You could almost smell the gun powder in the air at the Emirates last Sunday, with the Arsenal faithful on the brink of an explosion, as they watched their team huff and puff against Crystal Palace. And as soon as Granit Xhaka’s number was displayed by the pitchside referee, the Gooners vented their feelings and then some towards their captain.
What happened next was one of the ugliest and unpleasant substitutions in recent memory. Xhaka, already unhappy at being substituted mid-match for the third straight game in a row, threw his captain’s armband in disgust and then incited the baying crowd before mouthing of expletives, ripping off his shirt and stomping through the tunnel.
It was terrible. It was mutinous. And it was almost completely the fault of Arsenal’s out of depth Spanish manager.
We all knew that following on from Arsene Wenger would be close to impossible, as no manager could successfully follow on from a legacy as rich and vast as that of Wenger’s. But there was a general feeling that Emery would not face the same amount of pressure as the unfortunate David Moyes since he was not inheriting a serial title-winning squad.
He was instead inheriting an aging squad, without the necessary quality or depth required to launch a consistent challenge for the Premier League. Three transfer windows later, Arsenal have done a remarkable job of getting rid of a lot of dead weight in the squad, while adding a few really exciting and talented players in compliment the likes of Lacazette and Aubameyang.
But in spite of quite a successful transfer window last summer, Arsenal fans knew that their squad is no match for that of Liverpool’s or Manchester City’s. For one, Arsenal’s defence had a yawning gap that could be seen by every member of the 60,000 strong Emirates crowd every weekend. All said and done, Gooners were optimistic that they could have a really good season this time around, with a top-four finish and possibly a trophy to show for by the end of it.
Oh how things have changed in just a few months.
The initial optimism has been wiped out at the Emirates, as fans have had enough of Emery’s ultra-pragmatic setup which is completely neutralizing the flair and quality that Arsenal possesses in it’s ranks. In Pepe, Lacazatte, and Aubameyang, Arsenal have one of the best-attacking trios in world football, but instead of blowing teams away, the front three are more often than not dropping back into midfield to get a hold of the ball.
And that is because the Arsenal midfield, once the source of pride for every Gooner in the world, is in complete and utter disarray. We will get to Emery’s dreadful man-management skills of the pitch, but his decision making on the pitch beggars belief.
For years, Arsenal fans yearned for a hard tackling and tenacious defensive-minded player who will sit in front and shield the back four from the opposition. After failed experiments in Arteta, Coquelin and even an aging Flamini, Arsenal managed to buy Lucas Torreira from Uruguay, a little warrior in the middle of the park. Last season, Torreira showed glimpses of why he could be a smash hit at the Emirates, as the little pit bull forged a good partnership with Xhaka as he shielded the vulnerable Arsenal back four with aplomb.
So why has Emery suddenly decided that Torreira will not feature as a defensive midfielder, but instead play him as a number ten? Can someone explain this? Because if Torreria will only be played as an attacking midfielder then he might as well be sold because Arsenal have much better players suited to play in that position.
Speaking of the number ten position, Emery seems reluctant to play anyone in that position, as he has gone for Xhaka the deepest lying midfielder, flanked by the Guendouzi and Willock. Dani Ceballos is a super little player, but is he answer as the number ten? Maybe, but he is not getting help from his manager, because the team’s structure ensures that all the creative responsibility lies on his shoulders, making it easy for opposition teams to crowd him out and snuff out his effectiveness.
Now If only Arsenal had a player who is a master of playing in tight spaces and could manage to play incisive through balls on a regular basis. Oh wait…
So Ozil is not good enough to even be a part of the Arsenal matchday squads now? Arguably the greatest number ten of his generation is deemed not good enough to even start on the Arsenal bench? I am sorry, but whatever you may think of Mesut Ozil, the German is absolutely the perfect man if you need someone to unlock a stubborn defence.
The fact that Ozil is not getting a look in has made Emery’s midfield look shockingly devoid of any creativity, which now means that Arsenal’s fearsome front three basically has no ammunition to feed on. All too often this season, the midfield ponders around the pitch trying to maintain a defensive shape which is not really effective in the first place. However, Emery has hinted at giving Ozil a go starting this weekend after an impressive display against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup where he had a crucial role to play in two of Arsenal’s goals. Is it too late though?
The midfield three is always so narrow, meaning the full-backs have to run up the pitch trying to link the midfield to the attack. This is counter-intuitive, as Xhaka’s inability to shield the defence means that the opposition is behind him within a couple of passes and heading straight for the rocky Luiz and Sokratis partnership.
So to sum up, Arsenal’s defence is worse than before, the midfield is devoid of any sort of flair and creativity and their famed attack have nothing to feed on. And there is only man to blame for this.
In my humble opinion, Unai Emery is done at Arsenal Football Club.
Yes, I truly believe so, and not simply because he has got his tactics wrong on the pitch, but because he has clearly lost the dressing room off it. The players had far too much respect for Arsene Wenger to ever start a mutiny against the Frenchman. But they have none of that for Emery which is why a revolt within the dressing room is very much on the cards.
And will anyone be surpised? Not me. What else do you expect when you freeze out one of the more popular players in Mesut Ozil and then throw the very popular Granit Xhaka under the bus.
Coming back to what happened last Sunday, Xhaka was wrong to lash out at the fans as he was being substituted. But a lot of the vitriol that came towards him was actually aimed at Emery. Xhaka is a good player, but he has rarely been used to his advantage at Arsenal, which has made him a scapegoat for a lot of Arsenal fans.
Making Xhaka the captain was a big call from Emery, especially considering that the Swiss international does not share a great relationship with the Arsenal fans. Then comes his performances, which have been emblematic of Arsenal’s season so far, dour and disappointing.
The fans have not always been in the right either, as their behaviour towards Xhaka especially on social media has been nothing sort of disgraceful. There is only so much that someone can take before they crack. And unfortunately for everyone involved, both Xhaka and the fans cracked against Crystal Palace on Sunday evening.
All this could have been avoided by Emery.
Why couldn’t he just leave Xhaka out of the squad and out of the firing line for a while? And if he does pick him in spite of his poor performances, why would you publicly humiliate him by substituting him in a match on a regular basis. Xhaka’s relationship with the Arsenal fans may have not been great, but Emery has done him no favours by mishandling him in this way.
And now apparently several senior players have made it known that they will revolt if Xhaka is stripped of his captaincy from the manager. It is a lose-lose situation for Emery. Keep Xhaka captain and there will be mutiny amongst the Arsenal fan base. Remove the armband and there will be mutiny within the dressing room.
Discord, mutiny and an overwhelming sense of doom.
It’s time to say goodbye, Unai Emery.
Written by Siddharth Nair
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