Yesterday’s game was, unfortunately, not a ‘bad day at the office’ that we can say is in isolation with this Arsenal team. Sadly our away form has dropped off of a cliff for the last month and in the league when you consider that has included Southampton, Brighton and West Ham – where we’ve taken one point out of a possible nine – I think it’s time to admit that we’re in real trouble.
I also think it’s time to start questioning the managers decision making. Unai Emery has had the goodwill of everyone who is invested in Arsenal – emotionally or otherwise – for the last six months and the 22 game unbeaten run helped to foster a hope that perhaps this Arsenal team have changed. But in those performances we all knew that we rode our luck at times – think Everton at home as an example – and it feels like that particular line of credit has run out right now.
Yesterday’s 1-0 defeat to West Ham was so, so poor, and pointed towards some problems that we have that are now very real.
Finally Emery had a fit collective of defenders. Finally he could select a side in which it was based on playing to the oppositions weaknesses. Finally we’d had a week off for most of the team and so fatigue wouldn’t be an issue. But did Unai play his best side?
Not in my opinion.
His best team involves Lucas Torreira. He didn’t play. His best side should involve Aaron Ramsey or Mesut Özil. One didn’t start and the other wasn’t even in the stadium. And that’s some decision making that needs massive questioning today. I get that Mesut Özil or Aaron Ramsey May not be Unai’s ideal choice for the team, but they are some of the best players in our side and to leave them out yesterday was utterly criminal. In the attacking part of the pitch, when we needed somebody to be that creative outlet for our expensively assembled natural born finishers, we had nothing.
In the first half yesterday I tweet a still of Granit Xhaka on the ball with his arms outstretched, motioning for somebody to give him an option in a vertical pass, to which he eventually played the ball to Lacazette who lost it almost immediately. I don’t particularly blame either players for that situation. The reason why is that Xhaka should have had a creative player with vision in front of him, able to pick the ball up and look for the second forward pass, which should have been on to Aubameyang or Lacazette. Lacazette doesn’t want to pick the ball up on the halfway line and turn, he wants to be running on to the ball that is played by a Ramsey or most likely, Mesut Özil. But Unai Emery is now locked in this battle of his own belligerence and that is seeing him – to all intents and purposes – cutting his nose off to spite his face by not playing either of our creative midfielders.
The result is an over reliance on players like Iwobi to be a creative outlet which, again yesterday, he showed he’s just not up to it. He didn’t actually have that bad a game, he’s just not that level of quality that this Arsenal team needs, to get where it wants to be.
Yesterday we conceded our inevitable goal and yes it was yet more shoddy defending by a catalogue of players including a poor header from Xhaka, but that’s not where my real issue is today. We know we’re crap at the back, but with the two strikers we have we should be creating bags of chances to counter that. Yet yesterday the manager set up a defensive formation against an average West Ham team and the result was an utterly appalling attacking display. There was no real creativity and even after we went a goal behind, when you expect a response from an Arsenal team to get back in to the game, there was nothing. Fabianski wasn’t troubled. We gave West Ham an easy afternoon and again, that is criminal, something Unai should be having a look at himself about today.
And we should be questioning him too. He needs to swallow his pride and bring back our creative players. He needs to move back to the back four and find a way to shoehorn Ramsey, Özil, Aubameyang and Lacazette in to the starting XI. It may have felt a bit disjointed earlier in the season but we still created chances. That’s not happening at the moment and that is a massive worry.
Top four feels too far off right now. Personally, deep down, I always knew it would be tough, but six points is still a big gap and it means that nothing less than a win at Chelski will be any good for us. Frankly speaking even if we win there I’m just not sure we have enough form and momentum to carry us through. We have Chelski at home, Cardiff at home, City away in our next three games and there’s absolutely no chance we pick up three points in Manchester, so for me it means that the Chelski result effectively seals the end of the Premier League season if we lose or draw.
Emery might be a USB video analysis king, but if he and his team aren’t watching yesterday’s game, as well as the Brighton one, and agreeing that our creative output needs some sort of different idea that doesn’t involve our strikers dropping deep to collect the ball, then I’m afraid we have to start questioning whether he really does know what he was doing.
There were loads of baffling decisions yesterday. Why bench Torreira, for example? He’s been one of the outstanding players this season and he’s had a full week of training, so you can hardly blame fatigue, can you? And what is the insistence in playing Guendouzi? He’s a decent prospect but it’s starting to feel like a ‘project’ player. Wenger used to do that and it drove us al nuts.
We’re not in a great shape at the moment and after the game I didn’t really hear anything from the manager that suggested he had a plan to get us out of it.
I hope I’m wrong.
Catch you all tomorrow.