Arsenal fans were happy to give boss Unai Emery last season to bed in given that he took over from Arsene Wenger in what could only be described as rushed circumstances. As it goes, he did alright — to degree. The Gunners finished fifth, just missing out on Champions League football (annoyingly by a single point to north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur) and reached the Europa League final but, again rather annoyingly, lost out to Chelsea. So, this is there season which Gunners supporters are considering as the “acid test” of Emery’s abilities.
And judging by the Premier League opening day win at Newcastle United, things are on the up. Emery’s charges won 1-0 and although the display wasn’t one that was as polished as it might be, it was competent and his side left the north east with the valuable three points. Their argument is that last season Arsenal would have capitulated and either got a solitary point from a draw or indeed, thrown away hard work and lost the game. More evidence of how well Emery and his new players — Nic Pepe, Dani Ceballos (both of whom came off the bench in the second half) — are doing will no doubt come next time of asking when the Gunners host Burnley this Saturday.
At Newcastle Emery chose to give Joe Willcok, Reiss Nelson and Calum Chambers starts and overall, they did well. The feeling is, though, that this was done to allow the superior players on the books to attain full fitness. The gamble, it has to be said, paid off.
One established star who did start was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and, of course, it was the striker who nabbed the only goal of the game. At the other end of the pitch, Chambers, as mentioned, did well enough and Emery chose to praise the central defender on his performance after he returned to the club following a season on loan at Fulham (where he played mainly in midfield). Chambers came in to the backline to partner Papa Sokratis with the Gunners unable to select still-injured Rob Holding and no longer able to call on the recently departed Laurent Koscielny. David Luiz, who joined for £8million from Chelsea on deadline day, was deemed fit enough only to sit on the bench.
Speaking to the official club website, the Spanish coach said:
“Last year for Chambers was a very good year because he played all the matches with Fulham. They played him as centre-back in a three, in a two and they played him as a midfielder. From pre-season, he deserved to play in this game in the first eleven and he was very focused and with Sokratis was also very serious.
“I want to have very competitive players in each position. With Luiz, with Holding when he is coming back to help us, with training regularly and playing with the under-23s. And with Hector Bellerin, one month more. And we also had Sead Kolasinac out and the injury to Kieran Tierney. I think we can and will want to become stronger defensively, but above all being one offensive team.”