Arsenal kicked off the new era in a painfully familiar fashion. A leaky defence, a second-rate performance against a top 6 side, star names under-performing, along with the customary zero points. Unai Emery witnessed first hand the brilliance of Manchester City and probably now realises how much work needs to be done to move Arsenal into the modern era of football Arsene Wenger steadfastly refused to acknowledge existed.
There was also a bit of a subplot with Arteta sitting in the opposition dugout, he was the frontrunner for the Arsenal job until Gazidis lost his nerve. The big hugs from Pep after the second goal hinted that our excaptain may have been given an outsized role in deciding what the plan was going to be for the afternoon (like he was last year).
Whoever concocted the strategy, it worked. Manchester City blitzed us from wide positions, Mahrez and Sterling causing us all sorts of problems, with Mendy and Walker showing off their raw power and pace. Our defence looked pedestrian at times, AMN really suffering before going off with an injury after a collision with a full speed Kyle Walker.
Their goals were standard Arsenal switch off moments. For the first, a poor Bellerin clearance found Mendy who often took up central positions, Sterling ghosted Bellerin, shrugged off Guendouzi and slammed his shot past Cech who didn’t dive. The second goal was classic Arsenal, Mendy powered the ball up the park, played a one-two with Sterling, crossed low into space in front of our extremely deep defence, Xhaka was pondering, no one in our defence reacted, Bernado Silva was first to it and rocketed his chance into the top corner.
We had some good moments in the game, but as with preseason, our transitions to attack were generally quite poor. Ourdefence looked extremely uncomfortable on the ball, Petr Cech was comical at times, nearly passing into his own net at one point. Flabbergasting that the coach wants to play with a keeper regista, but opted for Cech, who I absolutely refuse to believe has been dropping passes like peak Zidane in training. With his hands, he was excellent all game, he made some wonderful saves. However, in the new era, the keeper is expected to play with his feet. He is not the guy you want breaking the lines. It’ll be very interesting to see how long Emery sticks with that decision.
It didn’t help that we had nothing performances from Ramsey, Ozil, Auba and Mikki. Our attackers looked like they’d never played together, Ozil was particularly depressing to watch. His touch was poor, his passing was unusually shite and he just looked disinterested. Ramsey couldn’t find a way into the game either, a very bland performance for someone chasing a deal (or the exit door).
Aubamayang is an incredible finisher, but he lacks the all-round impact a striker like, dare I say it, Giroud can offer you by bringing players into the game with great hold up play. I’m not crying for Giroud by the way, I’m merely pointing out that Emery has to find a way to work Auba work in big games like that.
Still, on the positive side of things, the manager was scheming during the game about how to make us better in the second half. He subbed Ramsey on 54, a real power move if he wasn’t injured. Lacazette gave us some hope with two chances early on, one of his half-volley grazing just wide.
I thought Lichtsteiner was a real asset when he came on. He got forward a lot, he was rugged in defence and he really does bring an air of nasty to our team. What a competitor he is.
Guendouzi had a good game. I mean, he made a lot of expected rookie mistakes, but as everyone keeps saying, he never shied away. He demands the ball all the time, and despite being at fault for the first goal and nearly gifting them a second when he set Aguerro free, he was a bright spark out there on the pitch. Give me him in midfield over Xhaka every game. Telling that our best player made two shocking errors and I’m pleased.
Another telling moment was Xhaka being subbed off for a defensive midfielder when we were trailing. The Swiss was typically average. He landed a yellow card because he’s so fucking slow, he gifted them possession and he just generally looked off the pace against an aggressive Manchester City. Moving forward, he can’t be starting. He’s one of the most average players I’ve witnessed over the years, literally no redeeming qualities in a league that demands physical presence. He is a liability against anyone that presses him, and teams like Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea and City will all know that.
So what have we learnt? Not a lot. We knew this was going to be a tough season, and we knew it was highly unlikely we’d be a match for the second greatest team to grace the Premier League. We won’t play teams that good every week, and by the time we play them next year, it’ll be a different story. The players will have adopted Emery’s ideas, the defence will feel more comfortable playing the ball out the back and you’d have to hope the manager will have found his true starting 11.
The big questions for me:
Are Emery’s ideas that good? Can he compete with the like of Pep, Sarri, Klopp and Pochettino? All masters of their various offerings. Another big question is how the players will react to defeat.
How enthused will they be about the new setup? The double sessions? Being shouted at like never before, but the same things happening on the pitch…
How long will it take to see progress, and how long will the fans roll with it? For me, we have to be real. It took Pep a year with a blank chequebook. It took Klopp a year, and his path is much more aligned with the challenges we face. So whatever you’re thinking now, you have to park it for at least that long.
Top 4 is the goal, it’s going to be tough because there are 7 very good teams this season.
Anyway, don’t be down in the dumps, today was the short-term cost of progress, this will get better as the year goes on, more joy to come (hopefully).
Let’s hope the reaction is great. Sarri up next. Excellent.