in charge of Arsenal’s PR; the message is most definitely out there. Ahead of the match against Atletico Madrid, everything football-related from Unai Emery is power:
“Each match, you are looking for every player to transmit intensity, aggression, to show that they want to win and are prepared to work hard to win.”
That was backed up by the photos circulating, from Rob Holding’s chin-ups to Sead Kolasinac jumping holding weights; Arsenal are not going to standby and cower this season.
These sessions may be nothing new to the players. Under Arsène, the same exercises and routines – or some similar – might have taken place. The difference is that this ‘regime’ wants photos circulated which show hard work. Whereas under Arsène, it was smiling faces and the ball at their feet, the Emery era is about working hard.
Not that he wants to forget the ball. “We want to do that with style,” he declared, “with a personality, with protagonists on the pitch.”
This is PR, a new era. While the coaches get down to the business of preparing the team, behind the scenes minds are ensuring everyone knows how hard the squad is working. No talk of slacking off, of gently breaking the players in. Work hard, rest, and then you will play, but lay off the Mars bars.
It’s Emery’s way. His view is that players should be “energetic, full of action — with or without the ball — and as protagonists on the pitch doing things.”
Which is where the brain comes into it. He needs to delve into the prized footballing intelligence – the attribute Arsène ranked above all else – for this to work properly. You can be the fittest team in the division but if your decision-making is poor, then everything goes to pot.
That is Emery’s biggest challenge. Everything is to be done at pace, including thinking. My concern is not in attack but defensively. That’s the biggest improvement we need this season, especially away from home. Last season’s form on the road was abysmal, with points lost due to muddled thinking under pressure.
For once, the old adage of ‘Arsenal don’t like it up ’em’ proved correct. It mrophed into ‘Give Arsenal the ball and they will shoot themselves in the foot’. That didn’t escape Emery’s attention:
“We want every player to create things and find things when they’re on the ball. When we are without the ball, we also want to show ambition to recover the ball quickly.
“We want to demonstrate that not only in every match, but also in every training session.”
Refocussing minds is a big task. It’s easy to do that in training or against a non-league side, but real tests are coming.
Emery knows this and how important the games against Atletico, PSG, Lazio, and Chelsea are in being ready for Manchester City. “With all the energy of the players and the supporters,” he said. “We know we can start the season with a big performance against a big team.”
And we have to. Chelsea follows that opening game of the season and four points or more, would be a pretty big statement for the team to make for the rest of the campaign.
Emery benefits as well. His arrival – or rather the change in manager after more than two decades – brings an enthusiasm with it but I wonder how deep-rooted that is? How much of a ‘bad run’ before criticism begins or is there a genuine understanding that change has happened but there is still some way to go yet?
Hitting a Hornet’s Nest With a Stick
Mesut Özil’s situation inevitably drew comment.
“All of us want to help Mesut feel like it is his home here with us, like a family and it is a family for every player. He feels here with us that he can work every day, and it is good for us that he decided to come here and work with us before our two matches.”
Distraction in shape of hard work is Unai’s answer to everything and he’s probably right in Özil’s case. Getting back to football is where he will answer his critics.
German politics – like that in the rest of the world – can eat itself. The vulgarity is left to the uncouth Hoeness and others whose own agendas suit blaming Özil for a squad failure. Hoeness would serve his club better if he asked whether the players who failed so dismally in Russia need moving on. Not one Bayern player enhanced their reputation at the World Cup. Maybe Tolisso, but that’s it.
That’s his problem. All we want to see is a focussed Özil with a focussed squad. The Premier League season begins in 18 days for Arsenal and that can’t come soon enough.