Momentum still lacking for stuttering Forest after another turbulent month.

Overview

October, to put it bluntly, has been more of the same for Forest. Without doubt, a clear improvement on last season- the 2-0 away win at Middlesbrough being one of the highlights. But underwhelming nevertheless. It has been painful to see us dominate 1 week, then choke the next. Forest were never promotion contestants this season, despite the contradicting opinions of some deluded fans, pundits and owners. Marinakis.pngYes, owners- Marinakis is said to have exhorted his ambitious goals for the season: “Promotion or nothing”. Quite what the “nothing” part means eludes me, but the “promotion” part is ridiculous considering Forest haven’t finished in the top 10 for 5 years. It is a long term project, and it is concerning to see that our owner is not on board with that. We can’t possibly spend £30m on players in the summer- 5 of which having never experienced English football- and expected to be a fully functioning, winning machine. The rare fabulous performances are carrots. Regardless of Forest’s current situation, there will always be peaks and troughs to a Championship season such is the competitive nature of the division.

Matches

The month began relatively positive with the Red’s picking up a hard-fought point at Ewood Park. A strange football match- or ping ping match shall i say. The two teams exchanged spells in domination throughout, but neither could hold onto their lead after a missed penalty for Grabban.

A struggling Millwall arrived at the City Ground in midweek, and not only was it a game where Forest chucked away their 2-0 lead but a game with a bizarre floodlight failure- postponing the match for 15 minutes. We could only manage a draw after a post light turn off bombardment from The Lions. Millwall’s physicality and directness was too much for Forest- they were second best throughout.

With a point to prove, Forest marched into The Riverside- who’s residents haven’t yet seen their team concede at home- with no fear. Grabban.jpgThere was a real spring in their step, a purpose to their play as they dispatched Middlesborough. The 2-0 victory was Forest’s best performance of the season, displaying all the qualities we know that they possess. In the first half and large parts of the second, our creativity in possession and speed on the counter attack mesmerised The Boro. Joe Lolley was in spectacular form as he fired home one of the goals of the season. When on the receiving end of a last gasp effort from Middlesborough, however, we defended stoutly and managed to subdue any danger. A 5 star performance that sat Forest in the play-offs and only 6 points off leaders Sheffield United.

Fresh, tactically prepared and yearning to go after the international break ? No. Forest were a mess as they fell prey to Farke’s fledglings. Sluggish, disjointed, erratic. 3 words that summed up our day. It seemed as though a few were still basking in the light from The Riverside, however Norwich fans would argue that Forest’s capitulation was solely down to their brilliance. And it would be difficult to disagree. Although suspect defensively, they were lightning on the counter-attack, incisive in their passing and exploited space with ease. In all honesty, they were a joy to watch*. Todd Cantwell is definitely a star in the making.

*Obviously not for Forest fans.

Forest, defiant as ever, responded emphatically with a 3-0 win at Bolton in the Championship. Admittedly, Bolton were poor and lacked any real idea or purpose. Nevertheless, any win away from home in the Championship is a valuable one, regardless of opposition. And an especially important victory as it would stand us in good stead for the trip to Ellen Road on Saturday. Rumour has it that Marinakis came to training and gave the players a dressing-down pre-Bolton. He certainly comes off as a firy individual.

Dirty, Dirty Leeds. A calamitous referee decision robbed Forest of a landmark victory against high-flying leeds. The ball clearly struck Kemar Roofe’s hand- but a near fossilised linesman somehow did not spot it. Although deep down, Forest fans know that they were extremely lucky to get a point out of this game, never mind three. Leeds dominated possession throughout, and played some eye-catching football. We rose to the challenge though, and our stout defending suppressed Leeds to very few clear-cut opportunities. But our possession play was another story… Yes, any team is going to have to live off scraps against Leeds’ high press but Forest were especially unrelaxed and jittery in possession. It all felt so forced.

Talking points

Faulty possession play

One thing you can’t fault Forest for this season is their aggression and superb work rate. But on the ball, we have let ourselves down. Karanka’s system is a reactive one with two defensive midfielders. It allows us to devastate teams on the counter-attack; we have shone when the tempo is fast paced and the play is instinctive.  But when teams sit back and afford us time on the ball, especially at home, we begin to procrastinate in possession. One thinks of Rotherham at home, of Birmingham at home, Norwich at home and even Bolton away. The build up play is slow, forced, predictable. At the moment, Karanka’s first 11 is based upon too many runners on and off the ball like Dias, Cash, Lolley and Osborn but not enough possession-based players. Not in any way, shape or form am I incenting a shift in system, but we just lack that extra dimension to our game.

Karanka can address this issue by making Guediora a staple in his team. When the Algerian Wizard is on fire, Forest look a different team.Gueddy.jpg He adds impetus and a superb range of passing -two defensive-minded midfielders ( Colback and Watson ) can be too negative at times. Perhaps Karanka should also give Gonçalves another chance. He looked impressive in pre-season, but hasn’t quite had the game time to make his mark. He seems more of a possession-based flair player, a Bernardo Silva rather than another Raheem Sterling.

Game management

Over the past couple of months, Forest have thrown leads away like Juventus have Champions League trophies. Norwich came from behind to beat us, Millwall nicked a draw, so did Leeds on Saturday, West Brom did earlier in the season and Stoke nearly fought back in the Carabao Cup. The problem at the beginning of the season was the way we started games, but it is now the way we end them. It’s a matter of ruthlessness  in front of goal and taking advantage of your spell in dominance. No team can rest on a 2-0 lead in the Championship.

Stopping the rout-one

Particularly against Millwall we saw an achilles heel that has plagued most Forest teams during their prolonged spell in the Championship.  Defending against direct, ‘get it in the mixer’ teams. When balls come into the box, Forest are very unorganised. Millwall abused this tactic, and caused havoc in the final 15 minutes at the City Ground. It may be a case of personnel: Dawson’s leadership helped settle the shaky defence in a long ball bombardment against Bolton, so maybe he is one piece of the answer in our quest to thwart the route-one beast which permeates through the streets of Nottingham. Or even search for a new goalkeeper as Pantilimon can’t command his area when crosses come in, despite his height.

Player ratings

Costell Pantilimon- 3/10 : The Romanian lampost has had an absolute shocker of a month.  Wayward distribution, reluctant to start counter attacks, and can’t manage his defence when crosses come into the box, as I have just mentioned. His monstrous height may even be hindering his goalkeeping capacities- he is so slow and stiff when diving. You know his time as Forest’s no.1 is coming to an end when pleas for Jordan Smith’s return can be heard. Yes, he has been that bad.

Jack Robinson-9/10: Robinson, who came on a free from QPR, is proving to be one of the bargains of the season. His spectacular month, which was capped off with a goal against Leeds, comes off the back of a solid start to the season. The broad-shouldered scouser does not only have the tenacity of a terrier, but has the defensive guile of an experienced left-back- unlike Osborn. Well, apart from his silly red card against Middlesborough.Robinson

Danny Fox- 6/10: A little shaky against Millwall and Norwich, but has otherwise had a decent month.

Michael Hefele- 5/10: Karanka is still yet to decide on a centre-back pairing, but The Rhino has not had the best month where he has featured multiple times in a leaky, unorganised defence.

Tobias Figuerido- 7/10: A really positive month for Figuerido who has formed a solid partnership with Dawson. His calmness on the ball and ability to play out from the back is Premier League standard. Yes, he can overplay at times but he is still only a 24 and, in my opinion, has the potential to grow into a top-class defender.

Michael Dawson- 8/10: If it weren’t for his age, he would start every match. His leadership and organisation skills are invaluable as we saw against Bolton. Two components sum him up: a heart and a head.

Saidy Janko- 6/10: Started the month like he finished the last one but eventually lost his place to Darikwa.

Tendayi Darikwa-5/10: Started against Middlesborough which meant it would be unfair to drop him for the next couple of games. I’m not a fan of his. He is too rash defensively and  gives possession away so cheaply. Dreadful against Leeds where he was completely unsettled by the high press. Karanka seems to have a soft spot for him though.

Jack Colback- 8/10: Colback has been superb once again. He breaks up play, keeps it simple and initiates attacks- a pivotal player for Forest. Good news for Forest is that Rafa Benitez is still showing no signs of interest in the 29 year old so we should soon be able to get him signed on to a permanent deal.

Adlène Guediora- 6/10: Hasn’t quite been firing on all cylinders like he was at the start of the season but as I mentioned before, is an extremely valuable player for Forest.

Ben Watson- 6/10: Those of you who follow this blog will know my feelings about Watson, but to be fair to him he hasn’t been too bad this month. He has only started 2 of the past five games and one of them was the magnificent victory against Middlesborough where he and Colback dispelled the myth that they can’t play together. But, unfortunately for the ginger duo, the subsequent Norwich debacle proved otherwise.

Joao Carvalho- 5/10: An enigma so far at the City Ground. One minute he looks to be settling in: deft touches splitting defences, 2 magnificent goals against Sheffield Wednesday and Millwall and is even getting in to some defensive work. Next minute he is over-elaborating on the ball, plodding round the pitch and doesn’t look half the player we know he is. But we must remember he is only 21 so has a lot to learn and is bound to have dips in form every now and again.

Matty Cash- 5/10: Cash has failed to maintain his blistering form from the start of the season. Hasn’t been as ruthless in front of goal.

Gil Dias- 5/10: Has had a slightly improved  month, with some lively displays- but largely ineffective. Always tries do go on a long dazzling runs, but often blunders straight into a wall of defenders.

Ben Osborn- 5/10: Difficult to criticise Ben as he always gives 110% for the shirt. He has been sloppy in recent matches, but is always a useful squad player due to his versatility.

Joe Lolley- 9/10: The shining light in a difficult month for Forest. An incredible dribbler, he just glides past opponents and has a superb defensive work rate.

Lewis Grabban- 8/10: We expected the goals to come pouring in for Grabban and he hasn’t let us down. Not only has he scored 8 goals in his past 7 league games, but has held the ball up extremely well.

Forget Hazard, Raheem Sterling is the man of the moment.

Casually reading The Guardian sports section on a bright Saturday morning, a certain column proved particularly evocative. Paul Wilson had written a piece titled “how many Premier League players are actually ‘world class’ “. Gardenof edenIt primarily consisted of rambling on about Hazard’s magic, Özil and Sánchez’s inconsistency, and lauding De Gea’s heroics, whilst constantly using the ‘world class’ definition as: a player who attracts interest from Real Madrid and Barcelona (and someone who has been consistent throughout 2/3 seasons). Wilson’s conclusion was that Hazard was trailblazing ahead with a definite yes, with Aguero, De Bruyne De Gea and Salah on his heels. For me 1 thing stood out as inaccurate. Hazard is in spectacular form without doubt, he mesmerises defenders, he links up play brilliantly and is clinical in front of goal. Unplayable at times. Yet, while I’m not disclaiming his “world class” label, I don’t believe that, for a man of his ability, he has been prolific enough. During his 6 year tenure at Chelsea, only once has he finished in the top 5 for goals or assists and only once has he won Player Of The Year. Yes, ‘just once’ appears harsh. But it isn’t for someone who all of a sudden is being likened to Messi and Ronaldo. One thinks of Sergio Aguero : averaging 21.6 goals each season in the past 5 years. Or Harry Kane : 27.5 season average at Spurs. These are truly remarkable personal records. However, in my opinion, one player has stood out over the past 4 seasons.

Raheem Sterling. The young boy who polarises fans, sparks debate, but always delivers. You simply can’t even begin to imagine what Sterling has been through. His father was shot dead in gang activity when Raheem was only 2. In search of a better, safer life, him and his family moved to London 3 years later. RoyHoning his skills on the streets of London, Sterling graduated through the QPR academy until the age of 17 where he was signed by Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool. His official senior debut for the Merseyside giants came against Wigan athletic- still only 17. However, he is remembered at Anfield for SSS: Sterling, Sturridge, Suarez. This was the nickname handed to the deadly trio of the 13/14 nearly Liverpool men. At 19, Sterling was still a precocious talent, with much to learn, but much promise. He went on to be shortlisted for PFA Young Player Of The Year award that season and also won Liverpool’s Young Player Of The Year award.

A dire World Cup where England were publicly shamed would shatter many 19 year old’s confidence, but he ploughed on, and earned himself a £44m move to Man City after ,once again, being shortlisted for the PFA award and winning Liverpool’s. Contract disputes at Anfield would derive criticism from Liverpool legends such as Gerrard, Carragher and Souness. Sterling,the youngster who lit up Anfield, would be booed on his returns. Sterling, the mature 21 year old, resilient as ever, was unfazed. He entered the new chapter of his career with an open, positive mindset. Little did he know he was only taking his first steps into an ever turbulent career.

Unfazed? Maybe not, in retrospect. His first season at City brought lucrative rewards off the pitch, but not so much on. His bright start was followed by a torrid 2016. A groin injury in February would sideline him for 8 weeks, but post-convalescence- was still wasting away on the bench. He had lost his place in the starting line up. And a result, was further ridiculed. Social media was on the rise, and he became the butt of jokes. Particularly his bizarre running style. Comedy gave way to inevitable criticism as he fell into the “youngster distracted by money” stereotype. The English 2016 Euro debacle didn’t do wonders for his supposed all-time low self esteem. Although Sterling was frustrated rather than upset. He believed in his ability. And a managerial altercation gave him the perfect opportunity to turn a corner, to release that frustration. To rebuild his career. Guardiola took to Sterling right from the off. The speedy, raw talent needed nurturing – and few can nurture like Pep. He put complete faith in Sterling, starting him in all 4 of their August matches. It paid off- Sterling picked up Player Of The Month in August. Over the next season with Pep, Sterling worked relentlessly hard to improve his finishing and decision making. His endeavour reaped not only personal rewards, but for the team as well. Sterling’s 18 goals, often at crucial moments, were a vital factor of Man City’s record breaking season- but there would be another twist in the Sterling tale in 2018 summer. The World Cup. A World Cup where in the lead up, Sterling was in the papers for all the wrong reasons. A gun tattoo was spotted on his leg in training- to the horror of anti-gun protestors. Fans were divided. Victims of gun assaults were rightly outraged- but they did not know the story behind it. RaheemIt was in memory of his father. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the tattoo was justified or not, but he was condemned once more. England, against the odds, powered through to the semi-finals for the first time since 1990. Sterling was national hero. No, he was far from that in fact. Despite playing a pivotal in the Three Lions’ success, he was criticised again. For the simple reason that he wasn’t scoring. Football parochialism at it’s finest. Sterling, though, was too strong for the haters. He brushes them away.

The new season dawns and City sit on top with 23 out of 27 possible points. Sterling, still only 23, has 4 goals and is becoming a staple in a team full of world stars. Real Madrid are interested. World Class yet Paul? A friend and I watched England’s defeat of Spain together. After Sterling had rifled in his first of the night, I turn to my friend, “cracking finish.” He gapes at the TV for a few moment and replies, “a lucky bobble.”

A 3 legged race, a United revolt and the Gunners reinvigorated.

It is an easy trap to read into performances too early in the season, however 1 thing has been crystal clear after the first 8 games of the 29th premier league season- it’s going to be a 3 legged race for the title. Due to their record breaking season last year City are still the team to beat. A truly ominous statement to the 19 inferiors, is that although they are not firing on all cylinders and are without Kevin De Bruyne, they are unbeaten with 21 out of a possible 24 points. Yet despite their ease and dominance so far they are not invincible. We saw how an inspired Lyon pounced on their mistakes, how they wasted golden opportunities against Wolves and nearly succumbed to an out of sorts Hoffenheim after an early lapse in concentration.Delphy It is becoming a widespread opinion that in those crunch matches, when the game is deadlocked, they have no Plan B; they have no Fellaini. Perfect Guardiola, the angel of the media, the godfather of Man City, is perhaps too regimented by his ethos. Disappointingly not only for die-hard city fans but also for the neutrals, is their half-hearted commitment to Europe. 40,000 fans turning up in a 55,000 seater stadium is hardly conducive to an electric atmosphere. Never mind the booing of the Champions League anthem before the game. Regardless, they are still firm favourites for any competition when Kompany, Mahrez, Jesus and Foden can only make the bench.

The Scousers aren’t doing too badly either. With their reinvigorated defence and nightmarish attacking trident (who admittedly are yet to find their form), Liverpool are back challenging for the Premier League and even Champions League. The cauldron, Anfield, is rapidly becoming the dreaded visit of the season. Momentum is a myth for the inferior away clubs. Teams no longer go there with the attitude “we can get a result out of these”, no , it is now “let’s not get humiliated”. This was never more evident than in the 0-0 damp squib 2 weekends ago with City. AngusfieldIt was as cautious and cagey as we have seen Pep’s men in the best part in 2/3 years. Speed demons, Mendy and Walker seldom crossed the halfway line. Liverpool are feared. James Milner, the linchpin of Liverpool’s success so far, has been arguably the best player in the league this season. But is he also the achilles heel in Liverpool’s squad? While City desire Liverpool’s support, Liverpool crave City’s midfield creativity. Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum have been fantastic , but they are not flair players by any stretch of the imagination. They are no Zidane, no David Silva, someone who can not only dictate the tempo of the game, but who has that caress and deftness in and around the penalty area. Adam Lallana arguably has that potential, but he is too injury prone. The failure to secure Nabil Fekir’s future at Anfield could prove costly.

Chelsea are without doubt a unique football club. The constant managerial rotation would appear to outsiders as draining and soulless- but fans and players have gradually  accustomed , and after all, it’s not like they can complain when they have been the dominant force of the past 15 years. 5 titles in 14 years- the most in this period of time- is no mean feat. So regardless of the nonsense those idiots spout on The Debate, it was no surprise to see Chelsea adapt so quickly to life under Sarri. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel for them. The Italian chainsmoker has had a particularly liberating effect on his players after the exhaustingly regimented methods of Conte.Chelsea Diets have been relaxed, players can stay with their family the night before a game as long as they arrive on time and  training times are later. But most importantly, he has introduced Sarriball. Sarriball revolves around a 433 high press game, where the ball must be switched from defence to attack rapidly in order to punish opponents. It also removes the defensive responsibility shackles on attackers, especially the wingers who are free to express themselves in the final third. One man is flourishing particularly in this new system. Eden Hazard. A steadying captain on the rough Stamford Bridge sea. If he can stay fit and Chelsea tighten up a little at the back, Liverpool and City may find their noses out of joint.

Since I wrote my piece demanding Jose some respect, the day before United were trounced 3-0 by Spurs, much has changed but the toxic emotions linger. Their heroic comeback against strugglers Newcastle did little to dress up the mess that the club is at the moment. For any United team or manager, 8th in the league after 8 games is simply not good enough. And while I believe Jose Mourinho can be targeted and disrespected at times, he for certain should have shouldered the critical clamour, but instead he deflected it haphazardly. It’s a basic managerial responsibility to defend your players in front of the public, so why Mourinho opened up to the world about his view on Rashford’s “sadness”, and Mctominay’s “fear” remains a mystery to me. I am pro-Mourinho, but that was out of order. It was reminiscent of his degenerating man-management, spiralling out of control since his clash with Iker Casillas when he called friend Xavi after El Clasico. Since then, Hazard, Mata at Chelsea, and pretty much all of the United squad have all fallen prey to his antics. As I mentioned in my last piece on the Jose, one of Mourinho’s great strengths is his ability to galvanise individuals. Not in a charismatic Guardiola way, but in an almost snooty way, a light criticism and then “prove me wrong”. His record is not one whereby his techniques’ effectiveness should be questioned. But a sprinkle of extra negativity, a few drops of stress, a coating of desperation and his mixture uninspires and deflates.

Although it is not only his man-management that is corroding, but his tactics are also outdated. Jose’s victorious teams of Porto, Inter and Chelsea would pride themselves on their defensive solidity, error aversion, and organisation in all areas of the pitch. Yes, a useful attribute for defenders, but for attackers, not so much. To be successful in attacking, you have to be unpredictable. Spontaneous. Ronaldinho, Johan Cruyff- innovative. Chris Smalling, im Phil JonesEspecially these days with smarter, quicker defenders. United created their highest number of chances in a game this season in the second-half against Newcastle. Why? Because they had nothing to play for. They weren’t afraid to take risks, to try flicks and skills  in an around the area, which is why we saw the likes of Martial, Pogba and Sanchez flourish. Mourinho must replicate this, he must begin to encourage risks and mistakes, much like his contemporary, Guardiola, whose keeper even often expresses himself. Dare to fail, United. We could point out other small faults in United’s performances like their lack of natural width and a link between midfield and attack. But the bottom line is : while United’s woes are not exactly his fault, Jose has to adapt. Quickly. Yes, he is a fantastic manager, but he can only be regarded as one of the greatest ever until he moves with the times, like Sir Alex did so fluently.

I don’t wish to over extend on United, but we have not covered the focal point of United’s failures this year- the players. In the modern age of fine margins and high standards, we often forget that these players are humans and not just an encryption to be decoded. Consequently, it is often the people in control that are blamed. The onus should always on the players, before anything or anyone.

I’ll leave Neville and Souness to rant about the lack of effort, but it would be unfair to point the finger at one player, as they have all been culprits. It is never a healthy sign when your own player is not only questioning the teams attitude, but also his own. Paul Pogba. The riddle wrapped in a mystery in an enigma. Wonderful at the World Cup, woeful at Wolves. You begin to doubt whether he ever will string some momentum together and begin to live up to his potential.Paul Labille His glorious summer should have given him the perfect backdrop to kickstart his club career. Yet while he certainly not been the worst, it has been a disappointing start. We have seen flashes, instrumental in the second half against Newcastle, 2 goals against Leicester, a beauty in Switzerland, but he is 25 now and it is becoming less and less likely that these flashes will ever materialise. The same could be said of 26 year old Neymar. Pro-Pogbas like Mino Raiola would argue that his feud with Mourinho has distracted him, and that he would be better off elsewhere. Realistically, though, who would pay the big bucks for Pogba? We are talking over £100 million for an unproven player. Yes, his CV would illustrate otherwise: 1 World Cup, a Europa league and 4 scudettos. But his troubled spell at United has shone the light on his bad habits. He publicly questions his own managers tactics, he publicly questions his future at United and he even publicly questions his attitude : Pogba can be childish and careless. Fact. However while many old crooks demonise Pogba for his social media antics and general PR, they forget the responsibility he has to build the Pogba brand. Fresh, modern, eccentric. A marketer’s dream. And as a result, a valuable asset to any football club. Perhaps sometimes , as a society, we can be instantly critical on people who maybe don’t have as high aspirations as expected. “I’m just living the dream life I worked so hard for,” says Pogba himself. He is right, the hardest work is over, but now it is time to put it into practice.

United’s current turmoil is not one person or one group of people’s fault. It’s not just Mourinho’s fault, it’s not just Ed Woodward’s fault for his poor recruitment and failure to back Mourinho, it’s not just the Glazer’s fault, it’s not just the players fault, or Sanchez and Martial’s fault, or Pogba’s for that matter. No, the problem is pointing the finger at others. Mourinho at Woodward, Pogba at Mourinho, Mourinho at Pogba, Fans at the Glazers. It is a complete mess. They  must unite in the face of adversity, and rekindle the United spirit. Do they have the resolve?

A quiet revolution

With the Red Devils hogging the headlines, and spectators content with a fierce battle for the title, Arsenal have been free to kickstart life under Emery without the constant scrutiny that plagued them towards the end of Wenger’s reign. And after an excusable 2-0 loss to Man City and an excruciating 3-2 defeat at Stamford Bridge, the Gunners have responded with 9 wins a row. Okay, 3 of those wins came against Quarabag, Fc Vorslka and Brentford. But nevertheless, potential banana skins for Arsenal only a year ago. Perhaps the most satisfying thing for Unai Emery is that they have picked up victories after poor performances, where they really deserved to lose.Fulham FC v Arsenal FC - Premier League Against Watford, Deeney, Hughes and Success all squandered golden chances but the Gunners managed to scrape through thanks to a Cathcart own goal and a tidy Özil finish. Their erratic defending almost also cost them points against Everton and West Ham, where the scorelines were once again flattering for the home team. Cardiff city, scoring 8 goals in their last 11 matches and with only 4 this season, even managed to put two past them and nearly got a result .It is still a very raw, faulty Arsenal side, Cech and the defenders are still accustoming to Emery’s style of playing out from the back- so there are bound to be mistakes. At least they are getting these errors out of the way early on, and thankfully not being punished for them. With their team spirit and talent in the likes of Lacazette, Aubamayeng and Ozil, there is potential. Arsenal fans are cautiously hopeful.

Aside from the obvious positives of a 9 game win streak, Emery will be most pleased with his team’s aggression and fight. Chelsea may have craved a calming, soothing manager, but Arsenal needed one who could give them a kick up the backside. They needed drastic change. And who is more opposite to Wenger than Unai Emery. Under Arsène, players complained that the training sessions were so unfulfilling that they felt they wanted to do it all again. With Emery, they need a sleep after. You can see his burning passion on the touchline, gesticulating wildly, barking orders. It is rubbing off on his players as well. Players have started to put the extra mile in for the manager, to make that sprint back, to jump that little bit higher, to die to get on the end of that cross. Arsenal’s much improved aggression was encapsulated most aptly with Özil against Watford.Emery 2-0 up in injury time, Doucoré collects the ball for Watford. Özil races back, regardless of context, with all his heart, and makes a fine tackle to thwart Doucoré on the edge of the box. Bear in mind the fact that the German has been long questioned about his work-rate. Emery has supported Özil- who has suffered a torrid time recently with the national squad- and backed him in press conferences. You can see him slowly getting his confidence back. The German playmaker isn’t the only one thriving under Emery. Lacazette looks as sharp as ever, Torreira has provided some long craved midfield tenacity, Iwobi is becoming a fans favourite, Mustafi seems to be recovering his career alongside Sokratis and even Danny Welbeck is making a push for the starting 11. They are playing for the manager. These days you have a managerial scale of meticulous pragmatist like Allegri, or liberating aesthetes like Sarri or even Wenger in his time. Emery would find himself somewhere in the middle. He encourages attractive football-the highlight being Ramsey’s beautifully manipulated goal against Fulham- and playing out from the back, but also obsessively studies not just his own team, but also the opposition. It couldn’t be more different to Wenger, who would make a point of practically forgetting the opposition were even there. Every week brings an hour long video analysis of the game, every mistake pinpointed and mentally corrected. Players will also receive statistical breakdowns, and one-on-one briefings on their next opponent. “He put on so many videos I ran out of popcorn. He’s obsessed by football, it is practically an illness,” said Joaquin, a Spanish winger who played under Emery at Valencia.

“We’ve got our Arsenal back,” sang joyous Gunners at Craven Cottage. So much for cautious hope.