Well that wasn’t a whole heap of fun yesterday evening was it?
To coin a phrase from Steve McCroskey in Airplane!:
Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop drinking.
Being off the booze in Feb meant I had to sit through more than 90 minutes of that dross that Unai Emery’s players served up and I can safely say that aside from the first few minutes it wasn’t pretty in the slightest.
And I’m deliberately calling it Emery’s Team now because last night was on the coach. Leaving players behind, selecting a team with three at the back, playing players who are either not good enough or need to be pulled out of the team for form-related reasons, that performance was up there with the away defeat to Bradford City in the League Cup all those years ago.
It was turgid stuff from Arsenal and there are so many factors that make it feel even worse. Like the fact that BATE we’re in pre season, for example, which means we played a team not fully match fit.
Or that they clearly had no real quality in their side and yet still managed to fashion chances.
Or that we played a fully strength team (Özil absence aside) that had both greater technical, as well as physical, ability about them.
And so this morning whilst the defeat stings a bit, the fact that we still have a home second leg to right the wrong performance of last night, the biggest concern I have is that the manager isn’t getting a tune out of his players.
At this stage I’m wondering why Unai felt the need to be so conservative against a BATE team fielding 37-year-Old Aleksandr Hleb, for crying out loud, because it was clear that an Arsenal team with a clear idea of what they were doing were going to pop a few past BATE last night.
Instead we got one real good chance early on from Mkhitaryan and then that was about it.
And again my mind is thinking not towards the fact we lost the game but towards the manner of the defeat. Where was the urgency? Where was the drive? Where was the creative invention?
There wasn’t any. Because for some reason Emery set a team up in which the only player it feels like the system suited was Sead Kolasinac, who I thought was the best of a pretty bad bunch yesterday, because we offered nothing else going forward.
Imagine having two brilliant goal scoring centre forwards in Aubameyang and Lacazette and having to field broken footballers like Mkhitaryan and Iwobi as the creative sparks. It’s a bit embarrassing really.
We should be giving these guys the opportunity to flourish and bag us Hatfuls of goals and yet we’re serving them scraps. It’s silly.
Iwobi and Mkhi started off quite well though in the first ten minutes I thought and I wondered if this might be a game in which they could start to build some much needed confidence.
It wasn’t. After a bright start both reverted to type and offered little, although at least Iwobi got on the ball a bit, it was just that he has absolutely no end product. As for Mkhitaryan, well, right now given the money he’s on I’d be in favour of wrapping him up in a cotton blanket, putting him in a Moses basket and leaving him on the doorstep of some Chinese club, because what he offers us is leaving me puzzled.
But it wasn’t just those two last night. BATE set up to just ask Arsenal a question on how to break them down and Guendouzi, Xhaka, Maryland-Niles and to a lesser extent Lacazette had no answer. We are a team devoid of attacking threat right now and considering the goals we were getting earlier in the season it feels even more puzzling.
Puzzling because Emery seems to have completely shifted his thinking. Gone is four at the back, replaced with this weird system that just doesn’t seem to work and yet we persist with it so regularly. Gone is any kind of chance creation and as a result Arsenal are becoming very, very, dull to watch. It was sterile possession last night and that’s what drove us all mad last season.
If we’d have created chance after chance last night and come up against an inspired ‘keeper then that might at least be something to chalk down to ‘one of those nights’ but this was far from that. This was an Arsenal team out of form, out of ideas, out of options and not really looking like they knew what they were doing.
Which again makes you even more puzzled as to why we have ostracised Özil and until recently, Ramsey, because it’s not like they’ve been shunted out because other players are playing better. We’re playing worse. Much worse. And for every game like this the manager makes a rod for his own back by not playing the best players in the team.
Ruud Gullit had a clash with Shearer at Newcastle back in the day. He left him out of the team and as soon as he was sacked, Robson brought Shearer back in and the guy scored five goals. It was damming on Gullit and whilst I’m not suggesting this is anything like the Özil situation, I’m merely referencing this because it highlights just how damaging leaving one of your better players out can be for your own reputation as well as the teams performance. If Emery has clashed with Özil and his career is finished that’s one thing, but when results start to turn against you then that casts your decision making into an even brighter light for which everyone puts you under the microscope on.
Last night could have been the perfect game for Özil yet he was sat at home, possibly not even watching, because it was that boring that a couple of hours of FIFA would probably have been more fun than sitting through that tripe.
The result itself may not be damaging for our Europa League campaign, but the manner of the defeat and the questions that it raises may well be for the manager.
I’m desperate for him to succeed because he’s out boss. He is representing our club and I only ever want success for our team. But the questions are getting louder and louder with each game and so far we’re not really getting any answers.
Catch you all tomorrow.