Arse­nal cri­sis seems des­tined to per­sist as long as Emery re­mains in charge

The National - News - - SPORT - RICHARD JOLLY English foot­ball cor­re­spon­dent

Unai Emery limps on. Per­haps there is some­thing fit­ting in Arse­nal duck­ing a de­ci­sion whether to sack their in­creas­ingly be­lea­guered man­ager. Emery, after all, ducked a de­ci­sion on the cap­taincy by let­ting his play­ers vote. They chose Granit Xhaka, a can­di­date with lit­tle cred­i­bil­ity with out­siders. It com­pounded Arse­nal’s prob­lems.

The par­al­lels with Emery are all too ob­vi­ous. Arse­nal’s cri­sis of lead­er­ship seems des­tined to per­sist as long as the Spa­niard is at the helm. They have made their worst start to a top-flight sea­son since 1982, with just two points from four league games and no wins in five in all com­pe­ti­tions. They lost a lead in four of those five matches, and failed to take one in the other, Satur­day’s 2-0 de­feat at Le­ices­ter City. They have faced 54 shots on their goal in their last three league games and their goal­keeper, Bernd Leno, has had to make the most saves in the di­vi­sion.

If none in­di­vid­u­ally con­sti­tutes au­to­matic grounds for dis­missal, the over­all pic­ture is damn­ingly bleak. Arsene Wenger left Arse­nal with them 12 points off the top four after 38 games. Emery’s side are eight adrift of Cham­pi­ons League places after just 12 matches. They are stuck in re­verse when they ought to be ac­cel­er­at­ing. Newer ap­point­ments such as Le­ices­ter’s Bren­dan Rodgers and Chelsea’s Frank Lam­pard have forged finer units in less time whereas Emery’s ex­cel­lent au­tumn of 2018 now looks a false dawn.

This time last year, Arse­nal were in the midst of a 22-game un­beaten run. Emery was be­com­ing known for early sub­sti­tu­tions that trans­formed games. Fast for­ward 12 months and swift changes look ev­i­dence of ini­tial mis­takes. Tac­ti­cal flex­i­bil­ity now seems like cases of des­per­a­tion, not in­spi­ra­tion. Emery feels a man cast­ing around in search of so­lu­tions, one who does not know his own mind. If a faith in youth is ad­mirable, is it re­ally help­ful when the only play­ers hauled off at half time this sea­son are Reiss Nel­son, Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Joe Wil­lock, Ains­ley Mait­land-Niles and Wil­lock (again)? There are times when their se­lec­tion seemed ev­i­dence of Emery’s dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship with some se­nior play­ers, an is­sue he has brought from Paris Saint-Ger­main to Arse­nal.

He did not cre­ate the Me­sut Ozil sit­u­a­tion but it has been mis­han­dled. The marginal­i­sa­tion of Lu­cas Tor­reira was a mis­take. In­juries have ham­pered his cause, but Emery has not alighted on his best de­fence. Arse­nal’s lack of or­gan­i­sa­tion ren­ders them even more fal­li­ble.

It hardly helps that, at cen­tre-back and in the cen­tre of mid­field, Arse­nal’s choices may com­pare un­favourably with each of their im­me­di­ate ri­vals’ per­son­nel, even be­fore Emery some­times plumps for the wrong op­tions. He has been ham­pered by the com­po­si­tion of their squad but a lack of di­rec­tion is high­lighted by an in­abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate. There are two types of mis­un­der­stood for­eign man­agers in Eng­land: those whose English is not un­der­stood and those whose tactics are not. Emery def­i­nitely be­longs in the for­mer cat­e­gory. In­creas­ingly, it feels as though he has a place in the lat­ter as well.

Lin­guis­tic dif­fi­cul­ties may of­fer easy op­por­tu­ni­ties for mock­ery and both sets of sup­port­ers taunted Emery with a cho­rus of “you’re get­ting sacked in the evening” on Satur­day, but it is not a prob­lem that is con­fined to the stands and the press box. A few weeks ago, Robin van Per­sie, an­other of those who strug­gled to grasp Emery’s English, said his best man­agers brought a clar­ity to their mes­sage. He cited Arsene Wenger, Alex Fer­gu­son and Louis van Gaal as ex­am­ples.

Arse­nal have felt as in­co­her­ent as Emery of late. A man­ager who has a host of ideas – too many, at times – has strug­gled to im­ple­ment or ex­plain them. The pro­gres­sive el­e­ments of his regime, and Arse­nal have plenty of play­ers whose ca­reers should be on an up­ward curve, can be over­shad­owed by con­fu­sion and un­der­achieve­ment. Per­haps it does not help that he re­placed Wenger, whose elo­quence and ide­ol­ogy un­der­pinned many of his achieve­ments but it is ever harder to iden­tify pre­cisely what Emery stands for, how he will win back those he has lost or how he will achieve any­thing. It ren­ders him not just the wrong man­ager for a febrile fan­base, but for Arse­nal.


Arse­nal seem rud­der­less un­der Unai Emery

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