Image. Moving images. Image rights. Football contracts, in one form or another, involve images.
Perceptions occupy a similar space in the football psyche as well. You can present all the data you want about xG, xA, xyz and SPG; the rule of thumb for a player’s ability remains ‘what the eye sees’.
Managers and coaches fare little better. Their stats are harsher; silverware or league position are the two upon which their futures are decided. Our perception of how the team is progressing drives our opinion on the manager or coach’s performance.
In Unai Emery’s case, those perceptions aren’t good. There’s a sense from newspaper reports that he’s ‘lost the dressing room’ over his tactics. It isn’t that they don’t want to play for him (yet), they just don’t know what he wants.
That lack of understanding on the pitch resonates with the stands, real and electronic. There is no defined Emery style, no Emeryball if you like. It’s not a new point on these pages that being a football chameleon is no good if you don’t have a solid framework sustaining it.
And we don’t. It’s why I asked yesterday if the job was too big for him? Not the club but the task of rebuilding Arsenal, reformatting it for the 21st Century on the pitch. Others are doing it behind the scenes but there’s no sense we’re fit for purpose beyond the white lines.
Watching Arsene’s late-era Arsenal was frustrating as predictability stymied our drives for league success. Plan B emerged as a predictable long ball, a more direct route to the strikers; antithesis of Plan A.
The pressure got to him and he responded in the same manner as George Graham and Don Howe before him in both their final seasons at the club.
Dear Liza, Dear Liza
With Emery, the perceptions of improvement aren’t good. Last season, a transition year by any definition, was a ‘gimme’. He got a free pass and delivered more points, as well as the Europa League final, even if the less said about the latter applies.
A decent summer isn’t manifesting on the pitch yet. Yes, he isn’t helped with Nicolas Pepe still bedding into English football and the injury to Alexandre Lacazette hinders progress as well.
But neither of those two is enough to disrupt the side. However – and it’s amazing how many times my fingers slip to produce ‘howeber’ for that one – a slipshod defence and lacklustre midfield are problems which stop at his door, as well as those of the players.
The lack of leadership on the pitch stems, in my view, from the touchline. Emery’s farcical decision to announce five captains, which at the time of writing has yet to happen, underlines that.
The dressing room needs a focal point; a conduit from the players to the coaching staff. A coach can’t have a foot in both camps in the same way a captain will.
It might be an overly English approach to the game to have one captain but five captains? At least he isn’t claiming there are eleven leaders on the pitch.
Comments at the weekend that the coach remained calm while others around him lost their head are good. Venting is positive so long as the lessons are learned.
But, with Emery’s Arsenal, just as late-era Wenger Arsenal, there’s no sign it is happening. Five games in and it feels already like we’re shipping water out of the sinking ship using a bucket with a hole in the bottom.
Then Fix It, Dear Henry
That’s the pesky perception Unai is fighting right there. We all know how fickle football fates are but Emery isn’t going to trigger this team into action. There’s no 14-match winning streak delivering the title and reaching a cup final in this squad.
The players aren’t his bacon saving that way.
Not that I think his bacon needs saving yet. Raul and co aren’t ready to make jamon serrano out of him just yet.
I’m not convinced (yet) that a season and a bit in charge is enough. However, there might be some triggers which may change that.
Or two, to clarify. Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hold contracts which expire in 2022 and 2021 respectively. According to Raul’s brave new world, both sign or are sold next summer.
The question is why would they sign a new deal with Arsenal at the moment? The latter rightly complained that we’re “giving goals away”. We need to deliver improvement rapidly.
Lacazette surely watched and wondered what the hell was happening in the second half, just as we did. They train every day so know what is really going on. Whether they sign or not is a test of Unai’s vision for the club.
If they don’t, Emery is toast. Raul and Edu won’t want to be the ‘victims’ of the witch hunt which will surely follow, particularly if star players refuse new deals.
Next summer is decisive. Ceballos returns to Madrid, Sokratis, Ozil and Luiz are out of contract in 2021, so too Mustafi. They join Aubameyang in the footballing version of “Shag, snog, kick out of bed”.
Results always improve the atmosphere, however. Issues get pushed to the side, locked in the attic until the next bad performance.
And right now, it feels that isn’t very far away.