When the chips are down, good news is invariably in short supply. Today is no different for Unai Emery. His one snippet of blue sky is that Dani Ceballos is the only player missing for what he hopes will be a ‘good ebening’ in Leicester tomorrow.
Clouds, as ever, are not far away. This morning sees reports that Lucas Torreira wants to sit down with Emery and see where he features in the Spaniard’s plans. Front and centre is the answer whilst Granit Xhaka is out of the side. How long is that for?
Well, The Times this morning claims Newcastle United are ready to offer the petulant midfielder his escape route in January. Not that Xhaka leaving means Torreira is guaranteed his favoured position in the line-up. Given Emery’s wonderous tactical mind, it will be no surprise to find the Uruguayan in the #10 role with Ozil or Willock in the defensive midfield role.
Mind you, he could end up playing as centre-forward if Barcelona follow through on their interest in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The sum total of these is more than the individual parts. None would raise an eyebrow, particularly the transfer gossip, if things were going well. Even if things were bang average, they’d be mostly ignored. Except the protagonists are senior personnel in the squad.
One is a disgraced captain whose career ground to a juddering halt two weeks ago. The other is a player many consider superior in the defensive midfield role but is treated as an understudy. The final player is the club’s top goalscorer for this season and last. No sweat, eh?
The cumulative effect of these stories is that they chip away at Emery’s authority and credibility. It’s another block pulled away in the head coach’s Jenga.
Tomorrow’s trip to the East Midlands is a crucial fixture. If, as expected, Chelsea win, defeat leaves Arsenal nine points off the top four. In those circumstances, it’s going to be a long international break.
It will, obviously, be an easier time for Emery if we win. A natural caution will follow victory, ‘one good win a season does not make’, etc – or outright howls for blood if we lose. Which, I suspect, is what will happen given the form of the respective sides at the moment.
Of course, that brings forward the ‘Chelsea’ defence. Fans don’t want Emery sacked because it means we become like every other club. As if dismissing the Arsenal manager is sacrilegious.
It isn’t. The period 1977 – 1980 bought Terry Neill goodwill and time. Two years to rebuild which he failed to do. Fan power removed him from his post in December ’83 after a defeat to Walsall.
Don Howe resigned a couple of years later but only because he found out Arsenal’s board were touting his job around, including offering it to his best friend in football. No, we’re not that sort of club, are we?
Despite years of winning trophies, the rumour mill had it George Graham was on his way out of the club before he was caught with his fingers in the till. Winning three cups in two seasons wasn’t enough to save the Scot. Nor was returning the club to European football enough to stop the axe falling on Bruce Rioch.
The truth of the matter is that Arsene Wenger’s reign distorts the fact that Arsenal are no different to any other club when it comes to managers. Those who don’t deliver are removed ruthlessly at times and Unai Emery isn’t delivering.
The reluctance to hire and fire on the part of the club is understandable. However, Emery was appointed by the Snake Oil Salesman, despite reports he preferred Mikel Arteta.
In that sense, it is a ‘get out of jail free’ card for Raul and Edu. While they know and might like Unai, he isn’t their man. The next choice is vital for them in that sense. It’s the one they have to get right.
While it is relatively early in the season, the pattern of recent months is simply and extension of the end of last season. They have to weigh up whether this is a ‘blip’ which Emery can turn around or something more rotten.
At the moment, they think the former. The question is when does that turn into the latter.
To appoint anyone now will cost money and a lot of it. Freddie isn’t going to be #1 for more than a few weeks so forget it. Is it worth paying out now and maybe retrieving the Premier League situation or let it slide and write the season off?
Which will cost the club more? Missing out on Champions League football again or paying out for the services of a new boss?
It’s a risk. There’s no guarantee of success in appointing a new head coach. It’s whether the management think it is a risk worth taking.
Tomorrow evening may well go a long way to deciding that.