I bet that when Unai Emery plays Monopoly with his family back home, he has a little tamper with the ‘Chance’ cards before they get started, because based on last night’s performance against Vitoria Sporting Clube, he’s a guy that loves to ride his luck. And it rides him back.
As suspected he named a pretty strong starting XI bar Auba and Pepe. Martinez came in, the back four of Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding and Tierney was what many of us could have guessed, he went for a midfield of Torreira, Willock and Maitland-Niles, then further forward was Smith-Rowe, Martinelli and Lacazette.
Sounds fine on paper and certainly that XI is good enough to beat a hard working but clearly limited Vitoria side. The commentators on BT were quick to give some praise to an organised and hard working side, but the reality was that they were a couple of classes below this Arsenal side, which showed because as soon as Arsenal turned up the heat in the final 15 minutes they crumbled and we scraped the win. Perhaps some could argue it was harsh on them but they’d effectively been given an easy ride for 75% of the game so I say it is what it is.
And right now it’s a mess. We got the win and of course I was first pumping the victory at the end of the night, but our football was dreadful for most of last night and the problems that haunted us in Sheffield have clearly seeped into the psyche of ‘Midweek Arsenal’. We were ponderous one possession, lacking any real fluidity and urgency and once again, the laboured way we played in the second half was maddening. We were sauntering around last night as if we were strolling to victory against European minnows, not one behind and about 15 minutes away from an embarrassing home defeat in the group stages of the Europa League.
It was turgid football. But what’s worse is that it was terrible stuff from a different crop of players. Which says to me that the rot has set in across the squad. A better team than Vitoria SC – like Palace, who we play at the weekend, for example – would not have been so forgiving. And had we lost to Vitoria last night I’m not sure the fans would have been either.
The team is in a form slump. The results may belie that slightly, but we all know what’s coming, and if Arsenal play like that at the weekend we’re going to have a rough time of it. The team just isn’t clicking. Especially in attack. We all know the situation with Özil: he’s done. Fine. If that’s it then we have to make peace with it. But the problem Unai has is that there is nobody else connecting midfield and attack and we saw that in both halves yesterday. Ceballos holds on to the ball, is good in small spaces, but doesn’t play those balls in behind and last night his passing was off. Guendouzi is energetic, drives with the ball and showed that again last nights, but he isn’t a defence splitter. Torreira was poor last night in the first half but got better in the second, but he isn’t a playmaker. Willock is good travelling across the middle third of the pitch but again, isn’t a final ball passer.
So we have all of these players and not a player who can link them, because our forwards are showing they’ve got the clinical touch to get us goals, and they delivered last night. First of all Martinelli, who is looking a clever buy with each game he plays in. Another goal with his head, another energetic performance and another player for us to get excited about, with his tenacity enduring itself to all of us. He was brilliant last night and I’m so glad we’ve snapped him up for £6million. He feels like this season’s Guendouzi.
But Pepe too stepped up and I don’t think there was an Arsenal fan in the world who wasn’t utterly delighted for him. There is so much goodwill for a player who we can all see has the beating of a man, but perhaps has stuttered a little bit to the start of his Arsenal career, but the more I think about it the more I think that’s down to the team rather than the player. Arsenal under Unai Emery this season just aren’t very good. Yet Pepe stepped forward as one of the first teamers up top, delivering two sumptuous free kicks, dragging us to three points. The hope is that this gives him a massive confidence boost and I pray we see more of that on Sunday.
I also pray that Unai Emery finds a magic solution to the dross we’re watching right now. I’ve already said I want Emery gone and little has changed based in last nights, but if we can start getting a little run of wins together I’d love to be proved wrong and turn things around, because I want success for Arsenal above all. Based on what’s happening at the moment I can’t see it, but maybe we’ll get a surprise and a performance at the weekend, because we need it.
Catch you all tomorrow.