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.
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.