I honestly don’t know where to begin today, certainly as far as Emery’s press conference is concerned. I feel like I asked for a babel fish and was given a Google Translate implant instead. Nothing makes sense nor does it bear any relation to reality.
There’s a match to distract us from our woes, thankfully. Of course, with it comes the bear pit of the press conference and Unai must have painful ankles this morning. The traps set sprang and bit him.
Speaking on Monday night’s defeat, he tried to look for a positive: “We are improving defensively,” he said. “We are conceding less goals,” the claim was finished off.
By this stage last season, we conceded 11 goals in the Premier League; this time 12. The quirks of the fixture list render this a meaningless comparison; the only comparable fixture played in both opening nine games of the seasons is Newcastle away.
We lost on Monday night, according to the coach, because Sheffield United won more corners than us. Emery is right to argue we were denied at least one penalty but when you’re reduced to that complaint, there are deeper-seated problems to be addressed.
But it doesn’t matter. We’re improving as a team in his psychedelic world. How? We lost “3- 0” at Wolves last season where they employed a 5-3-2 system (it was 3 – 1 but never mind). Monday night saw us lose 1 – 0 against a 5-3-2 system. So, we’re +2 in goal difference even if it is really only +1.
Essentially, it was waffle and not even interesting waffle. And for tonight, it doesn’t matter. This is the Europa League and we’re enjoying ourselves in the group stage.
It’s A Knockout
Seven goals scored, none conceded; six points from six. Can’t argue with that outcome in a cup competition even if we’re a league. We’re well on course to qualify.
Two more wins and we’re through. Emery pointed out this isn’t a bad situation to be in during the early stage of the season. He’s right; we lose sight of that in the disdain for the Europa League.
Two wins, both with clean sheets. Maybe the Europa League defence needs to play in the Premier League? I jest. Ish. OK, maybe I don’t; I have a feeling tonight will see Bellerin, Holding and Tierney in the XI. That trio is better than our Premier League starting XI in my mind. No question.
The competition isn’t as fierce in the Europa League but even so, to keep clean sheets requires concentration from everyone and we’ve done that. Granit Xhaka isn’t around to cock-up an offside trap and that’s a good thing for this tournament.
There is an element of truth in the comment that we play with more freedom in these matches. Certainly, the forwards find more space so can make hay. So too are the midfield and it will be interesting to see if that continues.
Vitoria haven’t played since the end of last month so it will be interesting to see how sharp they are. Mind you, neither has this Arsenal XI so the question holds true for us as well.
Emery has several questions to answer in his team selection. Mesut Özil is fit; we know this because the only player included in the medical team’s update is Reiss Nelson. The question is will he play?
It will be baffling if he doesn’t. I understood why he didn’t travel to Sheffield. It’s north of Watford and an away game. Mesut doesn’t do those kinds of away games.
As I said yesterday, if he has any wit, Özil will play the game of his life. Throw down the gauntlet to Emery, dare him to drop him.
He’ll be good but not that good. And with reports we’re dropping £30+m on Dani Ceballos, Emery will be keen to play his compatriot at the weekend to seal the deal.
He may do that this evening, just for the perverse pleasure of seeing Team Mesut spontaneously combust. Or out of sheer cussedness.
Other than that, there are few surprises in store unless he picks Lacazette, Aubameyang or Xhaka. Actually, he can pick the latter if it means he will be nowhere near the starting XI on Sunday. The Goals Against column takes a hit but needs must; there’s a bigger picture.
This is the line-up you probably won’t see at kick-off:
Martinez; Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Tierney; Torreira, Smith Rowe; Maitland-Niles, Özil, Pepe; Martinelli
Unai will undoubtedly slip another handful of magic mushrooms before signing off the teamsheet and only seven of that XI will start.
These competitions seems likely to be the only time you’ll see three of the club’s best defence in action. Emery waffled about making too many changes last season so he’s going the other way this time around.
Let’s hope our improved competitiveness remains intact.
Somewhere in Emery’s head, there are good ideas. Unfortunately, they are held captive, bound and gagged by the bad ones he routinely implements. Tonight, I hope, brings some welcome relief.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.