Why Unai Emery Got His Tactics Wrong Against Liverpool

Unai Emery has had great success in European football. The coach has succeeded at various stops throughout his tenure at Valencia, Seville and Paris Saint-Germain. Known for his tactical abilities and strength in reading opponents, fans of Arsenal were excited about the club’s chances away at Anfield on Saturday.

If Arsenal FC fans had faith in Emery’s ability coming up with a sound plan against a top European foe before the match, they may be left scratching their heads afterwards. Liverpool defeated Arsenal 3-1 to go atop the English Premier League table after three weeks. What did the club get wrong versus Liverpool?

It starts with the diamond in the midfield that allowed Liverpool to consistently use the flanks to their advantage. Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are efficient providers with the football; give them enough space and they will surely capitalize. It was also curious for Emery to insist on a possession-based brand of football versus Liverpool without one of their best passers in the starting squad: Where was Lucas Torreira?

Liverpool is one of the top clubs in Europe for a reason. They are one of the best in the English Premier League at high-pressing their opponents. Despite all this, and struggling against the high-press of Burnley a week prior, Emery insisted with passing out from the back. Why they didn’t try more long balls over the top for the speedy duo of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe is anybody’s guess.

How is this season going to be marked as a success for Arsenal FC? Emery was able to lead Arsenal within two points of third place last season in his first in charge as the manager. Closing the 27 point gap that separated them and Liverpool seemed to be a clear objective for the club this year.

Saturday’s showing proves that they have a long way to go. There is still optimism for the club. They sit in third after three weeks and have given fans hope through their activity during the summer transfer window. The worrying thing after Saturday is how The Gunners are to cope with the top dogs in Europe.

Liverpool has returned to European glory after lifting the Champions League trophy last year, and will have a target directly on them in every match they play this season. That had been the case in the matches leading up to the victory on Saturday at Anfield. The second-year coach has to find a way for cohesion and balance if the club is to have success in the competitions they find themselves battling in this year.

One of the main priorities for Emery has to be sorting out the midfield. Dani Ceballos is a nice option on loan in the midfield, but the manager needs to figure out how to operate out of the center of the pitch with his remaining options.

Liverpool’s ultra-intense press caused problems for the club on Saturday. Emery has to get it right going forward for the gap on Liverpool and Manchester City to close.