LONDON, United Kingdom, May 23 – Unai Emery was appointed as Arsenal’s first new manager in 22 years on Wednesday. Here are three things the Spaniard must deal with to ensure a smooth transition from the Arsene Wenger era:
Solve the Ozil conundrum
Mesut Ozil’s diffident personality and alarming habit of drifting to the periphery of matches proved a major problem for Wenger. Emery must decide whether he can drag more committed and consistent displays from the German playmaker. The 29-year-old signed a new £300,000 ($400,000) per-week three-year contract in January as Arsenal scrambled to hold on to one of their stars following Alexis Sanchez’s move to Manchester United. But the former Real Madrid midfielder continued to provide only occasional glimpses of the talent that persuaded Wenger to pay £42 million for him in 2013. Early reports suggest Emery, having reviewed video of Arsenal this season, may not have much faith in Ozil, preferring to build around the more robust Aaron Ramsey instead. With the gifted Henrikh Mkhitaryan already in place at the Emirates Stadium, Ozil should be on notice that his performances must improve if the World Cup winner is to avoid being swept away by Arsenal’s new broom.
Plug Arsenal’s leaky defence
Wenger neglected Arsenal’s defence in his final years at the Emirates and Emery inherits a ramshackle unit that crumbles at the first sign of pressure. They conceded 51 league goals this season — more than any other side in the top seven and only five fewer than bottom of the table West Bromwich Albion. Although Arsenal’s back four were let down by Wenger’s failure to drill his midfielders to properly protect them, they still made enough mistakes of their own to leave the demanding Emery surely convinced that new recruits are the only solution. Renowned for providing players with video analysis of their own performances, Emery will have enough material to fill an entire hard drive as he surveys footage of the leaky Arsenal defence over the past 10 months. With Laurent Koscielny set to miss the start of the season after ankle surgery, Emery will not want to be left with error-prone pair Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding as his first-choice centre-backs. The Gunners have already been linked with Borussia Dortmund centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos, while inconsistent Arsenal full-backs Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac could also do with a few of Emery’s rigorous defensive tutorials.
Unite Aubameyang and Lacazette
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made a blistering start to life with Arsenal following his club record £56 million move from Dortmund in January as the Gabon forward netted 10 times in 13 league games. Aubameyang’s impact was all the more striking given the travails of the man he usurped in the starting line-up. Although he scored 17 times in 39 appearances in all competitions, Alexandre Lacazette endured an underwhelming first season after his £46 million switch from Lyon. Where Aubameyang’s pace, movement and predatory instincts made an instant impact on a moribund Arsenal team, France international Lacazette allowed himself to be bullied out of games far too often. Now Emery will have to chose whether he wants to start with both in his attack. If not, it seems certain Aubameyang would lead the line, consigning Lacazette to the bench. Lacazette can point to a slightly more potent finish to the season as a sign he is beginning to adapt to the physical nature of English football. But, significantly, Aubameyang already has a strong connection with former Dortmund team-mate Mkhitaryan, who is likely to be tasked with supplying the chances for Arsenal’s strikers.