It’s the wrong trousers, Granit.

Arsenal 2-2 Crystal Palace

With impeccable timing, I was attempting to follow the Arsenal game yesterday on a train. What is it with mobile coverage on trains? You can spend billions shuttling humans at 200kmh between two cities but for the vast majority of the journey my phone had just the one sausage (technical term), rendering even Arsenal.com’s audio coverage impossible. The dulcet half-Paris, half-London accent of Jérémie Aliadière flitted into my ears only intermittently. It’s an amazing thing.

Maybe it was for the best, as it turned out, because just when Emery wanted nothing more than to change the narrative of recent weeks, about a trillion things blew up in his face. It’s now going to be a busy week for the club’s PR crisis management team.

I can’t really comment on the performance for the above-mentioned reasons. By all accounts, it was far from our worst game of the season, though our defence and lack of creativity continue to be insoluble problems for Emery. 

But like the Spurs match last season, which had a contentious penalty and some argy-bargy to light the fuse, this match had VAR, blowing a two-goal lead and a quite astonishing hoo-haa with Xhaka.

No crackers, Granit

The Xhaka thing is the hardest to put back into a box and pretend it never happened. On a human level I feel for him – that kind of vitriol is deeply unpleasant, especially for someone who through no fault of his own is our club captain. It’s not helpful at all, and I’m not sure how its knock-on effects will be anything other than deleterious. 

The bottom line is that he clearly shouldn’t have done what he did, irrespective of the boos that led to it. It was hot-headed and unbecoming of the Arsenal captain. For some, if this kind of reaction leads to him moving on, they’ll maybe consider it a price worth paying, but it would sit uncomfortably with me. I like to think we’re better than that.

VAR from the madding crowd

I support VAR in principle, but if the decision that led to Sokratis’ second goal is the way it’s going to be interpreted, I say cancel the whole experiment now. It was set up as a foolproof way of correcting a referee’s or a linesman’s wrong decision, but while it’s pretty mathematical for things like off-side, for other things it’s still too reliant on opinion. There’s no communication, it takes ages and it’s replacing one subjective assessment with another. It’s simply not accurate or fair enough in its current form and it’s ruining matches for the match-going fan.

Emery bored 

I’m no fan of Emery and I doubt he’ll be here next year. He’s struggling to fix all aspects of our game and the fans know it. Arsenal feels like a suit that’s just a bit ill-fitting for him. All that being said, I’m not sure how much I want us to be the kind of club that moves people on every 18 months. I do value a bit of patience and I try to stand back and see the bigger picture – hard as it may be to do that right now. All of which is perhaps a cack-handed way of saying I’m torn as to the next steps. I suspect though – and this is just a guess – that the board will wait until the summer to see if he can come up with the right formula. 

It’s all-consuming conversation at the moment, though and it’s getting in the way of everything. 

Overall, a bad day at the office for all, I think. Is it good that we’ve got Liverpool so soon after yesterday’s mess? It may be… but only if we win. And that pressure is essentially what Emery’s up against now. He’s being judged on every decision, performance, result, tactical approach, selection, interview. Sometimes fairly, sometimes not, but there’s very little leeway. Maybe that’s the way it should be – or maybe that makes his job to all intents and purposes impossible. 

Get the hell out of stodge

Sheffield Utd 1-0 Arsenal

As Arsenal became less competitive in the second half of the Wenger era, we could at least comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we continued to play football that was incredibly easy on the eye. Yes, we lost some power and became more brittle, but we were still capable of some breathtaking football. 

Towards the end of his reign, that silky football also began to go, and before long, so too did Wenger.

I don’t know what I was expecting with Emery, really. Someone who could strengthen our defence, for sure. Someone who’d re-integrate some the power alongside panache – the calling card that marked Wenger’s early years. (As an aside, if I was given the opportunity to ask Arsène just one question, it would be related to that. Why replace powerful players that struck fear into the opposition with smaller, more technical ones – and why persist with it when it clearly didn’t really work?)

I expected him to make us more competitive and to get us back into the Champions League. He could argue that we’re still well placed to push on and achieve that, and I have no doubt that the board will look at it that way too. But what I wasn’t really expecting when he joined was for us to be playing like we are – to be less sure of what we’re doing, less dangerous and just as watery at the back. Not just occasionally, but more often than not.

Truth be told, it’s hard to see any improvement in our league performances at all, and it’s even harder to get excited by the piecemeal, straightjacket, safety-first football that we too often play under him. While I too have been clinging onto the difference that Bellerin and Tierney might make, I’m not sure it’s fair to expect those two to kick-start a renaissance in how we play as a team. 

I know this sounds spoilt, and maybe we were, for so very long, far too spoilt. But I think it’s a big problem for Emery because while the results have mostly been OK, we’re never far away from tripping up, and the way we’re playing is shapeless, predictable and – yes – dull to watch. We have an excellent squad, in my opinion, significantly remodelled in the summer. They’re capable of playing far better football than this.

I just don’t see where the *click* is going to come from at the moment (in the league – the Uefa and Milk Cups have been oases of calm, albeit against easier opposition). This should be a team high on confidence, but they look as timid as mice. When we do win, it’s tight, and often a bit lucky. A proper thrashing in the Premier League (dished out by us, to be clear) seems far away right now.

Hats off to the Blades by the way – a poor performance is never wholly Arsenal’s fault – who were more aggressive and solid than us, and made the most of their chances. They deserved the win. Good luck to them.

But as for us? Emery has a lot of work to do to convince us all that the team’s heading in the right direction, and not just in terms of results. And if he doesn’t, I suspect he too will be gone in the summer.

Wheezing up to third

Arsenal 1-0 Bournemouth

There’s a subtle difference between doing some pottering around yourself on a Sunday and watching someone else potter around on a Sunday. And by god, did Arsenal potter around in the second half yesterday. Shall I say potter again? Potter.

I’m not sure why. The first half was OK, and Luiz found time to be dangerous at the other end of the pitch by scoring his first goal for Arsenal (“a little flick of those locks,” said the commentator on Arsenal.com). Aubameyang rasped one past the post and Pepe curled one over. 

But the second half? I’m not sure if they ran out of puff, ran out of confidence or ran out of ideas, but it was tough going. And I suppose in that respect it was a good job we were playing Bournemouth. They’re no slouches but you couldn’t help but wonder what a more dangerous side could have done to us in that second half.

Insert Emery musings here

I’m far from the first person to wonder what to make of us under Emery – why we do what we do and what the masterplan is. But think of it from an Arsenal top brass point of view. He has one job this season (a job that will in all likelihood decide his future at the club): getting back into the Champions League. So long as we’re in the running for that, all grumbles about the brand of football will be ignored. There’s no way in the world he’s going anywhere sooner, short of Arsenal collapsing to tenth and looking incapable of competing. But we’re not doing that; far from it. We’re third and he’s fulfilling his brief.

This is especially true as we don’t even have our full squad. Tierney and Bellerin taking over from Kolasinac and Maitland-Niles/Chambers is just a matter of time. The return of Holding and the return to form of Chambers give us options in the centre too and may – may! – help Luiz and Sokratis focus.

So yes, I too wish there was more rampaging, and we were slicing through sides once we’ve got our noses in front, but outside the cups we’re not quite clicking. We’re hanging in there – one point behind City – and from an aesthetic point of view, we just have to hope the right system and the right first XI emerges that takes us up a notch. 

In the meantime, it’s grind-it-out time. We’ve got a great crop of young players, and they’re being given time. We’ve got an increasing amount of options all over the pitch. The ingredients are there. Just… but…. hmmm.

But onto more important matters

Ok, who’s messed with the bloody clocks? Either I’m extraordinarily unobservant (quite possible – actually, very possible) or have the stadium clocks started counting up to 45 minutes rather than down? If so, why? There’s a whole blog post that can be written about this, I suspect. It could be the tip of the iceberg and unearth yet more abuses of football tradition. It could make me as an investigative journalist. 

Or, it might just be that a) the clocks have always counted up and I’m as thick as a brick, or b) that it’s been happening ages and therefore I’m as thick as a brick.