Unai Emery & The Case of The Ticking Clock

Before you get the wrong idea, this isn’t a prologue to some wacky, dystopian crime-caper involving our head coach – as much as I’m convinced Emery could play quite a convincing double agent of sorts. The slicked-back, jet-black hair, the maniacal expressions and grimacing, the pointed shoes… don’t tell me he doesn’t fit the bill.

Amidst this stupid rigmarole, I suddenly remembered this piece of comedy gold, which is a review of Steve Bruce’s very own crime-caper – the man writing claims to be the only living person to have read the trilogy and it had me in tears reading through his experiences with them.

For now though, there are bigger fish to fry.

The Captaincy

Even after the dust has settled from Sunday’s ugly affair, Granit Xhaka has understandably remained the villain. Much has been said about how he could and should have handled himself but I don’t think there’ll be a consensus on the matter anytime soon. Reports this morning suggest that he will not be travelling for the Liverpool game, nor will Aubameyang, Chambers or Luiz but there’s still no word on individual consequences – if any.

Emery needs to make a decision and given his proclivity to beat around the bush re: captains, I’m not convinced we’re going to get a satisfactory outcome anytime soon. Following Koscielny’s abrupt departure, Emery still had ample opportunity to get the captaincy done and dusted before the season started. The reality was Xhaka was named captain on 27th September following a spate of disappointing performances from the team and himself. Questions were raised about whether the captaincy was better suited to someone like Aubameyang, given his ability to lead by example and the general consensus from the squad and professionals that have worked with him about his work ethic and importance behind the scenes. I don’t doubt that Xhaka is also held in high regard by his peers and his work ethic is also commendable but where the two differ is in their performances.

Granit Xhaka’s outburst is arguably as damning of his own shortcomings as Unai Emery’s at Arsenal. Where Xhaka is so often criticised – his lack of awareness, tendency to make unnecessary and rash fouls, fettered mobility – I see as much culpability on the man who deems it fit to build a team around him. I don’t think anyone has even been under the illusion that Xhaka is a man fitting of the same treatment the likes of Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and even Aaron Ramsey have been afforded and yet here we are. The lack of accountability is a recurring feature of Emery’s Arsenal, something which was even alluded to shortly after his announcement:

The Outlook

I won’t delve into the intracacies of Sunday’s performance again but it’s another damning episode in this malaise series that is our season.

The period of supposedly winnable games has taken a predictably unconvincing course:

6/10Bournemouth (H)1-0 (W)
21/10Sheffield United (A)1-0 (L)
27/10Crystal Palace (H)2-2
2/11Wolverhampton Wanderers (H)
9/11Leicester City (A)
23/11Southampton (H)
1/12Norwich City (A)
5/12Brighton & Hove Albion (H)
9/12West Ham United (A)
15/12Manchester City (H)

Until we host Manchester City on 15th December, a much clearer picture into the fate of our season is likely to emerge. 4 points out of a possible 9 already point to a struggle, with arguably the easier fixtures already out of the way. In this time, our supposed rivals have either regained lost ground or strengthened their positions, casting doubt on our suitability for securing a top four spot. The kind of cocksuredness that was so prevalent after our summer spending has fizzled out and we’re still in October. The next three fixtures will be our most telling of this season thus far; Wolves will provide a stern test and seem to have an uncanny knack for bettering the supposedly “Big” Six, Leicester are in fine form and Jamie Vardy seems to really enjoy scoring against us (I’m so glad Rooney and Drogba have found a natural successor…), and given how dire Southampton have been, anything short of a resoundingly ordinary win here will be an abject failure.

The Manager

I do feel time is running out for our Head Coach. The somewhat misdirected venom from the Arsenal faithful was always a circumstance of the club’s situation than any one man. Although Xhaka might encapsulate plenty of the issues facing the club, the buck does not stop there.

While the Europa League and EFL Cup have served as cathartic getaways from the purgatory of the Premier League, the biggest indicator of light at the end of the tunnel has always been how we’ve played, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve rarely been inclined to believe that Unai Emery was the right manager to take Arsenal forward in the long term; he’s far too timid and still doesn’t seem to fully grasp that we’re a ‘big team’ – but I was on board with the idea that he was a roundabout way back into contention. Proven Europa League success, a ‘good enough’ approach in domestic leagues and that was about all she wrote. After a barren first season and a lacklustre regression into his second, I can’t help but wonder what Edu, Vinai and Raul are thinking at this point. There’s much we still don’t know about the extent of their ambition, and more importantly their willingness to be robust when it matters. How much rope Emery is being afforded is the real question, but as this is unchartered territory for the club, we can only guess just how seriously they’re looking at his tenure. ‘Crisis’ is a term bandied around a bit too zealously in football and while it’s a bit too premature for that kind of talk, you do get that underlying feeling that we’re only a few more disappointments short of it boiling over.

At the very least, I’d like to see some wholesale change to the way we set up. Perhaps the fallout from Sunday will be the catalyst for change as Emery feels the pressure. Judging by the litany of facial expresssions the man goes through every game, it’s safe to say he is feeling it. Time will tell.

Until tomorrow.

Photo credit: https://thesetpieces.com/features/sweeper-steve-bruce-review/

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