Arsenal took just 88 points during the final 50 Premier League games of Arsene Wenger’s reign and the board felt compelled to show him the door. Fans were calling for his head, Champions League football was no longer forthcoming and the directors decided it was time for a new chapter to begin. The arrival of Unai Emery was supposed to herald an exciting new dawn for the club, but the decision to hire him is looking increasingly calamitous.
We are now 50 Premier League games into Emery’s tenure and in that time the Gunners have taken a mere 87 points. A 2-0 defeat at the hands of Leicester on Saturday left the Gunners eight points off the top four. They had just one shot on target in the entire game, and the defending was just as bad as ever. Only bottom club Norwich and 19th placed Southampton are in worse form than Arsenal. They are worse now than they were during the abject final years of late ‘Wengerdom’.
It was never going to be easy for Emery to pick up the pieces. The squad he inherited was a mess, and the fans cut him some slack last term. Yet we are now into the 18th month of his time in north London, and Arsenal appear to be regressing rather than improving. They won just one of their final five Premier League games last season and blew a golden opportunity to secure a top four finish. They followed it up with a disastrous performance against Chelsea in the Europa League final.
Optimism abounded at the start of the season thanks to the supreme wheeling and dealing of head of football Raul Sanllehi during the summer. The club made several bold forays into the transfer market, and the fans approached the season with newfound excitement. That has quickly vanished, to be replaced with utter dismay.
Arsenal have won just four of their opening 12 league games and they have a negative goal difference. They have scored just 16 goals in that time, and conceded 17. They are below newly promoted Sheff Utd in the table after recently losing to the Blades.
Former Arsenal hero Ian Wright summed up the mood among supporters with an exasperated Tweet in the aftermath of the Leicester game: “1 shot on target tonight!! 2 wins in 10 in the league. No definitive style or plan. Negative goal difference. No improvement in the defence. Not creating anything. Why would Laca or Auba renew? Can’t blame them! We have to make the tough decision Arsenal! It’s not getting better!”
The Damning Statistics
There are manifold statistics that can be used as sticks with which to beat Emery. The most telling come via an analysis of Wenger’s final 50 games in charge and the Spaniard’s first 50. Bear in mind that this was the lowest ebb of Wenger’s reign, a time that saw him vilified by supporters, who arranged protest marches, wielded “Wenger out” banners and even flew a plane over Stoke’s stadium to demand he leave the club. During that time, he actually won two more games than Emery has in his first 50 matches at the helm.
Yet it goes a lot deeper than that. In those 50 games under Wenger, Arsenal scored 96 goals. Under Emery they have managed just 87. They conceded 64 under Wenger, while Emery’s Arsenal have conceded 68. Wenger’s men had 764 attempts on goal and 299 on target, compared to just 617 and 223 respectively from the current side. Arsenal under Wenger faced 576 shots in 50 games, while the Gunners under Emery gave faced 696 shots during that time.
That speaks volumes about the negativity of Emery’s brand of football. He sets his team up defensively and invites pressure. They have enjoyed less possession than Arsenal did during Wenger’s final 50 games, and they do not use the ball as well. Arsenal always had a clear philosophy under Wenger, and you were generally guaranteed attractive football even if the results became increasingly poor. That has seemingly disappeared under Emery, as Arsenal frequently play dull, negative football and still lose.
Poor at Both Ends
Some supporters hoped that Emery would sort out the club’s long-standing defensive problems. Yet they have kept just 10 clean sheets in 50 Premier League games under the Spaniard, compared to 18 during Wenger’s final 50 matches in charge. This was to be expected, as Emery has never been able to create a defensively solid team during his career. However, it is alarming to see just how uninspired Arsenal look in attack right now.
The front three of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe cost a combined total of £180 million. Arsenal should be blowing teams away, but the midfield has been desperately poor and the forwards are shorn of service. They are frequently played out of position. At one point in the Leicester defeat, Aubameyang was playing as a left wing-back and Lacazette was marooned out on the right, with Mesut Ozil struggling to play down the middle.
Many of the problems appear to stem from a lack of communication. Emery’s English remains poor and it is hard to follow what he is saying in post-match interviews, so you can only begin to imagine how hard it is for the players to follow his instructions. The younger players apparently mock the manager mercilessly, and fans have grown increasingly exasperated by the “good ebening” shtick.
Emery insists the players can understand him, but the players reportedly turn to assistant Freddie Ljungberg for clarity. The result is chaos on the pitch, a lack of identity and increasingly poor results.
Top Four Looks Unlikely
Emery’s cause is not helped by the success of Leicester under Brendan Rodgers and Chelsea under Frank Lampard. Both men understand the Premier League well, they have a clear footballing philosophy and they are eloquent enough to communicate that effectively with their players, who clearly respect them. Arsenal now lag well behind both teams, despite spending a lot more in the summer.
The bookmakers had Arsenal odds-on to secure a top four finish, but now they are huge underdogs and when looking at Premier League predictions you will note that their prospects look bleak. They have taken just two points from their last four games, despite not facing a single opponent from the so-called Big Six.
The Gunners now head into a two-week international break on a dejected note. It would be the perfect time for the board to cut their losses, pay Emery £6 million in compensation and bring in a new manager in a bid to salvage the season. However, the Spaniard reportedly has the backing of the Arsenal hierarchy and he will be allowed to remain at the helm for the rest of the season. Despite the Gunners statistically and stylistically regressing, the board apparently wants to wait until the summer until determining his fate.
Pressure Mounts on the Board
It will not take long for the fans to direct their fury towards the club’s power brokers: owner Stan Kroenke, his son Josh, Sanllehi, managing director Vinai Venkatesham and technical director Edu. If they fail to remove Emery and Arsenal continue their slide towards mediocrity, they will be blamed.
It all begs the question: where would Arsenal be right now if Wenger had remained in charge? He would never have presided over a fiasco like the Granit Xhaka saga, and he would surely have managed Mesut Ozil better. The Gunners would surely still be shipping goals and suffering the odd embarrassing result here and there, but would it be any worse than this? At least there would be some exciting football to look forward to.
Yet it is becoming increasingly clear that neither Wenger nor Emery can steer Arsenal back towards glory, and it is perhaps time for the board to go for Option C by removing the Spaniard and bringing in a new coach.
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