Emery’s First Season: On the Road to Nowhere with an Identity Crisis

Arsene and Emery

So Arsene left us a year ago and Unai took over. The season is over and these are the big questions:

  1. Where are we now?
  2. Where are we going?
  3. 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!

By TotalArsenal. 

22 thoughts on “Emery’s First Season: On the Road to Nowhere with an Identity Crisis

  • I never liked the idea of Emery as our coach. Not since I watched his PSG team throw away a 4-goal advantage to lose to a not-so-fantastic Barcelona team. And not since I read that the man went through a whole season with his Sevilla team without a win on the road|
    I only ‘accepted’ him when it became apparent that the only other option was Mikel Arteta. I did not want my beloved club to become a training ground for rookie coaches!
    Came season 18/19, every day I kept hoping that the man would prove me wrong and win me over. But I remained unconvinced, not even during the ‘great 22-match unbeaten run’! There were just too many signs of inconsistency and lack of character in the team – too much flattering to deceive.
    I want to go into 19/20 still hoping that something will change and we will see a more lively and zealous Arsenal on the pitch.
    If that doesn’t happen, there is a certain Allegri who has gone into a year’s vac from football management. We may have to ring him up in a year’s time!

  • The guy did well first season after 20 years of Mr Wenger what did people expect? How many managers have Man utd had since Fergy, same at Liverpool, Sorry but it will take time and unless the club is sold to an Arab or China the club has to stand on its own, and that’s good.

  • The jury is out on Emery. I must say am yet to be convinced by him. I wish he’d start giving his interviews in Spanish with a good interpreter by his side. It might help to give more insight on how he sees football. How tiring have become such words like process, protagonist, intensity, correct positioning. When it is not seen growing on the field it is wondered if they are just words which he probably doesn’t fully understand. But ……

    He inherited a group of players who though might be good enough are not his kind of players. If so it means that he is not adaptive which is no credit. If he is not adaptive then we need an Arab Sheikh who would buy us 8 players every window until he gets his team.

    I feel very strongly that he is too theoretical. He’d be great lecturing in a football university obviously not in Germany or Holland.

    Having said all this, am in the school that says give him more time because I might be wrong about him.

  • Emery looks to me the type who’d always excel in interviews particularly to a panel not hard boiled in the art of football instruction. He’d floor anyone with details, and on the field, himself floored by his own too many details. I hope am proved wrong.

  • My greatest worry about this summer transfer stems from our loan signing of Dennis Suarez. He had not a trace of that thing Emery professes he needs above else: intensity particularly when we are without the ball. It makes me worry that though he has the right words they do not come from the depths of his convictions.

    Emery in a certain Spanish interview pointed out the prime value of physicality in the PL over the other leagues he’d been expoused to. I hope that right realization would be prominent in his mind as he makes his summer signings. Technique, yes, backed up with agility, body strength, athleticism and lungs.

  • Hmm

    Interesting post. … So, a quick summary:

    a. We lack a system
    b. We lack a little of the right mix up front, Ozil was too often marked out of games by no real threat from the sides — we need a winger, a real one… sigh, sort of hate to say it… or a different system, see “a”
    c. It’s the defense, where, ok, you didnt say this really, but we did great going forward, but let in so very very many — see “a” again

    d. We need a defensive system, philosophy, and approach/attitude more than anything. If we cut our goals by 15-20, not unrealistic for the sake of bad words, we’d have been well ahead. To the point of not caring about the attack if we can get bloody organised in the rear. Leno was excellent, I thought, but when you are behind a sieve…

    Some quick thoughts from an airport — jgc

  • Hi Total

    I completely understand your annoyance, because towards the end of the season, when everyone around us were dropping points and top four was practically a gimme, our performances were pathetic.
    Palace, Wolves and Leicester destroyed us, and relegation-threatened Brighton came to the Emirates and took a deserved point.
    All of that would have been forgiven and forgotten if they brought the Europa League trophy back home from Baku. Arsenal have never beaten a fellow English side in Europe, and against big London rivals Chelsea, Arsenal’ were simply embarrassing. A Chelsea that over the two PL games, we beat 4-3 on aggregate.
    Despite marginal improvements, there are still glaring issues that need urgent attention, and it is worrying that we are still so soft defensively.
    This is Emery’s second main transfer window, so next season I think we should see significant improvement.
    The PL title is out of reach for Arsenal right now, but we should always be above Tottenham (when comparing the two clubs wage bill).
    But our self-sustaining model has handicapped us because we haven’t spent intelligently enough.
    Just look at Tottenham’s transfer policy compared to Arsenal’s.
    Look at Liverpool. They bought Coutinho for £9m from Inter Milan.
    Chelsea paid £50m for Fernando Torres, which Liverpool re-invested in £35m flop Andy Carroll, but paid only £22m for Luis Suarez.
    The money they received from the sales of Torres, Suarez and Coutinho has revolutionised their fortunes and turned them into European champions.
    The frustration is that Arsenal could quite easily have done this.
    Liverpool aren’t structurally a bigger club than Arsenal, but there’s a reason they have won six European Cups/CL trophies and we’re still light years away from our first, and we’ve witnessed it over the last few years.
    A huge summer ahead for Unai Emery and for Arsenal.
    We are desperate for some hope to cling to. They need to show us why we left Highbury for the Emirates, because as it stands, Arsenal are a fading force.

  • Hey TA, big apologies for taking all the way to (my) Tuesday morning to chime in. I fear, however, that the Arsenal blogosphere is (far) more interested in playing “fantasy manager” (see PE’s previous post) even with our club’s limited resources. I guess we all have our coping mechanisms…

    That said, I think your assessment of the season hits all the major points. For me, as I’ve stated before (so I’ll hold off here, at least a bit…) the biggest disappointment was that our play became (for me) unwatchable–or at least something where I felt I got as much (or as little…) from seeing the scoreline and the highlights. I think that’s the essence of going from a team that values a certain attacking style of play to one that takes (as you say…) a pragmatic, results-are-all-that-matter, approach. Playing on the counter (or using tedious passing around the back stuff before punting forward and wide) probably IS the best way to maintain defensive shape and avoid losing games. Still, after all those years under Wenger, (and foolish as it might seem) I’ve been conditioned to expect Arsenal to go out trying to win matches, esp. against the lesser teams and esp. on our home pitch.

    In truth, I missed a lot of our disastrous (league) run-in but the fact that we couldn’t even compete in those matches (beyond hanging on for a 1-nil win over 10 man Watford) doesn’t bode well now that the “new coach bounce” (the 22 match unbeaten run? those better home matches in the EL?) is behind us. Awful as it may be, I’m already putting my (very minimal) hopes on hold and looking forward to post-Emery Arsenal. As I’ve said before, now I know how the Wenger-out folks felt all those years… 😦

    I guess I saw it coming but, for me, that’s the saddest part. Instead of a healing bridge from that past, Emery (and the “managers” above him) seem determined to make a clean break. If the results had panned out and we were back in the CL–esp. if it came at the expense of silly money rivals like Chelsea and/or ManU, it seemed as if much of the fanbase would have been satisfied–or at least tided over with a sense of hope and a little more money (we hope) in the transfer kitty for the summer. For me, that never would have been enough. (I even wrote a couple of faux-previews suggesting that, even with CL football, I doubted that we could truly compete in that arena, so what’s the point?…) Without those results, I say, now’s the chance to try again.

    If had the ear of ownership/top brass, I’d tell them to bring in a new manager ASAP who would reach out to Wenger’s players (Ozil in particular…) and try to get us back to being a team that WANTS the ball because we BELIEVE that we can create our own goals…and score them in bunches, knowing that (intelligent, possession based) attack can actually be the best defense–or at least the best way to grab 3 points at a time. But, I’m also a realist. I know that nobody is reading my crap nor heeding my opinion (if YOU, fellow BKesquer are, I THANK you, big time…) So, more Emery, more Moo-dern (unwatchable?…) football and more trying to find satisfaction elsewhere…

    But, maybe those sorts of statements are for parts 2 and 3… Looking forward to those…

  • Brilliant post, TA. You know I can hardly disagree with the points made as I have pretty much been banging on same concerns more or less, even as I strived to remain positive.

    The end of the season coincided with a period when I had a big distraction (on-going), which helped me cope with the disappointment of failing at the last hurdle (last few games and that Europa league final). In as much as most consider it the way to go, based on some ill-conceived notion that our players are the worst in the land, I don’t think we need wholesale changes. We only need to replace some departing players; hopefully, it will involve strengthening at the back, midfield and wing (one side only) to get us set for the next season. However, Emery has to shape up or be shipped out.

  • Hi Herb, good to hear from you and I hope you are well. Good point about Liverpool’s ability to make funds through clever buying and selling, and they really have used those extra funds well. But there is also Klopp’s ability to make quite ordinary players much better through coaching and playing a certain system of football. That is exactly what Arsene used to do, especially in the early, golden years, and a club like Arsenal needs it to really compete at the top.

  • Seventeenho we are aligned in all you say, and I read it twice 🙂

    In my next post I am going the assume Emery will get another year by the BoD and then the key question is: will he be given time to build something up or will he be told to get us into the top four by hook or by crook… but that is for the next post.
    How are you getting on with the Mexican adventure?

  • Suddenly I’m quite busy, TA…and on my way to the ancestral home to meet with architect and (a fellow) builder this week… Our lawyer/solicitor says everything is on track down in Mexico and the working people are taking the first week of July off with hopes that we might make a quick trip down there to finish the deal…and see about the weather at the time of year. The word I kept hearing for it was “insoportable,” so we’re concerned. Cars and hotel rooms with air conditioning, of course, can be bought…and the ocean, I’m pretty sure, never (truly) overheats…

    It seems like all’s good with your new lodgings in Edinburgh… Hopefully you’re getting a bit of sun to go with all the daylight… 😉

    In more sporting news, there’s a pretty compelling story being written by my balancesto (basketball) team, even if it might not end up in a complete victory… Far better than things in our part of North London, esp. on the human scale…(It involves players trying to help their team and dealing with big injuries all in the face of even bigger money…No time to write about it now…and it’s rather off topic anyhow…)

    Happy Tuesday…

  • Okay thanks, Total (with the exception of all things Arsenal, obviously!).
    What a breath of fresh air Ajax were in the CL, a new generation playing with Cruyff’s philosophy, and so unlucky not to make the final, especially after impressive victories in Madrid and Turin.
    The Dutch showed in the recent game with England that they’re far more technically gifted than us, and England are probably further away from winning a World Cup than Arsenal are from winning the PL.
    There must be a lot of excitement in Holland for the new generation.
    The English have a habit of getting far too carried away when they’ve done nothing to shout about.
    They were fortunate in reaching the WC semi-finals, avoiding all the heavyweights. But they lost when it really matters, and Belgium beat them twice.
    Harry Kane has yet to prove he can step up and score in the biggest occasions both for Tottenham and England. At the moment, I’d rate him as an improved version of Peter Crouch, but he has time to prove me wrong.
    Always a pleasure blogging with you.

  • Very short,

    I wonder for all the discussion if what Arsenal really lack is simply belief? Fans and players alike seem to lack resilience, and there was no apparent belief or structure to fall back on when all was learned shaped so we conceded.

    Cheers — jgc

  • I guess June/July you would normally not need to go to Mexico, Seventeenho? LT has v nice weather during this time of the year, no? Good luck with finishing the whole thing off. Basketball is a game I could get into, I reckon. Not much on TV here though…

  • Hi Herb

    Yes it was good to see Ajax do so well and I hope they do not sell too many stars this summer. The Dutch national team have done well indeed, and now they have to sort out the attack side of things. Portugal was a game too far, unfortunately. For England it is such a shame that Jack Wilshere did not come good. He really could have made the difference if he had stayed fit.

  • Cheers Geoff, I guess belief needs to be based on something, and the manager plays a big role in this. That’s why it is important to see lines of where we are going so we can buy into the manager’s vision and tactics. If I could see that I would be much more supportive of Emery.

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