I hate losing and I’m disappointed by every defeat that Arsenal suffers. However, I wasn’t angry or surprised by our defeat against the current league champions, Manchester City, in our opening game. They are a class above us and everyone else domestically. In saying that, like many others, I expect Liverpool to get much closer to them this season than anyone managed to in the last campaign – but that’s a topic of discussion for another day. In reality, and as much as it disappoints me to say it, a title challenge is not something that we will be concerning ourselves with for the foreseeable future.
Expecting nothing from the City game is one thing, being happy to dismiss not getting anything from the Chelsea game is another. They are nowhere near the same level as City, and defensively they looked as vulnerable as we did. Based on the balance of play, personally, I’m disappointed not to have picked up at least a point and we have only ourselves to blame for our failure to be clinical in front of goal. Admittedly, after the way we defended – or perhaps I should say failed to defend – for the opening twenty minutes, I’d have happily taken a one goal defeat at that stage of the game, with us looking like we were going to be on the receiving end of an absolute hiding.
I said months ago that it would take a lot of time, hard work and patience for Emery and his coaching staff to fix the defensive mess that Wenger left behind. Sadly, some of our supporters have already started getting on Emery’s back about it. Before, during and after Saturday’s game, I read comments on social media sites along the lines of “he’s worse than Wenger, he’s totally clueless, he should be sacked and we’re going to be in a relegation battle”. Ridiculous and I wish I was joking but unfortunately, I’m not.
The players may be hearing a new voice and a new philosophy on the training ground, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the majority of the playing squad played under Wenger for years, and have had his methods ingrained in them during that time. Some of our younger players have only ever played under Arsene at senior level and in any workplace, it takes time for a manager to influence the mindset of their employees. When a team defends as poorly as a unit as we do and have done for years, it’s not going to be resolved by one or two changes in personnel.
Whilst that maybe the case, it’s also fair to say that the team selections for our two games so far under Emery, have been questionable in the eyes of many. With some supporters humorously commenting “there’s only two Arsene Wenger’s” on Arsenal fan groups. In my previous article I said that we needed to start Bernd Leno ahead of Petr Cech due to him being calmer and more comfortable in possession. Although Cech made several good saves in the game against Manchester City, his kicking was atrocious and we were frequently put under unnecessary pressure because of it.
Admittedly, Petr did redeem himself against Chelsea and doesn’t deserve to be dropped based on that performance. However, to me Leno has all the attributes that Cech has got, except that he’s got better distribution and if that would make us a better team, he should play. Who should be our first choice in goal, is one debate that divides supporter opinion. Who should play at right back is one that the majority of supporters seem to agree on and it’s Stephan Lichtsteiner who gets the nod.
Stephan doesn’t have the explosive pace of Bellerin but he more than makes up for it by possessing exceptional positional awareness and natural leadership skills. In fact, I would say he’s the only player in our current squad who strikes me as captain material. I’m not making Hector a scapegoat as some will no doubt suggest, I just think he’s defensively naive and doesn’t communicate with our central defenders or midfielders enough. I can’t imagine Lichtsteiner allowing Henrikh Mkhitaryan to be as frequently non-existent in his defensive duties as he was against Chelsea. Perhaps a spell on the sidelines would allow Hector to gain useful insight in how to successfully play the role of a full back?
The continued inclusion of Granit Xhaka in the side is a constant source of frustration for supporters. In some ways I understand why Emery wanted to give him a chance as having a left footed player in central midfield can help to give the team balance, however, only if the left footed player performs. Xhaka hasn’t for quite some time. Some supporters need to remember that we have watched our players play for years and this has helped us form our opinions on them. Emery is giving every a player the opportunity to prove that they are worth a place in the team. Meaning that he doesn’t know his best eleven yet. I’m confident that he will get there soon and we will start seeing the results of his methods.
One huge positive has been Emery’s in-game management, which has been a breath of fresh air. Particularly when compared to the lack of it under the previous manager. How often did we see underperforming players play the full minutes regardless of their form under Wenger? Against Manchester City, Aaron Ramsey was replaced ten minutes after the interval and then against Chelsea, Xhaka was replaced at half time. Had it been Wenger in charge, he would have waited until the seventieth minute and then taken off the wrong player anyway. Often the easy option, the youngest midfielder or attacking player for example. I’ve got a feeling Mesut Ozil is about to receive a wake-up call too.
Whilst we are on the subject of young midfielders, nineteen year old Matteo Guendouzi, has arguably been our best player over the two games. Like all young players, he makes mistakes but he doesn’t hide and he always looks to atone for them. It’s been refreshing to see his energy in our team, which makes it all the more confusing to see one member of our fan base saying they believe he should be loaned out. It’s a game of opinions but I can’t see where he’s coming from at all with that one. Especially as his main point was that he believes he will get eaten alive in the Premier League. What an odd thing to say considering that we’ve faced two of the better teams and Matteo’s still managed to impress.
It’s early days and I remain very positive about the Emery era but it’s imperative that we kick start it with our first competitive win under Unai on Saturday. The supporters may have been in a forgiving mood after our first two games but I’m not so sure that will be the case if we don’t achieve the desired result against the Hammers…..