Sheffield United 1 – 0 Arsenal
Before kick-off, my youngest son asked whether Emery would be sacked by Christmas. Confidently, I told him that won’t happen. Indeed, he needed to buckle up and settle down for the ride: Señor Emery won’t be leaving until next summer at the earliest.
It’s funny how the world looks a little different this morning. Nobody would bat an eyelid if he departed before 2020 and there would be some relief.
Arsenal in the final years of Arsène Wenger’s reign became lost in a slough of indecision. Emery took that willingness to pass ourselves into blind alleys, adding timorousness into the mix.
We’ve become lost in the cult of possession, afraid of our footballing shadows and unwilling to take the risks which bring footballing rewards.
Last night was a classic example of that. The famous cannon melted and an army of crabs replaced them on the club crest, more befitting for a team which passes sideways, sideways, back, back, forward, sideways, sideways. One which rarely exercises the opposing defence.
This is the result of Unai Emery’s footballing chameleon philosophy. Whereas Arsène would wing it, let the players think for themselves, the Spaniard runs them into channels, binds them to his own clever web. A web where he has become too clever for his own good, outthinking himself and turning himself inside out.
In short, Emery is beating his own team. Baffling them into mediocrity.
And they are willing accomplices.
I’m paraphrasing but both Emery and loyal captain Granit Xhaka felt we deserved to win last night. It’s a basic error but just because you have the lion’s share of possession, doesn’t make you the better side.
Chris Wilder organises his team far better than Emery. He coaches their strengths to cover their weaknesses, something Emery could never countenance.
Bad Case of Crabs
United’s back three became five with protection from the midfield. It takes hard work to maintain that for 90 minutes but they did just that. Effectively; the crabs in yellow shirts lacked the individual sparks of ingenuity.
I’m all for Unai Emery demanding more out of Mesut Özil but if he is fit, he must surely be on the bench. It’s lunacy to have fit players who, on their day, are better than the individuals on their pitch.
The club and Emery deserve credit for promoting youth but just as with Chelsea, let’s not laud them unnecessarily. Arsenal must promote young players because of the financial straitjacket in which we find ourselves.
Saka, Willock, Nelson and co all earned their chances. However, expecting them to change the game, to rescue us when all else fails, is unrealistic. They are in their first full seasons in the side, where substitute appearances are replaced with starting line-up places. They earned that but saviours? Even Messi was made to wait for that status.
The reality is that we have a decent group of players and they need to take responsibility for the match actions as much as Emery. There is an evident lack of leadership, to the point that nobody noticed Granit Xhaka’s half-time withdrawal from that perspective.
Last night underlined how deep-seated our problems are. Holding, Tierney, Bellerin; they aren’t going to improve us overall nor stop goals like the one we conceded when Xhaka sat deep to keep Moussett onside. Nor are they going to provide the attacking spark.
They might deliver better crosses but when your central strikers are surrounded by burly stereotypical English central defenders, there is precious little point in making that your plan of attack.
Playing on the counter exploited the space behind the trio of centre-backs. Had Pepe converted his early chance, the outcome might have been different. By his own admission, the winger’s confidence is damaged and playing in this Arsenal team, Emery’s Arsenal, isn’t going to solve that quickly.
Aubameyang too had the chance to improve our first-half standing. He was slow to reach the penalty area for Pepe’s cross but that’s no surprise. Carrying this team is bound to slow anyone down.
This was a performance we have seen many times under Emery before. Clueless, devoid of hope: lacking in every quality needed to succeed at the highest level.
I know we need Champions League football financially but from a footballing perspective, there is little point in our participation. We have no chance of winning the competition and are just one match away from humiliation.
That was evident last night. Freddie Ljungberg, the people’s champion, showed more fight and determination on the touchline in receiving a caution than many on the pitch.
However, he is not absolved from blame for this sh*tshow, along with the other coaches. Is nobody challenging Emery, pointing out that this persistence with his failed chameleon philosophy is damaging the club, wrecking another season?
How can you go from being a supine coach to leading the show? How can anyone have confidence you will transition between the roles successfully, especially in your first head coach job? Hearts are ruling minds in the clamour for his appointment.
Where’s my placard? I’m joining the mob.
Or Are They Devo?
With the season crumbling before our eyes, is Junior getting a sense of deja vu? Nothing has changed from the end of last season when we were the team Ikea built. One brush with trouble and the whole house of cards collapsed back into the flat-pack box, ready to be returned to the shop.
More immediately, Raul and Edu must be questioning Emery intensely. They are footballing men, less prone to mood swings than supporters you’d think, but nonetheless very aware that whatever the Spaniard is trying to do, isn’t working.
This is why the stat about conceding so many shots on goal matters. It’s indicative of the systemic failure of the managerial plan.
To not bring him to heel over this is a dereliction of their duties as well as being an act of rank cowardice.
The question is, are they men or are they mice?