This morning sees Unai Emery basking in the glory of the opening weekend win at Newcastle. Basking is probably too strong a term for discontent is simmering under the surface.
The football wasn’t stylish enough; the scoreline wasn’t convincing; most of the new toys found themselves on the bench. All these reasons and more were used as sticks to beat the Spaniard with.
Replacing Arsene was always a tough job but pushing Mikel Arteta out as successor? Unforgivable.
The first defeat will see blades flash through the air; “Sack him now! Save us the trouble at the end of the season!” the battle cry gurgling through the spittle-filled air.
It’s not going to happen. Emery is in the last year of his contract but it’s widely believed there is an option for a third year. Unless he fails to finish in the top four, the club is going to exercise their contractual right.
Why shouldn’t they in those circumstances. Ambition is in short supply beyond the burning financial need for a return to the Champions League. If Emery hits that target, he’ll get a new two-year deal; there’s no question of that in my mind.
He’s rebuilding the squad using the same approach as George Graham; youth promoted through the ranks, alongside experience.
Crowd favourites depart – for Aaron Ramsey, read Brian Talbot – as the manager brings new ideas to the table. Others – for Mesut Ozil, read Charlie Nicholas – are edged out with both sharing an adhesion to the club, much to the respective manager’s chagrin.
Focus naturally turns to the youngsters once the big money signings are dissected. Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock on Sunday joined Ainsley Maitland-Niles in balancing out a patchwork side, or so it is assumed.
Pepe and Lacazette, it’s assumed, will return to the team against Burnley at the expense of Nelson and Mkhitaryan; Dani Ceballos replaces Willock. The former changes are easy to see; the latter probably happens but not as readily.
The youngster displayed the fight Emery desires in his players as this clip from Sunday shows:
That determination to win the ball back, to force a turnover in possession, will be a key factor for players during the season. Willock’s efforts aren’t going unnoticed and Ceballos faces a lot of pressure for his place.
Some believe this is the best crop of youngsters to emerge since the 2007-08 season. Maybe they will prove that good; at least they don’t have Capi Dipstick as their guiding light.
As Graham found, experienced players who knew their way around the pitch is vital for youngsters. Steve Williams was no angel nor Kevin Richardson. The teens need to know about the dark arts.
However, it’s also important from a fans point of view not to place too much expectation on their shoulders. Are we sure this year’s graduates are as strong as Adams, Rocastle and Thomas mentally?
The similarities between the Arsenal squads and their league standings is uncanny. That trio came of age as we pushed the top four finishes. Not that league positions meant anything; English clubs were banned from Europe and Arsenal felt the Screensports Cup as trashy as it sounds.
Can Emery get the best out of them? His team selections last year included the baffling and bewildering. This time, however, we’re likely to see very little of Shkodran Mustafi unless there is a calamitous injury situation. Even then, Calum Chambers is ahead of him in the queue. A long way ahead.
On announcing his appointment, Ivan Gazidis claimed the decision was heavily influenced by Emery’s track record in developing youngsters. The club’s financial model dictates the head coach must succeed in this area, probably more so than winning trophies.
That’s the brutal truth. Enos and Junior, Raul and Edu; they all talk about winning but in reality, it’s about making money for a variety of reasons. Increasing the club’s value and providing funds for the big-money deals next summer are just two of them.
Emery is tasked with delivering the foundations for that on the pitch. If FIFA ever poaches the UEFA marketing team and make the World Club Cup something worth winning, you can bet we’ll target reaching the finals in their proposed new format.
We may still do but winning the Champions League is a more distant dream than at any point during the past decade. Which is a vaguely impressive achievement for all the wrong reasons.
All this from one widely derided performance in the Premier League? Who says optimism is dead on these pages…?