Apathetic Arsenal


Even in the darkest years of Wenger, a disappointing loss, or run of fixtures would never spill over into the next fixture. I would always have some slither of hope; on some occasions there was an air of inevitability to results, (the struggles against other big teams, European knockout stages, to name a few) but on their day, they could still pull it out of the bag. They say it’s the hope that kills you and that was a perfect summation towards the end of Le Prof’s tenure.

That feeling has genuinely vanished at this point. Not only has Saturday’s performance and result left a halitosis-equivalent aftertaste, I don’t feel at all rejuvenated ahead of tonight’s game. It feels like another ordeal we have to sit through and endure. As if the spark of European football wasn’t already watered down enough as we languish away in the Europa League, I don’t see any real positive outcome. A win would perhaps paper over the cracks and buy Emery another week in the eyes of the board, which means we have to sit through another league game. A draw or a loss means nothing in the context of our Europa League progression and it seems unlikely that the board would see a pointless cup fixture as the final straw.

We don’t know what’s been said this week behind closed doors, but David Ornstein’s revelation and choice of words might be the start of a changing tide; we can only hope “as things stand” really is as precarious as it sounds.

I don’t particularly care for Emery’s tone ahead of tonight’s game either; his plea for unity is likely falling on deaf ears at this point:

“My wish is tomorrow that the supporters and every supporter helps the team because we need them.”

Unai Emery, self-eulogy

By all accounts, our support has been patient and commendable this season. The overwhelming consensus at the start of the season was one of optimism in lieu of our active transfer dealings and the expectation that we would really crack on under Emery after a patchy (putting it kindly) first season. The away support has been flawlessly incorrigible as ever and although we have seen a breakdown at home in recent weeks, this is a symptom of our form rather than a cause and Emery would do well to appreciate the difference. As it stands, he will only alienate them further with nonsensical statements like this. Fans are fickle and reactionary; they don’t set the tone, they just respond to it. I know from experience at the Emirates that we’re a nervous bunch but the absolute best remedy is to get their act together on the pitch and the rest will follow. At the end of the day, fans pay good money to be entertained and hauling yourself to a midweek game after work, bracing the weather and unpredictable public transport, only to sit through more of the same dross won’t earn you any favours.

The Match

Exodus is a strong word (and I’m not talking about the entire Frankfurt contingent being absent) but there was a staggering number of fans missing. It’s the sort of turnout you get at reserve games.

Pushing David Luiz into a more advanced role felt like Emery playing one of his last, desperate hands as manager. Luiz struggled in the early stages and despite the knock he received, was still careless in possession on more than one occasion prior. If only Emery had an established, fit, holding midfielder at his disposal who could’ve deputised…

The injury eventually caused him to make way for Guendouzi but it was hardly a like for like swap. I was interested to see how we’d play with the David Luiz experiment but it wasn’t to be and we were subjected to the usual high-octane performance we’ve come to expect from the teenager.

Frankfurt have also been poor domestically and the manner in which they defended set pieces pointed to a team there for the taking but with the exception of the odd half-chance from set pieces, we still struggled to create meaningful chances. The Arsenal front three had Frankfurt’s back-line dead to rights for pace but the lack of creativity behind made them suffer, as tidy and adventurous as Joe Willock was in possession. For all of his qualities, he doesn’t quite fit the bill (yet) for such a position, despite Emery’s insistence on playing him there.

That being said, the best chances came from Saka and himself and although they’ve still got that rawness, there’s so much to like about them and they play with the kind of confidence you see in comfortably established players. The former’s contribution for the opener was crucial (if a little fortunate in missing the ball for Aubameyang), following some good wingplay from Martinelli. The first half was a bit of a non-entity but I’ll always enjoy a goal.

After a bright start, we assigned our first “opposition goal quota” of the evening to Kamada. It was a good turn and better finish but as is so often the case, we give the opposition all of the time in the world and that is what you get.

Naturally, we conceded again only 9 minutes later in similar fashion. I joke about having a quota, but there’s a reason we average almost 2 goals conceded a game this season. Kamada has already shown his quality so why everyone was asleep for the second ball is beyond me. If there’s one thing this team thrives on, it’s capitulation; perhaps a worrying byproduct of Baku.

Is that down to individuals not doing their job? Is it by design that no one can see the danger? It really is absolute schoolboy stuff and Martinez was understandably livid.

For all of the faults of this team, there’s a kindness to them that’s commendable – we have an uncanny ability to make bad teams look good. After going ahead, Frankfurt suddenly remembered how to play football and became a lot more organised at the back. You can point to injuries limiting Emery’s ability to change the game as he’d like but we’ve seen it all before. More to the point, he wouldn’t need to change anything if the situation wasn’t so dire in the first place. Such was our kindness, we offered little in the way of a fight to try and get something from the game but it’s hardly surprising that our confidence is at rock-bottom. The most fight I saw was Xhaka’s incredulous reaction at being penalised for a nothing-challenge, his grounds for dissent running deeper than just that moment.

For all of that fight, it didn’t stop Xhaka from fraternising after the game, seemingly unfazed by another disasterclass. At this point, it seems that he’s completely checked out. It made for stark contrast to Tierney and Chambers as they walked off the pitch, visibly frustrated as they seemed to hash out their issues.

Just as I was at the start of the night, I go into the next game feeling empty. I have no confidence that the right decision will be made, because it should’ve been made already. Likewise, I have no confidence that we’ll put in a good performance at the weekend. If I’m feeling like that, I dread to think what the players must be going through.

We can only wait and see what happens but I’m not going to lose sleep trying to second-guess the minds of the powers that be in North London. They’d do well to take note of Martin Keown’s impassioned and borderline venomous post-match tirade. Everyone really is at their wit’s end.

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