Eintracht Frankfurt arrive at the Emirates tonight ready to capitalise on Arsenal’s undisguised turmoil. No German fans will be admitted this evening, giving rise to expectations that this will be the lowest gate for a home first-team game in the history of the stadium.
I say no German fans will be admitted but obviously there will be around 20,000 of them in home seats…
Unai Emery faced the media yesterday in what can only be described as a ‘last meal’ press conference. His future, he declared, was “today and tomorrow.” A neat sidestep but also a brutal assessment of his predicament.
Shkodran Mustafi, accompanying Emery, accepted the players dropped the Spaniard in the cart. “If the coach is under pressure, the players are too.”
The German continued: “The coach is trying to organise the team and we, as players, try to put on the pitch what we do every day in training. We play together, we’re in the same boat and we will try to fight our way out of this.”
Except they are ham-fisted in their execution, leaving Emery on the footballing death row.
Emery was phlegmatic about his own circumstances, presumably knowing that it is a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ he gets sacked. Tonight is something of a free pass; no-one cares about the Europa League group stages with eyes firmly focussed on Sunday’s trip to Norwich.
Well, not quite. Lose tonight and the pressure intensifies as the group stage of the Europa League becomes the most important competition of the season.
Unai, though, has a cunning plan: get the supporters to back the team and breed confidence in the players.
Which I thought was his job and that of his backroom staff. Obviously not.
Et Tu, Brute?
Backing the team is, if you like, the role of supporters. However, the arguments begin when you’re told that it must be unconditional. It’s a grey area, at best.
Does the team lift supporters or vice versa? It’s a bit of both, to be honest. At the start of 90 minutes, the support backs the team but the performance on the pitch then influences the mood in the stands. If the players are completely off-key, that sucks enthusiasm out of the stands, requiring something on the pitch to reignite it.
Emery is playing a last desperate roll of the dice in calling on supporters to back the team:
My only focus is to show tomorrow a good performance and connect with our supporters. We know our supporters are disappointed but tomorrow we have the chance to come back with our supporters in the Emirates and show them that reaction.
I know some teams come here and are fearless against us and we need to be strong for our supporters but first we need to reconnect with them, but really, my wish is tomorrow that the supporters and every supporter helps the team because we need them.Unai hopes for a double-six to land
How does a team which is so disjointed become reconnected with supporters? It’s hard to see that happening when it seems so few are genuinely popular. As I said yesterday, not many of this squad would be missed if they were sold.
Popularity in tough times carries a squad through because it is built on a belief in either the coach or the squad, or usually, a bit of both. That’s what carries a squad and supporters through adversity together. That’s what is missing and it is also what is too late to garner.
A Show of Strength
A show of support is not out of the question but it is built flimsily. Adversity during 90 minutes is likely to see it ebb away.
More importantly, my view is that the support in the stadium continues for a team beyond what it actually merits. Saturday may well prove to be the nadir, the worst this team can be but I think our performance levels show plenty of inclination to drop further. Still, they are backed at the start of and during the 90 minutes.
Discontent surfaces but given the fare on offer, is that any surprise? Is unwarranted? No, on both counts.
I can’t help but feel Emery is flailing around, out of ideas on how to inspire this team, and relying on others now. Tick tock, Raul. Tick tock.
Despite the temptation to field a strong side tonight, we’ll see a smattering of reserves as usual. Sacked in the morning? No; there’s too little time for a new face to prepare for Norwich. His P45 isn’t in the post just yet.
One man who will feature this evening is Granit Xhaka and I expect that from the start. It’s been building to this and the expected low crowd favours a return tonight. The only red rag to the bull will be if Emery names him captain.
So to tonight’s XI:
Martinez; Chambers, Mustafi, Holding, Tierney; Xhaka, Willock; Pepe, Özil, Nelson; Martinelli
(Updated, on reflection, to save Lacazette for Sunday)
Having wiped the floor with Bayern, Eintracht have lost two on the bounce in the league, as well as in Liege, making it four defeats in five. Two hopelessly out-of-form teams meet take to the pitch this evening so we’re not quite the underdogs we might believe. I’m not expecting a classic…
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.