I’m not sure what expectations I had going into this – even after seeing the starting lineup – but come the final whistle, I’ve still come away feeling like this hasn’t come close to whatever slither of hope I did have.
It’s just a story we’ve heard before. Again, and again and again. Same shit, different day. I hate resorting to the same tired platitudes but that is where we stand. If there was any doubt where the buck stops prior to today’s game, that thought has now well and truly run its course. The only real difference is unlike our past disappointments, I suspect this one will be looked back on as the fuse to Emery’s dismissal. There have been plenty of other games this season where extenuating circumstances, benefit of the doubt, VAR and a whole range of other excuses have been chalked up as excuses for us coming up short. In fact, in the interests of clarity, I’ve taken the liberty of listing some:
- New signings settling in: Pépé getting aclimatised to a new league, David Luiz finding his feet in a new defensive partnership
- Injuries: Our first choice full-backs in Bellerín and Tierney coming back from injury, Lacazette’s injury
- Weather: Ceballos, a man from Seville, being brought off because it was “too hot”
- Fear: this doesn’t just pertain to Xhaka’s comments after the Watford game; Emery’s Arsenal have shown time and again that teams we ought to be seeing off comfortably are not actually seen as “easy” games, which is equally reflected in the conservative, bordering on subservient attitude he adopts when shaping our side
Perhaps the most damning revelation of his tenure (though I’m happy to be enlightened if there’s anything worse than this) came after today’s result:
So, at the very least, the man can understand that it’s a bad result. That’s a small consolation. What proceeds that is nothing short of a trainwreck. In further pursuit of clarity, I’ve included today’s match statistics, which are hardly a far cry from what we’ve come to expect this season, both home and away:
|Shots on target||4||8|
|Passing Accuracy (%)||86.4||79.4|
|Attacking 3rd (%)||74.7||77.5|
It doesn’t take an expert to see just how worrying a picture this paints. Dominated at home in every aspect bar ‘ability to bore an opponent to death with monotonous and meaningless passes’, and not for the first time this season. Had it not been for Özil, the contrast would have been all the more stark. You can even gleen insight from the number of shots Wolves had blocked; against some teams you might attribute a figure like that to playing against a team who like to sit back, soak up pressure and hit you on the counter. For Arsenal, it can be quite easily explained by the sheer desperation in our defence.
Throughout the game, I had this niggling feeling that just wouldn’t go away which led me to post this – it only took 9 minutes to come to fruition.
Özil starting. No Xhaka. Aubameyang taking over responsibilities. Game on.
“We’ve got Özil…” within the first two minutes. Predictable enough.
Any hopes that simply “giving the fans what they want” was the remedy to our troubled form were quickly rubbished within minutes. Single passes bypassing our entire midfield, space aplenty for Wolves to have their way with us, holding midfielders being dispossessed in our own half and inviting unforced pressure. Xhaka wasn’t playing by the way, if any of that sounded familiar. Twice in 2 minutes was Guendouzi guilty of this. Six Wolves attempts in the first 14 minutes. Long afternoon ahead.
The goal wasn’t exactly against the run of play but it was so sudden, I don’t think many people felt we’d done enough to deserve it. A meandering Sideshow Bob Sr. had found himself with the ball on the touchline and took a swing, a hopeful ball at best. Taking a sizeable deflection, Lacazette picked up the pieces and fed Aubameyang who was faster to react, grabbing his 50th goal for the club.
The game quickly became stretched and I thought we were in for another match like Anfield. Özil’s ability to find not just any pass but the right pass appeared time and again. It was probably the first time in recent memory where I felt like Lacazette’s presence wasn’t detrimental to Aubameyang’s ability to find space in the final third, with the pair seemingly taking turns to try and supply the other.
Özil very much picked up where he left off on Wednesday and much of our play was anchored around him. His dependability felt like an aura at times, with players around him taking it in turns to recycle the ball through him as they slowly probed for openings. As much as Emery has struggled to find a No. 10 that works; Ramsey, Willock, Özil, Ceballos – even Torreira trialling there – having a focal point to centre our play around in the opposition half has always felt like one of the missing pieces to our offensive puzzle.
At this point, I don’t even know what constitutes a solid defence performance for Arsenal. A clean sheet is clearly asking too much, so perhaps conceding less than 15 shots would be an achievement? Average of only one goal conceded per game, perhaps? This would normally be fine if we simply outscored everyone, but another symptom of Emery’s Arsenal is struggling to put daylight between ourselves and the opposition even when we do win.
At the very least, I suspect Wolves were disappointed come half time to not have a goal of their own, having rifled a shot straight at Leno and another chance being blocked by Sokratis’ carefully placed arm. I couldn’t help but laugh at the customary theatrics the latter seems to be so fond of, going down as if he’d been shot by a 15-inch naval gun. I do sometimes wonder if anyone’s told Sokratis about things like VAR and television cameras; the man seems to love all things pantomime in football, from shirt pulling, to comical dives, tussling in the box and scenes like we saw today. Not content with his performance in Act 1, he was caught showing off his penchant for the arts early in the second half. He may well have taken a bit of an arm or elbow to the face, but for a man of his position, reputation and size to be rolling around on the floor when we’re not in possession to have a miraculous recovery when we are is just disappointing every time you see it. Apologies for the digression but there was very little to be cheery about again today.
The second started as the first, with our customary donations to the opposition’s “free shots fund”.
There’s a horrible feeling I get watching us these days of it being a mathematical certainty that we will concede (you can tell when I wrote this, but I had to leave it in…). I often find myself struggling to even remember when our last clean sheet was. It almost takes the fun out of football, a game steeped in what-ifs that turn into whens. It was all fun and games in the early 2000s, with one pundit famously remarking “Arsenal will score, because they always score.” This one’s really come back to bite us in the arse.
Pépé’s introduction was seemingly inevitable in a game so finely poised (or so I thought) – and this is something I’d be saying even with a 2-0 lead – let alone when we were up to our old tricks of almost giving the ball away from our goal kicks. I was interested to see how he would function in a frontline awash with talent, but it was Martinelli who first came into the foray. Lacazette made way with a suspected injury and given his involvement in what little of our play was good today, I can only assume this was the case. With any luck, it won’t be the same kind of absence as his last.
I would argue the saving grace of Emery’s tenure is his faith in our youth. Such is the quality of our two 18 year olds that featured today, the decision is at least easy to understand. Martinelli certainly found that the Premier League is a different kettle of fish to the Europa League and indeed Anfield in the Carabao Cup. He didn’t have close to the same impact but it’s fair to say this was a circumstance of the game and our inability to create chances than a reflection of his performance. For all of the faith Emery has shown, it’s also felt at times like he’s pissing in the wind when he throws on some kids and expects them of all people to be the answer to our problems.
The inevitable happened, like clockwork.
I really wish we’d just get it out the way early, broker some kind of deal where we let the opposition score straight from kick-off. It’s not that we don’t respond well from conceding, it just really gets in the way of the whole “trying to win football matches” thing we’re supposedly working on.
This team really has an incredible ability to not create goalscoring opportunities regardless of who’s on the pitch, though. I’m no expert but I think – I think – that might point to a symptomatic problem instead. Not wanting to repeat myself about who or what is causing this unerring period of inefficacy but I can’t even see a means to an end. Özil’s presence and quality was welcome and much of what was good about us came through him today, but was anyone really under the delusion that all our creatives deficiencies would vanish? He certainly waned as the game went on, as did the rest of them. And was it really more important to bring off Tierney who may or may not have been a bit tired and wet, with only minutes to go than bring on our record £72m signing when we’re chasing a victory?
Where we go from here is now very much at the discretion of those above Emery, whether they’re breathing down his neck or patting him on the back for doing what they asked of him. In closing, I’ll just leave you with a small insight into how the fanbase feels.
´Til next time.