It’s becoming harder and harder to raise a defence as to why you’d keep Unai Emery on at Arsenal. Southampton, placed 19th, boasting the worst defence in the league, were the better team away from home this evening.
They had more shots on target, they had more big chances, and they fought like dogs for 97 minutes. The last-gasp equaliser from Lacazette in the 95th minute was a relief, but it didn’t stop the fans venting their frustration with a chorus of boos.
Unai Emery doesn’t make things easy for himself, the pregame chatter was focused on telling the fans they were wrong about Granit Xhaka. Think it by all means, but understand the fans perspective, and don’t poke the bear when you’re exposed. We don’t like Xhaka, telling us we’re wrong is not for this moment. Thankfully, we didn’t see the Swiss in the squad, but the manager still messed up his starting lineup, once again electing for a conservative back 3 at home.
We were bad. We went a goal down again, this time inside 10 minutes. Chambers made a clumsy foul, Southampton took it quickly, our players complained instead of chasing down their mistake, we went a goal down. When a team is downing tools in the Premier League, it only needs to be a 5% reduction in effort, seeing us that unfocused from a freekick is what I’m talking about. Sunday league basics.
We pulled a goal back, Lacazette making the most of a free ball in the box 10 minutes later. We hoped that was part of a resurgence, but it really wasn’t. The game played out like a scrappy cup game, it was end to end calamity for both teams. The middle of the park of wide open, our defence was being pulled all over the place, and we had next to nothing in attack.
I spent a lot of the game watching our midfield, which is really our biggest problem. There’s simply no understanding of positioning on or off the ball. Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi have no chemistry in the middle of the park, likely due to a lack of playing together, but even so, watching them trudge back to cover was frustrating, but worse was how little they gave to the transition to attack. Their slow movement either boxes them into a press, or it closes down passing lanes that should help create openings out wide. LT is also done at Arsenal, watching him step off and allow a rasping shot at our goal felt par the course for him. He hates Emery and he’s not interested.
The second half we saw some action, the manager introduced Pepe who looked better, but still well off what an £80m player should be delivering. I think his tenure at Arsenal was summed up when he was found on the counter, he had Ozil open at the back post, or the option of having a crack on his own, he dithered, tried to find Ozil, and bungled his lines.
Southampton continued to keep the pressure on us and eventually won a penalty when the otherwise impressive Tierney tugged at Ings’ shirt. VAR said yes. Leno actually saved the penalty, but Prowse was first to the rebound. I know there was no chance one of our defenders was going to make it, but when you watch the replay, look at how slow our players were with the follow up, half didn’t move, the rest were a yard behind Ings’. 5% can mean a lot at this level.
We did pull one back in the end, Martinelli served up a great cross that Lacazette finished off saving a bit of face.
It wasn’t enough for the fans though, boos for a dead man walking reverberated around the ground. The manager, far less animated than he was at the start of his career, trudged to the dressing room looking like a man on the edge.
Raul and Edu don’t have a defence now. They’re serving Emery up open goals to save his career and he shanking them wide from a yard out. Southampton are one of the worst teams in the league, they shipped 9 goals against Leicester – Arsenal barely managed to scrape 5 shots on target. The team is broken. Emery doesn’t know how to fix it, and worst of all, the players don’t care for what his possible solve could be.
The decision isn’t simple though. Remember, Raul is weirdly wedded to Unai Emery, that’s his boy, he put his rep on the line to recommend him to the board and everyone at the club knows that. He’s clearly a stubborn man, and it seems like the worse his boy performs, the more he digs his heels in.
The major concern is there’s no plan for what comes next. Freddie Ljungberg is a great face for the fans, but it’s questionable if he’s the innovative coach we’re looking for. He hasn’t been exposed to modern coaching greatness. Arteta, another exciting explayer with a huge insider reputation might be out of our reach, and we might look too much of a mess for his first job (things are that bad). Then you have the #1 candidate, Pochettino, clearly the absolute perfect resume to bring us out of the doldrums. Fresh off a sacking and the humiliation of being replaced by a nasty has-been… but does he want football right now? Or does he want guaranteed trophies and a new adventure in Europe with Bayern or PSG if they move Tuchel on at the end of the season?
We are low on options. What you can’t do is sack someone and make a 4-year replacement mistake like they have done at United time and time again. We need a clever decision that’s forward-facing, or we need a coach that truly is the Gus Hiddink or Rafa Benitez care taker type of character.
One things is for sure, change has to come and it has to come soon. Things will heat up for Raul when he realises his reputation with the fans and the owners starts to slide. Another empty stadium, another day of bad headlines, and the harsh impending reality that Arsenal blew next summers kitty on making the Champions League this year.
We are in trouble without decisive, well thought out action… do the football execs have it in them to save our season?