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.