After another defeat and the seventh consecutive failure to win a game, it seems that the loss to Eintracht Frankfurt was the last straw for the now departed Arsenal Head Coach, Unai Emery.
His tenure ended in strangely eerie circumstances. Ticket restrictions for home fans and a ban on away fans gave The Emirates a suitably soulless atmosphere, for what was yet another abject performance.
A failure to inhibit our opposition whether home or away, constant erroneous performances and our inability to recreate even a portion of the style we are branded for, accumulated on Emery’s shoulders and with every dropped point, his knees buckled further.
The club were rumoured to want to give Emery until the end of the season, but it became abundantly clear to all that Emery would have been incapable of turning around our season, so Raul Sanllehi, Edu Gaspar and Vinai Venkatesham were left with a dilemma.
Either sever ties with Unai and bring in Freddie Ljungberg on an interim basis, or stay with Unai and see how bad things could get.
Luckily, they saw sense and Emery is now a former employee of Arsenal, just 18 months after signing for the Gunners.
It seems to have been a rapidly made decision, as players were unaware that the decision had been made this morning – and so was Emery who headed training this morning as usual. The squad were called for a meeting after training to announce the decision, and the only way is up in terms of results.
Arsenal and Freddie now face the task of resurrecting our season, but the first step for the Super Swede will be to find our character that has made us a global brand. Coming from possibly the best team we have ever had, it should hopefully come naturally to bring back the good football that the Gunners are accustomed to.
How far does a manager go to instill his values and rules upon his squad?
The parameters that the man at the helm puts in place will ultimately define the team, but what happens if one stray sheep doesn’t conform, and strays from the herd?
In an effort to stymie attempts from other players to follow suit, does the manager lay down the law in the form of punishment, to show that the rules must be followed?
Unai Emery is in between a rock and a hard place. It has become apparent through comments made by the Spaniard that Mesut Ozil has not met the desired standard in the training regimen that has been set.
The German has been omitted from the entire squad for around two months of the season.
Even if you are not a fan, it is plain to see that our fortunes on the pitch in terms of style, have been severely hampered by the lack of a playmaker.
Chances have dried up, the pace of the ball being pinged around? Pedestrian. Our star strikers have been feeding off of scraps or creating openings themselves through their excellent set of skills.
The moment that Ozil was reinstated to the line-up was our Carabao Cup exit to Liverpool – and we scored five goals.
Yes, Liverpool were a weakened side, but the form we were in during that spell would have meant that if Ozil wasn’t in the eleven, we would surely have struggled to reach that amount of goals.
Our number ten kept the ball moving, stretching play, popping up in pockets of space and sprinkling in moments of genius, like his no-look backheel from the byline to the only player who could have received the ball.
This isn’t meant to indicate that Emery has made the wrong choice though. The words in this article are pointing towards a choice that Emery couldn’t possibly hope to pick the correct one – because there isn’t a right choice.
Include Mesut Ozil in the side – and player power has won.
Leave him out of the side, and at the merest hint of a struggle, critics will point to the megastar left out of the side.
Emery had a power struggle in his time as PSG manager, as Neymar has a little more sway than a player normally would. The Brazilian is seen as indispensable to the eleven – or was – and there was only going to be one winner.
Now, we have arguably our most talented player flitting in and out of the side, and posting cryptic images on his Instagram in an apparent act of defiance. It leaves the unity of the squad frayed – and our performances compromised.
Mesut Ozil will obviously impact our team on the pitch. His end product went missing last year but in terms of keeping us on the front foot and always playing the right pass, there is no one better.
Star players shouldn’t have things their own way though. If we put them on a higher pedestal, it means they will define the rules, and the values of the club will be broken as a result.
No one player is greater than the team. We have had far greater players in our midst than Ozil and they have never rocked the boat – even if they did, the rock-solid rules of the club would not show a crack.
The moment this changes, then Arsenal FC as we know it, and have known it since its birth – will be completely undermined.
The solution to the Ozil – Emery predicament?
I’ve no idea – I don’t get paid millions to figure it out!
The rumours persist, the names keep coming like a torrent.
As long as Unai Emery continues to struggle, then the likes of Mikel Arteta, Freddie Ljungberg, Jose Mourinho and Maximiliano Allegri will be tacked onto stories emanating from the media, revolving around the beleaguered head of Emery like a flock of hungry vultures.
The Spaniard would, on paper, appear to be on borrowed time. A run of no wins in five games has seen Arsenal slump down the table, creating a chasm between our club and the hallowed berths of the Champions League.
It isn’t only results that have set us fans frothing and seething, as well as set the assorted media into a frenzy.
Arsenal have lost their identity too.
Even in the lean Wenger years, we had an identity. We were just as likely to concede five goals in one game as we were to win at times, but we always played in a manner that was a joy to behold. Even when the squad was more threadbare than a Poundshop welcome matt, we still managed to put together moves that often bewitched the opposition.
Under Emery, we appear to be lost at sea. It could be a combination of our players reportedly being unclear on instructions, being played out of position like Lucas Torreira, or simply lacking the conviction that comes from having belief in the man leading the club.
If a player doesn’t think the manager is the right man, if there is an inkling of doubt, then that will shine through in performances.
Emery has been given a vote of confidence by Vinai Venkatesham and Raul Sanllehi, and according to reports, he will not be sacked anytime soon – but if this run continues, then surely there can be only one way to go?
Our rivals and neighbours, Tottenham, have just sacked their long-time incumbent Mauricio Pochettino. This was because of a sequence of results that saw them slump to a position and points total eerily similar to ours.
It prompted chairman Daniel Levy into action. Does that mean that the club that was forever in our shadow, now hold themselves to standards higher than our own?
If Sanllehi and Venkatesham believe that patience is key to Emery bedding down his methods and seeing the results blossom, then after a whole season, shouldn’t we now be seeing this in some form of improvement?
Last season, Emery can be excused for what was a mighty close call to being a successful first season. Yes, our squad flopped over the line when it seemed easier to succeed, and the Europa League final will forever haunt us in terms of being one of our worst performances in quite some time.
But two matches away from finishing in the top four and winning the Europa League? That would have constituted a good debut season for Emery.
So that whet the appetite for what we would see this coming campaign.
Instead, we have been the footballing equivalent of driftwood. No identity, floating instead of heading somewhere. Aimless.
The alarming stats regarding Bernd Leno making more saves than ANY OTHER keeper at this stage of the season. The amount of shots we are giving away per game is higher than ANY OTHER side at this stage. The number of shots on target we are registering? In the last three games, we amounted six shots on target – cumulatively. That is one less than Leicester City registered in their 2-0 victory over us in just one game.
Emery has left us rudderless. Have there been any signs that this is going to be turned around?
Pochettino built up plenty of patience and goodwill in his time at Tottenham. Yet that counted for nothing when it came to the team struggling. With mounting debt and the Champions League money fading away should they miss out this season, Levy acted quickly.
Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Leicester are walking away with the top four spots with no fight from us or Tottenham. Our neighbours have pushed the button to remedy their situation, in the belief that a change at the helm will get the best from the current squad and that Pochettino was no longer capable of turning it around.
Emery has had time to do the same. Sanllehi and Venkatesham have the belief that it is only a matter of time before Emery’s way will shine through and that we will begin to claw the deficit back.
With the likes of Mikel Arteta, Freddie Ljungberg, Mourinho and Allegri being possible candidates and seemingly easy to get hold of, Emery must know that in three or four results time, his number must be close.
Our last two matches in the Premier League and the Europa League final.
After more than fifty matches throughout the season, it boiled down to how we would perform in 270 minutes.
If we won all three?
It would mean a return to Champions League football at the first time of asking from Emery – and a big shiny European trophy to boot.
We would be competing in the summer for the European Super Cup, we would have banished our European hoodoo and announced our comeback to the big stage in the best possible way.
Instead, we were treated to an insipid 1-1 draw at home to Brighton, followed by a win over Burnley (too little, too late by this point) and then a calamitous performance in Baku where we were sent back to London with our tail between our legs by Chelsea.
From where we sit now, looking back, hindsight really does bring things into focus.
We could be remembering what constituted to be a wonderful season, culminating in a win over our London rivals on a European stage, lifting the Europa League.
We could be looking forward to a return of that famous Champions League anthem and more importantly, the extra clout and transfer budget that comes with inclusion of the European Cup.
Unai Emery would be looked upon as taking us in the right direction, instead of doubts on whether he is the right man for the job.
Never mind a little common sense – we missed out on all of the above because of our own failings!
It would be fantastic if everybody could take the equivalent of a mental cold shower, and look at things from a different perspective.
Yes, it is our own fault that we are in what is now a compromising position thanks to missing out on the Champions League.
However, have we not closed the gap?
Has Emery not made progress on where were when he took over – with largely the same squad that Arsene Wenger had?
We missed out on the top four by a solitary point. We missed out on the top3 by two points. Despite us picking up just one win on the home straight, we still only fell short by the finest of margins.
Jurgen Klopp, the buck-toothed, bespectacled coach heralded by all as a genius, finished in eighth spot in his first season.
Granted, he was then awarded a wad of cash to spend to revitalise his squad, but it shows what margins a new coach can bring. Klopp didn’t manage to do much in his first season, other than probably the most important factor – one that isn’t instantly tangible.
The roots of his tactics, his famous press, the demanding fitness ability that all players had to adhere to? That was instilled in that disappointing first season. The window of transition from where they were, to where they can now adapt their formation and tactics dynamically? That takes time.
Emery too, needs the time to ensure his tactics are bedded in. That press we saw in the games we flickered to life? The wins over Chelsea, spurs, United? That is what we can now expect next season, albeit a lot more frequently.
We dropped off constantly last season, our defence struggled to adapt to new instructions, plus last season began with two tough fixtures, which in turn put pressure on subsequent games.
Emery will be under no illusions regarding who he needs in and shipped out in order to strengthen and carry out his formulas into battle. The list will already be drawn up, and pre-season will see us again begin to hit the cardio emphatically in order to maintain the lung-bursting orders from Emery. The very same orders that will see us improve once again.
Our fanbase needs a dose of realism. Emery, nay, all coaches, need a window of time to instil their own virtues. Even the mightiest of oaks still need years to flower.
Yes, our transfer activity may not be as it should be for a club of our standing, but as we are self-sustaining, we can only spend what we make. We cleared around £40m last season?
Well, that’s how much we’ve got to work with.
Fear not though. Emery’s expertise will start to show next season. His excellent pedigree wasn’t obtained in a cereal packet, he earned it and if given time, he can show us how.
We have to support, rather than call into question everything.
At the end of the season, when the dust settles, let’s see where we are.
After such a long time at the helm, every fibre of the club would have been tailored for Arsene Wenger, so when his inevitable departure actually materialised, the new incumbent was always going to need a period of acclimatisation.
Patience is pretty thin on the ground when it comes to supporting a club these days though, and with our club making errors on and off the pitch, the long road back to contending for not only the Champions League spots but also title contention has never seemed so arduous.
Firstly, we have an owner who has forgotten where his pockets are. Stan Kroenke has reportedly forked out nearly two billion dollars on his LA Rams franchise in the ten years he has been involved with Arsenal. In that same period he has invested precisely nothing into our club.
This has come to a head during this Winter transfer window, where Unai Emery confirmed that he would be shopping in the Bargain Bin of the window, scouring the shelves for loan deals only. This is because of a combination of the new wage bill rules that came into effect in 2017, meaning that the bill cannot rise above a certain rate, and thanks to our spending in the previous two years, we may be skirting close to that limit.
The other reason is because we have an owner that could pump what would be the equivalent of chump change into our coffers to enable Emery to chase his vision.
There is a certain school of thought that this season could match last season’s mediocre league finishing position because of the mess left by both Wenger and Gazidis.
While Wenger can be blamed for his slipping standards, the squad that was left was far from terrible. The one area that needed revitalising was in defence, but that could have been said for the last ten years.
Gazidis though? The fact that players have been sold for far less than their worth, biting hard into our available wealth and therefore, our ability to reinvest into where it is so desperately needed? Contracts left to dwindle down so players can leave for free?
Yeah, Gazidis has a big part to play.
The initial optimism surrounding Emery dissipated for a while, but positive results against United and our doggedness in pursuing a top4 place has shown that the Spaniard is maintaining us on the right path,
Emery is not blameless and should never be treated as such when the time for critique is right. He has made some strange decisions at times, his handling of the Ozil problem could yet reap more negativity, and his insistence on imprinting his tactics on the side was always going to bring about teething problems.
For there to be doubt though, at the halfway stage of his first season? That’s on our fans.
Like the truth or not, but our squad is pretty much achieving on par when compared to the strength of our rivals. We may have a world class attack – Laca, Auba and Ozil are genuinely upper crust and are giving us the delusions of grandeur we sometimes suffer from.
Our midfield though? Torreira aside, we have a mixture of promise and inconsistent brilliance. We hit heights, but plummet just as deep at times. For every wonderfully dominant display like against tottenham and Leicester, we have a complete disappointment, a la Liverpool, West Ham and Brighton.
We are also too reliant on the fairweather Ozil for creation. Without the German, playing below par or otherwise, we have nothing else that comes close. Iwobi is a cause for optimism, despite what a large portion of fans think, but he is far from the finished article. We also have Mkhitaryan, who has only started to hit top form since his arrival.
Emery arrived with a club desperately needing a spring clean. The backroom staff is still being assembled – we recently made a position of Loan Manager, and about time – and with a squad jaded from methods that needed adapting.
These things take time.
In the meantime, we have to endure the turbulence, and resist from finger pointing while we grow. And we are growing. We are adapting to newer tactics, we are aiming for the top, but this trajectory is not the steepest incline, and it’ll take us a while.
What is mandatory is improvement. We can wholly expect a better season than last. Then next year? We should be aiming for top4. Season after that? Title contention once again.
Emery isn’t infallible, but he is what we need right now.
Not many clubs can boast such a rich history as ours. This doesn’t just mean trophies and titles. It can mean the players we had, the difference we made to the game itself, and proud records that stand the test of time.
When you think of our rich tapestry, most recall Herbert Chapman, and rightly so. The visionary that joined from Huddersfield Town dragged Arsenal – and the game – up from its haunches and the amends he suggested are still part of the fabric of the game we know now.
Chapman deservedly dominates thought, but I am here to say that there is another who deserves the same level of adulation – and that while I was aware of his name previously, I had no scope of the measure of the man until I was told about it.
So here I am trying to make sure as many Gooners are aware of this extraordinary man, his feats and above all – how he put Arsenal above all. Just like I was made aware.
We may be blessed to be Gooners, but it is people like Tom Whittaker that have made it so.
Mr Whittaker devoted his entire working life to Arsenal, giving an entirely new definition to a ‘one-club man.’ From his playing days he moved into a physio role, then moving up to become a coach and finally, the manager. Such is the strength of his presence that Arsenal didn’t win a single trophy without him in some capacity until 1970. Seeing as he played for the club in the ‘20’s, that’s quite the stretch.
Whittaker began his coaching career under Chapman, while still younger than some of the players. His broken kneecap suffered during his playing career had forced his hand and Whittaker wanted to continue in the sport in some capacity, so studied to become a physio, and went on to make major changes in the way the club maintained the fitness of the squad.
He was at a forward thinking club under Chapman, and his methods were recognised by England, who appointed him to become one of their trainers. After George Allison – Chapman’s successor – retired in 1947, it would be Whittaker who would take the reins, completing a remarkable career transformation – all under the umbrella of one club.
Whittaker was overseeing the slow demise of Arsenal as the powerhouse of English football, so his title-winning triumphs of 1947/48 and 1952/53, as well as the FA Cup in 1950, were all the more remarkable and added to the lustre of Whittaker’s reputation.
Herbert Chapman’s reverence isn’t just down to the fact he made the club what it is today. He sacrificed his life for Arsenal – something that Tom Whittaker also gave us. Whittaker even referenced Chapman’s ultimate sacrifice when he took over as manager, saying “Herbert Chapman worked himself to death for this club and if that is my fate, then I am happy to accept it.”
Image credit – Arsenal History
He passed away in 1956 while still in the role of Manager. He had worked for Arsenal for nearly four decades. This is not referenced enough. Before finding this info out (thanks to Tim Stillman), I had known of Whittaker, but not of the magnitude of his heroics.
Whittaker IS Arsenal, just as much as Herbert Chapman is Arsenal. It is criminal how underappreciated he is, and I feel almost guilty for not recognising him for the cornerstone of Arsenal that he is.
This is why I hope even one person reads this and it sticks in their mind. I want Gooners to know that while the present day is pressing, the reason we can enjoy supporting Arsenal is down to Chapman AND Whittaker.
We were blessed to have two men who went above and beyond, and word needs to be spread.
The season, Unai Emery’s first and the beginning of a new era of Arsenal, is in full swing.
The football is in a transitory stage, and when the dust settles, an Unai Emery modelled team will indeed make us a far tougher outfit than before. We can already see the seeds of Emery’s free-flowing attack in flashes – the non-stop movement and team-built moves that were the foundation of his success with Sevilla.
We also have a squad that is better equipped than in previous seasons. Defensive inequities remain, but this isn’t down to the personnel like in years before.
The future is bright, but for some, the future isn’t good enough.
Success is never quite close enough, glory always on the horizon but never within grasp.
We are filled with promises from politicians that carry as much weight as the flakiest pastry, it is becoming the norm where someone’s word is worth nothing. So is it really surprising that we hold no optimism where the future is concerned?
Unai Emery will be painfully aware that he needs a modicum of success if he is to etch his name permanently into the annals of Arsenal. If he fails then he will be just another managerial casualty.
The requirements are simple, far simpler than at the majority of clubs. Do what Arsene failed to do in his last two seasons – reach the Champions League.
This means ousting two from Man United, Chelsea, tottenham, Liverpool and City. the Champions. Seeing as two of these teams look to be ahead of the chasing pack, that leaves two teams from four, including us.
The League is getting tougher and tougher to get at those pesky top four spots, but Emery’s prime objective could be fulfilled another way.
As aforementioned, our squad has been bolstered beyond what means we had for our last foray into the Europa League. We reached the Semi-Final then, with a tired team that couldn’t fully motivate in what was Wenger’s last season.
We now have a coach who is somewhat of a specialist in this competition. Like it or not too, if we were to lift this trophy, it would be our biggest European triumph. If Emery were to recreate his winning with Sevilla, it would be more than enough to sate the doubters and also the Board.
The Top4 may be a big leap, and so is the Europa League, but fighting on both fronts is a must. Emery is equipped to bring glory to the team, but his first season is a building effort. Targets may be in place but we must also realise that if we fall short, there are reasons why.
We aren’t where we need to be. We are building, pushing towards an accumulated effort which takes time.
We could lift a cup, we might not, but we need to enjoy the journey, as we are on the right path and progress is being made. If it doesn’t happen this season, we can at least rest assured that this is a lesson we need to learn to achieve more.
Patience is indeed a virtue, but we need to stop being so short-sighted and only see the struggle. Obstacles make the journey more exciting and for once, we need to have faith in the promises being made.
The struggle is real, but so are the words being spoken. We are on our way to silverware again.