After the stagnant and stale management of Arsene Wenger towards the end of his reign, I initially considered the arrival of Unai Emery to be a long overdue breath of fresh air. Even putting his poor early team selections down to him finding his feet and instead choosing to focus on his ability to make effective and early substitutions and enjoying seeing him cajoling his players from the sidelines. All of which, were of course, extremely refreshing after having a manager who would wait until the 70th minute before making changes and spent the majority of games either sitting on his hands or struggling to do up the zips on his oversized coats.
However, it didn’t take me long to realise that the changes Unai was making early in games, were often the ones that he should have started with in the first place. And with Unai now 5 games into his second season at the club, I’m seeing far too many, worryingly similar managerial traits to what we saw from Wenger in his later years. In terms of poor team selections, substitutions and tactics.
Throughout last season, I was frequently reading and hearing about how much of an improvement Emery had made since his arrival. One that I believe was exaggerated by many supporters in an attempt to justify having wanted Wenger gone. At this juncture I’m sure some will point out Emery reached a European final and achieved 7 more league points than Wenger did in his final season. In my opinion these stats are vastly misleading and it’s as if some people have forgotten our limp exits in the two domestic cups as well as the very Wengeresque capitulation in the Europa League final. I’m of course referring to the way we often rolled over against the top teams under Arsene in his latter years and capitulated to the extent where we were on the end of heavy score lines rather than cup final defeats themselves.
It is fair to say that Unai had a distinct advantage from the outset when you consider that he had the luxury of having Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang available for a full league season, unlike Wenger who only had him at his disposal from January and that he also had Pierre available for the Europa League too. The above coupled with us facing Valencia in the Europa League semi-final, opposed to Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid and the stronger squad available to Emery, following the additions of Bernd Leno, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Lucas Torreira to our squad, ensures that any comparisons between Wenger’s final season and Emery’s first, would be unfair and that is coming from someone who was very vocal about wanting Arsene replaced.
If we have to draw comparisons then perhaps it would be worth noting that we scored one league goal fewer last season and conceded the same number during Emery’s debut league campaign as we did in Wenger’s final one. Aubameyang for a full season, yet bizarrely, we score one league goal less? We may have conceded the same number of league goals, but it could be said that we are worse now defensively than we were when Emery took over. Particularly so far this season.
Whilst it will quite rightly be pointed out that we have been missing Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding and Kieran Tierney, all better players individually than who we have had available for selection, and that the majority of the goals that we’ve conceded so far, have been down to individual errors, it will take time for them to regain their form and fitness and we haven’t been defending well as a team. The number of shots the opposition has had on our goal to date, 96, is representative of that and an appalling stat when 3 of our games have been against Newcastle, Burnley and Watford. I’ve also yet to see anything from Emery that suggests him and his coaching team are capable of coaching our defence into a solid unit, regardless of the playing personnel available.
Although the players need to start looking up and engaging their brains, this obsession with playing it out from the back at all costs tactic employed by the manager has been putting us under increasing pressure by the week, especially now that teams have worked it out. It looks good when it works but there’s a time and a place for it and the new rule change allowing goalkeepers to pass to teammates inside the penalty box, has only intensified the problem. If it keeps on, I’ll need to ensure that I pack a change of underwear for every game.
When we signed David Luiz, I was sceptical about him being the right man for us due to the way Emery sets our team up. To get the best out of him, you need to play him in a back 3 or in a deep lying midfield role, so far Emery has done neither and you also have to question why Calum Chambers isn’t getting much of a look in despite having a decent game at Newcastle and Luiz and Sokratis failing to impress so far. With Sokratis being another one who received ridiculously rave reviews that his performances simply didn’t deserve last season.
Admittedly, he’s better than I thought he might be but still not as good as some consider him to be. He’s very clumsy at times and loves a needless shirt pull. The signing of Luiz seemed to suggest we were desperate and you have to question why a top class centre back wasn’t signed earlier during the summer by the powers that be.
I’d love Emery to do well but I’m yet to see any improvement under him, despite what others say to the contrary. We still don’t appear to have any real identity in our style of play and bouncing around energetically on the sidelines might look good because he’s passionate but it he’s not transmitting his message to the players then it’s a waste of time. When a manager doesn’t even get the basics right, supporters have every right to ask questions too.
Against Spurs for example, we started with the front three of Nicolas Pepe, Alexandre Lacazette and Aubameyang like supporters had hoped for but the midfield trio of Matteo Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka and Torreira didn’t have the creativity to feed them. It wasn’t a surprise that we looked more cohesive after the introduction on Dani Ceballos. This isn’t being said with hindsight, myself and many others pointed it out before the start of the game and don’t even get me started about Unai taking off Ceballos against Watford.
I’m not saying Emery out, but I’ve certainly not warmed to him yet. Our squad is good enough to get us back into the Champions League, the question is, is the manager? Before you ask, no, this isn’t a knee jerk reaction to a disappointing result at Watford and I’ve been questioning Unai for months, as anyone who knows me personally or follows me on social media can confirm. I’m not as easily convinced as others, he needs to start showing me something and soon.
Preferably starting tonight….