Arsenal 2019-20: An Unsettling Third

Third in the Premier League. All but qualified for the knockout phase of the Europa League without a goal conceded. Into the fourth round of the League Cup. Par for the course or punching above our weight?

If you’d offered this before the start of the season, we would have taken it. So, why the rumblings of discontent?

Progress has, there’s no doubt, been painful. Indeed, the bare statistics are undermined by the tale of how we got to where we are.

Compared to last season’s corresponding fixtures – ignoring the Villa game – we’ve scored seven fewer goals whilst conceding three fewer. That’s a worrying trend, particularly when two of those three came in the Liverpool fixtures. We’re also not benefitting as much from a tighter defence as we might expect.

The three games where we conceded fewer goals failed to yield an increased points take. We won four points from those three matches – Newcastle, Liverpool and United – last season and took four this time around.

Watford are the only team to net more against us this season and it cost us. Not just in points – although that is the only objective measure, everything else is subjective – but in confidence as well.

However, not scoring as many goals isn’t proving as problematic it seems. Only the Tottenham game, comparatively speaking, cost us points; two fewer goals scored meant we drew this season as opposed to last season’s win.

The end result is that we are four points worse off than last season’s corresponding fixtures with a worse goal difference by four goals. That reinforces the notion that we’re not improving year-on-year.

Of course, nothing is so simplistic. There are many factors at play in each season, including the state of the opposition as well as ourselves.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

Underlying this, of course, is fear. Not scary movie fear but nervousness that we’re not in control of our destiny. With a relatively kind eight games at the start of the season, we’re a net four points and four goals worse off.

And we’re not playing well. Not playing well and getting results is winning ugly. Third place and winning ugly, taking advantage of others lapses, is good.

There’s a ‘BUT’ and a big one at that. What happens if they recover their form? Tottenham are unlikely to continue playing like they pour a vat full of Stella over their cornflakes every day. And top it off with a couple of pints of Special Brew just for good measure.

The biggest danger United pose is sacking Solskjaer, which everyone expects them to do. A new boss who motivates players and understands tactics can make them a top-six team.

Chelsea, meanwhile, are playing without pressure. Lampard isn’t going anywhere, despite a relatively poor start.

Every one of the traditional top four rivals has problems but so do we. If you extrapolate our form over a season, we end up around eight points worse off. Can we expect others to accommodate our foibles?

Fundamentally, we lack any discernible footballing style. We don’t play with the joie de vivre we expect from players this talented. Don’t go thinking I long for Arsene; our problems started with the final couple of seasons of the Frenchman’s reign, including poor transfer business.

But into his second season, it’s right to question why Unai Emery hasn’t found the answers. I hope he does; he wins, Arsenal wins, we win. I don’t have any issues with Emery as a person but I am far from convinced he is going to be Arsenal boss next season.

Tipping Point

Football, once the game of the masses, priced itself into the expensive end of the entertainment market. Television rules the roost now, dictating the fixture list. It’s not inconceivable that we’ll end up with a franchise-driven Premier League ruled by men in suits who make decisions about who plays where and when players retire.

For the moment, however, I’ll stop watching Rollerball and get back to the story.

There’s a balance between winning and being entertained. No-one ever shrugged their shoulders in defeat, consoling themselves with “Oh well, at least we played good football”.

But nobody is happy for long with winning ugly, especially if it is achieved with skittish performances. Results matter but performances provide the long-term view. Playing well but underachieving offers hope for the future; achieving while playing poorly leaves a sense of overachievement, a feeling we are punching above our weight.

Some will argue this isn’t as bad as the Graham-era. There was nothing wrong with the first six years of the Graham era and when we first started playing dull football in ’92-93, he delivered two cups and then European success. People are willing to forgive with success.

When you don’t even hit the basics, then there are problems. Even when you achieve only the basics, murmurings begin.

Can Emery turn it around? Can he remove the doubts which besiege his Arsenal?

I’m not convinced. Even finishing third or fourth will only get him into the third year of his contract. It seems harsh when we tied his hands behind his back this summer. Maybe it is only fair to give him year three anyway; but who said anything about football being fair?

’til Tomorrow.

28 thoughts on “Arsenal 2019-20: An Unsettling Third

  1. Turin Turambar says:

    “A relatively kind eight games at the start of the season”.

    False. They included 3 games vs top 6 of last season. 2 of them away.
    Seems everyone is just trying to ride on the negativity wave these days.
    I suppose one’s gotta generate the clicks.

  2. jonnygunner says:

    Thank you once more for the write up YW….succinct as per usual.
    I think both Tottingham and United will have new managers by Christmas,so unless we sort ourselves out we’ll be in trouble.
    That would mean the bin dippers and Citeh ahead of us with Leicester doing very nicely,United and Spurs…..we’ll be 6th then……

  3. YW says:

    TT

    > False. They included 3 games vs top 6 of last season. 2 of them away.

    Games we took four points from. This time, just two.

  4. Pete the Thirst says:

    ‘Playing poorly and getting results’ is a phrase we’re not used to as Arsenal fans. Under Wenger ‘playing great football and being unlucky’ was the style.

    I’m far from convinced by Emery’s tactics, but there is a definite insurgency from the Wenger loyalists which is using style over substance as a weapon to attack the manager.

    It must have clicked by now…he ain’t coming back. Let it go.

  5. Dc says:

    Missing 4 quality players out of the XI plus a Pepe to bed in had an effect. It’s a long season and we grind out results while treading water, waiting for the speedboat to arrive. We will be fine.

  6. Pete the Thirst says:

    @YW you got a bizarre name check on Le Grove today. A ditty about Queen of Suburbia. I remember her/him from a long time ago on a number of blogs.

    Ah the good old days…before colour television ruined it for all of us…

  7. YW says:

    It was a him. Turned out to be husband which posting everywhere – here, there, Twitter – under her name. Bizarre.

  8. Pete the Thirst says:

    A colourful character! Shame they don’t post any more. Up there with my personal favourites (in no particular order):

    Myles Palmer – Currently hanging with Bob Dylan
    Rhys Jagger – Fighting a restraining order
    Gambon – Studying for a Phd in Bu!!shit
    Tony Attwood – Wearing a stolen pair of Wenger’s underpants

    YW:
    It was a him. Turned out to be husband which posting everywhere – here, there, Twitter – under her name. Bizarre.

  9. Ferkov says:

    jonnygunner,

    Haha. I got moved on. Can’t believe they missed you . Must be the Laura Ashley dress and beard combo confused them.

  10. Ferkov says:

    I’m glass half full as I believe we have a squad capable of lifting our game , but until we shake off the hangover from the end of last season, then I’m steadily sipping.
    Winning ugly would be fine ,if there wasn’t a distinct pattern emerging.

  11. andy1886 says:

    Winning ugly is supposed to be something successful sides do when they have an off day, not something they do every week. It catches up with you sooner or later if you keep playing poorly.

    The issue with Emery for me is that he isn’t getting the best from the resources he has. We should be doing better. He also has the annoying weakness that AW enjoyed – being stubborn to a fault.

    Although the defence gets a lot of attention the key is getting a balance in midfield which would not only provide more cover at the back but also a platform for our attack to work from. Sort that and I’m convinced we’ll be better at both ends of the pitch.

  12. Michael says:

    Andy 1886
    I agree, but you could have said leave Xhaka out and put someone more suited there. When he gets his inevitable next yellow, Emery will have to. Then maybe we get to see what the 1st team really looks like.

  13. Paulie Walnuts says:

    YW,

    Queen Of Surburbia rings some bells. There were some proper ding dongs on here before the fun bus got going.

    I always had a vision of Blackburn George prowling round his cell in his string vest with the walls covered in large close up pictures of Arsene.

    Happy days.

  14. Blue Yonder says:

    Excellent article and right on the money as usual. I must say that numbers are one thing (and, after all, what teams live and die by) but it’s the game inside the numbers that concerns me most. Examples: experienced players like Sokratis, Luiz, Mustafi, Xhaka (and Kolasinacs, to some degree) performing so poorly so regularly. Younger players like AMN seeming to plateau as others did before them (Iwobi, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott) make me wonder how/if Arsenal will get to the next level and become like MC or Liverpool. It can’t be just the players or just the manager so, what is it?

  15. C says:

    I will be interested to see how we do once we get our returning fit players fit. Emery was to press high and I for one think the loss of Lacazette is massive to doing that. The Xhaka thing is annoying because even if Emery is trying to invert his midfield by having the playmaker be at the base with Torriera pressing higher up with say Lacazette, it still leaves Guendouzi as rhe better option at the base.

    You tell me we are 3rd with no Lacazette, Pepe bedding in, Torriera not fully fit, no Bellerin, Holding ane Tierney and the goals coming from individual mistakes….I would take it and say lets get fit, bed them un over this break and see what happens.

  16. andy1886 says:

    The culture has to be part of it, managers, players, all absorb it even if it’s not conscious. You break old habits by investing in the people with the right mentality. For example Bellerin last week was more of an Arsenal captain then Xhaka has ever been, Holding too seems to have something about him. These are the sort of characters Unai should be leaning on rather than the Swiss who simply cannot lead by example.

  17. consolsbob says:

    Arsene apologists! Here?

    My God!

    Why is it that for some it is always about Wenger? Those with some true knowledge of Arsenal might measure our current state against something other than one manager, no matter who he was or what he a achieved.

  18. nicky says:

    Dc:
    Missing 4 quality players out of the XI plus a Pepe to bed in had an effect. It’s a long season and we grind out results while trea more.ding water, waiting for the speedboat to arrive. We will be fine.

    Couldn’t agree more.
    I only wish more of our mates on this site, had a tad more patience. As you say, treading water and we are up to 3rd!

  19. Arsetralian says:

    I am still hopeful with the full backs and Lac returning…but that was pretty dire. At home. To Bournemouth.

    I was ashamed to watch us time-wasting, diving, passing backwards regularly. Just trying to slow down the game all second half. Clinging on early to a 1-0. At home. To Bournemouth.

    Say it ain’t so. And yet midweek and such promise. Nerves, caution, lack of confidence. Comes from the manager or the style he is pushing. Strange times but hope we push on.

  20. jonnygunner says:

    nicky: Couldn’t agree more.
    I only wish more of our mates on this site, had a tad more patience. As you say, treading water and we are up to 3rd!

    Tell me about your world Nicky…is it all soft and fluffy…with no sharp edges?

  21. jonnygunner says:

    Dukey:
    Jonny, what car does Yogi drive?

    He’d gone by the time I turned up

  22. Papa Bear says:

    This dude with hot chick pic avatar sums it all about how I feel about Dick Emery.

    “Winning ugly is supposed to be something successful sides do when they have an off day, not something they do every week. It catches up with you sooner or later if you keep playing poorly.

    The issue with Emery for me is that he isn’t getting the best from the resources he has. We should be doing better. He also has the annoying weakness that AW enjoyed – being stubborn to a fault.

    Although the defence gets a lot of attention the key is getting a balance in midfield which would not only provide more cover at the back but also a platform for our attack to work from. Sort that and I’m convinced we’ll be better at both ends of the pitch.”

  23. Papa Bear says:

    I think Mustafi has the talent to be a stand up comedian.

    “I’m not the second worst defender in the world’: Shkodran Mustafi hits back at fan poll ranking and Arsenal defender insists criticism of his performances has become irrational!”.

  24. Darren says:

    I listen to fellow AFC FANS and can they remember some of the dross draws we had when watching the invisibles ? All I can say is have faith

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