I watched the Arsenal game in New Orleans in a great bar call Finn McCool’s. I am very hungover right now. So bear with me kids.
We’re now into October and Unai Emery has only managed one decent performance this season, that was against a Championship side.
On the face of it, you can boldly look at the on-paper situ and say that we’re sitting in 4th, we’re ahead of two of our main rivals in the race for top 4, and we’re excited about some of the kids.
Or you could be a miserable but realistic person and realize that there are only 3 points between 4th and 11th, our main rivals are in deep transition / we’ve not taken advantage of their woes, and the kids are the only exciting thing because the rest of the squad hasn’t really shown up.
At the core of our problems is our beta manager. Unai Emery went to Old Trafford, a team West Ham bossed, and played with fear again. His midfield lacked ambition, he basically rolled with three holding midfielders, opting to push LT into a more advanced position he really can’t play. Xhaka is Xhaka, you know what you’re going to get and it’s always a different variant of beige. We all love Matteo, but he can’t do it all himself. I really felt for the attack, Auba was dropping into our own penalty box at times to create for the forward players. Petit summer up the side he picked.
‘It sends negative signals by picking 3 defensive midfielders against a team there for the taking’
We went a goal down, there were 9 Arsenal players behind the ball when McTominay fizzed a shot that Xhaka ducked. It was quite startling to be down to a side that’s been so inept this season, but not surprising, we give wind to any club in any sort of crisis. Xhaka ducking a header? Not shocking.
We clawed one back in VAR circumstances. Saka slipped Aub into the box with a lovely first-time pass, the finish was an arrogant little dink, but the linesman called it offside. VAR overturned the decision. De Gea looked like he’d broken the unwritten rule… play on regardless of what you see with you eyes and hear with your ears. The VAR ruled the goal legitimate.
Saka was the one bright spot in a game of darkness. He’s electric, he moves the ball with purpose, he’s extremely bright and he delivers. If we’d spent £80m on him this summer, we’d all be purring right now. What a bright future this guy has.
The rest of the game was pretty grim to watch. The manager tried to spice up our attack with the introduction of Ceballos. I’m not sure it heavily altered the dynamic, though it did give us a bit more purpose.
We chased the win late on by bringing Reiss Nelson on for the dismal Nicolas Pepe. The Ivorian superstar looked utterly lost once again. He has some lovely flashes, but he has no clue what he’s doing in the Emery system. He’s a lost his sparkle, he needs a goal, I also think he needs a hug, the guy looks very, very miserable.
1-1 was a fair result, but once again, it was a poor one given the context. What made it worse was the glee on Emery’s face, like he’d just taken Sevilla to Barca and nicked a point. It’s so meek.
I’m no fan of Mesut Ozil, but in a game as bad as that, he’d be handy to open up opportunities. The manager named him in his 5 captains, then dropped him from the squad. What does that say about your emotional intelligence as a coach? How do your rationalise that sort of thing? What does that message look like to the other players? It’s farsical considering how little magic was on show yesterday. As someone comically said yesterday, Emery would prefer to play a defensive midfielder as a #10.
Long and short of it. We couldn’t take advantage of Spurs when they were in freefall. We couldn’t take advantage of an OGS mess. We’re in 4th place, sure, but the reality is we’re not playing like a top 4 team and the hangover from last season has carried through. We are a very average team. Some fans aren’t paying attention to the performances becasue they don’t think the table lies. I have news for you, the table always lies, if you didn’t learn that last season during our 22 game unbeaten streak, I feel for you. Emery hasn’t moved us forward, he doesn’t know how to build a defensive structure, his approach to attack is painfully one-dimensional, and worst of all… the players don’t look like they enjoy playing his system.
We’re holding out for Tierney and Hector to save Emery’s vision, the same way many fans were holding onto the idea that buying wide players would make his style tick. It’s fantasy stuff. We were supposed to be hiring in a magician who could work with the tools he was given, we got a one-dimensional manager with less tricks up his sleeve than Wenger. The only thing that’s flexible is his indecision. The only thing that’s visionary is the belief that there’s a good player somewhere in the world of Xhaka. The only thing exciting are the moments of individual magic some of our talent can pull off inspite of the manager.
We hired in asset stripper, the asset he’s selling off is footballing joy and he’s utterly ruthless at it. Unai Emery doesn’t want to have a specific style. He just wants to crawl through each game and take the points any way he can. It’s like watching a mid-table team bar fight after 12 beers. He’s a bad pragmatist, he doesn’t believe in anything, so we’re always going to look confused. We get by at the moment because we have good players, or more to the point, we have an Auba.
That’s not a sustainable model. It didn’t work last season, I have my doubts it will this year. The only thing we’re hopeful of is that Chelsea, Spurs and United continue to be works of transition. That’s such a miserable outlook considering how good some of the talent is.
… but this is us for the forseeable. I can’t see the club doing anything unless things go really badly, we’re just going to aim for 4th and hope the manager finds some sort of rhythm.
A disappointing result, but par the course for Emery.