Match by match: Where Arsenal’s first season under Unai Emery went right – and wrong
2018/19: Arsenal had purple patches and losing streaks - how many did you watch?
13 May, 2019 — By Richard Osley
UNAI Emery’s first season at Arsenal began with a bump as he faced champions Manchester City in his first match, followed up with an unwelcome trip Chelsea for an early taste of a London derby.
Since then it has been a streaky season: purple patches undone by limp performances away from home, which saw only one clean sheet on the road.
Here we look back on the campaign, match by match, and see what went right – and wrong.
ARSENAL 0 MANCHESTER CITY 2
After a promising pre-season, it took just a quarter of an hour for Manchester City to deliver a warning sign of how things were going to be now matches were for real. Raheem Sterling’s shot set the champions on their way to a comfortable win. Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ joy at starting in Emery’s first eleven was curbed when he went off with an injury that would mean weeks on the sidelines.
CHELSEA 3 ARSENAL 2
It was played two lost two for the Gunners but only after a ding-dong derby in which Arsenal showed enough character to suggest better was to come. Again they conceded early, through Pedro on nine minutes. Alvaro Morata made it two soon afterwards but Arsenal rallied thanks in some measure to one of Alex Iwobi’s better performances. They were level at the break after quickfire goals from Henrikh Mkitarayan and Iwobi, and Emery showed how swift he can be to make substitutions by withdrawing Granit Xhaka at half-time. The comeback, however, was cancelled out when Chelsea scored a late winner. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had earlier skied a great chance.
Iwobi’s best match of the season was against Chelsea
ARSENAL 3 WEST HAM UNITED 1
Suddenly billed as a ‘must win’, there was no time for sentimentality about Jack Wilshere’s first return to the Emirates Stadium. The home crowd feared the worst when Marco Arnautovic gave West Ham the lead but a composed response, with huge amounts of possession, saw Arsenal wrest back control and secure Emery’s first points as manager. Danny Welbeck’s injury time goal eventually capped a 3-1 win. Wilshere looked a shadow of his former self.
CARDIFF CITY 2 ARSENAL 3
A match which highlighted Arsenal’s defensive frailty this season, a simple assignment in Wales turned into a battle finally won by a blaster by Alexandre Lacazette’s strike in the last ten minutes. Twice the Gunners had been pegged back due to a lack of focus, including a goal conceded in the final seconds of the first half. Aubameyang scored a beaut of a curler though.
NEWCASTLE UNITED 1 ARSENAL 2
A goal up there among Arsenal’s best this season, Xhaka shattered the net with a thunderbolt free-kick. Mesut Ozil, whose place in Emery’s plans was increasingly unclear, proved a point by also scoring. There was no clean sheet, though.
ARSENAL 4 VORSKLA POLTAVA 2
Ozil scored again in a comfortable introduction to Thursday night football. Aubameyang netted twice too, as Emery showed his ambition for Europa League by fielding a strong line-up. Two late goals for the visitors once again showed a lack of concentration at the back of the pitch.
ARSENAL 2 EVERTON 0
Two goals in three minutes gave the fans what they wanted: Aubameyang and Lacazette playing together, and scoring together. The strike partnership was not always fielded by Emery over the course of the season, despite the clamour from the stands for a more attack minded structure, but on and off the pitch a clear chemistry between the two was brewing. Lucas Torreira had by now forced his way into the starting eleven at the expense of Matteo Guendouzi.
ARSENAL 3 BRENTFORD 1
Emery once again picked a strong team, despite the unloved nature of the Carabao Cup. Brentford were not fazed, even after conceding two goals – both scored by Welbeck – early on. They pulled one back in the second half, and the result was not safe until Lacazette netted on 90 minutes.
ARSENAL 2 WATFORD 0
An unconvincing victory but one that kept a winning streak in tact, was secured by an own goal and another contribution on the scoresheet from Ozil. Both of the goals came in the last ten minutes and Watford left feeling that their afternoon’s work had not been fairly rewarded. Emery found himself with a familiar warning that the team was getting wins without playing well. An injury to keeper Petr Cech allowed new signing Bernd Leno to seize the gloves.
Petr Cech is retiring from football
QARABAG 0 ARSENAL 3
This one is marked up for the goal scored by Emile Smith Rowe, the promising youth team graduate who was threatening for more first team action this season before succumbing to injury. Sokratis and Guendouzi, both summer arrivals, scored their first goals for the club.
FULHAM 1 ARSENAL 5
Arsenal’s bizarre failure to go in leading at half-time in any league match continued when Lacazette’s early goal was squared by Andre Schurrle’s late first half equaliser. A goal blitz in the second half including a famous back heel by Aaron Ramsey – whose future was still unclear at this point – blew Fulham away. Aubameyang scored twice, but had to wait until the Europa League semi-final much later in the season to claim his first hat-trick.
ARSENAL 3 LEICESTER CITY 1
Aubameyang found himself on the bench somehow, but was brought on to claim another brace on a night when Arsenal came from behind in breathless style. Ozil, who had been in and out of Emery’s tactics, was suddenly captain and scored a tasty goal, steering in a flying cross while on the run. Ramsey’s role in the set-up was less clear and despite his input ib the Fulham win, he had to make do with just ten minutes at the end and once the match had been won.
SPORTING LISBON 0 ARSENAL 1
A tough trip to Portugal was settled by Welbeck’s strike. It meant a 100 percent record in the Europa League – a tournament which Emery loved while at Sevilla. The Thursday night football meant Arsenal were often playing catch-up in the league because of the knock-on Sunday fixtures, however.
Welbeck’s season was ruined by injury, and he will now leave Arsenal
CRYSTAL PALACE 2 ARSENAL 2
An eleven match winning run, stretching back to the victory against West Ham, came to a shuddering halt after clumsy defending saw Crystal Palace awarded two penalties. Shrokdan Mustafi’s rash tackling was to blame. Xhaka’s zipping free-kick and another goal from Aubameyang had looked like steering the match in Emery’s favour.
ARSENAL 2 BLACKPOOL 1
Guendouzi made life harder than it needed to be in a Carabao Cup match against Blackpool by getting sent off. Lichtsteiner and Smith Rowe’s first half goals had, however, provided enough of a cushion to see out the last half an hour with ten men.
ARSENAL 1 LIVERPOOL 1
A pulsating encounter with the eventual runners-up and Champions League finalists saw Arsenal give Liverpool, unbeaten at this stage, a real run for their money. They may have been ahead before James Milner scored on the break for Jurgen Klopp’s team. Emery re-ordered the ranks and brought on an extra striker, and Lacazette eventually powered through to score an equaliser. Both teams had chances to win this one, and maybe it was one of the key fixtures where City did better than Liverpool in the ultimate title race analysis.
ARSENAL 0 SPORTING LISBON 0
Danny Welbeck’s season came to an end at the start of November when he was stretchered off in this Europa League match after half an hour. Nobody knew it at the time, but it was a sad end to his Arsenal career. It was to be announced at the last home match of the season that he would be leaving the club this summer. He had been generally playing as a useful, energetic substitute under Emery.
ARSENAL 1 WOLVES 1
It had become clear to everybody in the league that newly-promoted Wolves should not be underestimated. They nearly added Arsenal to their growing list of scalps, dominating some of the match at the Emirates. Henrikh Mkitarayan’s late equaliser may well have been intended as a cross.
AFC BOURNEMOUTH 1 ARSENAL 2
Still Arsenal could not get to half time with a lead, conceding a goal here in the last minute of the first half for the third time in the season. Aubameyang came up with the winner in a tightly fought contest.
Aubameyang’s goals were crucial to Arsenal’s campaign
VORSKLA POLTAVA 0 ARSENAL 3
Smith Rowe scored again as the buzz grew on how good he may be in the future. Three up at half time, Arsenal were cruising into the knockout stages of the Europa League.
ARSENAL 4 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 2
Perhaps the most enjoyable match of the season for Arsenal fans, the Gunners ruled north London again by coming from behind to slam rivals Spurs. Losing at half time, magic second half goals from Aubameyang, Lacazette and Torreira sent the Emirates into delirium. At this point, Arsenal actually leapfrogged Spurs in the table. We’ve got our Arsenal back, sang the fans.
MANCHESTER UNITED 2 ARSENAL 2
Everybody was beating Manchester United, who Jose Mourinho was struggling to get firing. So unusually it felt like two points dropped when Arsenal came away from Old Trafford with a 2-2 draw, especially as they had been in the lead twice. United snaffled equalisers very quickly after both Gunners goals.
ARSENAL 1 HUDDERSFIELD UNITED 0
Torreira’s dramatic late strike finally broke the Huddersfield resistance. It was a sort of acrobatic, bicycle kick. Arsenal had been toiling for a goal for much of the match with only two attempts on target.
ARSENAL 1 QARABAG 0
A functional win saw Arsenal top their Europa League group. Lacazette’s early goal was the only excitement for the home crowd.
SOUTHAMPTON 3 ARSENAL 2
Here was a sign of how frustrating things were to become for Arsenal as their unconvincing away performances finally caught up on them. Charlie Austin scored the winning goal five minutes from time after a match which Emery’s team had been struggled to get a grip on, despite two strikes from Mkhitarayan. Too many goals were now being conceded and it wasn’t the last time that Arsenal were to let in three.
ARSENAL 0 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 2
Spurs got a level of revenge for their league defeat by knocking Arsenal out of the Carabao Cup. Arsenal never really looked interested and the irritation from the stands culminated in a supporter throwing a plastic bottle at Dele Alli. The Spurs forward was happy to be on the scoresheet that night.
ARSENAL 3 BURNLEY 1
Aubameyang claimed yet another brace – but no hat-trick – as Arsenal got back to winning ways. There was a minor scare when Burnley pulled a goal back but Iwobi’s injury time counter attack ensured there wouldn’t be a third slip-up in a row. Monreal departed injured.
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION 1 ARSENAL 1
A bright start on Boxing Day fizzled out: Aubameyang scored early but was denied by Brighton keeper Mat Ryan when well placed to score another. The failure to add more goals came back to haunt Emery when Jurgen Locadia raced away from Lichtsteiner to score on the break. Nothing much happened in the second half, as the Gunners drifted to a costly draw.
LIVERPOOL 5 ARSENAL 1
The worst night of the season, and to think Arsenal were actually ahead after eleven minutes when Ainsley Maitland-Niles, fit and back in Emery’s plans, opened the scoring. It only fired up the beast. Liverpool responded by scoring four before half-time. For the second time in the season, the Gunners conceded two penalties, as defensive clumsiness continued to be punished. Emery looked a little shellshocked on the sidelines. Liverpool were just too good.
ARSENAL 4 FULHAM 1
Arsenal enjoyed playing hapless Fulham this season, scoring nine times over two matches. In both matches, however, the Gunners failed to keep clean sheets, the telltale problem of Emery’s first campaign.
BLACKPOOL 0 ARSENAL 3
The BBC cameras headed to Blackpool to see if a shock was on the cards but Arsenal got the job done in a half-empty stadium. The home fans were partly boycotting the club in a row over ownership. Joe Willock scored two of the three goals, impressing Emery.
WEST HAM UNITED 1 ARSENAL 0
Away form was beginning to be a problem and Arsenal hardly got going at the Olympic Stadium. Declan Rice scored the only goal of the game after smashing in Xhaka’s puny clearance. Hardly anybody played well that day and Emery’s team lost ground on the rivals around them.
Xhaka was to blame for West Ham’s winner
ARSENAL 2 CHELSEA 0
While the away days were hard work, Arsenal were building a fortress at the Emirates Stadium. The common historic complaint that they rarely beat the top teams was being challenged when the win against Spurs was followed up by a comprehensive beating of unpredictable Chelsea. Lacazette was on the scoresheet again. Chelsea managed just one shot on target despite bossing 65 percent of the ball possession. Bellerin left the pitch on a stretcher and would not play again for the rest of the season.
ARSENAL 1 MANCHESTER UNITED 3
Hopes of another good run in the FA Cup were flattened when United, revived under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, turned over the Gunners on a Friday evening in late January with a patient counter-attack trap. Two goals in three minutes – one from former Arsenal striker Alexis Sanchez, who did little else for the rest of United’s season – gave Emery’s team too much of a mountain to climb.
ARSENAL 2 CARDIFF CITY 1
The first match after Cardiff lost new signing Emiliano Sano ro a tragic air crash in the English Channel was always going to be an emotional, difficult game for the Bluebirds. The stadium at Ashburton Grove was decorated with tributes to the forward who had yet to make his debut for Neil Warnock’s side. Aubemayang and Lacazette got the goals which ensured Arsenal claimed three points.
MANCHESTER CITY 3 ARSENAL 1
Beating the eventual champions is hard on any occasion but conceding a goal in the first minute at the Etihad made the task even harder. A Laurent Koscielny header brought Arsenal level but Sergio Aguero was in the mood that day, and scored a hat-trick. His third probably would have been ruled out for offside if next season’s VAR system was in place, but the gap in quality between the two teams was there for all to see however hard Arsenal battled. Loan signing Dennis Suarez made an anonymous appearance as a second half sub.
HUDDERSFIELD TOWN 1 ARSENAL 2
Suarez’s time with an Arsenal will be completely forgettable but the Barcelona winger can always say he played 15 minutes at the John Smith’s Stadium. It was another away day which the Gunners failed to keep a clean sheet, despite their struggling opposition in Huddersfield. Iwobi and Lacazettte were the match winners.
BATE BORISOV 1 ARSENAL 0
There were alarm bells for Emery when Arsenal toiled in the Ukraine against BATE. They had three quarters of the possession but never looked like scoring. The frustration was compounded when Lacazette was sent off late on. Stanislav Dugan’s header was the first leg difference.
ARSENAL 3 BATE BORISOV 0
Arsenal came roaring back in the Europa League, helped by a Zakhar Volkov own goal within the first five minutes of their second encounter with BATE. Always at risk of an away goal ambush, Arsenal’s nerves were settled when Mustafi scored a second and Sokratis completed the scoring.
ARSENAL 2 SOUTHAMPTON 0
Early goals from Lacazette and Mkhitarayan kept the run of home wins going. A complete contrast from the away match at St Mary’s, Arsenal never looked like dropping points and moved back into the top four with this victory. “We are thinking it’s a good step and it’s game by game,” said Emery afterwards. “Now we are happy, we are at the moment in this position and we carry on.”
Lacazette was named Arsenal’s player of the season
ARSENAL 5 AFC BOURNEMOUTH 1
Emery’s team was now right back in the mix for Champions League qualification, and sent out a message to their rivals with a thumping midweek win against Bournemouth. Ozil was in the mood once more, opening the scoring inside four minutes.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1 ARSENAL 1
Spurs had been talking for some time about how they were mounting a league title tilt but for all their crowing about who now bossed north London, they again failed to beat Arsenal in the league. And Tottenham may well have been beaten at Wembley had it not been for another costly penalty given away by Mustafi (Kane scored an equaliser from 12 yards) and Aubameyang’s miss from Arsenal’s own spot kick in the final moments. Torreira was sent off in the last seconds.
RENNES 3 ARSENAL 1
A golden start in France – Iwobi scored in the first three minutes – evaporated into a mess of a match for Arsenal. Sokratis was sent off in the Stade de la Route-de-Lorient, a red hot cauldron that night, and the unfancied challengers scored three goals to take a decent lead to the Emirates. Emery looked shaken once more.
ARSENAL 2 MANCHESTER UNITED 0
This was a season where Arsenal did start getting results against other top six teams: Manchester United joined Chelsea and Spurs on the Emirates’ losers list thanks to Xhaka early long range shot and Aubameyang’s second half penalty. It was Solskjaer’s first defeat managing United. An Arsenal fan was arrested after getting onto the pitch and running up to Chris Smalling, mocking the Red Devils defender.
ARSENAL 3 RENNES 0
One of the most determined performances of the season, Arsenal underlined how much Emery was burning to do well in the Europa League, now seen as possible safety net in terms of Champions League qualification. Within a quarter of an hour, the excited French visitors were silenced by goals from Aubameyang and Maitland-Niles. Aubameyang scored again in the second half to send the Gunners into the quarter-finals.
ARSENAL 2 NEWCASTLE UNITED 0
Ramsey had by now agreed terms with Juventus, having been told he was free to leave by Arsenal. He never held back on his return to team, however, and proved to be the key motor behind another home win for the Gunners. Eventually forced off with injury, the sight of his replacement, the comparatively ordinary Mohamed Elneny, provided a worrying glimpse of what might be to come next season.
Ramsey is heading to Juventus
EVERTON 1 ARSENAL 0
Outplayed and outfought, Arsenal may have lost to Everton by any number of goals had it not been for wasteful finishing by the Toffees and Bernd Leno’s goalkeeping. The charge for the top four was beginning to look sticky, with Emery’s side looking distracted by the upcoming Europa League duels with Napoli.
ARSENAL 2 NAPOLI 0
As had been the case all season, Arsenal raised their game for a home match in the Europa League and Napoli were caught cold with two early goals: Ramsey on 14 minutes and then an own goal ten minutes later. The team looked completely different from the side that had played so meekly at Goodison Park a few days earlier.
WATFORD 0 ARSENAL 1
Arsenal returned to league action and once again brought out their inconsistent, fatiguing alter-ego by only inching past Watford despite playing nearly the whole match at Vicarage Road with an extra man. Troy Deeney was shown the early red card after Aubemayang had scored the only goal of the game by pouncing on a mistake from keeper Ben Foster. It was the last time Arsenal were to win in the league until the final day success at Burnley.
NAPOLI 0 ARSENAL 1
Ramsey played his final half an hour in an Arsenal shirt in a country which he will soon call home. The long-serving, loyal midfielder – twice the scorer of FA Cup final winning goals for the Gunners – came off injured in Naples and would later be ruled out for the season. Fans were, weeks later, to wonder whether this setback coincided with the abysmal end to the league season. A free-kick from Lacazette confirmed Arsenal’s place in the Europa League semi-finals.
ARSENAL 2 CRYSTAL PALACE 3
The key moment in Arsenal’s failed quest to finish in the top four, a win here would have set them on their way given the draws and losses being suffered by their Champions League qualification rivals. What is normally a home banker of a fixture, however, turned into a nightmare. Mustafi’s questionable defending was under the microscope again after his lax approach allowed Wilfired Zaha to steal behind him and put Palace 2-1 ahead in the second half. The goal came at a time when Arsenal looked like going on to win the game. The bubble had burst and Palace went onto score again and take a rare three points from the Emirates.
WOLVES 3 ARSENAL 1
Another chance to stake a claim for a top four finish – everybody else was struggling to win a match, so why not Arsenal? – came and went as Wolves demolished Emery’s team with three first half goals. Sokratis’ late consolation goal could not hide the fact that Arsenal’s away form was beginning to be a potentially fatal condition.
LEICESTER CITY 3 ARSENAL 0
For the third match in a row, Arsenal shipped three goals – chalking up another defeat, at the very moment the team could have taken advantage of other clubs slipping up. Ainsley Maitland-Niles was sent off for two first half bookings but Leicester looked stronger even when it was 11 v 11. Jamie Vardy scored twice in the final minutes to rub salt into the wounds.
Leno has emerged as a promising keeper
ARSENAL 3 VALENCIA 1
An early goal for Valencia, obtained with the aid of more ropey defending, gave Emery a fright. While Arsenal were now regularly looking vulnerable in defence, the Gunners manager was still blessed with Lacazette and Aubameyang up front. They combined to turn the tie around. The 90th minute goal from Aubameyang was particularly deflating for Valencia.
ARSENAL 1 BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION 1
Amazingly, Arsenal, despite the losses to Palace, Wolves and Leicester, still had a chance of pipping London rivals Chelsea and Spurs to the top four. A win against Brighton was vital and certainly achievable when Aubameyang scored an early penalty. An inability to add more goals, however, was again a problem and Xhaka’s mindless foul gave the Seagulls their own spot kick, which they used to secure a draw and effectively end Arsenal’s chances. With one point from 12, it was a disappointing surrender, undoing the good work of that winning run back in autumn.
Emery has his mind fixed on the Europa League
VALENCIA 2 ARSENAL 4
Poor, if not embarrassing in the league, Arsenal got their Europa League boots back onto claim a place in the final with an impressive away win in Spain. Aubameyang finally scored his first hat-trick with some picture book goals. The celebrations ran into the night but the takeaway warning was the same. While Arsenal could score goals up front, they were leaking too many at the back. Valencia broke through twice despite Emery effectively fielding seven defensive players.
BURNLEY 1 ARSENAL 3
A fourth place finish was gone but now Arsenal suddenly regained their ability to win a match in the league, and win one away from home. Aubameyang sealed a share of the golden boot with two cool finishes here. The Gunners will now hope his prolific record in front of goal will carry on in Baku later this month for the final match of the season: a Europa League final against Chelsea. It’s the last chance saloon in terms of Champions League qualification.