Remember when we all missed watching The Arsenal during the international break? It turns out that ignorance really is bliss. Sigh.
Sunday’s “performance” at Watford was one of three things in regards to Unai Emery’s tenure in charge; It was either the end of the beginning, the beginning of the end, or just the end.
I think it’s still a bit too soon to say that he should be fired, but I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that the Spaniard is now in a position where he has to start justifying why he should stay in charge, instead of others having to justify why he should go.
It’s not that the second half at Vicarage Road provided one single reason as to why Arsenal struggle to put teams away, it provided all of them, simultaneously.
- Struggling whilst playing out from the back ✅
- Sitting back with a team selected to play on the front foot ✅
- Lack of defensive organisation ✅
- Lack of leadership? ✅
- Sub-optimal substitutions ✅
We’ve seen all of these before, but for all of them to arrive at once was eye-opening to say the least.
Arsenal were given several opportunities to, at least, subdue Watford’s offensive charge, and they went out of their way to avoid each and every one of them.
The fact that it took 86 minutes for Bernd Leno to finally stop playing the ball short from a goal kick is jarring.
The fact that, at 2-1 up, Arsenal brought on Joe Willock before Lucas Torreira is baffling.
The fact that Ainsley Maitland-Niles, a centre-midfielder playing as a full-back, was given no protection in front of him to help repel Gerard Deulefeu because our £72m right-winger was playing as a striker until the last 10 minutes, is stupefying.
I could go on, but I’d be here all day.
The worst thing of all though is that all of Arsenal’s issues at the moment are either ones of their own making, or ones that teams that aren’t as good as Arsenal have already figured out how to solve.
If Emery had only just decided to try passing out from the back from goal kicks, then some teething problems are to be expected. But he’s tried this since the day he arrived at the club and the players still look completely unprepared if a team pushes up like Watford did. It’s not just down to the players’ unease on the ball under pressure, it’s little details that tell the whole story.
For example, when Arsenal had a goal kick, the two centre-backs huddled around the goalkeeper like moths around a light, and, as soon as one of them got the ball, Matteo Guendouzi would be waiting for a pass just outside the penalty area.
If the whole point of playing Granit Xhaka as a DM in a 4-1-2-1-2 is to take advantage of his passing ability, why isn’t he the one waiting for the first pass? Bringing Guendouzi back left a hole in midfield that became glaringly obvious when Arsenal did manage to get the ball further than 30 yards away from their own goal, because now there was nobody to pass the ball to due to no-one being in midfield looking for the ball.
So what happened?
Maitland-Niles would look inside for a free man to pass the ball to, see no-one, so he was forced to pass it to Pepe, who would always be running towards his own goal in an attempt to help. As soon as he received the ball, Watford’s left back was already be on top of him, giving him no room to turn around.
Pepe is not built to hold off defenders, and he was quickly shrugged off the ball,etting Watford on the counter attack. If this happened once, then it would be fine. Mistakes happen. But for half an hour, Arsenal used only this tactic to advance the ball and failed every time.
It was like watching Sideshow Bob walk onto a garden rake over and over again, except the floor wasn’t covered in them, there was only one, and Bob just turned around and hit himself repeatedly.
What do they say that the definition of insanity is? Repeating the same actions over and over again and expecting different results? It should be ‘Arsenal trying to defend a lead’, because their inability to change tack until it’s far too late is remarkable.
Arsenal’s first two substitutions were like-for-like replacements in order to stay in a formation that was getting completely overrun. Only when Mesut Özil was taken off for Reiss Nelson did Arsenal look like they were trying ‘something’, but that ‘something’ still left three players high up the field waiting for the ball to get to them, which never occurred.
One of two things is happening. Either the players can’t do what the manager wants them to but he’s asking them to do it anyway, or the manager can’t communicate his ideas well enough for the players to comprehend what’s required of them.
Considering how many players at the club are either Spanish or have played in a Spanish speaking country, I can’t accept for a second that it’s the latter.
Yes, Emery’s interviews in English are not the works of Shakespeare, but there are enough people in the changing room that are able to, at least, translate his words. It just seems implausible to me that someone as meticulous as Emery is unable to be able to tell his players what’s required of them.
So that leaves the former option, that the team can’t do what he wants them to do. So who’s at fault? The players for not having the technical or physical ability to fulfill a particular role, or the manager for putting a square peg in a round hole?
Is it Pepe’s fault that he can’t hold up the ball or Emery’s fault for asking him to?
Is is Xhaka’s fault for not being able to resist diving into tackles or Emery’s fault for putting him in a position that requires total concentration at all times?
I’m inclined to say the latter on all fronts.
I’m sure that Emery believes that his plan works in theory, but Sunday should have been all the evidence he needed that it doesn’t work in practice.
Will he take heed, or will he keep trying regardless?
former will see him get some time to sort out the problems Arsenal are encountering right now.
The latter will get him fired.