Emery’s Arsenal Shoot Themselves In The Foot

Online Editorial: Two points dropped at Watford

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In my piece the morning after the Europa League Cup Final in Baku, entitled Arsenal Have To Bite The Bullet And Understand Another Year Of Unai Emery Is A Waste Of A Season, I expressed the view that I could not see a good reason to extend Unai Emery’s tenure, on the basis that I had no faith that he would change anything regarding Arsenal’s porous defending were he given another year to do so. I was reminded of that while watching yesterday’s draw with Watford.

Now Emery has his defenders (at least off the pitch), and they blame the players for not producing on it. However, my belief is that the manager’s tactics are chiefly responsible for the number of goals his team concedes. Yesterday, two main questions kept popping into my head.
1 – Who is the organizer in the midfield? (and if there is actually one they certainly aren’t doing their job)
2 – This playing it out from the back thing. Shouldn’t it be a) done quickly before the opposition is set and b) not have to be an unbreakable policy – as in give the other side some element of doubt as to what is going to happen.

Emery’s teams can look useful at times going forward (as the first half goals demonstrated) but when the opposition have the ball, specifically when they intercept it or dispossess an Arsenal player, it’s hide behind the sofa time. Watford began yesterday’s match as the bottom side in the table, yet managed to rack up 31 goal attempts in the course of the game that doubled their points tally yet left them rooted in last place. New manager bounce or not, this is unacceptable. A better side would have converted at least half a dozen.

The starting line-up just looked plain wrong, as if it was some kind of selection with the aim of accommodating Mesut Ozil. I thought the attempts to make the number 10 feel wanted evaporated with the shambles in Baku, and that this season, were he to stay, would see him utilised in the Europa League and domestic cups. But here he was, starting a Premier League match, and an away one no less, apparently for the first time since last November? There is a reason he is not selected for away matches. I could have lived with it if the formation had meant Ceballos played in the number 10 role with Ozil as the left-sided attacker, but almost to admit Ozil’s lack of defensive contribution, Ceballos was stationed as the left sided of the midfield trio, with Xhaka in the centre and Guendouzi on the right. So up front it was a change from the PAL dream team to the slightly less appealing OAP.

Watford started the game strongly and it was a portent of things to come as they were presented with a number of opportunities to take the lead. Arsenal then managed to score twice to give the illusion that they could control a game against a team in the relegation zone. It was a possible foul by Ceballos that led to the first, but it was the kind of challenge that a certain other creative player in the team was never going to make, and refreshing to see the hunger to win the ball back. Kolasinac broke and fed Aubameyang for an excellent spin and finish. Ozil contributed to the second by splitting Watford’s back line with a pass to Maitland-Niles, who teed up Aubameyang perfectly for a tap-in. 2-0 and all’s right with the world…

Not with Emery’s Arsenal, who’s ability to shoot themselves in the foot simply cannot be underestimated. Guendouzi was highly praised after the North London Derby, but the bottom line is that was a teenager at the start of this year, and he is going to be inconsistent. Emery’s tactics of playing it out from the back put him under huge pressure and he has not yet learned how decisive and accurate you need to be when you have the ball in your own half. He almost gifted Watford two goals, but in the end, it was Sokratis playing a telegraphed pass to him that led to the Hornets’ opening goal. It knocked the wind out of Arsenal’s sails, and psychologically, issues that run all the way back to the title collapse in 2008 have still not been addressed. The mental brittleness is endemic in the club and it’s going to take a particular type of manager to change it – certainly not Unai Emery.

As for the equalizer, what can you say? David Luiz invited the fall and Watford’s Argentinian substitute Pereyra gleefully accepted. That he had the space in the first instance to make a run at Luiz gives clear indication that the midfield was nowhere to be seen, and there was so much space on the pitch by this stage of the game that is only felt like a matter of time before we’d see a goal. The hope was that it might come from the visitors, but substitute Reiss Nelson conspired to lose the ball a number of times when in a good position to create genuine danger. Instead, it came from the home side’s penalty, the third conceded in the last three matches.

In the end, Watford had the best chance to take all three points, but blew it. They were generally guilty of a lack of clinical finishing. On one level, it’s just two points dropped, but this was a stadium where the might of West Ham and Brighton have taken maximum points already this season. Watford are in the drop zone for a reason – their players aren’t very good. Good enough to hold Arsenal though.

The reality is that, even though we are seeing new faces since Arsene Wenger’s departure (Leno, Sokratis, Torreira, Guendouzi, Pepe, Ceballos, Luiz), the defensive fragility of the side that has been an Achilles’ Heel for a number of seasons has not been addressed. The team is disorganized and give away far too many goals due to a combination of lack of basic organization and individual errors. David Luiz is attempting to be the leader in the backline, but his own errors undermine his authority. No Virgil Van Dijk he. Why did be back off players and allow them to shoot or get into the penalty area? Because he knows he will probably be waltzed round if he tries to challenge.

The attackers are good enough to score goals no matter what is going on behind them. The club need to dispense with Emery at the earliest possible opportunity – because nothing has changed from last season and it isn’t going to – and get someone in who is going to give us an Arsenal more reminiscent of 1991 than 2018 (or indeed most of the seasons after the club moved from Highbury). Because as long as Emery remains in charge, there will be more games like this.


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  1. itsRonagain2

    Sep 17, 2019, 10:47 #114883

    SKG - Yes, Mourinho is needed there mate and i say it with an uncomfortable throat feeling! Its exactly as you say, the last 15 years need purging and the playing style of the club (whatever that is now) needs sandblasting away for good. Its a virus. Yes, its partly a reflection of the way the modern game has developed but its largely man made isnt it. However ugly, things need to get on the pitch, it s whats needed. He ll never go to Arsenal of course. The first words he would utter to Kroenke would be to suggest that almost the entire squad is sold or given away, save for no more than 1 or 2 who he d retain and thats not going to happen. This Club isnt Arsenal and hasn't been for many years. We re only at our best when we re thoroughly disliked, with both media and others fans scowling enviously about us. All they do now is laugh and mock us. We deserve it too.

  2. Reddragon

    Sep 17, 2019, 09:09 #114881

    If I was Freddie Lungberg I'd give Emery a sharp nudge in the ribs and tell him to get Keown in to drill that defence until they bleed. Freddie played with a decent defence behind him, surely he can't enjoy watching that absolute nonsense on sunday. Although I used to say that about Bould and he wasn't allowed to coach the defence either. Why don't they vary the goal kicks instead of doing the same thing over and over again. As for Xhaka coming out saying they were afraid is a red flag to every other team in the league. All the early season optimism has evaporated in the last couple of defensive performances. I was prepared to give Emery the benefit of the doubt for another season but as my son says he's not elite level and, as you say Kevin, it's going to be another wasted season and when you get to my age the seasons are running out !!! ( been a supporter since 1961 as a 10 year old)

  3. Seven Kings Gooner 1

    Sep 17, 2019, 07:33 #114879

    Ron, when you suggested "The Special one" I thought you had gone a bit too far, however when you watch that first goal conceded against Watford _ I'd take him in a heartbeat. Jose would be like caustic soda in a rusty exhaust pipe, everything would be flushed away, good and bad but it would be so uncomfortable for our "little dears" it would be well worth it! I remember A Jimi Hendrix track when he grumbled "you will never hear surf music again" (Third stone from the sun?) change the words to "you will never see tippy tappy football again" and I would be happy. Hated Sunday's performance with a passion.

  4. markymark

    Sep 16, 2019, 20:12 #114878

    ArsenalMagna - I’ll be s little circumspect in what I’ll ssy as I’m on a warning in regard to further harsh comments regarding the incredible Brian Badarse. However Exeter Ex was a most amusing debater of all things Badarse also ArseneknewBest was a top poster. I think that when Baddie and Wenger met their sorry fate, Both Exeter and Arsebeknewbest thought job done . Sad though in a way as I always enjoyed their contributions and feel they’d have a lot to add. In regards to Jeff that’s slightly more worrying. Sadly I wondered if he’d suffered a sudden illness or some such as he was really in mid flow and then disappeared. Hopefully Jeff is ok.

  5. ArsenalMagna

    Sep 16, 2019, 19:13 #114877

    I think a lot of us are on the same page in terms of our waning passion for Arsenal, albeit we're at different points along the road. The fact that so many former regular commenters like Jeff Wright and Exeter Gooner have stopped commenting completely shows they maybe don't even follow Arsenal anymore. I completely understand those fans who keep tuning in, and hoping, that we'll turn it around - those who just can't let it go. For me however, I'm totally OK if we finish sixth and trophyless this year, as I expect that under Emery. Like I said in my first post, I think we have one last season to try to get back into the top 4, and find it better to be resigned to us maybe being in the wilderness for years even if that fails. The years of Wenger's idiotic gung ho style wore me down and made me numb at first, then eventually largely indifferent. I didn't mind winning nothing from 98-02 because we got so much better each year and addressed weaknesses. I agree with Ron that the culture of football is becoming shambolic being so attack-heavy (even though I think City, Liverpool and Atletico et al doing it well shows it is possible to be great defensively). Given that context, I find it better not to get too worked up - it's the hope that gets you not the fear!!

  6. markymark

    Sep 16, 2019, 18:38 #114876

    The sackings should be Emery then Xhaka . We now also have Auba seriously pissed off and in print. This is reminiscent of the chaos at PSG Will probably start getting supporters hoping for a continual run of defeats to see the back of him


    Sep 16, 2019, 18:35 #114875

    Have been very supportive of Dick but yesterday showed he is just not the way forward. I was sold on his Europa record but I think what has happened since is that his style & philosophy had already been rumbled in his early tenure. He is an inferior tikka takka man & even when done properly it may well be that even Pep's best days are now in the past. The way Liverpool play with their press & sheer speed puts them way in front of the pack imo. But who replaces Dick? I would like it done quickly but can't see Allegri coming - so who else is there? If this drags on we will surely lose some of the better players but, as some twat said on MOTD2, another problem is that this current crop of players aren't half as good as they think they are. Thank goodness for the Rugby World Cup for a few weeks to take my mind of AFC.

  8. proudtosaythatname

    Sep 16, 2019, 18:25 #114874

    I've been a supporter since the 1950s and yesterday was one of the most disappointing Arsenal performances I can recall. Perhaps THE worst. The range of responses here to date seem to reinforce that many other feel much the same. In all that time I cannot recall a worse goal conceded by Arsenal than Watford's first - and that includes that man Ure v Swindon 1969. They had three lucky escapes in the early minutes of the second half using this crazy approach to goal kicks and I could not believe it when they tried the lunacy yet again! It eventually reached a point in the second half where I was hoping for Watford's attacks to end in corners - rather than Arsenal goal kicks - as Watford would be less likely to score! Within the 31 attempts possibly some of Watford's long range off-target efforts were even designed to produce goal kicks as part of their tactics? I cannot believe this invitation to press is the team's idea; so it has to come from the manager. In most other jobs I suspect this would be a sackable offence.

  9. Exiled in Pt

    Sep 16, 2019, 17:25 #114873

    We were fortunate that Auby had his goal scoring boots on. Pepe starting to look like the new Gervinho!! Hopefully one lesson learnt, we will not see Ozil play again. We all predicted the penalties that will be handed out by Sokratis and Ruiz nice to see they plan to keep it going. That performance was right up there with the big losses under Wenger. 31 chances created by the team at the bottom of the league. New pl record you couldn't make it up....

  10. TonyEvans

    Sep 16, 2019, 17:06 #114872

    All that excitement I felt when Wenger was finally shown the door has completely evaporated now. What’s changed! That horror show yesterday was right up there with Wenger’s worst. Thank goodness I don’t care like I used to - the club as it stands now doesn’t deserve fans like I used to be who lived and breathed Arsenal. Awful shame but, as Ron says, you have to laugh at the ineptitude now, rather then letting it get to you.

  11. itsRonagain2

    Sep 16, 2019, 16:33 #114871

    SKG - Laxative is a very apt word to use in the present day context. Agree on RB too. I and others, perhaps your good self too, used to suggest him to follow AW. the thing is im not sure even he could drill these player at the club. Too many years of cavalier disregard for the defensive arts, which in truth is endemic in all football clubs now. I saw the goals Wolves conceded and the defending was comic book for 3 of the goals Wolves conceded and yet Coady has been lauded a solid defender. Sadly, i think clubs and coaches have more or less accepted defensive vulnerability in the headlong rush to just outscore the other team in the rush for TV Co s satisfaction. The days of solid defences are gone. Kppers need to be football players, full backs are attackers now. CB s have to play out from the back. Middle men are expected to score goals each season. Add to this the rule changes and to be honest i can sort of understand why coaches have taken a ' f--k the defending' attitude, though its horrible to see and demeans football in my view.

  12. Seven Kings Gooner 1

    Sep 16, 2019, 15:58 #114870

    The club needs a laxative - something that will remove the nonsense of the past 15 years and then start again with a far more pragmatic approach to football. The reason we play this dopey stuff in our own penalty area is because it is trendy, hipster football and all part of the glory that is the Premier League. I think Benitez would be a good man to bring sanity back to the club.

  13. mbg

    Sep 16, 2019, 15:20 #114869

    For an Arsenal player to come out and say/admit we were scared is a serious statement to make, they should be ( but I doubt it) thoroughly ashamed of themselves, just when we thought there was no more another new low for the club, what must the TA, LD, RP etc think of that. We've just alerted all our rivals to our soft underbelly as if it wasn't bad enough under Wenger.

  14. itsRonagain2

    Sep 16, 2019, 13:09 #114868

    AM - Hi Matey. Youre probably right there on that point. I think both are basically physically weak to be honest and that alone will of set the potential for being less erratic. I recall being quite encouraged by Holding when i went to see him play away at Leics, it was the year after they won the title and i recall thinking Holding had potential. It might have been his 1st game in fact. A drab 0-0. Ive never been enamoured by Chambers though. Im not even sure what he is i.e a defender or a midfield player. When i think back down the years, its not surprising we re in this position. The club has persevered with so, so many poor centre defenders going right back to when i was a kid and being brought up on Ian Ure. After that, we survived the 'stalwarts' of the 70s, Caton, Mancini Blockley et al and other luminaries like them later. Adams O Leary and Bould stand out like illuminated pillars in terms of being representative of an Arsenal defence who actually boss games vis so many of the CB s we ve had historically. Some clubs just dont fill positions too well and our achlles has been CB s for many years in the main. Even Frank Mc Lintock was a converted midfielder who had to fill the breach in those barren 60s years. The ones since Sol Campbell though just give rise to despair in the main.

  15. John F

    Sep 16, 2019, 12:58 #114867

    There is an element of me to you, you to me passing game going on at the back perhaps the chuckle brothers might be better suited.

  16. John F

    Sep 16, 2019, 12:56 #114866

    Chambers should be given a chance based on his form for Fulham(player of the season) and he played well pre-season as well as Newcastle. Let's face it a backline of Frank Spencer, Norman Wisdom with the chuckle brothers either side could do better than our Emery coached defenders.

  17. ArsenalMagna

    Sep 16, 2019, 11:18 #114865


  18. ArsenalMagna

    Sep 16, 2019, 11:10 #114864

    @Ron, I think Chambers and Holding won't set the world alight, but they aren't erratic in the way Socratis and Luiz at CB are. We'd still concede goals with them but far less (check the stats I cited in my first post today). Agree with you that it's insane we haven't got a good CB in years, but ultimately, as you and I have concurred previously, the back line can be at best 50% effective without proper protection. Torriera and Xhaka to protect that defence? Absurd.

  19. Deighty

    Sep 16, 2019, 11:03 #114863

    Certainly NOT based on quick closing down that should’ve read

  20. Deighty

    Sep 16, 2019, 11:01 #114862

    Agree totally that Emery is not going to take us any further. Haven’t seen one player improve under his tenure yet and apart from the ridiculous theory of playing it out from the back every time I can’t work out his preferred game plan, it’s certainly based on quick closing down as press lead us to believe before he came.

  21. itsRonagain2

    Sep 16, 2019, 10:55 #114861

    Its a bit like the days when we used to whince when Djourou took a knock back in the heady days of project youth when we d been brainwashed into thinking he was the new Tony Adams in waiting. Its hard to think of any club that has muddled on with so many inept central defenders for so long. Even such as Burnley have decent centre backs. Villa, just promoted plucked Mings from B' mouth yet for well over a decade we cant find one? Thing is that even a good centre back would deteriorate at Arsenal, such is the shambles there.

  22. itsRonagain2

    Sep 16, 2019, 10:47 #114860

    Im sorry lads but looking towards Holding and Chambers as saviours mystifies me. Neither has ever done a thing to suggest they're any safer than the present 2 hapless incumbents. Looking to them is more akin to being a measure of our desperation.

  23. RobG

    Sep 16, 2019, 10:34 #114859

    Well I have defended Emery on here before now and I will again, to the extent that there is no way he will be sacked whilst the season is running bar a complete collapse. The break clause in his contract kicks in at the end of the season and we won't know the verdict until we have a clear picture of what we have or have not done, in May 2020. Having said that, yesterdays second half was a total shocker. Emery's substitutes added nothing. And Watford's added plenty - as Alan Smith said in the commentary. He - Emery - does not seem to learn from his errors and like Wenger, repeats them. His disinclination to come to terms with English isn't helping. And his post match comments appear gibberish. The one hope is that three of our first choice back four, are yet to return. If they do, we might see a defensive system. We certainly aren't seeing one now.

  24. ArsenalMagna

    Sep 16, 2019, 10:26 #114858

    In a sense I’m glad about what I saw yesterday as it confirmed for me the fundamental essence of Emery’s regime, showing that this is around as good as it gets under him. I don’t mind my club making errors here and there, but if they repeatedly make basic errors that are easily avoidable, then just don’t engage with it emotionally, as it’s pointless. Emery’s selections are indeed woeful: I predicted we would play Ozil as a means to save face given his wages, and that it would cost us. Torreira is too diminutive and less and less concerned with protecting the back four; Xhaka a decent passer but a liability in all other ways; Luiz a great DM yet absurdly used as a CB; Socratis far too error prone. We ALREADY have solutions re: personnel too – Chambers clearly better than Luiz/Socratis at CB, Holding too. However, as I also said, Emery’s gung ho style is the biggest problem. MOTD2 ran stats last night showing that we are the worst in the league for goals from errors (14) and penalties (10) given away since Aug ’18 – that’s just under HALF our goals! Teams adjacent us in those tables were all relegation battlers. I also came to terms yesterday with Arsenal’s long term future. It’s sad because we’ve got the personnel to get 3rd or 4th comfortably if we just played balanced football, but alas self-imposed idiocy (aka ‘idealism’) will preclude that. The truth is that, if we don’t make CL football this year, Ceballos is unlikely to sign, Auba/Laca unlikely to renew. If/when we miss out this year, we’ll likely hold on to Auba/Laca in the hope we can get CL football the year after. If we don’t, and they’re gone, we’re without two world class strikers who carry us, without CL revenue/attraction to potential signings, and with at best around £30m operating profit per year to invest in players, exc. player sales. We then become like Everton: can have stars like Richarlison who shine, but they can only stop us from sliding downward, and will ultimately move onwards and upwards… Sad, but I can see we really are two seasons away from years in the wilderness.

  25. Redshirtwhitesleeves

    Sep 16, 2019, 09:10 #114857

    I was willing to give Emery at least 2 years when he joined but it’s crystal clear that it isn’t working. When you make Watford look that good then the writings on the wall. It took some doing to make Arsenal even more brittle and weak than what Wenger reduced us to but I fear that’s where we are. It has to be down to the coaching or lack of. A big ambitious club would make the change now...this is Arsenal though, where mediocrity and under performance is normally rewarded with huge pay rises and contract extensions. Allegri is free and is recognised for his tactical acumen and defensive nous. Let’s see how ambitious and ruthless Kroenke really is....alas, i think we all know the answer

  26. itsRonagain2

    Sep 16, 2019, 08:52 #114856

    Its important just to keep laughing at it all and football in general with its daft rule changes and silly VAR etc etc. The funniest thing at the present in AFC context is that the lesson of learning from yr mistakes doesn't apply in N7 - Luiz is literally Silvestre revisited. Dick sure keeps the Wenger flame burning brighly! When will Arsene be back to take his place on the Board and a non exec director? Cant be long now surely? Then w can all truly howl with laughter or derision of course.

  27. Pauljames

    Sep 16, 2019, 08:41 #114855

    I’m in full agreement Kevin, though it will take a run of catastrophic proportions for the club to dispense with Dick before the season ends. He’d better hope Aubameyang stays fit because it’s frightening how bad we’d be without his goals.

  28. GoonerRon

    Sep 16, 2019, 08:33 #114854

    Where to start with that shit show? It still feels like we don’t have a clue what we’re trying to do, what type of football we want to play. To these eyes we seem to be de-Wengerising the playing style (no bad thing) but not replacing it with anything. At least with Wenger we had 8-10 regulation 2-0 wins a season where we passed the opposition to death and were rarely in trouble. We just seem devoid of that technical stability these days so we rarely have a chance to control a game. I can’t remember the last time we tore into a team and didn’t concede / look like conceding. Every team fancies going up against us, especially when we gift them possession on the edge of our box three times per match after continually struggling with a rudimentary press. As for Ozil, it was a delicious pass for the second goal but he is just a passenger otherwise. For me, Ceballos should be a shoo-in for the number 10 role if we’re playing one - he gives us 95% of Ozil’s guile and 95% more effort when out of possession. As for the defence, with Sokratis and Luiz both haemorrhaging goals with errors surely we need to look at Holding and Chambers for the EL and if they work then give them the gig for PL games to see how they get on. Worrying times.

  29. Colonel Blimp

    Sep 16, 2019, 07:45 #114853

    If you need a laugh, and by Christ after that shambles we do, just remember the cameras cutting to Troy Deeney with his posse in their little VIP lounge at Vicarage Road. And then be grateful he wasn't playing.