Ah well, optimism is the curse of the football fan. If we had no belief in our team, we wouldn’t bother turning up at the matches. And for those that do look on the bright side, incredibly, Arsenal can still make the top four after yesterday’s results. It would need them to win their last two league matches (granted, unlikely, but there you have it), for Chelsea to only take four points from their remaining two games (Watford home, Leicester away) and for goal difference to favour Arsenal – which would mean probably putting as many as possible past Brighton next weekend, hoping Chelsea don’t do similar in either of their two remaining fixtures.
Still, given recent away performances (excepting the Napoli 2nd leg), can anyone seriously expect Burnley to lose when Arsenal come calling? Sean Dyche’s side made life tough enough for Manchester City in the second game of yesterday’s Premier League triple bill.
Anyway, back to the King Power Stadium, and certainly, Ainsley Maitland-Niles was unfortunate to be sent off for a second yellow for two reasons. Firstly, the referee ignored an obvious foul on Aubameyang before the Leicester break which resulted in AMN’s first card. Secondly, when the fatal subsequent card came, it was because the ref was conned by AMN’s England under-21 colleague James Maddison, who made out there was significant and painful contact when he had hardly been touched.
Having said that, even with eleven men on the pitch Arsenal were being over-run. It was a minor miracle Leicester failed to score in the first half, such were the number of very decent chances they enjoyed. Alex Iwobi had Arsenal’s sole shot on target, a tame effort more or less passed to Schmeichel in the Leicester goal. Iwobi is a willing tryer, and as an Arsenal-developed player the fans want him to succeed. But he is symbolic of a lack of quality in the squad. He wouldn't get anywhere near the first teams of either of the current top two, unless he had been coached to within an inch of his life by either Guardiola or Klopp. Is Emery improving players with all the work on the training pitch? It doesn't feel like it.
Koscielny came on for Iwobi at the start of the second half and Mustafi was shuffled over to right back. They had a go at keeping Leicester out, but it couldn’t last, as the goals came from a free kick, a long punt up field from the Leicester keeper and a late injury time break. All different types of goals, all pointing to a lack of focus on the part of the team defensively. No surprise there then.
With ten men it was always going to be hard, but on the odd occasion when the team got forward, generally possession was lost too easily. Some have already judged Emery, and I can understand why. I am going to wait until the Premier League and Europa League campaigns are over before considering whether there is good reason to give the head coach another year. The reality is that he will get it, and be given the chance to turn things around with a raft of new (if cheap) arrivals over the summer. Should they actually make the CL by hook or by crook, he will be able to sign better players. It’s obvious a lot will be leaving regardless.
There’s little debate that the squad looks in dire need of surgery, and there is still a hangover from the Wenger era in the quality of the players and the disproportionate wages some of them are getting. This millstone will take more than another year to phase out, and by the time that happens, Emery himself will have probably gone.
So onto the Spaniard’s speciality on Thursday and the Europa League, against one of his old clubs, and arguably Arsenal’s best chance of not taking part in the same competition next season.
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