Can Emery finally outplay Guardiola tactically? (opinion)
Emery tried hard to defeat his rival coach but has failed to do earn a single victory. Can he break an unlucky record? Michael Cox reflects, recalling his days in Spain in charge of Valencia.
"It was at the Mestalla where Emery and Guardiola played out amongst the most fascinating, enthralling, high-tempo tactical battles of recent years, during their days at Valencia and Barcelona respectively. Yes, the headline figure you'll read this weekend is 0-4-6: Emery didn't manage a single win against Guardiola. That's a disappointment rather than a scandal, for Guardiola's Barcelona were the world's greatest side, perhaps the best of modern times.
"Look beyond the score lines and assess the pattern of play, and you'll discover some absolutely wonderful contests that Valencia regularly dominated -- largely thanks to Emery's clever game plans.
"In those contests, Valencia were reactive but positive. Emery modified his usual system to nullify Barcelona's most dangerous weapons, but his players pressed high, enjoyed long spells of possession and maintained an aggressive defensive line. In almost every game, Valencia would dominate the opening period, force Guardiola to formulate an entirely new tactical solution, and Barca would launch a fightback. That would be the regular pattern.
"If Emery brings the same approach to Arsenal, it will represent a significant revolution -- even if 'playing impressively and not winning' feels somewhat familiar. It's about how and why Emery's side played well: they acknowledged the opposition's strengths and their manager had devised an appropriate game plan. Wenger was a reluctant tactician, only bothering to speak about the opposition in pre-match briefings relatively recently.
"Emery will say the right things about possession play and attacking football, and with players like Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal will continue to entertain. But Emery is a strategist rather than a philosopher, and his players must adapt to a completely different way of approaching matches.
"Emery's reactive nature will be in evidence from the outset, as Arsenal face tests against Guardiola's City and then Maurizio Sarri's Chelsea, likely to be the Premier League's two best possession sides. This might suit Emery: they're matches where Arsenal need to play a little more cautiously and a lot more strategically than, say, at home to Cardiff.
"Supporters might appreciate Arsenal approaching those matches with intelligence and discipline after so many tactically underwhelming performances in recent years, particularly against the big clubs.
"Realistically, though, Arsenal start a long way behind Manchester City: last season they recorded 63 points to City's 100. It's something of a familiar situation for these managers, as the last time they coached in the same league, Emery's Valencia collected 61 points and Guardiola's Barcelona 91. Emery remains the underdog, and that will be reflected in his tactical approach."