Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has been accused by Martin Keown of trying too hard to emulate Barcelona, with Unai Emery now charged with the task of restoring a blend of creativity and physicality.
Towards the end of the French coach’s iconic reign in north London, the Gunners are considered to have placed too much emphasis on technical ability.
The club was once famed for its defensive resilience, with great pride taken in shutting opponents out as “1-0 to the Arsenal” became a common occurrence.
Wenger sought to move things in a different direction, and enjoyed considerable success along the way.
He did, however, lose control of deficiencies at the back before walking away after 22 years, with Emery now looking to redress the balance after inheriting the reins at Emirates Stadium.
Former Gunners centre-half Keown told Sky Sports: “The balance between physicality against technical players went too far one way.
“I think it was done in pursuit of trying to match the excellence of Barcelona, which is the team Wenger wanted to copy most of all. The balance at Arsenal was lost.
“Unai Emery is trying to get that back but he needs to get a better balance to the group because they forgot how to defend and for fifty per cent of every game, you are going to be without the ball. It is still their Achilles heel, particularly away from home.
“I am encouraged by the signing of Nicolas Pepe. He is exceptionally quick with very quick feet. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette need service and I’m sure Pepe will provide that as well as weigh in with goals himself. But the squad will need balance.”
Keown believes Emery is the right man to take Arsenal forward.
The Spaniard offered cause for optimism in his debut campaign, despite missing out on Champions League qualification, and has opened the 2019-20 season with back-to-back Premier League wins.
“I have watched Emery with great interest,” added Keown.
“He has been working, urging, cajoling these players to be at the Arsenal level that you would expect. He wants them at boiling point and they lost that in the latter years under Wenger. There is a lot of pressure on him but I think the manager was inheriting a fairly difficult situation.
“It looked for a while like he had solved those defensive problems away from home but then they fell away at the end of the season and the problem returned. It probably cost them fourth place and the Champions League. That pops them into the Europa League and makes life much more difficult with the calendar and the regular Thursday night football.
“If I was still a competitor I would be thinking that fourth place is up for grabs. Frank Lampard is a talented manager but he’s a novice and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer isn’t much more experienced at this level. From that point of view, Emery looks a much better bet. But are the players good enough? Can he get them to be more defensively resolute?”