Usually after a defeat, there’s a day or so’s introspection but we pick ourselves up and look ahead to the next match. That’s how it used to be but Arsenal – modern Arsenal – don’t make that at all easy. In fact, they make it impossible.
That said, if you think Unai Emery has a tough job then it is nothing to the one Sol Campbell is taking on at Southend United. 7 – 1 home defeat last night, followed by a visit of the league leaders on Saturday? If he turns the Shrimpers around after succeeding at Macclesfield, he may just be cut out to be a manager in English club football.
Which is not a charge being levelled against Unai Emery at the moment. Few believe he is the man to turn Arsenal’s fortunes around. Even fewer believe he is steadying the ship, which is a harsh judgement.
I don’t see us as being any worse off than under Arsene’s last two Premier League seasons but that owes as much to ourselves as the fortunes of others. Statistics might say otherwise but they do not explain the fragility on the pitch, simply measure its’ output.
On Monday night, Patrice Evra referred yet again to Arsenal being “babies”. Granit Xhaka took exception: “We have to stop speaking about mental or bull**** like this,” he said afterwards.
It is, he said, far simpler: “You have to show big character.” Which, of course, is a manifestation of mental strength, the very point Evra made. So, Granit agreed with him.
That willful misunderstanding explains some of Arsenal’s problems. Emery’s English is frequently cited as the root cause of our failures. The players don’t understand him. I think they do; what they don’t get is the constant changes to the basic framework of the side.
Emery wants us to play that way but it is obvious the squad don’t buy into this strategy. He doesn’t make major changes to the side every week; the core of players he selects are the same so they should know what each other is going to do.
However, they are rudderless. There is no leader of the team, no creative force driving the players forward nor a defensive seargent-major organising the troops. Yet we have five captains.
Well, four; one of them doesn’t get picked even when we play abysmally.
Mesut Özil will probably play on Thursday night against Vittoria. If he has any wit, he will play the game of his life. He will position it so his continued absence makes Emery’s decision seem perverse. I wonder if he is that cynical, that ruthless?
I hope he is but I doubt it.
But the question marks over Emery give birth to speculation over his future. He won’t leave before the end of the season although a series of Premier League defeats will surely bring the curtain down on his reign far sooner.
It begs the question of who will take over? Freddie Ljungberg is the only internal candidate. Popular as a player, it might be he wants the opportunity to run the side his own way.
For Arsenal, it is nothing new as far as a caretaker boss is concerned. Rice, Houston, Burtenshaw; they took the reins temporarily and the club has little to lose in the short-term to give the Swede an opportunity.
On a permanent basis without any managerial/head coach experience? That is a huge risk and the reason Mikel Arteta was cast aside when Mr Powerpoint stole into the room.
There is the question of what Ljungberg would do differently that he cannot influence now? Is he a disciple of Wenger or like the best coaches, taken a bit from Arsene, Andries and Unai, and melded it into his own philosophy?
It is a risky decision for him to take on the Arsenal role if offered. Memories of Freddie the player will be influenced by Freddie the coach. If it all goes wrong, we’ll always finish reveries with “Yeah, but he was a sh*t coach”. That’s the way football works.
All of this presupposes that conversations about Unai’s future are taking place. Arsenal claimed to be listening to the fans during the summer but this is a decision which transcends that. Unpopular managers never last long at any club; the question for Junior, Raul and Edu is where the tipping point comes.
Reaching the Champions League via the Europa League achieves the end but assumes no importance to the means. It isn’t a sustainable route to the top table; you can’t rely on winning a cup competition every year.
Do they believe Emery’s philosophy has longevity in the Premier League? They will be in the minority if they do, given the way last season ended and this one began. It’s this stretch of the season which is ‘make or break’ for the Spaniard.
Come through this winter in the top four, in a strong position for the Champions League places in May and Emery will be safe until the summer. Languishing in sixth or seventh at Christmas means he can start spinning his time at the club for new employers.
That’s if the ‘new’ Arsenal really is ruthless.