in 2011 I was a avid reader of Arsenal blogs but there was far less of them in those days. One writer who stood out for me when it came to tactical match analysis was @DesiGunner. He was one of a handful of writers that inspired me to take to the amateur Gunner keyboard, so I have much too thank him for. Sadly Desi became so disillusioned with the previous regime that his blogs became infrequent and then ground to a halt. I periodically ask him if he wishes to guest on GT and out of the blue this week, for the first time in years, the great man said yes – Yippee!
The Emery Conundrum
Emery is a conundrum for me based on a conflict in my thoughts.
In principle, I strongly believe a manager should be given time. There are very, very few managers who come with a guarantee to produce results. This number dwindles to a handful once budget restrictions are in place. All the fingers on a hand would not be needed if we impose additional conditions like style of play, for instance.
A few things do expand this group. Winning the Premier League or the Champions League is a tough ask, making the top four is relatively easier, and so on. More managers can achieve lower targets. It is interesting how the demands at Arsenal, at least amongst fans, have changed. Wenger was routinely criticized for failing to compete for the title. These days, though, a top four spot or even battling for it seems acceptable. I do have a sneaky feeling that for the owner/management, top four was enough and will again be.
Therefore, on one hand, I am completely in favour of giving a manager time and support.
Now, on to the other side of this story.
To be honest, when Emery was appointed, I was disappointed. If I made a list of top 25 managers working right now, the Spaniard will not make the cut. The more I listen to him the more I am convinced he is better suited to be a pundit rather than a top-level manager. This is purely my personal opinion based on how I see the game and it makes me wonder whether Arsenal should continue to back the wrong horse. Maybe this introduces some bias to the way I see things. It is possible, but someone will have to make a strong counter argument to prove it.
What is the case in favor of Emery apart from the general principle of giving a manager time? Is there a philosophy someone can point to yet? Are there genuine positive developments in terms of the way Arsenal are playing? I would always support a manager if I can see a process even when the results are not quite as desired. The Arsenal manager does talk the talk quite well in that regard, but the performances on the pitch do not quite back it up in my eyes.
Let us break this down a bit starting with tactics.
Emery is supposed to be a tactically adept manager. He is also one who spends a lot of time analyzing the opponents and specifically preparing the team for the match based on that. One would expect then, that the Gunners would come out ready for the opponents and dominate or, at the very least, compete well with the opponents in the first half. The start of the game is where you would have the edge if you are a side that prepares based on the opponent’s qualities. Later in the game, it is possible that the other side adapts and the game evens out or presents fresh challenges.
Have Arsenal shown the fruits of this so-called opposition analysis on the pitch in any game? Perhaps in the win over Chelsea. Any others? Curiously enough, Emery’s side have repeatedly struggled in the first half when they should have, in theory, had the preparation advantage. Repeated half time substitutions are a sign that the manager simply does not know what he is doing and proof of poor choices to begin with. The flexibility argument only works when you are generally doing well at the start and occasionally need to make early changes.
Tactically, Arsenal have not shown any noteworthy changes that alleviate the defensive headaches from the end of the Wenger era. Nor do I see any real attacking improvements. In fact, as far as I am concerned, this is a much weaker attack with a lot more limited ideas up front. Your first challenge then, in making a case for Emery, is to demonstrate some tactical qualities he’s brought to the club that are proving helpful.
I can see many people immediately pointing to the quality of the squad even when the discussion is about tactics. Therefore, we discuss that next.
I predicted two years ago that Wenger would leave with Arsenal out of the top four, a weak squad, and not enough money. This was months after the Gunners had finished second in the league and before they dropped out of the Champions League places.
There is a very real chance that AW departs with Arsenal outside top 4 and leaving a squad & finances that make it very hard to get back in
— DesiGunner (@goonerdesi) January 3, 2017
The point is I fully understand and respect the challenges Emery is facing. This squad needs improving. Nevertheless, it isn’t so weak that defeats against Southampton or West Ham are justified. Arsene’s last season has set a very low bar. Barely crossing it is not good enough. This is even more relevant because Emery knew the squad he was getting when he was took the job.
At the time of his appointment, Gazidis said, “He was extraordinarily well prepared with a knowledge of Arsenal and an analysis of all of our players, their qualities and how he can help them develop.”
How many players has Emery developed?
Unai was asked in his first news conference whether he would need to recruit many players. This was his response, “I believe we can grow with the players we have. The objective is to work hard together and with these talented players.”
The former PSG boss supposedly came with a dossier full of analysis of all Arsenal players for his interview. Did that dossier say half the squad is worthless and needs to be replaced?
I would love to read what that dossier said about most of the Arsenal squad. In any case, this does punch a hole in the ‘bad squad, good manager’ theory. Was he just saying good things about players to get the job? Did he hugely misread the quality of players available? Alternatively, is it the case that he simply has not been able to get the most out of the limited qualities at his disposal?
Against United, for instance, he pushed the full backs high and this played into their hands. They were, it seems, ready for this.
Lukaku, "We knew they would leave space for me and Alexis with the full-backs pushing on, so it would end up being three v three or three v two and we had a lot of moments when we could have countered better, especially in the second half." https://t.co/8N5mecH3Bi
— DesiGunner (@goonerdesi) January 26, 2019
Talk about opposition analysis! When you don’t have the players why be so aggressive and imbalanced? Given his previous comments about the squad and his tactical decisions, it almost seems to me that Emery does not believe the squad is very weak.
Injuries are a problem. They have been a real nuisance for the Gunners for years now. Wenger got dissension for not adapting his tactics. How about the Europa League hat-trick man?
Then there is the tricky man-management angle. It is extremely frustrating to see two of the best players, Ramsey and Ozil, not being utilized to the best of their abilities. Recently, Emery has started to use the departing Welshman. It only begs the question, why not sooner?
Ozil is a much more complex problem because he is a team player and not an individual star who can shine despite the supporting cast. Wenger had to work hard and try various approaches in order to get the best out of the German. It was a little easier when Arsenal had the likes of Arteta, Alexis, Ramsey, and Cazorla in the squad as they could combine together and adapt to each other’s qualities. It is tougher with the current squad. Again, I am very curious to read what the Spaniard had to say about these two marquee players in his dossier.
At this point, the only argument in favor of Emery might be his past record. A record does not impress me.
During the fourth in Premiership versus domestic cup debates at Arsenal, I always maintained that league position was a much bigger and more important achievement. The smaller cup wins make most fans happy and have strong emotional value but do not help the club as much. This is now apparent, I hope.
Europa League win does not matter to me except as a path to Champions League. Winning three EL titles in a row also means the club either repeatedly failed to qualify for the CL or were knocked out in the first round. Did he leave Sevilla significantly better off than when he took over? The challenge at Arsenal is to lift the club at least one level above where it is right now, if not two or three.
Don’t get me wrong, winning the Europa League and getting into the Champions League will be a very big achievement for Arsenal as things stand. Emery would get an hour-long standing ovation and three years of undisputed support from me if he were to manage that. I am just not sure his past success translates into possibilities for the present and future.
At PSG, he failed to win Ligue 1 in his first season, which is quite a feat. In the same year, his side finished below Wenger’s Arsenal in the CL group phase and blew a big first leg lead against Barcelona in the second round. Nobody can complain about squad quality there.
I am happy to listen to pro-emery arguments that go beyond giving him time. Blind faith is not my thing. Show me what he has changed and where the progress being made. Remember excuses and injuries are available in unlimited supply. Not helpful.
Do not wait on transfer windows either; they hardly change things drastically on modest budgets. Besides, the names connected with Arsenal like Banega, Suarez, Perisic, and others don’t inspire much confidence. We can agree to disagree on this. Speculative debates on transfers that might never materialize are pointless.
Weirdly enough, the biggest argument in favor of Emery might be the lack of a clear contender to replace him. It aligns with the argument made at the start of this article. This again enters a very personal and subjective domain. I am going to refrain from venturing down this particular rabbit hole.
Over to you…
Thanks Desi old friend – You can and should follow @desigunner
Hi this is DesiGunner. Some of you might remember me from the pre-match and post-match analysis on my blog. I’m tentatively back in the blogging world after over a four year hiatus. Glad to join Dave, Paul, and other fantastic writers at Gunners Town. For now I’ll occasionally share thoughts on a variety of topics. Match analysis might return a bit later, but don’t hold your breath 🙂