When Arsenal and Chelsea walked out at the beginning of last night’s Europa League Final, the last man in each line of players was Mesut Ozil and Eden Hazard. One who is more often than not carried by his team, the other one who carries his team. Hopefully, both have played their last game for their respective clubs, (Hazard so that the Gunners do not have to face him again, Ozil so we do not have to witness his lack of spirit any more). Ozil was replaced by Joe Willock, although the number 10’s trooping off as if his team were three up as opposed to three down was unforgivable. If he could not produce anything of note, at least give his team-mates as much time as possible to try and stage an unlikely comeback. Willock nearly made it 4-2 shortly after coming on, and had more impact that Ozil in his brief run out.
However, Arsenal did not lose this final simply because of another no-show by their most expensive player. Ultimately the reason for the defeat was that 1 – Chelsea simply defended much better as a team and 2 – were more clinical when chances came their way. It was an off night for the Gunners’ attack, but overall this season, scoring has not been an issue. Conceding goals certainly has. Anyone visiting bet-bonuscode.co.uk would have been on safe ground betting against an Arsenal clean sheet. I received one text that suggested Bernd Leno would have done better with the first two Chelsea goals than the sentimental selection of Petr Cech, but we will never know. The attempts to beat him should have been dealt with before he became involved. It was one of football’s ironies that the critical first goal came from a player Arsenal decided they could do without, who has won three trophies in 12 months since departing.
In fairness, Unai Emery’s team certainly started well, dominating the game for the opening 30 minutes. Sadly, the only attempt of real note was Xhaka’s distant attempt which shaved the top of the bar. Aside from that, Mauritizio Sarri’s team dealt comfortably enough with the threat. 0-0 at the interval, and although Chelsea had come back into the game, you didn’t feel as if Arsenal’s chance was gone. As it turned out, that proved to be the case in a nightmare second half. Giroud, Pedro and Hazard (from the spot) made it 3-0 in a 16 minute period before even half of the second period had been played, as Chelsea used the flanks so much better than their opposition. If there was one game that indicates Kolasinac is not of the requisite quality to play as left-wing back, this was it. He can make the distance, but the end product simply isn’t consistent enough. And defensively he's not all that either. Creatively, Arsenal’s best player in the first half was the much maligned Xhaka, who acted as the fulcrum of the team, creating opportunities for colleagues that Ozil did not.
Iwobi and Guendouzi were waiting to come on when Hazard was bundled over by Ainsley Maitland-Niles for his penalty, so at 3-0, Monreal and a visibly distraught Torreira were replaced. The Uruguayan may have been hurting, but Chelsea had won the midfield battle, as tactically, Sarri triumphed over his opposite number. With hindsight, Emery may have been better with an extra body in midfield, and a back four, but that's history now. He relied on his wing backs to deliver, and they failed. Ultimately, once Chelsea went a goal up, Hazard was given licence to roam as Arsenal chased the game, and he punished them.
Iwobi did offer brief hope with a stunning volley to make it 3-1, but it only lasted three minutes, before Giroud teed up Hazard for a fourth. In fairness, Arsenal kept going, and certainly created more chances then they had done when the game was still in the balance. This though has to be countered with the reality that Chelsea should probably have scored a couple more, such were the nature of their opportunities on the break. They could afford to be profligate by this time.
So Unai Emery’s luck in this particular competition has run out. In his first season, he failed to return the club to the Champions League. The real question is whether or not he has delivered progress, a springboard for genuine recovery. Granted, he has had to work with some sub-standard players, but the sheer number of goals conceded over the course of the campaign, and the nature of so many of them, is damning. He had two new defenders (and chose to let Calum Chambers go out on loan), a new goalkeeper and a battling central midfielder. But he could not organise the defence. He had Steve Bould on the payroll, but presumably chose not to ulitise his knowledge on the training field. Bould’s contract is up this summer, and I’d be surprised if it was renewed in the current cost-cutting ethos at the club. He too, along with Cech and Welbeck, was probably on his last match of active duty as an Arsenal employee in Baku.
There has been a lot of fluff in recent years, espoused by Gazidis and Wenger, about Arsenal’s values. One they conveniently forgot about is the club’s one time reputation for defensive solidity. It needs to return, and the truth is that Emery is not the coach to deliver it. There have been a number of calls to secure the services of the out of work former Milan and Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri, and the club should at least make enquiries. It’s doubtful he’d want the job, and there could be potential vacancies at Manchester United, Chelsea and Spurs depending on how the managerial merry-go-round plays out this summer.
What Arsenal fans need to ask themselves though, and more particularly, what the club’s decision makers need to do so, is whether or not things are going to improve under Emery next season. I don’t see it. The 22 match unbeaten run that ended in December papered over the cracks. Arsenal got lucky in putting that sequence together. It has been pointed out that since Ozil’s re-integration into the first team in the early weeks of 2019, the results started to become far worse. There may be some truth in that, and one thing that everyone should agree on is that at this time, the club need reliable players. The Ozil experience should now be written off as the final disastrous decision of the Wenger / Gazidis era, and he should be allowed to leave or rot at home playing ‘Fortnite’ if no-one will have him. His Arsenal career is surely over now.
Unai Emery’s probably isn’t. He will get another year in all likelihood. Arsenal will fail to make the Champions League again and we’ll wonder why the club waited. Just as they should have called time on Arsene Wenger in May 2017, they’ll make the wrong decision now. They may be ruthless with minor cost-cutting, but shirk the big decisions.
Emery cannot do defence. Put a better coach in and you’ll get a more organised resilient Arsenal than the flaky display we saw in Baku, and on so many other occasions this season. The club need to focus on results now. The winning of the points, the return of consistency and confidence. That is not going to happen with Emery. He’s not suited to the Premier League. Time to admit they gave him a try and it hasn’t worked out. Send him and his team away with a modest pay-off (in comparison to the £17m received by Wenger and his yes men) and give someone else a go. Someone with a reputation for drilling a defence. Arsenal’s last European trophy was in 25 years ago in Copenhagen. It is a much celebrated night in Gooner folklore. The team did not entertain any neutrals in winning 1-0 against Parma, nor did it give a fig about doing so. The values of the club were definitely on display on May 4th 1994.
A footnote. The club’s owner Stan Kroenke was not in attendance at the final last night. Presumably once he was told he would not be sitting next to a member of the Royal Family as in previous finals, he found better things to do. He sent his son Josh instead. I’m not certain what the Kroenkes know about the values of the club, but one thing’s for sure after this season. The value of the club itself has dropped. It would be nice if Silent Stan were to sell up and give someone who actually cares about winning a crack at the whip. Now that would be a real result.
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