Arsenal are currently in good hands. It does not get any better than being coached by a manager who won an unprecedented three consecutive Europa League titles with Sevilla and then claimed a quadruple in his last season at PSG, winning all four domestic trophies: Ligue 1, Coupe de France, Coupe de la Ligue and Trophée des Champions. How unfortunate would it be however if such a reputable manager cannot steer the Gunners back to the Premier League top four in a year when Chelsea and Manchester United are going through major reconstruction while Tottenham look as ordinary as they have looked in recent years?
Unai Emery was charged with the impossible task of picking up right where Arsene Wenger’s legacy ended and it would have been totally unfair to expect too much from the Spaniard too soon. And while the former Almeria manager’s first season in London ended without a trophy, as far away from the eventual league winners as the team was under the departed Frenchman and missing out again on qualifying for the UEFA Champions League, not many questioned Emery’s abilities and very few called for his sack.
Emery has now had a full year to bed in his ideas, get in his kind of players and implement his policies. Yet after four games, Arsenal are out of the Champions League places, have conceded as many as they have scored and still have unresolved issues all over the pitch. Wenger may be long gone after spending 22 years in charge but very little, if any, appear to have changed about the north Londoners.
The defense is a complete mess. The midfield has serious issues. The attack, despite being one of the most feared in the country, seems to be missing a trick or two. A fan who had spent the last two years lost in a cave and seeing Arsenal play immediately after being found may be forgiven for thinking that Wenger was still the manager. So familiar are the problems from the old, stale days.
Only the former Sevilla coach can explain why he has stuck with the error prone center back pairing of David Luiz and Sokratis Papastathopoulos, despite their partnership being nothing short of disastrous. Only against Newcastle have the Red and White army kept a clean sheet. When they faced Liverpool, Arsenal shipped three and conceded two versus Tottenham right after.
Two games, five goals conceded. That kind of defensive record will not get any where near the league title in a thousand years, nor does it deserve to qualify for Europe’s premier club competition in half that time.
Against Spurs at the Emirates, Emery surprised quite a few people by setting up his midfield with three holding midfielders in an almost flat line in front of the back four. Neither Torreira, Xhaka nor Guendouzi is particularly known as a creative player while Mesut Ozil sat on the bench. The manager obviously sacrificed creativity for solidity, yet Arsenal were as open as a fallen fence and every time Tottenham broke they looked like they were going to score.
The visitors did score twice and Arsenal did really well to stage a comeback and earn a point thanks to their lethal striking force but for how long will they continue to push their luck.
And for all the backlash Mesut Ozil has received from fans and foes alike, the German is still the most creative midfielder Emery has in his weaponry and leaving such a talent out in the cold robs the Gunners of the one key that can unlock the most stubborn of all defenses.
Arsenal’s front three of Pepe, Lacazette and Aubameyang are as good as any, not only in England but also, in Europe. But even great attackers rely on good service. Ozil is still one of the game’s finest assist providers and if Emery cannot make room for him in that team, then maybe he is not the manager Arsenal needs at the moment.
And if, with all the teething problems and reconstruction issues that Chelsea and Manchester United are set to face for the best part of this campaign, the Gunners still miss out on making the top four, then certainly Emery is not the man that can take Arsenal further forward.
And with Jose Mourinho currently out of a job, it won’t be completely beyond the realm of possibility for the Arsenal board to reach out to a proven champion. A five-year absence from the league of the big boys would demand a radical change at the Emirates: sack Unai Emery and bring in a compulsive winner. And who can instill a winning mentality to a stagnant club better than the Special One?