Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang claimed we were giving away goals last weekend and then for 85 minutes looked like he couldn’t hit a barn door in Frankfurt. Tom Cleverley was stunned by our “stubborn” refusal to change our tactics. Will any City player claimed to have been stunned by Watford’s “stubborn” refusal to defend yesterday?
A week is a long time in football. The fates always find a way to bite you on the Arsenal when you least expect it. When you ought most to expect it.
Aston Villa pitch up at the Emirates, ready for their role as sacrificial lambs at the altar. That’s ready as in ready to deliver us another bloody nose.
Where last week we looked confidently at being third with a win, this time, no-one is surely looking more than hopefully at three points. We might win and be no better than sixth; four of the seven teams on eight points play today.
And in any case, if last week taught us anything, setting this Arsenal squad a target or thinking hopefully of what might be, is a waste of time.
Watford remain bottom of the table despite our gift of three points but Villa will move out of the bottom three with a point and into the lower reaches of mid-table with three; they are motivated.
Unai Emery faces some tough choices. If Rob Holding doesn’t play today, we’re going with the Keystone Kops in the centre of defence here and at Old Trafford one week tomorrow.
It is madness to think a player can return from a lengthy spell on the sidelines into the hurly-burly of the Premier League on that occasion. Especially as it was the ground where he suffered a horrible injury.
Home, to the team third-bottom in the Premier League? We’re talking the ideal match for Holding to return. Calum Chambers might be miffed at missing out in the central role but he is looking at Nottingham Forest for his next outing.
There is a lot of pressure of the coach, however, in all this. Not invented pressure, the sort defined by a big club losing a game but the sort where players aren’t performing. How long will his loyalty to individuals last?
The issue at the centre of the defence is a key example. Yes, Sokratis and Luiz are by far the most experienced members of the squad. However, in every game they played together as a pair, one or both made a cock-up which led to a goal being conceded.
Granit Xhaka. Did well for Saka’s goal on Thursday, leading the charge from Martinez’s simple roll out of the ball. Exploited the space in front of him and passed well to continue the attacking momentum. Horrendous against Tottenham, invisible against Watford.
These are just two examples of the decisions Emery must make. In defence, he was hamstrung by injuries and left with Mustafi as the likeliest replacement if he made a change. It’s not much of a choice, is it?
In midfield, has he the same excuse? Did Lucas Torreira come back with that much of injury after the international break? It didn’t stop him playing a significant role as a substitute at Watford. If you’re fit for 23 minutes, as a substitute, you have to be fit for 83; injuries don’t work to a convenient stopwatch during a match.
Back to Reality
When does Emery shuffle the Premier League pack to end our winless run of three games? Today has to be that day. A raft of players found themselves rested or on the bench in midweek. I still shake my head in disbelief that Aubameyang played 90 minutes but there you go.
It’s not as if PEA can be rested today; Lacazette isn’t back until some time next month – and that’s a maybe according to the latest injury update. We don’t have another striker ready to step into Aubameyang’s shoes at this level.
Essentially, it’s time for Emery to show leadership on the pitch as well. Make tough decisions. How many games must pass before he drops an error-prone defender or underperforming midfielder?
Honestly, the only player whose position in the team is safe is Aubameyang. And Kolasinac, if only because Kieran Tierney isn’t yet fit and we don’t have anyone else.
I don’t expect nine changes. I do expect Emery to be ruthless when it comes to fixing the myriad problems we face on the pitch.
Somewhere in that squad is a good team screaming to come out. Instead, it is suffocated by Emery’s loyalty to underperforming players and his unhealthy obsession with footballing chameleons.
The XI to win today is:
Leno; AMN, Holding, Luiz, Kolasinac; Torreira, Guendouzi, Ozil; Pepe, Aubameyang, Nelson
That won’t be the one which starts, before you ask
I assume, by the way, that Mesut Ozil is fully recovered from his arduous 71 minutes at Watford. Or does he need to be a substitute today to ease him into the season?
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.