We may have been beaten by Manchester City on Sunday, but what caught our eye from the match?
Here are four key learnings from the first game of the Unai Emery era:
When you dominate possession - as we did in our pre-season games - it’s not so easy to see evidence of Unai Emery’s pressing tactics. Not here. Manchester City’s command of the ball was the perfect opportunity to put that strategy into action, and it paid dividends. With Aaron Ramsey leading the hunt, we put City under pressure at the back and generated chances off the back of quick turnovers. Granit Xhaka’s intervention set up an opening for Ramsey, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan won the ball back to create a chance for himself.
PASSING RISK V REWARD
Unai wants us to keep the ball and play our way out from the back. At times on Sunday this got us into sticky situations - and the home fans reacted with alarm. But while City hurried us, we also saw the benefits of this policy. A brave, measured build-up from back to front allowed Hector Bellerin to work the ball to Mkhitaryan and he in turn found Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for a shot that whistled just wide. That chance came about because we beat the City press and created space further upfield.
Unai is a ball of energy on the touchline. Our new head coach prowled the full extent of his technical area throughout the match, cajoling and encouraging his players and barking out instructions. Unai’s passion and desire was clear to see - he’ll be good to watch this season.
It’s an obvious one but this City side is a class above. They sauntered to the title last season and it will take a very strong team to deny them back-to-back championships. Riyad Mahrez has settled in quickly and gives City yet another attacking option - and scarily enough they could afford to leave Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus on the bench on Sunday. The good news? It won’t get tougher than this for us - except perhaps the return game at the Etihad. That contest - in February - will show us how far we’ve come under Unai.
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