Nick Lowe wondered about ‘Peace, Love and Understanding’ while we’re thinking about ‘Mesut, Unai and Understanding’. Or is it a lack of understanding?
We can’t understand what Unai Emery’s philosophy is, how he is going to change everything for a brighter futures. That’s if you aren’t wondering how the hell he got the job in the first place. Largely, the expectation was of an ‘A-lister’ such as Allegri or whoever is trendy in the Bundesliga.
Instead, we got a serial winner whose one blot was six-month spell in Russia.
But we don’t understand what he is trying to do with Arsenal. Do we actually need to is a good question and the one we need to answer first. Practically, the answer is no. Our understanding of his tactics, philosophy and aims isn’t going to impact on the players form or abilities.
Is there any truth in language being an issue? There’s no evidence to support the theory beyond his press conferences. Let’s be honest here, communication is difficult enough in a second or third language; add in a situation where you’ve got to be wary but appear open? I wouldn’t judge him by public utterances at all.
And that’s offering the players the weakest of all cop-outs.
The basic question is whether Emery has a footballing philosophy? There’s nothing as tangible as Pep or Klopp’s styles which you can trace through their respective clubs.
And there is a good reason for that. Guardiola went from Barcelona to Manchester City via Bayern Munich; all wealthy clubs, dominant in their leagues. Klopp went from Dortmund to Liverpool; similar clubs at similar levels.
However, Emery went from Valencia to Sevilla (not dissimilar clubs) but Paris St-Germain is a different ball-game.
Balance Is Missing
PSG dominated French football without blinking yet he’s come to Arsenal, where the style was European in a league where power and athleticism are the order of the day. Sevilla were hard-working side with Rakitic in midfield are 18-months of his spell. After that, they used the width of the pitch with Kondogbia, Banega and Kryzchowiak dominating the centre.
He’s trying to replicate that here but he doesn’t have the squad to do that. It’s why Ramsey isn’t a clear fit in a footballing sense but also where Ozil’s problems surface. Rakitic is a more complete midfielder than Ozil; both are technically gifted, Ozil probably more so, but it’s not worth trying to compare their worth ethic defensively.
Therein is Emery’s problem: he doesn’t trust his defence entirely. Bellerin, Holding, Sokratis, probably Monreal as well; they aren’t on his hitlist but Kos, Lichtsteiner, Mustafi and Kolasinac? The former pair will be former players at the end of the season while the latter will also be gone in my view. That’s if we can find some fool to take them.
Needing to shore up the centre of the defence, to compensate for the deficiencies is an issue. It’s why we go 3-4-3 but for that to be effective, he needs a Rakitic alongside Torreira. Xhaka is not that player nor is Ozil.
Creativity is thus shoehorned into the side from the wings. At Sevilla and PSG, he had strong wide strikers. Auba is one but we have a vacancy for the other flank; Iwobi is the best we have at present.
That underlines the basic problem. Mkhitaryan, Ramsey, Ozil; players who don’t fit, commanding a weekly pay cost of around £1m including taxes and insurances. That imbalance is why we need several transfer windows to right the ship.
Smoke and Mirrors
Which brings us back to the philosophy and our understanding of it. Arsene was lambasted for being inflexible and slow to react. Substitutions you could set your match watch by, a rigid 4-2-3-1 following flirtation with a back three months after rivals made it de rigeur in the Premier League.
Now, we have the opposite of that and you’d think people would be happy. Instead, other problems surfaced such as only turning up for 45 minutes. That’s if we turn up at all, which we didn’t on Saturday.
It’s that kind of result, that kind of performance which brings insecurities and uncertainties to the surface. In any walk of life, a leader who makes his message clear, takes his crowd with him. There’s no bafflement about what is trying to be achieved, even if it isn’t.
A football manager needs to take his crowd with him; it helps in genuinely dark times. Part of that is trying to see what is hoped for, where the team is trying to get. At the moment, with this squad, the message is being obscured by pragmatism.
As he refines the squad, a clearer vision will emerge, I’m sure. It has to if there is to be any longevity in Emery’s reign. The co-heads of Arsenal are two differing football business philosophies and with Raul in charge of the football side, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think the ‘hire and fire’ mentality is too far away.
It comes down to money. Can we afford to back the manager? Can we afford to sack the manager? Those kinds of decisions.
Compare The Contrast
The contrast across the KSE empire couldn’t be more marked. The franchise he is investing time and money into is succeeding. OK, the money is coming from loans to finance the new stadium but Stan is the visible front of the LA Rams. One step away from the Super Bowl but still he isn’t entirely loved by the home crowd. Or certainly not trusted.
But a successful team changes that. Ask any club owner. Winning major trophies or the major trophy, challenging for it; these create a positive vibe. Nobody would care whether Stan invested any money in Arsenal or whether we were the surety for his business empire, if we won the Premier League, challenged for the Champions League and only played on a Thursday if Hollywood demanded it.
But we aren’t, so we do.
We always knew a change in coach meant some rough times. Over the years, that faded from dropping out of the top four to maybe falling out of the top six. We’re still a step away from United and Chelsea’s tenth place but there is no certainty it isn’t coming.
Is that a carthatic moment we need? One where reality brutalises your senses? Not so much “wake up and smell the coffee”, but more “wake up, you’ve been out cold for a week”.
Perhaps we’re at the nadir now, destined to finish worse than last season. Do we need to do so for the board, the owner and bank manager to talk about loosening some funds to reshape the squad quicker than expected?
Even in that scenario, dropping out of Europe altogether, I don’t think Enos is ready to dip into his own pocket. He isn’t that kind of guy and more to the point, he hasn’t yet shown he understands football supporters.