Unai Reprises Three At The Back

Online Editorial: Arsenal gain a point and get wet in Portugal

Unai Reprises Three At The Back

Buy Carl Bourke's t-shirt and print of Arsenal's iconic 1971 celebrations in association with the Gooner

So Unai Emery threw a curved ball with his team selection to start against Vitoria Guimaraes as the formation returned to three at the back. Not only that, we saw three players that started last Saturday remain in the starting eleven – Sokratis, Tierney and Ceballos. The former due to the extra central defender required, and Tierney presumably because Emery wanted to look at him in the new formation, for which one could argue the team would get the best out of him. One imagines that Ceballos may not start against Leicester by mere dent of the fact that he’s started the last two games. On that level, it’s possible Kolasinac might replace Tierney on Saturday. The latter was apparently withdrawn from the Scotland squad by Arsenal due to an “ongoing issue”, which the club want to work on during the international break, so his presence in the Gunners’ starting eleven would have raised a few eyebrows north of the border.

After all the controversy about Granit Xhaka, and none of the remaining figures in the captaincy group starting, Rob Holding wore the armband. A figure many felt should have been named club captain back in the summer, for the lack of an obvious alternative candidate. Granted, the reality that he wasn’t fit to play back then might have influenced Emery’s decision. I mean, we’ve had enough of injured captains over the years. That one of the remaining four captains, Hector Bellerin on the bench meant that Ainsley Maitland-Niles (and his neck chain) started at right wing-back.

If the change in formation was presumably a response to the leaky nature of Arsenal’s defence, it certainly didn’t work out too well, in terms of the number of attempts on goal. They got away with it for most of the game, but before half-time Martinez saw one shot hit his post and had to pull out an excellent save to prevent Vitoria going ahead. At the other end the away side barely threatened. The best thing you could say about the opening half was that somehow, the scores were level at the end of it.

The game was moved to 3.50 on a Wednesday afternoon due to fears of traffic congestion were it to be played on the scheduled Thursday, with Braga having a home game v Besiktas, 15 miles away on the same evening. Looking at the crowd for Arsenal’s game, you wouldn’t have said it would be a problem, but perhaps the kick off time and the deluge of rain dissuaded some would-be Vitoria supporting attendees. Or maybe Arsenal are not the draw they once were. It was a dog of a day, and as the rain got heavier after the interval, the conditions were far from ideal for flowing football.

Emery made three changes over the course of the second half, Guendouzi for Ceballos, Lacazette for Saka and finally Torreira for Willock (which suggests that Guendouzi and Torreira will start in midfield on Saturday, and if there are five at the back, a front three will see Ozil, Aubameyang plus one). After the interval, Vitoria ran out of steam a bit and Arsenal had greater control of the game, not that this actually led to any real increase in chances. It really felt like a nothing kind of game, and I felt sympathy for the travelling fans, who might have viewed this fixture as a good little mini-break, although at least they had a roof over them.

But cometh the moment, cometh an unlikely hero, and from a Pepe free-kick, Shkodran Mustafi headed his team ahead, with ten minutes remaining. Job done, right? Hey, this is Arsenal we are talking here. They made it as far as the 90th minute, but in injury time, suffered an equalizer. Sound familiar? Rob Holding was beaten by his man and unable to prevent him getting a cross in. A goal followed and the match finished 1-1, although Vitoria did come close to winning it twice after scoring.

On one level, it’s insignificant. This was the shadow team, and Arsenal will qualify from the group. And yet it felt symptomatic. A lack of cutting edge going forward and far too many opportunities for the opposition. It’s not promising for Leicester on Saturday, a game which should determine Unai Emery’s future, but I’d be surprised if he is going anywhere unless Arsenal concede five or more. The powers that be believe he will get it right. To the rest of us that feels like blind faith. Arsenal have suffered gradual decline since they moved stadium 13 years ago. This feels like just another stage in the process.


You can follow The Gooner on
or subscribe to our
YouTube channel (where you can find the GoonerFanzineTV weekly podcast)

The October edition of the monthly (original) Gooner podcast can be listened to and downloaded here


Buy the current issue of The Gooner
Issue 279 of The Gooner can be bought from our online store on this page

Subscribe to The Gooner
If you wish to subscribe to receive every issue of The Gooner by post, UK and abroad options are on this page.

NEW! Subscribe to our weekly Gooner Fanzine newsletter for all the latest news, views, and videos from the intelligent voice of Arsenal supporters since 1987.

Please note that we will not share your email address with any 3rd parties.

Article Rating

Leave a comment

Sign-in with your Online Gooner forum login to add your comment. If you do not have a login register here.


  1. Don Howe

    Nov 08, 2019, 8:36 #115409

    One of the recent editorials was entitle "worrying gulf between Arsenal and its fans" or similar. The fact is that after years of Wenger and his strategies, the fans cant and don't understand muddled thinking on the managers part and are apoplectic when he does something daft. My mantra which I would scream at Emery if I could get within earshot is SORT OUT THE FECKING DEFENCE. I fear that he doesn't know how and wont hire the expertise. I love hairbear but like the rest of the team he doesn't try to and doesn't know how to tackle. Having said that they must all be terrified of having any bodily contact under Mike Riley's Anti VAR regime. if we don't get the defence sorted there will be more trouble. we might as well have Maureen in and get the defensive balance re-set.

  2. itsRonagain2

    Nov 07, 2019, 20:58 #115408

    With you there Marky. They put it in when AW needed a hand. He d. Got them the enormous salaries hadn’t he. Probably felt duty bound too so he could sleep better about his own. He kept his aura with players as well. He declined badly but his suave superior gait and mannerisms carried him such a long way, not just at Arsenal but in football overall. He s got that Alsace way about him. It’s not uncommon there. Germanic. That’s why he’s spoken of re the Munich situ. Analogous to having a Cambridge education here. Many are practically inept in their job roles but the mannerisms habits nous and aura convinces those who want to be convinced that they’re in the midst of somebody who surely must know. It’s beguiling until you’ve seen the bullshit so often that you find yourself laughing in their faces.


    Nov 07, 2019, 20:00 #115407

    To continue with Dick any longer is pointless - the "second" team is now as disjointed & joyless as the so called starting eleven - well done Dicky boy! Leicester are far superior to that pub team that we made look quite good yesterday ebening. And they seem utterly ruthless in putting weak opposition to the sword. Many, many empty seats plus a few banners will do the trick nicely I think - not a good look on TV.

  4. markymark

    Nov 07, 2019, 18:53 #115406

    The 1-1 is a good shout but despite my antipathy to Wenger I reckon the players sort of played for him to the end. In fact possibly to keep their cushy lifestyles that’s when they pulled the result out of the fire. For Unai I just reckon they feel his here today gone tomorrow with little charisma and poor communication. Might be tempting to let another of those late, late goals to go in. Just say we can keep the winless streak going. Leicester 3-1 Arsenal - feels a bit circa 1975 to me

  5. itsRonagain2

    Nov 07, 2019, 17:54 #115405

    Hi lads. I hear you all. i ll go for it then. Leics C 1 Arsenal 1. I know .......madness ha ha. I just reckon Emerys due to 'do a Wenger.' You know how he used to pull up a tree and get a result just when he really needed one! The old goat perfected it didnt he. If Leics have a weakness, its up front i think. Vardy s going well again but if he doesn't score, there s no other prolific striker there. Barmy as it sounds, we need one of our hapless defenders to do a real number on him and shackle him. I know theyve a really nice midfield who can notch a goal here and there but its important not to get carried away by the humbling of Southampton and Newcastle recently. Both of those 2 teams were so seriously rubbish i reckon us lot could have knocked a team up off here and got a result v either of them!! Foxes are a good side though, but perhaps not quite as hot as SKY and the media are dressing them up to be. That SKY shower of s--t are presentably unzipping their flies at the mere mention of The Foxes, Rodgers almost as much as they do bloody Liverpool. The drooling over Coach Dr Harold Shipman a ka Klopp is nauseating. I hope Man C destroy them about 5-0.

  6. TonyEvans

    Nov 07, 2019, 16:00 #115404

    Thanks Colonel - I should have added to my question 'for poor results' as technically GG was sacked for the bung, rather than results. Mind you the results by then were pretty damning too!

  7. GoonerRon

    Nov 07, 2019, 15:27 #115403

    The only shred of optimism for Saturday is (a) generally speaking we have competed well in the bigger games under Emery and (b) we have shown at times this season that we can be dangerous on the counter attack. As I don’t see us dominating possession this could come into play for us.

  8. Colonel Blimp

    Nov 07, 2019, 14:44 #115402

    Terry Neill and George Graham both got the bullet before the season ended, and The Don did the honourable thing Spring 1986 and walked out before he was ousted. Saturday is looking like a real hide-behind-the-sofa job but stranger things have happened, I can't see us getting whupped up there two years in a row.

  9. Exiled in Pt

    Nov 07, 2019, 13:47 #115401

    I would say we will lurch onto the end of the season with Dick , i just dont think they will want to pay him off !! Hopefully i am wrong but in my opinion until this owner is gone nothing going to change . We are supposed to believe that the son of wiggy is leading us forward and super Raul and his legendary contact book will create a new Arsenal to compete with Europe's elite what a load of old bollox!! We have been told the coach does not pick the players he wants to sign it is all down to Raul , Edu and crew and they achieved so much in the transfer window . Yet they did not address the major problem areas in the team and we still have clueless coaching so i am not holding my breath in any major change soon ..........

  10. Seven Kings Gooner 1

    Nov 07, 2019, 13:44 #115400

    It's the shots at goal we let teams have that concerns me Ron - however you have a good track record with your sneaky feelings so I hope you are right again - I can't see it though.

  11. TonyEvans

    Nov 07, 2019, 13:19 #115399

    Can't see that result at all, Ron, but a great shout if you are proved right! I'm with SKG on this one, the Leicester game could be a pivotal moment for Emery. I know Wenger survived many a hammering (for which the club should eternally hang their head in shame) but Emery could be toast if Vardy and co run riot. Knowing Arsenal as we do though I expect they would still let him limp on to the end of the season. My memory fails me - have Arsenal ever sacked a manager before the season ends? I assume so but I can't for the life of me remember! Don Howe, Terry Neil?

  12. itsRonagain2

    Nov 07, 2019, 12:41 #115397

    I really struggle to understand the optimism for Rob Holding. I never saw that yesterday but he s truly mediocre. No better than the rest there by any stretch of the imagination as i see him. The draw did them ok i guess for group purposes. SKG - it ll be interesting to see if Leics have the confidence to go for the jugular on the week end wont it? Im not sure they ll rout Arsenal. On form they should fancy it but for no rational reason, i reckon Asl might scrape a point.

  13. Seven Kings Gooner 1

    Nov 07, 2019, 9:48 #115395

    Saturday's game against a rampant Leicester, with Vardy flying, is my concern, you talk about Emery's future "unless we let in five or more". Vardy's movement alone will create extra space against a defence that is consistently outnumbered, I suggest Saturday could well be a watershed day for Emery.