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The Emery Conundrum – His Mid-term report is not favourable at all

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!

Dave Seager

Arrived having impressed Ivan

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.

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.

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.

 

What now…?

Emery – What now?

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

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7 Responses to The Emery Conundrum – His Mid-term report is not favourable at all

  1. marblehallstv January 27, 2019 at 11:32 am #

    I have mixed feelings on Emery. He needs time, but we were crying out for tactical flexibility in the latter Wenger tenure. And now we have it. It likes “having one’s cake and eating it too”.

    In some games, his tactical flexibility has won the day. Tottenham and Chelsea were prime examples. Again, it seems weird to critique this, when it got a win over our deadly enemy. No person is perfect and even the most skilled in something can make errors. It’s like saying Messi and Ronaldo should never miss penalties, misplace passes, or miss sitters, since they’re two of the best of all-time and must be perfect. they’re human and will make errors. Emery has done well in some games, and we cannot be selective in noting this.

    My biggest issue with him is the defence. Yes, we may need upgrades, but then good defensive play comes from coaching more than just getting in better players. We’re seeing no improvements in this area. This will be the area in which he will be judged.

  2. Arthur January 27, 2019 at 12:17 pm #

    Bit early to make judgements isn’t it. Expecting top four thus season was unrealistic. The side are improving, not losing games they would have lost last season. We won’t be able to judge until end of next season. He need ps time a dtwo or three thransfer windows.

    • Paul N January 27, 2019 at 12:58 pm #

      Couldn’t disagree more. The players have shown they are good enough to beat top teams. Emery all but refuses to play two of our best players, he sits players right after they played well and he insists on pushing the defense up even though we keep getting destroyed with the counter and long ball.

  3. Paul N January 27, 2019 at 12:58 pm #

    I agree with you. Well written.

  4. Marc January 27, 2019 at 8:13 pm #

    Klopp was 8th in his first year, Guardiola got 4th. Player development does not happen overnight. Teams lose to lower teams regularly in the Premier League. Emery is tactically hindered by injuries and a squad that does fit his system. Squad improvement is hampered by wages. He has everything going against him. It was also a World Cup year so the summer was somewhat hampered.

    This year, Arsenal has 44 points 48 GF and 32 GA. At the same time last year, Arsenal had 39 points 41 GF 30 GA. In 2016/17, in Guardiola’s first season Manchester City had 46 points 47 GF 28 GA after 23 games and people were asking whether his style suited the Premier League. In 2016/17, Klopp’s second season (came in October in his first year), Liverpool had 46 points 52 GF 28 GA.

    Emery is doing a great job given the challenges. He changes tactics often and sometimes gets its wrong. He also has not address the defensive issue and should probably have CMs sitting more rather than going all over the place, but Xhaka as a deep lying midfielder is not going to offer any protection given his lack of speed.

    The summer is crucial with a bunch of contracts expiring and a number of high price players are likely to be sold (Ozil, Mkhi, Mustafi, maybe Auba or Laca).

    The author clearly did not rate Emery from the beginning stating he is not even on his top 25 list illustrating a preexisting bias against Emery as it is extremely difficult to change someone’s thoughts on a topic.

    Patience is needed. Arsenal has some of the best executives in Europe in place and the post-Wenger management structure is still forming. This summer will be critical to the evolution of the club. If there is not a lot of turnover in the squad and investment, it will be very difficult for the club to progress.

  5. Victor Thompson January 29, 2019 at 3:11 pm #

    Hi Desi, like you I, have resolved not to criticise Emery for at least a season. Instead of demanding changes in leadership, I have resorted to setting out my impression of the match and asking in clear terms, if someone could explain to me what I had just seen and failed to understand in the Emery scheme of things.

    We are told that he studies the opposing team and adjusts his selection and tactics to cope with them. Part of that was to press high up the pitch before the opposition gets settled. Well, I`m afraid that Solskjaer had beaten him at his own game. I was aghast to see the right wing unoccupied leaving the usual empty section of ground free for the opposing winger to exploit. Ole saw it and indeed expected it, because he picked Lukaku and played him on the right wing from the start. A player of his speed and physique is the last person you would want to see left on his own, but he was free to pick up the long ball and rampage up the right whilst Martial Lindberg & co joined his charge and feasted off his crosses into the by now panicking defence.

    The statistics displayed in the media showed that we had 60% possesion and 80+% for passing accuracy against 78% by Utd. We had equal shots on goal and on Corners, so how did they manage to easily control the game? The answer is that we did look as if the centre of the defence had stiffened with Kos and Sokrates solid and no huge gaps to exploit. That all fell apart with the injuries to both of them and I am afraid that with Bellerin and Holding absent as well to help prop it up, our defence fell apart.

    The paucity of defenders was shown when Guendouzi was drafted into the CB position which Sokrates had just vacated. With respect to the lad, he will never make a defender and he must have thought so himself because he galloped up to the 18 yard box for Utd. and only managed to add to the congestion already there where our forwards looked as if they were immobilised in a swamp.

    Clearly, the squad is not up to the task of achieving top 4 status for lots of reasons. Ozil has lost his way and he is our highest paid player. Amuba, Lacazzette and Ramsey are all more productive than he and both Amuba and Laca made stunning tackles in our penalty box then ran upfield over and over again. That leaves us with a few industrious players like Mikhitarian and Elneny who are not top class and Mustafi who is error strewn. Ozil is a liabilty in full blooded matches.

    If Emery has a plan which can make up for the weaknesses of those type of players who along with Xhaka and Monreal, ( in his case Anno Dominae is the reason ) are his problem then I would be grateful if anyone could explain to me why I cannot fathom it. I think Man City will win the title yet again and that Liverpool will be second. Spurs will suffer from injuries ( just as we shall ) but I think they will be 3rd or 4th depending on how Chelsea recruit in the next window. I cannot see our present squad being higher than 5th from our present position. I fully expect City to take full advantage of our makeshift efence this Sunday We shall be too far behind Utd. after that..

    Not very cheerful I know; but I agree with Dave that your article is well written.

  6. lari03 January 29, 2019 at 10:38 pm #

    Desi gooner, please write more often, I missed your analysis and the blog trail on your site was cold for a while. Good to read your words again.

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