By: Rusty Gorelick
Arsenal’s unbeaten streak has extended to 20 matches after a 4-2 win over London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, a draw against Manchester United.
For the first time in a long time, a draw against Man U feels disappointing for Arsenal supporters and that indicates the club has entered a new era under Unai Emery. The Spanish manager led the Gunners to crush their rivals in his first North London Derby with the club during the comeback victory, and now the north London side sit in fifth place in the league, level on points with Chelsea who sit just ahead in fourth place on goal difference.
Before the season, I thought Arsenal would go through a rebuilding year and miss out on making the Champions League yet again given the quality of the signings the club made and the lack of depth in the squad. Emery has changed the entire culture around the club, instilling a philosophy of hard work and diligent preparation as opposed to former manager Arsene Wenger’s more relaxed approach to matches.
Lucas Torreira has played an instrumental role in Arsenal’s success, and he scored important goals in the Spurs and Huddersfield matches. He won the club’s player of the month award, and for good reason: along with two goals and two assists on the season, he averages an impressive 1.9 tackles and 1.4 interceptions per game while only fouling opponents 1.1 times per match.
The Tottenham match should spark the Gunners on to continue their unbeaten streak which extends back to August. A 4-2 win at home against the club’s biggest rival is huge for any team, and it got even better after Arsenal came back from a 2-1 deficit after 34 minutes. Eric Dier silenced the crowd with his celebration, but goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, and Torreira iced the game and reminded Tottenham, who still do not have a stadium, that they will forever reside in the shadow of Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal dominated that game with 22 shots to Spurs’ 11 and held the ball for 60 percent of the match, which has become typical during Emery’s rule. The club struggled to find a way through the Manchester United defense in their next match, mostly as a result of playing five defenders against an extremely defensive team.
Jose Mourinho, lauded by many as one of the best managers of his generation, sent his team out to kick and foul Arsenal all game, and it worked because his team lacks talent and chemistry. Each team ended the match with three yellow cards in Arsenal’s second physical match in a row after the Spurs game.
Arsenal did not do much to fix the issues they saw against Manchester United ahead of the match against 18th-placed Huddersfield, and as a result, they had to wait until Torreira’s 83rd-minute goal saved the three points for Emery’s team.
Emery has used a five-defender formation in the past few matches, but Sokratis Papastathopolous and Shkodran Mustafi have suspensions from yellow card accumulation for the next Premier League match and Rob Holding tore his ACL and will not play until next season. Club captain and 32-year-old Frenchman Laurent Koscielny is Arsenal’s only true center back available for Sunday’s match against Southampton, and he has not played in the Premier League since he ruptured his Achilles tendon last May.
Look for outside backs like Stephan Lichtsteiner and Nacho Monreal to move into the center while most of Arsenal’s defense sits with suspensions and injuries. Unai Emery could employ youngsters like Zech Medley and Julio Pleguezuelo to do the job if he deems them ready for Premier League action. Given the circumstances, look for a tactical reshuffle for Arsenal this Sunday as they look to build onto this unbeaten run.