It’s the hope that kills you. After the end of season run-in, and the capitulation against Chelsea, there doesn’t seem to be much of that about at Arsenal.
We had two chances to qualify for the Champions League. Dropped points against Crystal Palace and Brighton, coupled with yet more poor away performances, put an end to our top four ambitions. However, we had another bite of the cherry with the Europa League final. Oh dear.
The Azerbaijan annihilation was particularly difficult to stomach. Most of us have been through crushing cup final defeats; last minute heartbreak against Luton and Real Zaragoza; Michael Owen in Cardiff; Copenhagen and Paris. But last Wednesday was just plain embarrassing.
I could cope with last year’s Manchester City League Cup Final defeat. That expensively assembled team, led by a trophy-hungry manager, are light years ahead of us, so I wasn’t massively shocked when we left Wembley with our tails between our legs. The Europa League final felt different.
I never believed the stories coming out that Chelsea were in turmoil prior to the final. Yet, they were a side that we could beat, as we proved earlier on in the campaign. Far from any of the vintage Chelsea teams that we’ve all witnessed since 2003, the final appeared too close to call.
It looked that way as the first half progressed. Arsenal grew into the game, and Chelsea ended the half strongly, and the thought of a nerve-wracking penalty shootout entered my head. Twenty minutes into the second half, any hope of Europa League joy had disappeared.
Once the goals arrived, a feeling of gloom descended. Even at 1-0 I doubted our chances of getting back into the game. Some may call me pessimistic, I see it as realism. As soon as the wheels start coming off, this Arsenal team do not contain enough character to get the car back on the road.
Stupidly, I allowed myself to dream when Iwobi scored, telling myself that this was the year of the comeback, and maybe, just maybe, we could add another chapter to that book. But our terrible defence quickly put an end to such thoughts. The end couldn’t come quickly enough.
The final left so many questions. Why could our owner not be bothered to turn up for a European final? Is Unai Emery the right man to take us forward? What are we going to do about Ozil? And, if the rumours are to be believed, how are we going to fix this with a transfer budget of £40 million.
Kroenke’s absence was confirmation, if we needed it, that we now have an owner who really couldn’t give a toss about our club. If he can’t be arsed to get on a flight to Baku to watch a European final, after the efforts some of our fans made to get there, then we are in serious trouble.
When I think back to Peter Hill-Wood and his “we don't want his sort” comments about Kroenke in 2007, my heart sinks. Our former chairman was right all along, but our principles seemed to evaporate once the smell of money entered the room. And now we are stuck with him.
He doesn’t seem overly concerned that we keep missing out on Champions League football. If the club is still making money, then why should he worry? His no-show for the final has fully demonstrated his apathy towards the club, and when the owner of Arsenal feels this way, then alarm bells ring constantly in my head.
Then we move on to the manager. I’ve had doubts about Emery all season, but I’ve tried to provide a counter argument to my own concerns. Four of his five signings have been decent additions to the squad, but what worries me is that I don’t really know if we have improved, and I’m a little unsure about the style of football Emery is adopting.
With Guardiola and Klopp, you get an idea of their footballing philosophy through the way their teams play. Emery seems to be muddled in his thoughts. And although he improved our league points tally, he certainly has not made us better defensively. You would hope after a year at the club, evidence of his coaching approach would bear fruit, yet we appear as fragile at the back as ever.
I think Emery should be given another season… maybe. But I really do wonder if it is time for Mesut Ozil to leave the club. His performances this season have been disappointing – I think that is possibly a polite description – and for £350,000 a week, I reckon we are entitled to expect more.
The final straw for me came with his actions on Wednesday night. Substituted late in the second half, he strolled off the pitch as if we were 4-1 up and coasting to victory. Admittedly, sprinting off the pitch would not have made any difference. But his attitude stunk, as he began muttering to himself. He deserved to be taken off, so why was he so angry at the decision?
The problem is, finding another club willing to match his current wages seems impossible. So, if we do keep him, then Emery needs to get a tune out of him. Judging by large periods of this season, does anyone have any confidence that this will happen?
It looks as if any signings we will make over the summer may have to be bargain buys, with failure to qualify for the Champions League not helping in this regard. I have no problem with that. After all, there must be some players out there who can improve our quality without breaking the bank. But do we have the right people at the club to find these players?
Apologies if this is so downbeat. I’ve tried to let the dust settle and gather my thoughts, and I fully appreciate that I would not have written this piece if Arsenal had won on Wednesday. In truth, that would have been papering over the cracks, though. The end of season matches, and the nature of the defeat in Baku, has seen these doubts rise to the surface.
It was never going to be easy after Arsene. Following a long-serving club legend has proved difficult at other clubs, and ours is no different. But this season promised so much at one point, only for our previous failings to reappear.
Assuming Emery stays, then I really think he can be judged properly come next May. With new signings, and the introduction of some youth players, hopefully we can steadily improve, and fingers crossed, maybe with the return of Bellerin and Holding, the defence could even tighten up.
I’ll be at Boreham Wood on July 6 to see an Arsenal XI with my son and dad. Three generations of Arsenal fans, hoping that 2019/20 will have a happier ending than 2018/19. A Liverpool win this evening would at least improve the mood slightly at the end of a difficult week and season.
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