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Arsenal home form against big-six rivals has improved under Unai Emery
Arsenal beat Manchester United 2-0 on Super Sunday
Last Updated: 11/03/19 6:42am
Unai Emery has Arsenal winning big home games again and that could prove crucial in the race for the top four, writes Adam Bate.
After wasting a golden opportunity to beat Tottenham and then having to do their walk of shame past the disgruntled fans in Rennes, Arsenal's week ended up being one of the best of Unai Emery's reign. Not only did the Gunners get to see Spurs lose at Southampton and Chelsea drop points at home to Wolves, they went and beat Manchester United too.
The 2-0 win at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday saw Arsenal leapfrog United back into the top four and move within just a point of Tottenham in third. The victory was their ninth in a row in the Premier League in front of their own fans and that home form has been crucial.
Arsenal end Ole's run
Arsenal seized the initiative in the race for the top four with a 2-0 victory over Manchester United that inflicted the first league defeat of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's tenure.
Much has been made of Emery needing to make Arsenal tougher to beat on their travels. However, it's the improvement that he has been able to oversee in the home games against the top six that has been the key.
Arsenal have now completed their fixtures against big-six rivals, picking up 10 points at home from those matches. Remarkably, that's more than they have managed against those teams in any of the previous 10 seasons. Clearly, this was holding Arsenal back.
Put simply, if Arsenal's results against United and Chelsea alone had been the same this season as last season, they would find themselves below both of them in the table not above them.
It was a particularly big problem last season as Arsene Wenger was only able to win one of the five home games against the teams above them in the Premier League table. In the previous two seasons, Arsenal managed eight points. The year before that they mustered only six. You have to go back to 2007/08 for Arsenal to better this season's record.
Perhaps it's no great surprise that Emery has been able to address this failing but what is a little unexpected is the manner of it. He has not got these results by tightening things up defensively. Having beaten Tottenham 4-2 and Chelsea 2-0 this season, this was the third time that Emery has mastermind a two-goal win in these games.
Against United, the see-saw nature of the contest harked back to the 1990s and that reflected the attacking line-ups on show with both sides playing two strikers up front. Emery even granted a start to Mesut Ozil, picking his playmaker alongside Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the first time since the home win over Cardiff in January.
The two strikers got 80 minutes together for only the third home league game this season, with Lacazette winning the penalty that Aubameyang converted to double Arsenal's lead in the 69th minute. The Frenchman has often been substituted before that point but it wasn't until Ozil was withdrawn after 77 minutes that any of the front three made way.
Even when the visitors were pushing hard for an equaliser, Emery appeared confident that his team could be the one to kill the game on the counter-attack and so it proved. "Arsenal have maintained real positivity throughout some really difficult moments in this second half," said Gary Neville on co-commentary for Sky Sports.
"Manchester United were on top but they still left Aubameyang, Lacazette and Ozil forward trying to get that second goal and it has paid off. Well done to the coach Unai Emery for doing that. So many times you see coaches when they get pushed back they go with a defensive move but he hasn't done. He has held his nerve."
The psychological importance of that could be significant if it means that Arsenal can now approach matches against the strongest sides with renewed belief that they can go toe-to-toe and come out on top. Of course, the away form against their rivals remains a concern. The wait for a win in those games goes on. But that's a matter for next season now.
The remaining eight Premier League games of the season pit them against opponents well below them in the table. With Newcastle, Crystal Palace and Brighton the only teams yet to come to the Emirates this season, there is every chance of making it 12 home wins in a row to close out the campaign. If they can do that, Emery might just do enough to restore Arsenal to the top four - and the Champions League - after two seasons away.
Gary Neville's verdict
"The atmosphere, and I alluded to it on commentary, we saw it earlier in the season against Tottenham when we were here and it was brilliant. Today, particularly after that second goal when Arsenal knew that they had just pulled clear in the game, they responded enormously.
"There has been that debate with Arsenal over the last few months about whether or not Unai Emery is taking this club forwards. Every time they have a bad result or something doesn't go their way, people will say that this isn't any different. But it is different. The atmosphere is different."