After Arsenal’s latest Premier League defeat to Leicester City, Unai Emery repeated a previous excuse relating to the club’s young players.
In October, Emery responded to criticism on the season so far by saying: “We are in a process, because we changed players and because we are taking young players and giving them chances.
“We are not saying to them ‘you can train with us, but you are on the bench on Sunday’. No, no, no. They are playing. It is a process that needs patience.”
Then on Saturday, once again, Emery came out with a similar line: “I am speaking with the club to stay calm and to stay patient to improve and recover some confidence with some circumstances. We have young players who are improving and growing up with us.”
Personally, I take great issue with this. Whilst Emery isn’t explicitly throwing any individual young player under the bus, the implication from his comments is that they’re a noteworthy reason why Arsenal haven’t done better this season. I’d almost argue the complete opposite.
What would Arsenal have done in Alexandre Lacazette’s absence without Gabriel Martinelli’s seven goals and one assist? How would they have dealt with the midfielders returning late from international duty over the summer without Joe Willock?
Arsenal’s wide options last season, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi, offered no more in goals and assists than their replacements Bukayo Saka and Reiss Nelson, who have contributed eight goals already this campaign.
That’s one goal or assist every 120 minutes, compared to one every 191 minutes for Mkhitaryan and Iwobi last season.
The fact is, Arsenal couldn’t afford to sign any more players than they did this summer. We know missing out on the Champions League has hurt the club’s finances, and they were lucky to be able to do deals like the one for Nicolas Pépé paid in installments over five years.
That’s not to say it wasn’t a commendable achievement by the Arsenal hierarchy to get those deals done in a feasible manner, it certainly was. It’s just hard to argue they could have spent even more without causing themselves problems.
As a result, the club would have been in a lot of trouble if they didn’t have such a talented batch of youngsters coming up and filling spots with many impressive performances so far.
They shouldn’t be used as a justification for Arsenal’s slide down the table. Every club has to deal with not being able to make every signing they’d like to each summer. It’s a bonus for the Gunners to be able to fall back on overperforming youngsters.
When Martinelli is on a five-game goal drought and Willock’s performance level drops significantly for a couple of months and Saka is no longer the player creating more big chances per 90 minutes than anyone else at the club, Emery can then argue that he’s going to keep giving them chances anyway for the good of their development.
But while those young players are part of the reason he still has his head above water, using them as an excuse for his own failings as a coach is unacceptable.