When Unai Emery was appointed as successor to Arsene Wenger, many fans were left divided. Some pointed to his multiple Europa League successes at Sevilla while the others pointed out his failure to advance PSG in Champions League and the humiliation of losing the title to a young Monaco side. Some went back further, noting he went an entire season at Sevilla without an away-win.
But whatever was said or not said was of little importance because everyone knew that the Spaniard had a big task in front of him; a legend to replace, a team knocked out of Europe’s elite competition plus a defense and an away record that was just poor in Arsene’s last season.
So, when at the end of his first season Unai Emery failed to achieve even a single target, his failures were overlooked because of all the reasons mentioned above. But no matter how much one wanted to back the Spaniard or call his first season a success, for many, there was always a deeper feeling that he was simply a wrong appointment.
This feeling of doubt had a factual basis. We had the experience of continuing poor results in away games, the manner in which we folded at the end of last season when we failed to beat Huddersfield and Crystal Palace at home and ending up missing on top 4 by a point, and seeing Emery looking way out of depth in front of a manager who had never won a silverware before that night in Baku.
Boiling point at Watford
But all of that reached the boiling point when fans witnessed the manner in which Arsenal blew a two goal lead at Watford last Sunday. After 3 transfer windows and spending in excess of £200M and having players whom he can call his own, Emery’s start to his second season keeps getting more awful every game and Watford felt like more of a first nail in the coffin rather than an advancement towards glorious future. And to top it off, Xhaka’s comments about the team being scared of what Watford could do to them and Unai Emery saying that he was waiting for the best of Watford, has left many confused and wondering if this is how we want Arsenal to be.
On Sunday, it was a new low when Arsenal got hit for record 31 shots on target against the bottom of the league side. Arsenal has never conceded so many shots, ever since Opta started gathering numbers in 2003. Not even remotely close to Arsene’s worst defeats of his entire 22 year era. But it was not the only area where we got battered. Watford had better chances, more passes and even had a much better passing accuracy than us which was something of a new for those that were treated to Wengerball for decades.
Individual mistakes are now a trend
Many people will point out to individual mistakes costing Arsenal points. But when do mistakes become a trend? Since the start of Unai Emery’s era, Arsenal has committed the most errors in lead up to a goal. 14 to be exact. Similarly, Arsenal has given the most penalties in this era as well. When a team consistently concedes 20 shots per game, do we still blame individual mistakes? I wonder how Van Dijk will fare when he has to face that amount of shots every game. No my friend, the issue is not our defense or players committing individual mistakes but rather something that goes way beyond that.
In that regard I do think that Unai Emery’s philosophy does not reflect in the personal he selects to play and in the way they are set to play. You cannot put an attacking team out on pitch with defensive tactics and mindset. You will lose balance. Similarly, you can not put players like Sokratis and Guendouzi on pitch when your major part of the game is to build from the back and those two are the ones building it.
In many ways, I have never understood Unai’s persistence with Guendouzi. Yes, he is a great talent but a rather pre-mature one to start every game. This was on full show against Watford. He is simply not reliable to be picking passes on the edge of our box when 2 opposing players are closing him as he has the tendency to take too long on the ball. He did not gift a goal on Sunday but on any other day could have easily coughed up three. And even on Sokratis mistake, he was unaware of the situation surrounding him and had the ball reached him, I am not sure if he would have been able to control it.
It is noticeable from game to game that a Xhaka-Guendouzi combination is not complementary at all. Both have same strengths and weaknesses. They both like to occupy same positions on the pitch and show little urgency in going forward and support the attacking 3rd which also plays its role in the vast distances that we have become so accustomed to see between our midfield and attack under Unai Emery.
Substitutions are confusing
The thinking behind Emery’s substitutions is also a thing to worry about. In his first season, he showed at times his reactive ability to identify issues and change his team and tactics accordingly, but this has gone missing. At Watford, he kept the shape even though it was so visible that our fullbacks needed help.
And when he did made substitutions, they were confused and raised more questions than providing answers. He brought on young blood for experience in a situation where we needed calm head on the shoulders rather than a rush of blood. This can be perfectly described by the circumstances that followed before Luiz’s error, when our entire midfield camped in Watford’s box and left the defense wide open even when it was 2-1. On top of that he took Ceballos off even though, with him, we were already struggling to cope in midfield. Alas, it was too hot a day for Ceballos to last 90 minutes. Only if!
Close to breaking point
Bottom line is we have conceded 96 shots in five game, a stat that puts us at the top of of all 98 teams playing in Europe’s top five leagues. And this is not something new for Emery because his Sevilla were used to topping this chart as well. Many of us were already highlighting bad offensive and defensive numbers last season but time and time again our brilliant strikers continued to dig us out of holes. And without them we would have for sure lost on Sunday as well. It is rather poetic that Emery’s main job savers are the ones that he inherited rather than bought.
It is not hard to say that Emery so far has done little to give confidence to the voices that back him to succeed, and after Watford, his tenure seems to have approached close to it’s breaking point. What happens next is all in Unai Emery’s hands.
“what happens next is in Emerys hands”.Certainly to an extent. He would have to be more radical in letting the players do their job rather than playing puppet master. I get the feeling if they are thwarted this time the players my start rebelling?
Great piece Omair. Keep em coming!
I think this is the reason why there has been such an upheaval in squad since the departure of Arsene Wenger. Because you see, Arsene players were used to be given freedom on the pitch and express themselves and be open minded and adventurous in approach while always looking to attack.
Unai Emery is the complete opposite of this. He wants his players to be highly structured with little to no positional freedom and playing a style that is dependent on the opposition skills rather than our own. Maybe the idea was that the new players and especially young players will not object much to Emery as the old would or might have done. This is why he always prefers players who are just willing to get on with the business in what ever way he wants them to.
But when you keep changing things week in week out, I doubt any team can achieve much consistency!
Seems odd from Emery, in that the basic aspect in football is to win, which means mastery of the opposition. To then adopt the system of the opposition, seems quite frankly nuts when playing against less skilful teams, and potentially means being mastered by them. We’ve ended up with no self identity, and endless reaction and a lack of confidence. After a year he still cant set out the midfield. Guen tricked everyone because he played well against the Spuds, but most weeks he’s not better than those benched.
No wonder we see displays like on Sunday.
He would be suited to a much less skilful side as a manager. What baffles me the most is that he doesnt seem to see whats going on?
Every game, I now expect a loss or a draw and 3rd class football. Some transition!
Unai Emery is a manager who is perfect if you want to avoid the drop not when your ambition is to dominate. You will never be able to dominate with slave mentality(sorry for such a harsh word but when you are so dependent on your opponent, than there is no other word to describe it better).
Arsenal’s lowest ambition to get top 4 for which you need at least close 75 points per season. This means that you need to win most games than not and you need to be ambitious enough and attacking enough to win that amount of games. Unai Emery is lucky that he has such good strikers otherwise if he had players like Giroud up front with Yaya Sanogo as backup, we would have been fighting for relegation. Mind you that Arsene nearly put a title challenge with the same 2 options.
Unai Emery’s midfield is even a bigger problem than his defense and midfield needs consistency but Emery keeps changing it every game. Initially many showcased it as a sign of his greatness but now it only reflects his confusion that frankly surrounds his team and the club right now.
Watching Emery’s team play it feels like I am being slowly bored to death.
Feel the same. Good points Omair. Lets hope tonight we dont play action/reaction in the way UE normally does. I wonder if he played this way in the past with his other teams?
The problem I have in commenting on your articles is I can rarely find anything to disagree with or add.
So I’ll just point out that it is not correct to say there were 31 shots on target. Hah. Take that, George! I’m the pedantic one.
As for Emery. He’s a disaster. All the underlying stats exhibit this. Watching it, you can tell. The players seem to know it as well. It’s a sorry state of affairs that his future, rather than his P45, is in his hands.
Vinai has given him a vote of confidence. Hopefully it’s the kind that leads to a sacking, but I doubt it. Onlythe players can win us games in spite of their coach, and only the players can save us from him being the coach in the first place. Even the ones who have been cultivated as loyalists won’t want to play this way surely.
Interesting comment Shard. On this platform majority are those who see things this way so yes this is something. By the way, good pick regarding the shots on target thing. HAHA
I think players are much better and capable than what Unai Emery makes them out to be. Having Unai Emery as your manager is like telling a talented boy how ugly and bad you are. He makes the team think about opponent rather than believe in their own qualities. I remember once Arsene said that if you do not remind someone how beautiful they are, in time they will forget about it. And I think this is exactly what has happened to Arsenal under Unai Emery.
As a player, if you want to play for team that lets you express yourself and play good football, then frankly Arsenal is no longer that team for that player.
I think current players do realize this and Xhaka post match comments are the perfect example.
Right now Arsenal is in a desperate need to get back to Champions League and achieve consistency. This is why don’t expect anything from board to be said on Unai Emery. I read those comments and frankly the reason he gave for appointing Unai Emery is absolute rubbish. If developing young players is all you need than why replace Arsene in first place?
I think if results did not improved than it will all explode very quickly. Because frankly, if Unai Emery can’t deliver results than what else does he have to hold on to? NOTHING!
New post up. Time sensitive and could not be delayed.
I agree with you whole-heartedly.
It seems to me that UE wants to control everything the players do. He has his plan and ideas and they must do what they are told.
I suspect that that is the essence of the dispute he has with Ozil and had with Ramsey.
Thery are inspirational players and cannot play to rote.
This also explains why Guendouzi is almost a shoe-in every game, because he does what he is told.
The younger palyers like Nelson and Willock have also learnt the same lesson.
On Sunday they did what they were told and continously found themselves up a blind alley.
I suspect that the older and more independant thinking players are deliberately overdoing it, to make a point.
I wonder whether, when Zhaka said they were scared, he was suggestion that they were also scared of what they were being required to do.
As a longstanding supporter, nearly 60 years, it saddens me to have to say these things, but I cannot see any way to be positive.
I have felt from the start that UE was the wrong man and that, with his dossiers, he may even have misled the panel at the interview.
A man who could not manage a club in football heavon like PSG, what made them think he could do it with only a fraction of the funds available?
Having experienced the dross of the 70s and 80s, I am extremely disappointed to see it now. The club has shot itself in the foot and seems to be reluctant to find a way out of the mess they created.
It would be ironic if they win tonight.
If they do, and I do hope they do, it will send the wrong message that all is fine, until we give Villa 30 chances to shoot on Sunday.
Top blog Omair. Comments cover everything else.
To reply to one thing:
“When a team consistently concedes 20 shots per game, do we still blame individual mistakes? I wonder how Van Dijk will fare when he has to face that amount of shots every game.”
Many didn’t appreciated Mustafi having the best defensive numbers last season. The guy put his body on the line but always only focus on the few times the wall break. I got called a Mustafi apologist on twatter explaining this.