Hot on the agenda today is more chat about Unai Emery. I think the Arsenal space at the moment is in a weird reorg phase. The walls of the great Wenger divide have been demolished and now people don’t know what they’re getting upset about.
My view on Emery isn’t a negative one, I’m not campaigning against him, I’m merely putting him under the same scrutiny as I would any coach.
I think the man is a better coach than Wenger, I think he’ll bring a more modern rigor to our preparation and I think he’ll instil a different type of energy into the club. My overarching worry is he looks a touch safe against the competition. I’m just not sure where the special sauce is going to come from, and in a league where we’re competing against the very best, I think that’s important.
As I wrote in the summer, this hire was so unbelievably important because of how far we’ve regressed. If we’ve got this signing wrong, Arsenal run the risk of falling into obscurity. Champions League football can become a distant memory pretty fast, which makes it harder to replenish the squad with the talent you need to take things to the next level. Stan K doesn’t have the pockets or the desire to do what the chaps at Liverpool have done. That’s why we really do have to hope Emery kicks us on this season.
I’ve gone back and forth about expectations this season. I know I’ve said in the past that you have to write this year off. Now, what I mean there, is you have to write off challenging for the league. What you can’t do is say that 5th this year is acceptable. If Emery can’t better Wenger by a chunk in his first year, that’s a problem. The goal of the Spaniard has to be hitting the top 4.
I’m not saying he won’t do that. I think we saw enough in that Chelsea game yesterday to be very excited about. But we have to be critical as Arsenal fans and we have to look for real positives, not: ‘well, Wenger didn’t do that’ hot takes.
When I say that, I’m talking about people like me celebrating good subs. Sure, that’s great, but it’s table stakes.
It’s the same with shuffling the starting 11. Ramsey being on the bench would be unthinkable under Wenger, because he always played his best 11 because he wasn’t really strategic. It’s not bold, it’s not brave, it’s just part of being a manager in 2018.
I’m more interested in the things he’s getting right and wrong on the field. So far, we should absolutely be celebrating the visionary decision to start Guendouzi. I thought he’d get games this year, but damn, it’s balls out to play him against Chelsea and City.
A negative might be some of his tactical decisions. Choosing Mesut Ozil as the player to track Jorginho for 90 minutes read like he’d never seen the German play before. The guy has no interest in that side of that game. As someone mentioned in the comments yesterday, Alex Ferguson would have Danny W take on jobs like that back in the day.
Then you have the persistence of playing Granit Xhaka for two games in a row. He yanked him on 70minutes for Torreira when we were playing for a win, which is kind of humiliating. Then he pulled him off at half time against Chelsea for the same reason. I have no emotional connection to the Swiss, but I’d say that’d be pretty embarrassing for him. Now, I’m not being a little cry baby here, I’m all for being bold in the moment… just for me, in this moment, it looks like he’s made a bad selection twice. One we could ALL see. How does that come across to the players? Ruffling the feathers of your senior players like that early doors is either inspired or not very smart.
Another area we need some sharp refocus is the defence. It’s unacceptable that we’re looking so ragged. We’re 2 games in, but we were shite at the back through the whole of preseason. The manager needs to get to grips with the basics very quickly. He made his bed when he signed a very slow centre back to be the lynchpin of his new defence, now he has to work out how to make the best of the situation. I love Lichtsteiner, but it’s starting to look like a wonky decision to hire in a right back of his age when he’s understudy to a young player who has looked disastrous in his opening two games. I know it’s not just him, Sven has had a role to play here, but even the fact that the two of them combined appear to have misunderstood the pace requirement of the league is a worry.
That should be helped by starting with the best 11. Granit Xhaka has been terrible the whole time he’s been at Arsenal. There will always be someone telling you the things you see with your eyes might not be right, but in football, if it looks like someone is consistently terrible, it’s because they are. Xhaka has been piss poor twice in a row, he needs to start on the bench and LT has to make his full debut. There are fans arguing that we struggled in the second half without the creative spark of Xhaka, but I don’t buy that. Guendouzi and LT have a good range of passing and look far better built for the rigours of the PL.
There also needs to be more cohesion on the pitch. The team two weeks in a row has seemed to give up on the game plan at halftime. Last week, Cech reverted back to hoofing, this week, the pressing discipline seemed to fade. That’s something I’d expect to eradicate over the next few weeks as the players start to understand the ideas.
Hopefully, some wins will remedy the issues. I think the thing Emery has to be careful is overkill in a panicked response. Double sessions, laborious video analysis and flip-flopping with the starting 11 isn’t going to help settle the players. The next 3 months are going to require strong leadership and a lot of faith from the players. Emery has 8 games to build belief in his players and a head of steam that’ll take us to 100% through the festive period. It’s all very exciting, but things really must improve fast if we’re to move beyond praising table stakes adjustments Sam Allardyce would have made.
Fingers crossed the manager and his team have the minerals to make this work.