Ahead of Arsenal’s crucial Premier League game away to Bournemouth on Sunday, head coach Unai Emery delivered a huge selection surprise, changing up formations and personnel as the Gunners won 1-2.
Emery is renowned for his preference of the 4-2-3-1 formation, Arsenal’s default shape under the Spaniard this season. However, the Gunners’ boss went into Sunday’s match on the South Coast with a new plan which involved significant changes.
The north London side took to the field at the Vitality Stadium in a 3-4-2-1 setup, one which had become familiar under Arsene Wenger towards the end of the Frenchman’s time, but had been rarely tested under Emery to date.
Arsenal had often been criticised during the second half of Wenger’s reign for failing to pay the opposition due diligence. The Frenchman focused largely on his team’s offensive approach and often neglected to a set up adequately at the back.
On Sunday, Emery proved that the days of underestimating the opponent are well and truly gone. That is not to say that Arsenal’s attacking prowess was compromised, but in switching to three at the back, Emery displayed a clear understanding of what the fixture demanded.
The Gunners have endured a tough recent record at the Vitality Stadium, previously losing 2-1 away to Eddie Howe’s side last season, and a dramatic 3-3 draw on the South Coast which will live long in the memory.
This time out, Emery set up his Gunners side to ensure that they would not be caught susceptible to the same defensive deficiencies which saw them picked apart by the Cherries in recent years.
Though Sokratis, Rob Holding and Shkodran Mustafi formed a back line which stopped short of being an exemplary back three, the extra bodies in defence certainly did the trick.
With the added cover in Arsenal’s rear-guard, the Gunners were not left vulnerable as has often been the case in such testing away games. Emery’s side were much better equipped to cope with Bournemouth’s highly energised attacking threat.
Arsenal’s revised shape also gave increased attention to Bournemouth’s renowned threat down the flanks, with Ryan Fraser in particular a key threat in the wide areas for the Cherries.
The Gunners’ deployment of wing backs in Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac meant that there was always added cover out wide, with the wider centre backs also able to cover across.
Though Arsenal’s opener came in fortuitous fashion, they managed to weather the Bournemouth storm for large parts of the game, albeit with some luck along the way.
In previous years, Joshua Kings' equaliser may have turned the tide.
However, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s poached winner was an appropriate reflection of what was an opportunistic, matured and efficient Arsenal performance in a tough away game, masterminded by the tactical pragmatism of Unai Emery.