Last night I had a funky old dream. I dreamt that I was having dinner with Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang. He was in fine form having just bagged the winning goal against Aston Villa during the day, but annoyingly I wasn’t alone to just chat foot all with him. A load of work colleagues were there and one person who doesn’t work at the company but who used to work in my team.
She called him “auBADayang” and it made him sad.
I stepped in and told him that she’s no Arsenal fan and that we’re all grateful that he is absolutely on fire and saving our collective bacon each week.
Whilst the dream was obviously a load of b*llocks, the sentiment behind what I said to Aubameyang was so far on the money right now that it cannot be emphasised enough.
He massively got us out of jail yesterday and, more than anyone else, he got Unai Emery out of jail. That’s because Emery’s selection decisions, for the second Premier League game in a row, were poor I thought. He named a back four which wasn’t unexpected, but the midfield he offered us was what the kids would describe as ‘poverty’. Guendouzi, Xhaka and Ceballos are all good players in their own right (yes, despite the general angst towards the Swiss I still call him a good player), but as a collective they don’t work. They don’t work because you have Xhaka as a distributor and player who when everything is in front of him is fine. But when he is facing his own goal or having to run back towards it, his game suffers, which is why he needs somebody alongside him who is at least stronger in the defensive side of his game.
That isn’t Guendouzi. Yesterday we saw the really good, but also the really bad side of Guendouzi’s game, which all revolved around his defensive and creative parts of the match against Villa. In the first half he was ball-watching as John McGinn ambled into the box to tap in an easy opener for the away side. It was shameful defending. But here’s the thing about Guendouzi: he doesn’t hide. And in the second half when the onus was on us to get forward more and we had more of the ball, he was in his element. Guendouzi on the front foot pressing and looking forward is what we need to see more of, not the defensive side of his game which sadly, is very very lacking.
So to put both of those players as the deeper lying midfielders is another black mark on Emery I’m afraid. That’s two weekend’s in a row and whilst we got away with it this weekend, we won’t away to United if he names that same midfield again. Throughout the game there was acres of space for Villa to run into and for the third game in a row – if you include Frankfurt in midweek too – we were far too open when the ball transitioned from Villa’s defence to attack through the midfield.
The manager must surely see this and act? How can he not? So why on earth Lucas Torreira wasn’t playing is a mystery. And if he’s not fit then we need to find a solution for rotating in a player who can win the ball and cover the defensive side of the game. Xhaka and Guendouzi do not work together. Pick one or the other, not both, in the base of your midfield.
Ceballos was also not great but given some of the other performances he’s the least of our worries. We have far more pressing concerns with that defensive line because not one of those who started the match in the back four performed with anything like the consistency you’d expect from an Arsenal team.
Maitland-Niles was average, then stupid, getting two yellow cards inside the first 30 odd minutes and reducing ya to 10 men. He even looks to have injured himself so whilst we can be happy that Chambers performed admirably and even took his goal well, he isn’t a right back, and teams are of course going to target him.
The centre of the defence was once again poor. Sokratis had a poor afternoon which was highlighted all the more with his stupid attempt at gamesmanship by holding his face after Wesley and he tussled. That’s three poor games in a row and I must own up to another frustration in Unai Emery: the idea of meritocracy. When he joined he made it clear to us and the players that if you’re in form you are playing. The same must ring true if you are out of form. We had too much favouritism under Wenger with the likes of Iwobi getting free passes all season. Emery was supposed to be a little more black and white but when you see certain players playing despite the fact they’ve dropped a couple of poor performances you start to wonder whether it’s true. Sokratis is a guy who needs to be dropped. He was poor yesterday and we have players like Chambers, the returning Holding, but also even Mustafi, who could be performing better than the Greek right now.
And this is a cause for frustrations because players like Özil yesterday could have helped from the bench. With Villa sitting deeper he is a guy who can see a pass through a myriad of bodies. As it turns out the subs worked in Emery’s favour but his ostracising of some players, whilst others get multiple ‘lives’ is as frustrating as it was under Wenger at the end of his tenure.
And yet for all of this angst and frustration I feel this morning, you have to give credit to the players in the cold light of day and the aftermath. They stepped up whilst down to ten men and showed a real grit and determination to get three points. There was a drive in that second half that frustratingly wasn’t there in the first, but was certainly there as we chased the equaliser, followed by the winner. And we got it. And we won. That’s three valuable points on a weekend in which United, Spurs and Chelski all lost. It could have been a weekend in which a massive opportunity was chucked away but ultimately we’ve got the points. Which is all that matters.
But something needs to change in the way we are playing. We’re too open, our defence is a shambles, our midfield parts like the Red Sea. Emery may have a game in a couple of days, but in reality he will rest most of these players so it is a week until the next ‘big one’ and he needs to find a solution. Because even this terrible United side ravaged with injuries won’t allow us to go unpunished if we gift them that much space.
A final word for Saka, becoming the latest player to make his debut in red and white and I think playing well enough, even if he only got 45 minutes because of the sending off. He’s a talent and was given his chance to show glimpses and I think he’s done enough to give the manager something to think about.
Right, that’s enough from me; off to do some work so I’ll be back tomorrow with some more thoughts.