Another day to forget

If you were fortunate enough to have more pressing matters than watching the football this afternoon, you might see the result and think something along the lines of “it’s not that bad” or “that’s about what I expected”. In reality, City were merciful (or maybe just apathetic). After they cruised to a three-goal lead in emphatic fashion, they played out the game with the handbrake on – and still created more chances than we did. For comparison, our only shot on target came 33 seconds into the game. For a team with no clean sheet in 10 games in all competitions, we didn’t seem overly interested in, or able to threaten their suspect back-line. The result was our fifth consecutive league defeat at their hands, our longest losing streak since 1983-1985 against City’s rivals in red.

If that’s not a clear enough summation, this should tell you everything.


The Match

On paper, it was the kind of lineup I was hoping to see: bold in including Martinelli – a change I was excited about but one you could understand if Lacazette was preferred, and seeing the same front 4 as against West Ham – sticking with whatever is even slightly working. The centre-back question essentially boiled down to who would be the least damaging partner to Chambers.

As for City, you’d think we would have anticipated a reaction to their recent domestic setback after they dismantled Watford 8-0 earlier in the season. Any antipaction was short-lived though, as De Bruyne’s first was the second fastest goal conceded at the Emirates. I’ve pointed in recent weeks as to how lethargic we are in the opening stages, and that better teams would punish us and it was just the case with someone as talented as De Bruyne. As ridiculous as the finish was – the most calm yet violent side-footed half-volley I’ve ever seen – it was another disaster at the back. Fernandinho ghosted into our half, found Jesus, Chambers showed him wide but didn’t get tight enough and De Bruyne was completely unmarked after Martinelli failed to track him. You can chalk that one up to not being switched on fully, but that was textbook Arsenal.

A cynic might question Kolasinac’s commitment as he appeared to duck out of the way, but the foetal-spread Raheem Sterling knew what was coming. It was hit with the kind of power where you just instinctively get out of the way – the kind that perhaps even the Adams and Campbells wouldn’t have blocked. Then again, those kinds of players wouldn’t have allowed the chance in the first place.

The second was just all too easy. Freddie’s post-match interview said as much:

“One of the goals, we had 5 defenders and they’re only two.. and they still scored.”

Looking back at it again, I’m almost in disbelief. Guendouzi jogging back the entire way, ball-watching from start to finish. Sokratis ball-watching the entire time, only turns to look behind him as the ball is played across goal to the unmarked Sterling. Kolasinac was closest but was wrong-footed by the slight deflection on the cross. For the other two, it was really indefensible though. I thought Guendouzi’s time on the sidelines would have given him some time for reflection and to be grateful of the trust hes’s been afforded this season but today was another glaring showcase of how far short he still is. I really don’t care for the diving and theatrics from him and can’t help but feel someone needs to take him to one side and stamp it out. For someone with such a reputable engine, he was ineffective and negligent today. He was even more culpable for the third, allowing De Bruyne to easily slip by goalside and the game was dead and buried. You can raise questions as to why none of the defenders felt the need to close him down but that would be too sensible.


One caveat of their third goal I’d like to address was the fact that at the time, we were down to 10 men while Kolasinac was being treated after an industrial challenge from Rodri – a staple of Pep Guardiola’s management. Rodri was booked for what was essentially a professional foul, after a powerful run from Kolasinac. In the eyes of the law, that was enough, but in reality, it was Arsenal who suffered. After Kolasinac limped off, Saka wasn’t quite ready. Why no one instructed him to do so when Kolasinac was first receiving treatment, I don’t know, but play resumed and you wonder if an extra man would have made a difference (admittedly unlikely given the defence plays like butter scraped over too much bread even with 11 men on the pitch). We don’t know if it would have but it doesn’t sit right with me.

The fact that Pépé almost missed today’s game because of a similarly cynical and industrial challenge last week makes me wonder if these kinds of challenges should carry retroactive punishment in the event of a professional foul injuring a player. I’m fine with a tug of the shirt and accepting a booking to stop a counter attack but in a time where more protective measures have been introduced for players, I can’t help but feel this would be another logical consideration. I don’t quite know how to introduce a retroactive punishment but perhaps FIFA’s new Head of Global Football Development has some thoughts on the matter. It’s one thing that Stoke no longer contaminate the Premier League but there’s more than a few teams who get away with it on a weekly basis.


Bernd Leno kept up his usual heroics with one of the saves of the season, tipping the ball onto the post after another audacious De Bruyne effort. I dread to think where we’d be without him and he’s been a great bit of business. This all unfolded before we’d even reached half time. I’m not sure where you even begin addressing the team at half time, but whatever Freddie said, we at least managed to plug the leak and keep the scoreline somewhat respectable.

Not much changed and arguably the worst moment of the game came not 10 minutes into the half. Kevin De Bruyne, having received the ball in his own half, was allowed to travel with the ball to the edge of our box and take a shot. That to me strikes me as something fundamentally wrong in our understanding of how to defend, or what football is even about. When a player, who is arguably among the top three players in the league, who’s already scored two fantastic goals and almost got a third, is running at your goal, why is your first thought to continually back off and give him the opportunity? What is going on in their heads to say that backing off is the best course of action?

Before we’d even reached the hour mark, Mesut Özil made way for Emile Smith-Rowe and he did his best Xhaka-lite impression, opting to kick his gloves in frustration instead. The reception to his substituion wasn’t nearly as unanimous, but given the off and on-field events surrounding him of late, he wasn’t happy. Highly self-critical though he may be, it felt like there was more to his outburst today, with Freddie assuring that they “will deal with it later”.


The Gulf-State franchise demonstrated the gulf in quality that the Arsenal Powers-That-Be have to try and bridge. If that means poaching their unproven assistant coach who used to play for Arsenal to replace our unproven, former assistant coach who used to play for Arsenal, then so be it. Not that City are even remotely in our ballpark at the moment. The title race may be insurmountable for them at this point, but they’re still years ahead of us and made it look all too easy today.

Scraping the barrel for consolations, I’m hard pressed to even find any worth mentioning. Not conceding in the second half while City toyed with us, maybe? The fact that Bernd Leno is one of the best goalkeepers in the league? Emile Smith-Rowe making his Premier League debut? It’s slim pickings.

We next find ourselves away to Everton, in a similar predicament to us. Whether we’ll have a new head coach by then is anybody’s guess.

Until then.

Limping past Liège and the group stages

Preview

Wholesale change was to be expected ahead of Sunday’s game against City. Saving a 6-0 defeat to Liège, qualification was all but assured, but it’s always best to win the group, especially with Frankfurt hot on our heels. The most notable development is the dilemma we’re now faced with at left back with Kieran Tierney’s untimely injury, leaving Kolasinac as our sole first-team left back. I thought we might see Chambers or Mustafi shoehorned in there to give the Bosnian some rest ahead of Sunday, but Saka was brought in instead as a left wingback. I wasn’t aware until the coverage started but he’d apparently played there at youth level which I’m sure intrigued Freddie given how highly he speaks of Saka.

The game was an opportunity for any player on the fringes of the first team to give Freddie food for thought ahead of his team selection on Sunday, chief among those being Alex Lacazette. Giving him the captaincy had shades of appeasement for the increasingly frustrated Frenchman, not that there were many alternatives anyway. Despite his 3 goals in as many games, he’s been well below his best of late. In these kinds of almost meaningless Europa League games, predominantly surrounded by players considerably younger than himself, a player of his calibre (and temperament) may feel it’s beneath him but we also need him to be sharp, whatever part he might play on Sunday.


The Match

I was a bit worried when I saw the make-shift backline, David Luiz forming the filling for a Greek sandwich, with a first appearance of the season for Mavropanos. David Luiz being the considerate gent that he is, decided to shift focus away from Mavropanos by being his usually unpredictable and substandard self, attempting to score from the halfway line and generally being wasteful, bordering on dangerous in possession. That being said, the younger of the two Greeks was rusty to say the least after such an absence.

The first half was a bit of a non-entity. Plenty of shots and half-chances but few clear-cut opportunities, with the best falling to Reiss Nelson just before half time. Despite having some good link-up play with Saka on the left hand side, I was disappointed with the amount of set pieces deliveries from Nelson which failed to beat the first man. Liège didn’t cause us too many problems and certainly weren’t playing like a team with an outside chance of qualifying for the knockout stages.


The second half was another matter entirely and we found ourselves behind almost immediately after a bizarre deflection and yet more poor defending. Bastien received the ball in the middle of our half, was able to control the ball, take a touch and still had time for a free shot. The lack of urgency on the edge of our box is still something that desperately needs addressing and deflection or not, I’d wager we’ve conceded considerably more goals from outside of the box than we usually do this season.

You can understand why Saka was reluctant to commit given the player outside of him, but there’s really no excuse for Nelson and Sokratis to be so vacant, the latter being particularly guilty with such a lazy attempt at blocking that actually compounded the problem. (Link for those that may have missed it to see what I’m talking about).

Ball-watching and absent-mindedness, as well as another hefty deflection were all key architects in Liège’s second, with Willock and Guendouzi both culpable on this occasion. At this point, it’s almost pointless to single individuals out because the list of culprits is growing every week. It’s systematic and really needs addressing. They were flat-footed and slow to react and no amount of bad luck with deflections/VAR/whatever can forgive that kind of behaviour. Fortunately for them, they’re young and won’t receive the same kind of scorn as some.

A reinvigorated Liège made life difficult as they seemed to finally cotton onto the fact that qualification wasn’t entirely out of their reach. Having been burned before, a small part of me feared the worst as it started to get a little dicey.

These fears were thankfully put to bed before long, with some real, top quality from Bukayo Saka. It was the kind of cross that makes you think “wow, I wish we had a player at Arsenal who could do that” because such quality in the final third has been dearly missing from these kinds of wide positions. For all of their qualities, the likes of Chambers, AMN and Kolasinac don’t quite have the finesse to pull off what we saw tonight and it was great to see. Lacazette was perfectly placed and applied the delivery the kind of finish it deserved. Much like Pépé’s flurried involvement against West Ham, no laurels were rested and Saka immediately took charge again for the second. Receiving the ball on the left, his first thought was to get his head up, saw the space and drove towards the edge of the box. The lay-off from Martinelli with his back to goal was perfectly weighted but Saka still had work to do as the ball was almost under his feet, but he dug out a shot into the far corner and that was that.


If not for Frankfurt’s late slip-up against Vitória, the nature of this result may have come back to haunt us had we ended up against one of the fallen Champions League contenders. While we’re no longer favourites given the quality of some of the teams who now join us (Ajax and Inter Milan most notably), we’re certainly still contenders.

I’m always caught in two minds with situations like this; on the one hand, if you’re serious about winning it, I think “well we have to beat them at some point, bring it on!” and then I remember the painful reality checks we’ve been subjected to by the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich in years gone by. That’s not to say the competition in the Europa League is equivalent (and we’re certainly not at the same standard as we were in those fixtures), but I’m still not overly concerned besides those two. If we play to our potential, we’ll surely meet one of those down the line anyway. For now, we’ve just about done our job and will at least get a kinder tie in the Round of 32.

As clean sheets continue to evade us, we’re at least unbeaten in two games, came from 2 goals down in Europe – away from home – and topped our group, with some more spirited and quality contributions from our talented crop of academy products. I’d have preferred a win going into Sunday but there we go.


I’m going to leave you with a classic Martin Keown death-stare. For those that might have missed BT Sport’s coverage, he’d been repeatedly mocked by host Jake Humphreys for being 40 minutes late to the match. 3 times was apparently too much for Martin and this was his bite-back:

I guess Martin values his punctuality.


Featured image courtesy of Andrew Allen

Goodbye Rot

Thumbnail courtesy of the great Poorly Drawn Arsenal


I can’t tell you how relieved I am to be writing from a position that isn’t despair – not only because Arsenal finally won a game of football but because I genuinely don’t know how else I could have addressed our problems.

It had all the makings of an opportunity for redemption: the Bruised Banana, the steadfast Gabriel Martinelli given his full debut, Pépé coming into the starting lineup to ensure Aubameyang wasn’t forced out wide, fending for scraps. The build-up was far from pretty, but when these three came together with a goal apiece, it was Christmas come early.

Were West Ham poor? Yes. Are they the first poor team we’ve played? No. Were we poor for large chunks of the game? Yes. The difference? We actually won.

The win might have come later than expected as we received no such “new manager bounce” in his first two games in charge, but given our dicey December schedule, it will be a good platform to build on. Looking ahead to next weekend, all I hope is that City don’t get up to their usual tricks of decimating teams after a loss. A loss to them will be another damning blow in their title chase and they will give us a game; I just hope Freddie is as bold as he was today and rewards those who made a difference.

Preview

I was surprised to see Ainsley Maitland-Niles come back into the side before realising it was from a complication with Hector Bellerín during warmup. Less so with David Luiz being dropped, but a welcome and refreshing change of mindset to see out-of-form players being dropped. It felt like a clear statement of authority from Freddie – interim though he may be – that there are consequences if you play like a clown (Sideshow Bob comparison not actually intended, but always welcome).

From my point of view, besides the highly-questionable Sokratis, this was the kind of form-based lineup I’d wanted to see. Despite his recent declaration, AMN is a tidy and athletic player so I had no issue with him deputising and with Chambers playing at right centre-back, he can shoulder some of the defensive responsibilities which have sometimes drawn scrutiny to AMN.

Sticking with the central pairing of Xhaka and Torreira was also the right decision in my book. Despite the result against Brighton, I still felt there was more balance to our play despite the vulnerability on the break (as this very much feels more like a team and/or system problem). Not chopping and changing as Emery so often did will hopefully put Freddie in good stead.

The Match

It was a senile start – and not one that would have come as much of a surprise given the spot of bother we’ve had winning football matches lately. A lot of “going through the motions”. That isn’t to say it was from lack of trying but more a circumstance of a team at near-enough rock-bottom (with sympathy to the likes of Bury, Bolton and Portsmouth). It goes some ways in explaining why it took 31 minutes to have a touch in West Ham’s penalty area.

It was a patient first half for the most part though, one without much in the way of incision but I would much rather see us dominate possession and bide our time than play deathball ping pong as we’ve done lately with the opposition.


As against Brighton, and countless other times this season, we were ultimately punished for not addressing the second ball. Hunger is everything in football and confidence aside, I just don’t get that burning desire to do anything and everything they can for the team in some of these players. Even in the 10-second build up to the goal, there were 3-4 instances of players just not having that conviction. Xhaka was perhaps the most guilty on this occasion and it’s just another entry in our lengthy obsession with making schoolboy errors. Not long after, Xhaka even played one of the most careless cross-field balls I’ve ever seen which could have easily punished us again. For his improvements under Freddie, the things he does sometimes…

Play to the whistle. Don’t play across goal. Don’t ball watch. Stay goalside. Putting up a laminate with some of these in the dressing room (or in a few, individual lockers…) might be a good investment.

Things were really quite poor either side of their goal, and it leaked into the beginning of the second half. We looked bereft of ideas and even the goal was a strange one. It came from nothing, just a slight up in the tempo as Torreira found a bit of space and found Kolasinac bombing down the left as he so often does. He did well to find Martinelli (one or two West Ham defenders might have been napping but that spoils the narrative) and he was as clinical as ever with both his and Arsenal’s first real sight of goal. It might have happened in the 61st minute but I’m happy with taking baby steps at the moment. I think he’s made a real case for himself with another hearty performance and while it’s better late than never, it makes you wonder how long ago he should’ve been starting games.

Not wanting to be left out of the limelight of “misused substitute redemption arcs”, Pépé demonstrated why he was one of the most sought after players in Europe with a great bit of individual skill and finishing. We’ve seen him try that kind of shot on more than one occasion, and he’s always looked sharp in the box but this was the first time he’s really delivered.

Not resting on his laurels, he immediately completed a crafty 1-2 with Aubameyang who made no mistake with the finish. After almost putting a “cross” into the stands not 10 minutes before, I was a bit concerned that even Aubameyang was losing his touch… West Ham didn’t put up much fight after that flurry and we might’ve even grabbed another.

Injury-worries aside, it was great to see Chambers doing the dirty work at the end as he threw himself headfirst into the challenge to win the ball towards the end, the sort that would make the Keowns and Koscielnys proud and the sort that really add up over the course of the season. Martinelli charging back to defend in the 93rd minute was on par with the kind of commitment we should be demanding from each and every one of them.

At the very least, these two really made a case for themselves and despite the change in calibre we’ll be faced with against City, I would like to see them both starting. Lacazette will be the obvious casualty of this arrangement, and although it’s at home and against a big team – two conditions he seems to thrive under – I would like to see some consistency in our starting lineups. There’s no reason he can’t come off the bench and make a difference if we need something but that’s down to Freddie. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he reverted to having Aubameyang out wide to accommodate Lacazette, favouring experience over form in such a game but we’ll have to wait and see.

Until then.


Rotten to the core

Immediate Afterthoughts

Where do I even start? A home loss to a team starting the day in 16th place. Winless in 9 (NINE!), a record stretching back to March 1977 (courtesy of @Orbinho).When Xhaka stormed off the pitch some 5 weeks ago, I said that our problems ran deeper than just one man. The same can be said after the departure of Unai Emery, such is the magnitude of these dire straits.

The sheer range and depth of our problems is just staggering. Confidence, mentality, ability, fight, intelligence, positioning, formation, awareness. It feels endless. If that wasn’t bad enough, we even had to endure Alan Pardew’s stupid, smug, jowly makeup-caked face as he bleated on about our problems.

A deflated but calm Freddie Ljungberg said after the game that the players are low on confidence and that they should be starting games in the same manner that we started the second half. What he can do about that on such an indefinite basis remains to be seen because these players appear to have the collective mental fortitude of a toddler.

In some ways, it’s almost redundant to talk about the game because for all of the brighter moments, there was so much familiarity to the way in which the game unfolded. I’m still going to, for what it’s worth, but this was the first time in a while where I was genuinely surprised by what this team can do. I actually underestimated just how bad things were – I chalked up the game against Norwich as Freddie not having enough time to prepare, with the players still licking their wounds from Thursday’s finale and Friday’s announcement. What we saw last night was confirmation that things are very wrong from top to bottom within the club and no amount of club legends being thrown into the mix seem to be able to stop this hemorrhage. I really thought Emery going and a former player of Freddie’s stature would the catalyst for change, but another barren crowd and mostly timid performance has put that to bed.


The Match

I had plenty of mixed feelings before the game about the starting lineup.

Sokratis coming back in for Mustafi was the “safe” change, reverting back to our “best available” pairing of the season despite Sokratis’ generally woeful form.

Torreira in for Guendouzi was a call for control. For Xhaka’s faults, he can distribute the ball effectively in the right circumstances and having Lucas Torreira alongside him shoulders some of that burden. That’s not to say Guendouzi is incapable of doing so, but it is a more natural responsibility for Torreira. Xhaka ended up having one of his better performances and bailed us out on more than one occasion.

The front four remained unchanged and Pépé’s omission was perhaps the biggest surprise. After Norwich, I was sure he’d start – eased back into a first team starting with a routine home game against struggling Brighton. Hah.

The warning signs were there; Brighton are no pushovers away from home, giving Liverpool a run for their money at the weekend and it was more of the same last night. They created more chances, were far more assured across the pitch and most importantly, they actually took their chances.


The calm before the storm (the early stages)

Although the foundations were laid against Norwich, we did at least attempt to press in the early stages. I’d almost become accustomed to opposition players just striding into our half and making unchallenged passes under Emery and seeing us harrying their goalkeeper and back-line time and again was great to see.

What VAR are doing instead of watching Lacazette’s shirt being removed, I don’t know but as VAR giveth last week, this week they giveth not. Not much changed for the second or third corners but there we go.

Although there were a few promising moves going forward , the defensive frailties were still there and Brighton were perhaps unlucky to not be ahead at one point. It’s hard to say whether it was down to good play by Brighton – they had quite a lot of success on the left wing with some good trickery – or by Arsenal being Arsenal. It didn’t take long for confirmation.

There was a creeping sense of unease as Brighton grew into the game as the Emirates echo chamber took hold. As is so often the case, that pressure materialised into a goal and I can’t say Brighton didn’t deserve it.

For all of his energy, Joe Willock was somewhat of a pariah in the first half, struggling to make an impact with some lax passing and mistimed runs.

It did eventually spark a bit of life and the best Arsenal chance of the half fell to Joe Willock but he was unable to place it either side of the keeper. His poor first half was epitomised in the closing minutes after failing to find Aubameyang, as the captain gave him a right earful in response.

I’m never sure how to react when I see that on the pitch, especially from your captain to a player as raw as Willock. The nature vs. nurture dichotomy is just as apparent in football and we’ve seen it before with the likes of Henry, who was no stranger to publicly airing his displeasure. Willock certainly should’ve done better but Aubameyang’s reaction was one of real frustration. Needless to say, Willock was the sacrificial lamb to accommodate Pépé at half time.


Pépé’s involvement and quality was immediately obvious and you couldn’t help but wonder why he wasn’t starting. The words on everyone’s lips.

The goal came from an unlikely source – a near-post header reminiscent of Olivier Giroud and not something I thought was in Lacazette’s locker. I’d even been thinking it was strange that he’d had been on the end of a few near post-headers in the first half but this was the best of the bunch, even if it was half-bundled in via the post/keeper/defender/Kolasinac. I really thought that would be “game on”, and although there was a resurgence, it proved to be ultimately short-lived.

Contrary to our tendencies under Emery, instead of resting on our laurels after a goal, we did manage to keep up that pressure for a time. Even after the goal, seeing Kolasinac frogmarch the ball back to the centre-circle was a good sign of fight and I thought we had actually – finally – woken up. I’ve been critical of him on more than one occasion this season, not for anything overly damning – more his unpredictability and inconsistent quality in the final third – but there was so much to like about his tenacity and drive.

The game got all a bit nuts after that. Pépé grew into the game more and more, Sideshow Bob put the ball away with aplomb only to be ruled offside (eventually), there were tackles flying in all over the shop. The question was whether we could capitalise on this ascendancy.

I stupidly thought it was going to be one-way traffic. Like teams of old who would relentlessly build momentum when chasing games, throwing on 4-5 forwards and going for it. It was Brighton who found the quality as this team again fell victim in conceding against the run of play. Credit where it’s due, it was a good header. The build-up was another entry of Sunday League defending though and we couldn’t have made it easier for them. Returning to the starting lineup, I thought Sokratis would be sharp as a tack but the way he was drawn out of position so far by Brighton was just so, so basic – the kind of ball-chasing you see in an under-8s game. I really thought that was hardwired into professional footballer’s brains.

(Funnily enough, the same could be said of the other game of the night, as Jonjo Shelvey beat the offside trap while the Sheffield back-line stood there with their hands up. Play to the whistle…)

As we found ourselves chasing the game again, Brighton controlled the play, retained possession and defended as a unit. They even came close to extending their lead if not for Bernd Leno. Gabriel Martinelli had another brief spell and was the closest to bringing the game level but he didn’t have much time to make an impact. He is one who will be struggling to understand why he’s not starting at this point because both Lacazette and Aubameyang were poor last night, with the Frenchman’s form – irrespective of goals – being a real cause for concern. This team struggles to score goals, especially from open play as our last 3 goals have all come from set pieces, so I can understand the frustration if they feel like they’re not getting service but I just didn’t sense a willingness to make things happen themselves. Instead, it was more sulkiness, clashing with teammates and wasted opportunities.

Where do we go from here?

When it rains, it pours and our December schedule looks nothing short of painful on paper.

West Ham (A)9/12
Man City (H)15/12
Everton (A)21/12
Bournemouth (A)26/12
Chelsea (H)29/12

As we found to our misfortune last night, how things look on paper is rarely what you end up with – I’m sure looking at the teamsheet and opposition last night, few could have predicted that result. That being said, it’s not looking great.


Freddie should still be thinking about what his best lineup and formation is. It may have eluded Unai Emery, something which really exacerbated the confusion we see on a weekly basis, but for me, that’s a priority. Picking the most in-form players, in their preferred positions. That means dropping Lacazette, starting Torreira (again), molding a front-line around Özil and finding a defensive partnership that works. Luiz-Mustafi and Luiz-Sokratis are both busts, neither of which I ever want to see again so why not give Chambers a chance in the middle? We can’t get any worse there so I don’t see harm in trying.

Looking forward, Pépé and Martinelli have to be starting. Pépé’s ability to beat players and work chances in the box – even his set-piece quality – is something we clearly need. Martinelli is one of the few players who shows real fight every time he’s played and while I don’t want to see his confidence dragged down to the depths of the rest of the team, I feel like a run of games is nothing short of what he’s deserved and really could turn our fortunes around with a few goals. “Competition for places” is a phrase bandied around a lot and with good reason – players can never be complacent about their position in a team. If you’re in the starting lineup, you need to earn that spot every week with your performance on matchdays and in training and there’s more than a few who look a little bit too complacent for my liking.

Looking further up the chain, KSE are another kettle of fish and since we are powerless in doing anything about them, I prefer to leave them out, however frustrated about them I feel about them and their continued involvement with our club. I do wonder what’s going through Raul, Edu, and Vinai’s heads, though. For starters, I’d love to know their reasoning for waiting until after the international break because that really hasn’t helped matters. We have no idea as to what kind of timeframe Freddie is working on – he’s obviously refused to disclose any details, but he is at least taking every game as it comes. Away to West Ham on 9th December doesn’t leave much room to work with, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Until next time.


Photo courtesy of Football.London

Project Youth Meets Project Freddie

The elephant in the room has finally been acknowledged and Unai Emery has been euthanised.

The decision feels like a bit of a smack in the face so soon after the grievances of the entire Arsenal fanbase were labelled as “noise” and is perhaps a bit embarrassing that said powers took so long to come to their decision. I’m not suggesting for a second that they should be indulging the fans’ every beck and call but this was a very easy and obvious decision to make and it raises questions going forward. At the very least, there is absolutely no margin for error, nor are there excuses in selecting Emery’s successor. Ultimately, Unai was a hellspawn of Ivan Gazidis so the prospect of a completely fresh start, on their own terms, should be enticing.

While the final nails in his coffin had been in place quite a few weeks ago, the powers that be and their prevaricating have now left us in a position where Freddie has had 3 days to prepare rather than an international break. I’m sure he’s over the moon with that. Freddie is no fool though, and I’m sure has conjured up plenty of alternative ideas in his time spent powerlessly trapped on the sidelines.

Unai Emery

I can’t go further without acknowledging what Emery has done for the club. At the very least, he demonstrated why change was needed in the first place, as we showed marked improvements in matches with the rest of the “Big 6”. The biggest conundrum is why he was able to improve us here but take such massive strides backwards against the remaining 14 teams.

In the past few weeks as the end drew closer, I postulated as to what Emery’s legacy would be in his tumultuous 18-month stint at the club. The capitulation in Baku and abject failure in throwing away a place in the “Top Four” last season will perhaps be remembered longest, rather than the spate of worrying statistics we’ve been subjected to this season. Ultimately, winless in all competitions for 7 games proved to be his undoing, a feat not seen since 1992. Given the standard of opposition we’ve faced lately, there really is nowhere to hide when it’s laid out like that.

The breakdown of relationships with several key individuals will also be pointed to as defining tenets of his time here. Aaron Ramsey was the first to raise alarm bells, made all the more perturbing by Emery’s obvious dependency on him to get results last season.

Laurent Koscielny was the next to make way, and although initially castigated in the press with sensationalist reports about our captain “going on strike”, I feel that was the last card he could play. A loyal servant for nearly a decade who played through pain for years without complaint finally cracked. The crushing disappointment of Koscielny’s missed World Cup also took their toll, by his own admission. He wasn’t treated with the kind of respect he deserved and his departure spilled over into this season as Emery seemingly begrudgingly made Granit Xhaka captain once the season was already well underway.

It was the breakdown of this relationship and the explosive, public nature of it that really felt like the beginning of the end for Emery. As much as many would have liked this to be the convenient answer to our problems, Xhaka’s absence failing to turn around performances pointed to a Medusa-complex and the slump gained momentum.

Emery’s handling of Mesut Özil also did him no favours. No one knows whose toes the German stepped on but suggestions that he wasn’t applying himself in training were clearly unfounded and the dearth of creativity that began to define Emery’s Arsenal owed much to this relationship. Time will tell just how much of a mistake this was.


That’s not to say it was all doom and gloom, though.

My personal highlight of his time here, as I’m sure many will also agree, was the traditional yearly home demolition of Spurs. It wasn’t just the result, or the efficacy of his substitutions, or even the manner in which we tore them apart. For me, it was the first time I really felt a sense of hope and good things to come again as an Arsenal fan. It turned out to be a bit of a pipe dream but hey ho, that’s football. At the very least, I’ll miss Emery’s maniacal mannerisms, flagrant disregard for the bounds of his technical area and exuberant celebrations.

Whatever his reasoning, his proclivity for giving opportunities to youth players was also commendable. We’ve got a really great crop of players at the moment and although raw, the baptism of fire they’ve been thrust into in these 18 months will be a good part of their development. The question now is whether they can press on under a man many of whom seem to really look up to. The foundations are there and as far as I’m concerned, this season is another write-off already. I’d like to see them play without fear and go hell for leather. We certainly need some good, cathartic payback against the smaller opposition who Emery was so reluctant to dispose of.

Aside from that, I really do struggle to harbour any kind of positive sentimentality to his time here. We’ve been incredibly boring to watch for over a year, we’ve invited pressure like there’s no tomorrow – regardless of who we’re playing – we’ve been infuriatingly error-prone and we’ve squandered an array of attacking talent at our disposal. I suspect Nicolas Pépé will be the most relieved. Over to you, Freddie.


Freddie

So, the Premier League now has Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Frank Lampard and Freddie Ljungberg managing United, Chelsea and Arsenal. Born ‘93 and becoming embedded in football in the 2000s, it really is a bizarre time we’re in. You might’ve tipped one of them to go into management but for them to have aligned to where they find themselves now really is something.

By all accounts, Freddie has been quietly going about his business in the right manner, slowly working his way through the ranks and not cutting corners. I’m not too well read on the nuances of his on-field successes in the youth leagues but the consensus seems to be that he’s well respected among the youth setup and several that now find themselves in the first team.

Wenger always spoke highly of Freddie, an intelligent player on and off the field, with an uncanny ability to pop up in the box at the right time. We could do with him imparting a bit of that wisdom to the current crop. It’s also been reported that Per Mertesacker will be “supporting” Ljungberg in the dugout tomorrow, perhaps the start of an unlikely but blossoming relationship. That’d be something.

He might not have got the kind of preparation he wanted but Norwich shouldn’t prove too stern a test and the squad should be relishing the opportunity to play with the shackles off. I’m intrigued to see how we setup and approach the game, the players have nowhere to hide now either. As much as I’ve been critical of Emery, there have been plenty of players who have been well below their potential this season. I hope at the very least Freddie is ruthless enough to drop people that deserve to be dropped. He’s a fighter and a winner and I’m sure he won’t let that kind of behaviour fly.

Down the line, I don’t know what he could do to secure the job full-time. It would be quite an achievement to secure top four from where we find ourselves now but is rewarding him with a contract at the end of it the right decision for the long term?

Freddie has that highly-coveted “Arsenal DNA” and I certainly wouldn’t be against rewarding him for a successful season (all things considered). Finding our “Mr. Right” was never going to happen at the first try and maybe it’s where we least expect it. All I can say is, I’m excited about football again.