Arsenal’s noise, Arsenal’s Moyes

Into the international break we stumble, with plenty to ponder. 

When a football club’s a happy ship the dressing room leaks dry up and ambiguous words matter less. But Arsenal’s not an especially happy ship: it looks seaworthy from the outside but it’s not running at full steam and the captain’s up in the crow’s nest frantically scanning the horizon.

We’ve had the board cack-handedly standing behind their man, then we subsequently had an acknowledgement that things need to improve. We’ve got unhappy players and the fans are increasingly apathetic. 

Some of this could have been avoided with better management, but most of it, I suspect, would have ended up being water under a bridge had results and performances been going our way. They’re the thing that keeps a club happy, and we’ve not got either right now. Everything is magnified.

If we work on the assumption that Emery is – for now at least – going nowhere, the next thing is to wonder how to get a song out of the choir (yes, I got bored of the nautical analogy and now I’ve gone to church).

Confidence is down and nothing Emery’s tried in the league has made his side anything other than timid and plodding. When was the last benchmark performance in the league – Utd at home in March? This malaise has been going too long for it to be a blip or a dose of dented confidence.

For me, I’d rather this side went down all guns blazing than  gazing at its shoes trying to ‘hold their own’. Emery doesn’t set his sides up to attack enough – he seems at his heart to be too cautious. He seems – fairly or not – out of his depth and it’s hard to escape the feeling that he’s the post-legacy-manager fall guy.

We know we can’t defend: Emery’s tried all the combinations known to man short of dusting off Dixon, Winterburn, Keown and Adams and injecting them with the elixir of youth. He hasn’t improved that side of our game and we can only assume that, by now, he isn’t able to. But look at what we have up front. We have two of Europe’s best strikers in Aubameyang and Lacazette, we have a £72m Pepe who’s improving and creating (when not being dropped), and we’ve got a somewhat reinvigorated Ozil returning to the fold. We have two attacking full-backs now available. If there’s one area of our game we should be able to improve, it’s the attacking third. 

Emery needs to be more bold. He needs to play to our strengths and throw caution to the wind. Despite the words of the board, he must know his job is precarious, so now’s the time to rip up the Emery manual and go for it.

We have the perfect opportunity to do this with our next features – Southampton at home followed by Norwich away. I can see us winning both narrowly, but why not use them as a springboard to try something more adventurous? To play at a higher tempo, and more directly? It’s not as if top four is particularly realistic anymore, so what’s holding him back?

Narrow wins are wins, of course, and god knows we need some of those. But scraping a 2-1 won’t tell us anything we don’t already know or make some of the ‘noise’ go away. Going at it with both barrels – even if it goes a bit wrong – would indicate a change of tack and it could just drag us out of our lethargy. 

Just… go for it.

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.