What a difference a week makes.
Post-Spurs, even though Arsenal only managed a draw, the Arsenal fanbase was on the up. An easy game against Rennes would set us up nicely for the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and we’d get to see what his Manchester United team are really made of.
But football is a fickle mistress that has no truck with what happened last week. In football, it’s all about what happened in the last game you played and, in that case, Arsenal are stuffed.
It’s been a while since Arsenal and Manchester United played in a league match that mattered. The rivalry between the two faded with the demise of Arsenal after their stadium move followed by the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson and, finally, Arsene Wenger.
But Sunday’s game matters a lot in chase of the fabled Fourth Place Trophy.
One point separates the sides with nine games to go. By Sunday evening Arsenal or Manchester United could have taken control in the chase for fourth and Arsenal’s run-in seems kinder than their rivals. But that doesn’t mean much as Emery has shown he struggles to set up this team to handle sides they should walk over. Rennes is the latest example but this season Arsenal have also lost to Southampton, West Ham, and BATE Borisov in addition to City twice, Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs and United.
No wonder Hatem Ben Arfa was laughing as he watched his former manager twitch up the touchline on Thursday night, trying desperately to effect change in a side that looked as clueless as the first day he arrived at London Colney. No doubt Manchester United fans, who already see any Arsenal game as an easy three points, were in a wrinkle themselves.
There is no telling how Arsenal’s game against Manchester United on Sunday will go. They are beset by an even worse injury crisis than the Gunners and Emery has shown that if he can do one thing it’s get Arsenal up for big matches. That might actually be the only thing he’s shown so far this season because the rest of it doesn’t really make much sense and even what we think we understand is deceptive.
Arsenal have played 10 games against City, Liverpool, Spurs, United and Chelsea this season and won just two. They’ve shipped 24 goals and scored 15. It’s better than Arsenal fans are used to but are they really doing much more than ‘getting up’ for big games? Two wins, two draws and six defeats, a few of them heavy, would suggest they are not.
Comparisons between the two managers will, of course, be made. Some Arsenal fans want to know why Emery can’t have the same impact that Solskjaer has had on United. Memories in football are short. It wasn’t that long ago we were all crowing about a 22-game-unbeaten run.
Since that misleading sequence came to an end Arsenal have played 19 games and lost eight of them, shipping 28 goals in the process. Only the recent 5-1 win over Bournemouth helped Arsenal move to a positive goal difference in that run.
It is not good.
Arsenal’s home record this season offers some hope but of the three games they’ve lost at the Emirates, United were 3-1 winners back in January. That was a game Arsenal fans expected to win.
What of this, then, following on from United’s uplifting, if slightly fortunate, away-goals win over PSG?
Emery’s first season at Arsenal seems to be delivering more questions than answers at present but Sunday’s game could see one massive query raised if it goes as badly as the game in France – is Unai Emery really the right man for this job?
Another heavy defeat or poor performance will lead quite a few more to believe that he’s not.
This article first appeared on Paddy Power