Tiki-taka. Total Football. Route One. While some tactical blueprints are more successful or more pleasing on the eye than others, they are all, in essence, the semblance of a detailed plan.
To an extent, Arsenal lacked a visible style and identity last season, as the team took time to adapt to the regime brought unto them by Unai Emery, whose supposed playing styles were not as common a feature as expected following his Gunners arrival.
The team struggled to play out from the back in the new manager’s mould (who could ever forget Petr Cech’s near-miss 20 minutes into the Emery era) – and that’s despite becoming so proficient in passing during the years of Wengerball.
Attacks down the left-hand side became an all-too-familiar and predictable sight throughout the last campaign, and the lack of capable wingers to create chances from those areas on the pitch meant Arsenal’s go-to plan was something of a mismatch with their personnel.
It seems fashionable these days to attach the word ‘ball’ to the end of the manager’s to put a name to their distinctive styles, but while the intricacy of Wengerball, Sarriball, or Jurgen Klopp’s famed gegenpressing have their recognisable traits, it’s hard know you’re watching Emeryball when it’s right in front of you.
And if Arsenal are going to replicate the kind of success Klopp has enjoyed with his ‘heavy-metal’ style of play, they are going to have to discover what Emeryball is, practise it, nail it down to a T – and deploy it to win football games.
While we saw potentially brief glimpses of it in the big games last season, sustaining that style will be key to improving on last season – especially with the prospect of a distinct lack of game-changing personnel arriving in the near future at Arsenal.
With Arsenal performing decidedly worse against smaller teams (particularly at home) last season – going somewhat against the grain if Arsene Wenger’s record is anything to go by – outlaying a consistent plan on a regular basis would logically lead to consistent results regardless of opposition.
Replicating the plans that saw Arsenal overcome the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United in particular shows just what is possible for the club next season – with the 2-0 win against the latter a prime example of the gameplan perhaps overriding the quality of the team’s overall performance.
All successful teams have a philosophy or a standardised style with which they go about playing football. Whether that’s Pep Guardiola’s glorious Barcelona sides or Tony Pulis’ long-throwing, route-one Stoke City from the turn of the decade, football has shown that relative success is derived from a distinctive strategy that befits the qualities of the players at the manager’s disposal.
A year into the job, Emery must define what that is for his Arsenal team, with the squad in desperate need for a positive campaign after a number of near-misses in qualifying for the Champions League.
With only a top-four finish their primary target these days, there may be room for a little error and experimentation. But having got a feel for the strengths and weaknesses of his new side with the highs and lows of last season, Emery must both construct and instruct his team to deliver a plan that will bring the glory days to Arsenal once again – and soon.