Arsenal under new leadership looks exactly the same as the old Arsenal we thought we’d left behind. The sum total of what we delivered in a 3-1 loss was 15 minutes of football that looked interesting. The main celebration of Arsenal fans post-game centred around not losing by 8 goals, as many feared we’d be revisiting that fateful Manchester disasterclass of 2011.
That’s a depressing new low 9 months into a new regime.
I don’t think anyone was really expecting Emery to deliver a blistering win, but I also don’t think anyone expected Arsenal to go down so meekly. Emery was pitched as a master tactician, a man who had a plan for every player, an energetic motivator who was furious at the fitness levels of the players, and on a mission to hold players accountable for their pitiful attitude towards winning. What he delivered yesterday was another shambles shielded by the fact that he has a free season pass with a huge group of the fans who seem to believe that patience and money will iron out the kinks in a body of issues that looks more like coaching issues.
The starting 11 was odd. Emery opted for 4-4-2. He chose to play Iwobi, he once again picked Lichtsteiner, and he left Suarez, Ramsey and Ozil on the bench.
We paid the price within 50 seconds. Guendouzi had tried to move the ball out of our box, he played into Iwobi who dithered and lost the ball, Lichtsteiner was too slow to realize what was going on, Mustafi played everyone onside, and Aguero was found with a diving header he easily put past Leno who jumped the wrong way. We were so stretched early on it was hard to work out what the formation was at times, but what was clear is the defence was shell shocked and hadn’t a clue how to settle.
Arsenal did come back into the game with a great set piece goal from Laurent Koscielny. Torriera found Monreal at the front post, the ball was knocked on for a simple headed goal. We had City rattled for a good 15 minutes, Guendouzi and Torriera were doing as solid a job in midfield as they could considering how outnumbered they were and we nearly took advantage of a few pieces of shoddy defending. But ultimately, we weren’t set up to take advantage of the weaknesses in City’s armour. Our strikers were playing too deep, Auba is ineffective against great sides that control the midfield, we had no width, and our creativity was limited to Iwobi.
To make matters worse, as always with this Emery side, we didn’t have the maturity to see out an advantage into half time, a now chronic issue almost as debilitating to our progress as not winning away from home last season.
Fernandinho had time to pick out Sterling on the right, Lichtsteiner pottered over, the ball was cut back to Gundogan who clipped a ball back over the defence first time, our right back had lost Sterling trying to clear his lines, the ball was volleyed across goal where Aguero was on hand to finish unmarked for the second time.
Emery didn’t do anything to change things at halftime, I thought he might switch to three at the back and introduce some creative talent. We’d not given Lacazette or Auba a single chance the whole half, you felt if we addressed that, we might have made things more interesting.
As it happened, City came gunning for us in the second 45, and we were finished by 60 minutes. Aguerro found Sterling out on the right, Iwobi wasn’t covering, Lichtsteiner couldn’t deal with the pace, a simple cross found Aguero for his third tap-in of the night.
The manager tried to chase the game after that by introducing Denis Suarez for his debut and giving Rambo a run-out, but the players had essentially given up. They knew it was over and they didn’t want to go down fighting. Emery himself seemed to follow their lead offering up Mavrapanos as a 79th-minute sub.
Worth noting that Suarez dropped a debut so bad, there’s a compilation of it. It’s only one game, but I’ve seen him plenty of times before, I’m really struggling to see what he’s brought to the table that we don’t already have at the club. He doesn’t give us width, he’s not physical and he’s slow.
Arsenal were chasing a game in the second half and we managed to register ZERO attempts at the City goal. We couldn’t even provide a wild shot at goal from 40 yards (miss u, Xhaka).
The two bright spots for me were Matty G and Lucas T. Those two worked tirelessly and deserved more out of the game. Matty G is such a great player, I love his ferocity and work ethic, his lanes of passing and his growing confidence. What a star we have there. It’s telling that he’s our most important player at the minute, this reminds me of Jack in his breakthrough year. Let’s hope we take care of MGs body a little better.
So in conclusion, it was 3 points we were all expecting to drop, but a match that once again exposed the manager as lukewarm at the highest level. He made a lot of mistakes yesterday and I think that’s 13 games he’s failed to best Pep. I think this comment after the game was very telling.
“Our players have the mentality that when we are worse than the opposition we feel that.’’
Apparently, that line isn’t a translation issue, he said it over and over again. Though it might be true, you do wonder if Emery was wise to say it? The team are clearly struggling with inconsistent ideas, indecision with team selection and interchanging tactics. I’m not sure throwing stones is smart when you opt to play two strikers and leave all your creativity on the bench. Is Emery really surprised the players didn’t believe when he started Lichtsteiner despite knowing he’s finished at the highest level?
Inferiority issues usually stem from the leader. You’ll always come up against bigger and better-equipped opponents, the key is to find stratagems that convince your soldiers the fight is winnable.
Whatever the reason, Emery’s observation was correct, you absolutely knew that when Arsenal walked out on that pitch they had no hope of winning that game. The players didn’t look like they knew what they were doing and there was the same lack of belief we’d have under Wenger. The interesting thing about the comment is earlier in the season, we were celebrating the shift in mentality under Emery, a manager who said he refused to let his players play like cowards, a manager who had reinvigorated the dressing room with a winning mentality. The proof points were a succession of late winners, games turned around at half time, and 22 games unbeaten (I was saying it too!).
What are we saying now? Was that a mirage? Is it now back to Wenger’s team after 9 months? Do we have to go on a Stalinist purge to rid every single player that had a word whispered to him by our ex-manager before we can be fully satisfied that the new coach has been given the best possible chance?
We are 9 months into this project and we’re on course to concede 57 goals this season. We’ve shipped 13 goals in our 4 big away games so far this season. We look an absolute mess. There was no organisation yesterday, senior players were making basic mistakes (players that have been making mistakes all season), and the tactical hypothesis we went for in leaving our creative players on the bench ended up punishing us because the pragmatism didn’t equate to better defending.
Arsenal didn’t have to travel this week, so they’ve had time to prepare for this game. We conceded 12 shots on target from 19 attempts. That is miserable, but we did the same away at Chelsea (13) and Liverpool (10). Just to put it in perspective because I know we had injuries, Newcastle limited City to 4 shots on target the week before. Even Huddersfield, a team in a terrible state, managed to reduce City to 4 shots on target. Defending is a team game, and we’re not doing it well. Even worse, both the aforementioned sides registered the same number of shots on target as us (2), both had more attempts.
If there is such thing as winning ugly, then yesterday was an example of Arsenal losing ugly. City were average, but as always, we are exactly the team you want to play when you’ve hit a bumpy patch. We’ll always roll over and take it. I knew we’d have problems this season, but I thought we’d see a sharper vision of a new Arsenal sooner. I thought at the very least, if we went down, we’d go down fighting. I didn’t expect the coach to be slaying his player’s mentality in February, especially when 6 of the starting 11 were players bought in during the Sven era (the remaining 5 all capped at international level).
You can attribute yesterday to Wenger all you like, you can plead for more money and patience, but you cannot escape the reality that Emery was hired in as a prestigious head coach of Arsenal and he’s failing across the board. The video analysis hype doesn’t seem to be translating onto the pitch. Maybe players can’t concentrate for the hour or so he spends talking to them, maybe the ideas aren’t good? Whatever Emery and his team are doing defensively, we’re getting worse.
‘I like the possession with the ball, I like good pressing against the other team. I prefer to win 5-4 than win 1-0.’
Today we registered 2 shots on target both shots coming from defenders. The pressing game isn’t really there. The players are not getting better individually. Stylistically, we’re still awful to watch.
That’s on the coach.
Today’s result was expected, the question you have to ask yourself is whether that was the sort of loss that’s driving towards a better Arsenal. For me, all I could take out of that was the dread that we have a manager out of his comfort zone and as a result is shifting his own narrative from a power point mastermind who had a plan to coach us into the next level, to just another drab chequebook manager who needs two seasons to make improvements (remember the press defending Moyes in the same way?).
That’s not what we were sold people because if it were, you’d not have bought it.
Remember, there is nothing rational in calling for patience and investment in a person who isn’t delivering improvement. There is nothing sensible in taking a drab path if you don’t need to. Bruce Rioch hit his objectives in his first season at Arsenal and David Dein took the rational decision to dispense of his services for Arsene Wenger. That’s great leadership. Let’s hope Raul has that in him should the season continue to head south.
Would love to hear your thought in the comments.