The gripes that many of the Arsenal fans had at the beginning of Emery’s tenure were often assuaged by assurances that the board were quietly and efficiently putting together a structure that looked beyond the current incumbent. The promotion of Freddie Ljunberg to assistant coach, the introduction of Edu as Director of Football and Per Mertesacker’s growing influence with the youth team suggested that the men behind Emery were not going to be beholden in the same way the club was to Arsene Wenger.
However, there was still support for the Spanish head coach from Raul Sanlehhi in the summer as he gifted Emery an exciting ball carrying forward, a passing midfielder, a hearty fullback and an experienced ball-playing central defender to help him achieve a top four finish.
After 11 games, Arsenal sit fifth behind an admittedly impressive Leicester City and an exciting Chelsea team who have embraced their youthful players like Tom Selleck embraces November. At six points, this is hardly an insurmountable tally but given Arsenal’s next opponent is Leicester City, a nine point gap after 12 games would certainly represent a mountain to climb.
While it feels like the Arsenal fans are set on the club relieving Emery of his duties, the board seem determined to give him the vote of confidence and allow the Spaniard to splutter along. This may be reminiscent of the tedious Wenger In/Wenger Out days. But there is a definitive distinction.
Wenger was a much loved figure at the club by both players and fans. Emery is not thought of in the same way. His muddled press conferences are a stark contrast to the often insightful views of Wenger on football and society as a whole; his lack of a discernible philosophy flies in the face of what Wenger strived to achieve; and his tactics of holding onto a one goal lead or playing out for a draw is a slap in the face to Wenger’s Invincibles and their desperation to win.
These comparisons are not an attempt to undermine Emery, nor are they made without the caveat that Wenger’s final season was practically made untenable by the performances away from home and the atmosphere around the ground. However they do draw to light an issue that could prove fatal to Emery’s Arsenal career.
Wenger was loved – perhaps most of all by his players. There was never a mention of mutiny amongst the ranks, never a murmur of losing the dressing room or the slightest indication of players being upset at his tactics. 22 years at the club and rarely a bad word said about him.
In contrast, in the brief 16 months that Emery has been manager there have been leaks, social media posts and words on the grapevine that suggest the players hold no real affinity for the manager. They don’t need to go running to him when they score a goal to demonstrate their loyalty or affection; nor do they need to come out in a press conference or on twitter and offer their support. But their body language tells its own story.
This of course should not decide whether a manager stays or goes. But a lack of affection coupled with a downturn in results edges him closer to the precipice.
Unfortunately for Emery, his Arsenal future may already be dead. For a manager can often overcome a mutiny if he has strong personalities on his side, say for instance a club captain.
Of course, Granit Xhaka’s own future at the club is now in doubt but prior to the incident at Crystal Palace, the Swiss midfielder was Emery’s right hand man and well respected in the dressing room. Following the incident, Emery was left with little choice to defrock the captain and turn his five man captaincy into a four.
It could be deemed hearsay but one would imagine that Xhaka was one of the few allies that Emery had in the dressing room – someone who, despite the moans of the Arsenal faithful, is genuinely well liked and respected. In light of this, who stops the whispers now during Emery’s two hour video analysis of Liverpool throw-ins? Who shoots Lacazette and Aubameyang a stare during training when they are goofing about when Emery is trying to work on defensive shape? And who stops the murmurs at half time as Emery tells his players to sit on a one goal lead at home?
Naming Xhaka as captain may have been the beginning of the end for Emery; was stripping him of the captaincy the final nail in the coffin?
Til next time,
Level-headed columnist who secretly gets excited by wildly improbable transfer guff. Optimistic Arsenal fan, keen writer and a passable centre half (on a good day).