The last Saturday 3pm kick-off at the Emirates until kingdom come sees a relegation six-pointer in the Premier League form book.
Ordinarily, I’d be looking at this with a comfortable two or three-goal margin in mind. These days, who knows? I genuinely can’t remember when we put together a pulsating performance in the match after an international break.
That’s what Emery needs and he knows it. His Arsenal is riven with self-doubt and indecision, a reflection of the coach himself. Unai is struggling to get the best of his squad, his tactics and himself. Our season is the manifestation of that.
Yesterday, he took time to rip the carpet from under Lucas Torreira’s feet, only to help him up with a cheesy grin. The international break featured stories of the Uruguayan’s unhappiness, building on the pre-season tales of failing to settle in this country.
He was, the stories went, seeking talks with Emery over his role in the team. Emery began by talking about himself, telling the world “he needs to improve”.
Sorry, that’s me misunderstanding Unai. Torreira, he said, “has a very big future here, but he needs to improve.” Unlike Emery who has a very limited future at the club.
Anyway, Emery believes Torreira “has to learn in some situations to help us and do better.”
There’s little wonder the Uruguayan doesn’t know whether he wants to stay or go. Emery doesn’t know whether he is coming or going either. One minute he sees Torreira as a defensive midfielder, the next he’s a trequartista.
Quite who acts as the ‘invisible wall’, playing the Gilberto Silva role we desperately need to protect a shaky back-four is unclear in Emery’s vision. Presumably, he wants a defensive midfielder who attacks and defends at the same time.
Clear as Mud
Today, however, is another chance for Torreira to shine. The question is whether the cobwebs which engulfed the whole squad have been shaken off by turning out for the country?
Granit Xhaka is back in Emery’s favour – if he ever fell from that Grace – with the Spaniard looking to build bridges. As far as I am concerned, he won’t improve us thus he stays canned. Were he an integral part of the team, then forgiveness would be quicker but he isn’t. Departing in January would, I think, be best for club and player.
There are some many questions to be answered in Emery’s team selection that it makes your brain spin. Is this the time for Chambers and Holding to form the central defensive partnership or do we stick with the back-three? Sokratis and Luiz are not the protective barrier their experience suggests they ought to be.
As harsh as it might seem, the time has come for something new, especially with a relatively benevolent fixture list. Will Emery, the ultimate Tinkerman, be brave enough to make that change?
Somehow, I doubt it. The Spaniard is a timid tinkerer. Nothing in his selections suggest bravery in his choices, of throwing down the gauntlet. Instead, it’s all about neutering opponents, focussing on their strengths. We used to criticise Wenger for ignoring the opposition but Emery is the polar opposite; too obsessed.
I wonder how he sees Southampton, a team he rightly pointed out who are better away from home and more durable than their results suggest. Indeed, I’d venture they will set up with a mind to defend; the type of opponent who always causes us problems.
Will Emery be brave in his team selection or settle doggedly into attacking with big ladders in his defensive nylons?
Tinker, You Little Stinker!
The biggest question I think he must answer is Alexandre Lacazette. Like the rest of the team, he is struggling for form but I wonder if he is even fully fit?
His presence with Aubameyang, unless it’s a 3 – 5 – 2 variant, feels counterproductive. Indeed, if he had four years left on his contract, would he be in the side? I’d venture probably not. Let’s face it, Auba doesn’t offer the team much beyond scoring goals while Laca does plenty of hard work without necessarily getting the rewards he deserves.
But for today, against a defence which will be crowded and stifling, you need a predator in the penalty area and one who will get good service.
Özil was ineffective at Leicester but this is a match in which he will surely thrive? Give him the creative role he craves and free reign. Martinelli on the left offers plenty of goal threat and decent delivery; it’s time to let him step up while Pepe on the right needs top-flight football to thrive.
It leaves the line-up as:
Leno; Bellerin, Chambers, Holding, Tierney; Torreira, Guendouzi; Pepe, Özil, Martinelli; Aubameyang
Will Emery be that brave? No. We know he won’t but he must be.
I expect Laca to start with Willock thrown into the Lion’s Den as well. Pepe and Özil probably make way. Just to throw everyone off, Xhaka will play on the right. That’s the kind of tinkering we’re up against.
But no matter what, enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.