The morning after the morning after the night before feels little better than yesterday in many respects. Defeat is never easy to stomach and the manner of losing to Manchester City rubs salt into wounds. And there are plenty of them, each weakness a cat o’ nine tails on the flesh this season. Every time they are repeated, the lash cuts deeper.
No-one expected us to win at City but a better performance would have softened the blow. Not shooting ourselves in the foot eases the sting losing brings but my goodness me, we took it a
Yet, by every statistical measure which matters, e.g. the league table, we’re better than the same point in last season. We have more goals, more points, are closer to fourth and the top of the table. Despite an apparently increased capacity for error, we’ve conceded the same number of goals.
On the surface, after successive seasons where we slipped down the table, it is – at the moment – on course to halt that slide. After 20-odd years with one man in charge, the seismic nature of change is being rapidly forgotten, as is the decline which set in. Without significant funds, we expected improvement from the same players who spent years insulated from criticism.
We’re seeing improvement from some, most notably Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding. The latter is from playing regularly in the first team but as much, he is living up to expectations. The remainder of the team who were here before Emery? I’m not convinced anyone is necessarily better; Aubameyang and Lacazette are shoe-horned into the XI without a plan for this being evident. Maybe there is one and we don’t see it.
If We Don’t See It, Does It Exist?
Expectations are the most difficult thing for Emery to manage, particularly ours. There is such a broad range of aspirations, from returning to the top four to beyond. Someone somewhere is always going to think we’re underachieving. With the wealth of the majority of clubs above us, the Premier League built an expectation that we would spend, spend, spend.
Sadly, we did that last winter. Not just with transfers but also contracts. It was in essence, Ivan and Arsene’s Viv Nicholson moment. The money was there and spent unwisely in some cases. All of which left the ‘new regime’ stymied in the recently closed transfer window. This isn’t how it is supposed to be.
How it is supposed to be isn’t quite clear. Stories this morning of a summer transfer budget of £45m are coupled with tales of bids and targets totalling ten times that amount. It’s tattle which is an instinctive part of the game for fans; you’re either moved by it or detest the very essence of the transfer rumour. It’s hard to be ambivalent about them.
There’s also a sense of misplaced empowerment. The rage over the past few seasons of Arsene’s reign is quick to surface once again. Seeing others ‘make their name’ in those circumstances led to a lot of shouting from those hoping to tread the same path.
Manchester United sacked Moyes quickly into his reign when it was obvious that he was out of his depth. Van Gaal is probably a more accurate comparison. The Dutchman lost the crowd and the club hierarchy, to some extent the players as well.
Show Me The Way
There’s no sense the latter pair of ‘audiences’ is gone but there’s genuine bewilderment in the majority as to what Emery is trying to achieve. Flitting between four at the back and three; not using Ramsey or Ozil in big games; whatever seeds of confusion can be sewn, are.
What he wants to achieve, I think, is relatively easy to see. High-pressing, attacking down the flanks; he’s hamstrung, however, by players who are ill-suited to the formation and injury, as well as personal preference.
He doesn’t rate Ozil; we can see that. The club and he didn’t think Ramsey was worth the money offered, or I suspect more pertinently, the FFP price we would pay when it comes to renewing the squad. Until we get shot of Ozil, the wage bill is hampered. Adding Ramsey to that is another constraint and one too many.
But to return to expectations, what did people expect from Emery’s first season with Mustafi as a defensive lynchpin. Not all our mistakes are Mustafi’s but when a twitter thread of his video nasties gets as much attention as this, you know there is something fundamentally wrong with the player:
Click on the “people are talking about this” to see the full 16 – 17 clips. It’s instructive in how a centre-back shouldn’t play.
A Final Thought Or Two
So, this rambling post comes to its’ end with a suggestion, plea, demand, whatever you want to call it. We’ve just had 22 years of one manager and the ship needed steadying. We’re doing that right now – just, there’s no point in claiming otherwise – and we may finish better off at the end of the season. Maybe May’s judgement is the one we should be waiting for?
Oh, and Denis Suarez. I know you’re not excited by him, but FFS, can we give the man a break. Twenty minutes in an already beaten XI is hardly a fair performance upon which to base your assessment, is it? I know he’s not the central defender we need or the midfield powerhouse to play alongside Guendouzi and Torreira, but he deserves better than the immediate dismissal he’s receiving.