Arsenal started the season with successive Premier League defeats to Man City and Chelsea, but those have long since been forgotten after the four successive wins that have followed. What have you made of what you’ve seen in the first month?
It’s been hit-and-miss and it’s very much a work in progress. The start was very tough playing the runaway champions and the FA Cup winners in the first two games, which is not easy, especially when you’ve got a new coach who is trying to embed new ideas. They were well beaten by Man City and unlucky at Chelsea, though they could have got something from that game if they’d taken some of their chances in the first half.
But now they’ve won three in a row and built up some momentum, though the performances haven’t been great and you can tell when you watch games that it is a team that is trying to implement ideas they are not used to. There are some players who are struggling, particularly at the back when it comes to playing out from the back; I’ve seen Cech struggle, the defenders struggle and I think they will for the rest of the season, to be honest.
On the whole I think it’s been fairly decent as they took nine points from the first five games and they’ve got a decent run to come. For Arsenal fans I think this season is about signs of progress. I think you’ve seen that in some of the first few games they’ve played and hopefully as the season goes on, with more games under their belts we’ll see even more. I think most are fairly satisfied with the progress that has been made.
Most fans will be aware the club went through a huge transition this summer with the departure of long-serving manager Arsene Wenger – how have both the squad and the fans coped with that?
The fans are excited because they’ve wanted change for an awful long time. It wasn’t always the majority of the fans, but by the time Wenger left, the majority of the fans wanted change and the whole club was crying out for it to be honest. I think everybody has come back this summer and they are generally excited to see what the future holds under Emery and the new direction so I think the fans are certainly buying into it.
I think they are going to be an awful lot more patient now – there would have been an absolute meltdown if Wenger was in charge now and they’d lost those first two games of the season. There would’ve been protests after the first fortnight and that’s certainly not the case now.
Because Emery is in charge everyone accepts that the club are having to start again after 22 years and show a bit of patience. They are doing that and when you go to away games the noise has increased, you hear Emery’s name all the time and I think there’s a general air of excitement in the fanbase.
The players are certainly buying into it too – I watched them train last Wednesday and I was in Singapore in the summer watching them train and everyone was really happy and enjoying the sessions. They are really tough, intense sessions but the players are enjoying it, getting on and there are lots of laughs out there. There’s a different feel at Colney at the moment having watched on the sidelines on the rare occasions we are allowed to and I think the players are certainly happy to be moving in a different direction.
With that in mind, how seriously are the Gunners taking the Carabao Cup this term?
It’s tough to say, but he is going to make changes, no doubt about it. But it’s similar to when Arsene Wenger was in charge, really. He’s not going to throw the competition away or anything like that and he said last week that he wants to win every competition. I think you are going to see a strong side, Brentford are still going to be up against players like Danny Welbeck and Henrikh Mkhitaryan I imagine, with a couple of youngsters such as Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe, but it will be seasoned senior professionals in that team.
He is a very demanding manager, an intense coach so they are not just going to go out there and lose a game. They’ll be very wary of the threat Brentford will bring and will be aware of the way they’ve started the season, as well as the type opf football they are playing. He is a really detailed coach so he will definitely know what is going to come from Brentford and he won’t want to lose.
The club invariably shake things up in terms of personnel in this competition, so who should Brentford fans keep a close eye on?
If you’re looking for a new, exciting face I think you look at Emile Smith Rowe. He’s a young English talent, an attacking midfielder who was absolutely brilliant in pre-season, which was the first time he linked up with the senior squad. He scored a brilliant goal against Atletico Madrid in Singapore and was part of the England U18 World Cup winning squad - he is just a top, top talent. He loves to get on the ball and drive forward and has been spoken about as a De Bruyne-type player. He’s really someone to watch out for next week and certainly over the next couple of years.
What are you expecting from Dean Smith’s men on Wednesday evening?
A very tough game against a team brimming with confidence being willed on by nearly 9,000 supporters. I’m very aware of the threat Brentford are going to bring to Arsenal; though Arsenal don’t tend to lose to lower league opponents, they are going to be facing a very confident side with a vibrant attacking threat who I very much enjoy watching in the Championship and have done for the past couple of years, really. I’m expecting a tough game and whatever team he puts out is going to have to be at the very top of its game to match what I imagine is going to be a Brentford side that are really going to go for it.
How does Unai Emery like to set up his team?
It’s very much a style that is based on building from the back when in possession, drawing teams on, splitting lines and then attacking quickly, having drawn a few players out of position. When they have the ball in defence, Cech or Leno will pass the ball out to the full-back position, but it won’t tend to be a full-back there, it’ll be a centre-back as they spilt and go either side of the 18-yard box to receive the ball. The ball then comes back to the goalkeeper and they’ll try and drag Brentford up the pitch; suddenly the ball might come back to Xhaka and he’ll try to split the lines and turn Brentford round.
It’s a slow, patient build-up when the have the ball at the back and then they try to spring forward quickly once they’ve drawn players out of position. When they don’t have the ball, it’s all about pressing as high up the pitch as they possibly can and trying to win it back quickly.
The only issue is that I don’t think Arsenal have the players to do it perfectly yet. When you look at Liverpool and what Klopp has managed to do over three years, in terms of Arsenal, you have to look at that longer-term view. It wasn’t easy for Klopp at first, nor Guardiola at Man City but I think there is a clear sign of what Emery wants to do and the football he wants to play but I think you are going to have to wait a few transfer windows until he brings in the players who are really suited to that style.
At the moment, it’s hit-and-miss, especially at the back and that’s where teams are trying to punish Arsenal when they are passing out from the back because they know they struggle with it and it’s an area where they can exploit any errors.
What’s your score prediction for the game?
I’ll tell you what, I’m going to go for a 2-2 draw in 90 minutes and a penalty shootout Arsenal win.