Vitoria 1 – 1 Arsenal
I decided I wasn’t going to write anything until I could a positive from yesterday’s draw in Portugal. However, I succumbed when the best thing I could say was that we didn’t lose.
And I feel some relief for Shkodran Mustafi. How often has he been labelled Arsenal’s saviour? That said, it was the woodwork and Emi Martinez who kept us in what was another drab game.
Where was the joie d’vivre of last week’s 5 – 5 draw on Merseyside? The Europa League was ours to enjoy, to distract us from the sheer mundanity of the domestic league. But Emery couldn’t leave well alone. He sent us out with a game plan of not conceding and then nicking a win.
One goal is never enough with any Arsenal side of this era and yesterday continued that theme. Guileless, we didn’t manage a shot on target until Mustafi’s header with ten minutes to go. That ended a run of about 135 minutes without a shot on target.
One hundred and thirty-five minutes. Not evening in the darkest days of George Graham’s final campaign in charge can I remember us peddling such poor football.
Emery bottled answering a question about the lack of shots on target. Vitoria, he said, were well-organised defensively and in any case, it doesn’t matter because we achieved our objective of being top of the group.
Consider this, however. Vitoria scored three goals in this group and taken one point; all against Arsenal. Our record of conceding shots is worse than everyone else bar Astana, Dudelange and Krasnodar.
Mediocrity has become a byword associated with the club under Emery who is proving less adept with every passing game.
May God have mercy on our souls on Saturday at Leicester. Recent weeks suggest we could lose badly.
A Chink of Light
Most disturbing is the damage wrought on the players’ confidence. Emery shears a little off on a weekly basis.
Dani Ceballos, for example, looked every inch the outstanding player his reputation suggested against Burnley. Since then, he’s drifted aimlessly through the midfield. Questions are rightly asked about him and with every passing week, his valuation of €35m looks €20m too high.
Like others – Saka and Willock are the prime examples – playing in a system which has no discernible style nor attacking flair is damaging their self-belief. Emery is not a coach, it seems, who is able to lift spirits. He isn’t in my view a coach who can recover a nine-point gap to the top four which will emerge if we lose at the King Power.
We prayed that the returning defenders would shore us up at the back. That’s not happening. Tierney played well yesterday – or should that be less badly than the others? – but to pin our hopes on the Scot, Bellerin and Rob Holding is folly.
They can, and I’m sure, will improve our first-team defence. But we’re so fey in midfield and attack that it’s a short-term fix. The supply lines to Aubameyang and Lacazette aren’t there. Nicolas Pepe, meanwhile, is a £72m record-signing being turned into a Europa League player.
By the time Emery has finished with him, Pepe will be lucky to get a game on Hackney Marshes.
The players, however, bear responsibility for the performances as well. They are talented enough to rise about Emery’s flippancy. They are strong enough to affect change from within. If the dressing room can down tools on the pitch, the senior pros should be telling the Spaniard it isn’t working.
But that, I’m afraid, isn’t going to happen.
Over To Raul, Edu and Junior
Staggeringly, no vote of confidence has yet emerged. Despite the clownish performances and the obvious failings of the XIs in every competition, it’s claimed he still holds their confidence.
Maybe they are lining up a replacement? Ralf Rangnick signalled his availability by turning down Bayern and claiming his next job will in England. Scared it will cost money, boys? Missing out on the Champions League will cost more.
Decisive leadership is what the club needs. From the outside looking in, it isn’t getting it. Maybe the behind-the-scenes machinations are heading in that direction. I doubt it, somehow.