So Arsene left us a year ago and Unai took over. The season is over and these are the big questions:
- Where are we now?
- Where are we going?
- What should happen this summer?
This post will cover the first question only.
Where are we now?
You tell me. We finished fifth and reached the Europa League final. We fought till the end for CL football and some very rare European silverware to be added to the trophy cabinet. We did not succeed but nobody can say we did not compete till the end.
So we are relatively in a good place then?
Well no, I don’t think we can say that. The gap between the top-two and us is frightening and there are no signs that we will overcome this any time soon. Emery played with a pragmatic approach, heavily leaning on our two top-quality attackers to somehow get us back into the champions league. But I struggled to see any lines in our style of play and tactical approach on which we can build further in the coming seasons, and very few players have actually grown under the wings of Emery.
In fact, a lot of players have played worse under the new supremo, most likely caused by forcing them to play a different way without it being clear how this would strengthen the team, and subbing players often during the break, leading to confusion, ineffectiveness, and drops in confidence and motivation. We scored 73 goals, almost two goals per PL game, but also conceded 51 times, which is much more than Pool and Citeh combined!
Arsenal are a club famed for, and strongly reliant on, competing on the basis of its great vision and values, style of football, and nous to get the best out of the squad and do some clever shopping when opportunities arise. But currently we are being outmanoeuvred by the likes of Pool, the Chavs and the team that shall not be named, and the BoD needs to act now to get us back on track.
Furthermore, we have entered the era of Millennials wearing The Shirt and to get the best out of them they need to be respected and communicated with, trusted and persuaded. As McGregor would put it: Y-managers and not X-managers are required these days. This may not be to the liking of many (older) Gooners, but it’s the way it is. Citeh and Pool have understood this and have recruited managers who are loved and trusted and for whom the players will give everything. Both Klopp and Guardiola know how to work and connect with the talented Millennials; it does not look like Unai has won many of our Arsenal ones over.
But the biggest worry is the lack of a clear vision/style of play under Emery. We still cannot defend and we still do not have the right balance in midfield, despite the Spaniard trying a variation of formations/midfield combinations. 17HT believes we hardly had a midfield last season and I tend to agree with him. Emery got caught between not wanting to sit too deep and play two more defence minded players in midfield, and desperately trying to stretch the two midfielders ‘vertically’ so one of them can support the three or four ‘pure’ attackers up-front, thus avoiding that Ozil in the hole became too isolated. It did not work and we paid for it during the latter part of the season with some very poor away performances: our defence was left exposed and our attackers were left too isolated.
It is fair to say that Iwobi (work in progress), Mkhi (limited on the wing) and Auba (limited on the wing) were not the ideal mid-wing players to have enough creative strength in attack, so Emery did not have a lot of choice. But he is there to work out the balance and get the best out of the players and he failed in doing so this season.
It was the Europa League final, the final game of the season, which showed us all that is wrong right now: we started under clear instructions but lacked the real conviction and bite to get in front (other than through a bit of luck), we then conceded and never looked like we had the strength, tactical adjustment and belief to get back into the game. Emery made a few changes but they had no effect, and it all ended up like a bad dream and total deception.
The attentive reader will have noticed that I have not touched much on (the quality of) the players until now. I have no doubt that two or three players are required to further strengthen the team, but in general I believe in this group of players.
It would be wrong in my view to let a lot of our players go and give Emery a big budget to make changes as he sees fit. For this, he has shown us far too little from a football philosophy, system of football and tactical point of view; he has also not convinced in terms making our team a TEAM on the pitch and get the best out of our players.
If Klopp can win the CL with for example the likes of Wijnaldum, Milner and Henderson in the team – players who looked pretty average in Portugal when playing for their national team this week – then I want to see more of this from Unai with our players. We have a nice mixture of talents, experienced players, and those in their prime at the club and, other than one or two players, I believe they are all intrinsically motivated and have pride for the shirt. Yes a few on the fringes need to leave and be replaced (mostly by youth) but it would be wrong to let any of our prime players go this summer, and that includes Xhaka, Ozil and Auba.
If Emery cannot get the best out of them – and I have seen nothing to believe he can – he needs to leave right now. The one scenario we need to avoid at all costs is having to sack Emery in December or later because of a total lack of confidence in the team, woeful results and performancesm and having let go of our established stars before then. But now I am starting to answer my ‘second season question’, and that is for another post!