The Unai Emery rebuild has been drab; a touch like watching builders plaster your walls. Except it never ends. You’re waiting for the paint to go on so you can think about new furniture and all the sexy Ikea artwork you’re going to put up, but it never happens. The plasterer is still pointing out the mold, blaming Arsene Wenger for not looking after the basics from way back when. The Watford showing felt like us revisiting a familiar damp problem that never really went away.
The game was par the course for Emer-enger. We created very little. Our defence was porous. Our midfield couldn’t match up physically and didn’t offer any cover. Our transitions moving forward were fleeting and stingy. There was no leadership on the pitch. There was no style to speak of.
It was very Unai Emery, the ultimate footballing plasterer.
I am trying to offer up more balance to the way I report on him, but it’s tough. As you know, I was highly sceptical of the search and select process. The owners clearly didn’t do their due diligence / the job spec was wildly off. Emery struggled to control egos at PSG, he was painfully pragmatic, had no pedigree for building a defence, and couldn’t speak English in his interview. His hiring was about as rational as a petrol station birthday present run… NOW 47 in a plastic bag type scenes.
That said, I have to be fair, he had an excuse last season. He was picking up the pieces of a legendary manager that had lost his mind. The club lacked a winning culture. The professional footballers he inherited needed tactical education, they needed fitness, and they needed focus.
… he found the cure immediately and we all celebrated it. We went on a 22 game unbeaten run. The real issues came when Emery’s ideas settled and he’d beaten the last of Wengerball out of the squad.
It’s now been over a year. We can’t continue to make those excuses anymore. We have to judge what we see and we have to hold the manager accountable. So far, it’s very hard to excuse what we’re watching. Yesterday was a dark day.
Arsenal has conceded 96 shots so far this season. That’s the most of any club in the top 5 leagues. We shipped 31 shots against a team that was rooted to the bottom of the league. We have NEVER conceded that many shots in a game. Sure, many of those were speculative, but the reality is, no club should feel comfortable enough to rifle off that many attempts at your goal. No midfield should be gifting so much freedom to below-average players.
We created very little moving forward. Emery’s system lacks imagination and the players don’t seem to know what they’re doing. The brilliance of Auba continues to rescue us. That is not a sustainable plan. If it is the plan, then we need to be brutally solid defence so his goals from nothing count for something.
Arsenal were bullied physically. We couldn’t out-fight Watford for the full 90mins. It’s so simple to get at us, just pressure our defence and midfield. We struggle to play out of the back, our transitions are wildly inconsistent, and when things start going wrong there are no leaders on the pitch to drive us out of the mess.
We are still making individual errors. David Luiz had another poor performance, but look, how can you critique him, the midfield in front of him has no shape or structure. They let Watford bypass them all day, how are centre backs supposed to mitigate zero protection? The midfield was either in the backline defending too deep, or nowhere to be seen.
We are an absolute mess at the minute. Emery has picked up this season where he left off. He has better players, but he’s just as confused about the system he wants to play, and he’s totally out of his depth on how to fix our chronic issues. The job is hard, yes. But what top job isn’t? Did we not hire a coach? Did we not hire a master tactician who could outthink the opposition?
The reality is this: Emery lucked out landing the job at Arsenal. He is not top class. He’s an above-average manager – Everton levels at best. He’s a Quique Flores, a Marco Silva, or an Eddie Howe. He is not an innovator, he’s not a charismatic leader, and he’s not the next level we hoped for.
There’s no philosophy behind what he’s doing. There’s no style of play. We’re moving from game to game just trying not to lose. There’s a view that Arsenal fans can’t cope with pragmatism and that anyone of Emery’s mindset would face the same harsh criticism… maybe that’s true, but the reality is we’re suffering all the blandness of a pragmatic manager, but we’re not reaping the any of the rewards. We play 3 holding midfielders and we leak shots and goals. Today, we played a more attacking line-up and played like we had 3 holding midfielders. We are being slapped with stale football with the defensive rewards of a peak Kevin Keegan starting 11.
Allegri might play dry football. Conte might drill his teams in a robotic way. Peak Mourinho was cancer of the eyes… but they answered the critics with progress and results. Their philosophies earned clean-sheets, wins and trophies.
We’re a year into the new manager who has some beliefs.
No one liked the playing out the back thing last year, Emery persisted, then gave up. We’re back to square one again this season and he’s introducing the 2.0 version. It has been a tactical disaster and it cost us 2 points today. He’ll give up on it after a while, I’ve no doubt, because he doesn’t know how to coach this idea to success. Same with the pressing. Where has it gone? We don’t do it. We’re meek. Characterless. It’s so tough to watch.
Take the coaching out of the equation, let’s talk about what it takes to create a high-performance culture. To achieve this, you cannot have a single bad egg in the mix. One average person brings the entire place down. Elite talent is highly sensitive to shite. If they can smell it, and if it’s tolerated, it destroys the whole culture. That’s in the backroom team, that’s in the squad, that’s certainly in the first team.
If we’re truly trying to create a high-performance culture, tell me this, why is Granit Xhaka anywhere near the captaincy? The most important person on the pitch is the most error-prone, the most likely to throw a teammate under the bus, and the most likely to say beta male things in the post-match interviews. He’s even getting sideswiped by our best striker. Auba had this to say.
‘You could say that us attackers could have killed the game off and score a third goal, so I’m not going to say it is someone’s fault. It is a shame to concede goals like we did’
That is as subtly veiled as turning up to a Tinder first date wearing a condom on your face. When your captain and your best player are taking jabs at each other, it’s hard to believe the training camp is in great shape.
Xhaka is a mistake junkie, his skills are unsuited to the Premier League, and he is so far from high performance it aches my soul.
We still have the psychologist at the club that has overseen a cataclysmic decline in mental strength, we still have the motivational bus driver on the bench, the one that was banned for fighting at Palace, we still have all the bad apples at the club that were there last season. We collect average.
Having a good attitude and loving football does not make you elite. We need new ideas, we need an identity, we need someone that can communicate a vision, and see it through.
The start of the season has been bad. Objectively bad. Everyone excused Liverpool, but the warning signs were there. No one paid attention to Burnley having 18 shots because we won, but that was footballing equivalent of hearing rattles in the Utah lowlands (snakes Terry, snakes). We cannot continue to pretend that what Emery is doing is normal or transitional, because it’s just plain fucking bad. We’re struggling in a nice 26-degree heat to a bottom of the table team. If we don’t sort out our problems now, they will be amplified to a far more dangerous level when the cold sets in. This has to be addressed.
We’ve apparently spent next years money on delivering Champions League football, nothing else is more important than making top 4, the consequences for failure are unthinkable.
Over to Unai. See you in the comments. xx