Arsenal 2 Everton 0: Emery banging his head against a brick wall

First, some (few) may have noticed there was no match report from yours truly for Arsenal’s 4-2 win over Vorskla midweek. That’s because I find the quality of opposition in the Europa League group stages so bad that it’s pointless analysing the games. Therefore, I won’t be doing any match reports until the knockout stage of the competition.

Sunday’s game against Everton was (a little) more insightful. Arsenal ran out 2-0 winners, but it was a poor performance and we learned nothing new about how the players are adapting to life under Emery.

In the first half, Arsenal looked shaky due to Everton’s aggressive and direct play. Lack of fluency and repeated ball squandering played into their hands, and the high line was regularly exposed (again). It was only thanks good goalkeeping from Cech and poor finishing from Walcott and Richarlison that enabled Arsenal to go into the break with a clean sheet.

The Toffees started the second half with confidence, drive and purpose; it seemed only a matter of time before something went for the visitors. Ironically, however, it was Everton’s over-eagerness to exploit Arsenal that led to their downfall. On 56, Davies lost the ball to Ramsey deep in his own half, and with the midfield completely bypassed the Welshman passed to Lacazette who hit a fantastic curling strike into the top corner.

Three minutes later, Everton were caught on the break again. Ozil was indecisive, but Ramsey managed to back heel his pass into Aubemeyang’s path and he doubled Arsenal’s lead despite being a yard offside. After a 15-minute lull, Everton pushed to get back into the game, but Arsenal held firm for their first clean sheet of the season.

It’s clear that Emery’s really banging his head against a brick wall with some of these players. So much so, it seems evident that he’s given up expecting some of them to fulfill the press. One thing is for certain: Bellerin, Mustafi, Ozil and Xhaka are destroying the shape and purpose of this team, and the squad will be better off when they’re gone.

On a positive note, the tigerish, ball-winning Torreira had an impressive home debut and Emery is clearly making a difference with his half-time team talks and tactical switches.

In his post-match interview, Emery expressed his disappointment at Arsenal’s inability to control the game, but was pleased with the outcome. Arsenal are making a habit of winning matches despite playing badly – a welcome quality, but there remains a question mark over whether certain players can ever adjust to Emery's style of play.


Cech (8): Commanding aerially and made several good stops to deny Everton
Bellerin (5): Never seems to know what he’s doing defensively
Mustafi (5): Very uncomfortable playing out from the back
Sokratis (5): Struggled a bit before coming off before half-time with a dead leg
Monreal (5): Couldn’t deal with balls played down the channel
Xhaka (5): Careless passing and too slow turning with the ball
Torriera (7): Mobile, put his foot in, read danger well and distributed the ball with pace and accuracy
Ramsey (6): Two assists to his name, yet distinctly average
Ozil (5): Surely, the most obscenely overpaid player of all time
Aubameyang (5): Struggled to impact the game on the wing; very lucky to score
Lacazette (6): Was about to be substituted, but goal was inspiring nonetheless

Holding (6): Looked steady as a replacement for Sokratis
Iwobi (6): Tenacious up front, pegging Everton back
Welbeck (-): Only got 10 minutes


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Arsenal fans are dipsh*ts

Not my words, but the words of guest contributor Raskolnikov:

On an entirely separate note AT - I see Arteta yet again conspired to be abject, dull, uninspiring and mediocre in yet another Citeh defeat. So that's only Arteta losing every match he has been in charge of for them. It's funny, because those same bloggers that soiled their nappies when Arteta wasn't hired and Emery got the gig instead, are mysteriously quiet about Arteta, hmm...

The other big name I saw for Arsenal was Tuchel. Now. I think he's a good manager and I don't want to judge him off the back of one defeat to an excellent Liverpool side. I have to say though, he is in charge of PSG, not Preston. And some of the farce I saw from his team was ridiculous. Tactically all over the place. No players working back. Space all over the midfield. Could not keep possession, at all. Overplaying. Not marking any wide spaces. No synergy; players look like strangers. No intensity. Idiotic mistakes everywhere. He's playing with a €1bn squad, and turning out dross I wouldn't expect from Hodgson's Palace FFS. 


Ultimately, you are right AT. Wenker really has left a steaming heap of turd for Emery. I blame the fans for this FYI. Every imbecile who sat there, year after year - for FOURTEEN YEARS as Arsenal sold off their best players. All the fans who would wildly celebrate scraping into 4th place on the final day of each season. All the fans who renewed their STs season after season as the club ripped them off and shrugged "what can I do" - conveniently forgetting that the power was in their hands. 

They basically allowed Wenker to completely ruin this club and it will take years to sort out the garbage heap he's left. The fact that not even a Chinese super League club would touch Wenker with a barge pole tells you all need to know. Japan national team didn't want him. No French league team wants him. No German teams want him. I am talking mid-table teams here, let alone the elite ones.

Yet, this unemployable prick was a Messiah to Arsenal's idiot fan base for 14 years, and they gave him the kind of send off you'd expect for a manager that had won the Champions League four times in seven years (errr he's never EVER won a European trophy!)

Long live the new era. Gazidis can piss off - who cares? At least he got rid of Wenker and won that power struggle. Arsenal fans really are dipshits. Happy to watch loser Arsene fail like a mug for over a decade; that was fine, but with Emery, all of a sudden Arsenal fans are on about standards and winning; anything less than consummate professionalism is unacceptable! 

Weird that. Where are these standards suddenly coming from? They never seemed to mind losing 10-2 to Bayern, 5-1 at Bayern, 8-2 at OT, 5-1 at Anfield, 6-0 at the Bridge and constant failure in Europe etc. that was "special circumstances" and my favourite excuse "financial doping" (you know, the same financial doping that saw Leicester cruise past Wenker to the title LOL).

So doesn't the "financial doping" excuse now also apply to Emery? Isn't it "impossible to compete" with the bigger teams? Or is football suddenly about 11 v 11 and tactics?


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Ivan Gazidis – thanks for nothing

I welcomed the news of Ivan Gazidis likely departure to AC Milan this morning. The South African joined Arsenal in November 2008 as CEO, succeeding Keith Edelman, and undertook many of the roles delegated by previous vice chairman David Dein.

CEOs have many different roles depending on an organisation’s legal structure. In Gazidis’ case, he was responsible for driving change within the business and instigating key decisions related to finance, operations, marketing and human resources - whilst acting as advisory to the board of directors.

Looking back over Gadizis’ lengthy stint, it’s clear he was a distinctly powerless and average CEO that failed to instigate any progressive or meaningful change. His effect on the club’s commercial income was minimal, with most of the growth throughout his tenure coming through improved broadcasting revenues.

Nevertheless, Gazidis wasted little time in taking advantage of the sport's stratospheric financial upsurge, awarding himself generous remuneration packages for doing relatively little. In 2016, he increased his salary from £2.2 to £2.6m despite overseeing a measly £3m profit and £4m rise in commercial income.

Seemingly ignorant of Arsene Wenger’s clear and obvious fallibilities as a coach, at the start of Gazidis’ tenure, his big vision for Arsenal’s on-field development was limited to the implementation of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules. His assertion that this regulation would lead to a more even playing field amongst the top tier clubs proved to be unfounded, naïve and somewhat hypocritical. Like Wenger, Gazidis was all too ready to blame lack of finance for Arsenal’s underachievement yet was at a loss to explain why Arsenal consistently underachieved against clubs with far inferior resources.

Although mostly a robotic mouthpiece for Arsene Wenger’s puppetry, in recent years Gazidis became frustrated with the manager’s prevalence for contradicting him. A power struggle ensued, but whether Gazidis held the ultimate authority to flick the switch is debatable. With the owner’s son Josh Kroenke taking a more active role in the club’s operations, it’s likely that Gazidis was integral in helping to convince the board that change was required, but it was too little too late, by then Arsenal had become a mediocre sixth-placed club.

In retrospect, Gazidis legacy at Arsenal was to do nothing but tacitly accept failure while adeptly spouting well-intentioned words that lacked any sort of conviction. It’s likely he did a lot of good things behind the scenes, and the CEO upheld the club’s corporate image with distinction, but most of what he implemented was ultimately superficial. The plain fact is, under Gazidis' watch, Arsenal declined from becoming Premier league also-rans to complete non-entities and regularly flirted with embarrassment on the European stage.

Upon the removal of Wenger, the fact that Gazidis was willing to depart Arsenal having gained so much power and authority only demonstrates his lack of genuine affection for the club, and in some ways cowardice. If his chosen replacement fails, he can claim it was not under his watch. If Emery succeeds, he can claim he was the instigator. If Gazidis had stayed, he would have had to bear ultimate responsibility for the decision, but rather than embrace that, he's skulked off.

Other than more money in the bank and the weather, it’s really difficult to figure out any other motivation for Gazidis wanting to join a club like AC Milan despite its illustrious history. Operating in an Italian league that’s dull as dishwater and in decline compared to the Premier League and La Liga, the choice seems more about consolidating his pension fund than any footballing considerations, but maybe that’s the safe zone where Gazidis feels most comfortable, and valued.


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Newcastle 1 Arsenal 2: Arsenal can’t function adequately with Ozil

I’m surprised Arsenal won yesterday but probably underestimated Newcastle’s lack of firepower. With zero wins under their belt after four games, the first goal was hugely influential after a pretty dire opening 45 minutes. Newcastle bossed the first half, but as soon as Xhaka scored from a set piece early in the second, the Magpies went into psychological meltdown and Arsenal strolled the game after Ozil scored a second nine minutes later.

Emery picked an unchanged side from the one that beat Cardiff two weeks ago, which made sense as winning performances should be rewarded - fostering trust between player and manager. Some supporters are way too impatient regarding their expectations of Emery and don’t seem to appreciate some of the challenges behind his decision-making processes.

He has to make a lot of decisions that aren’t necessarily related to putting the best team out on the pitch. Leno is better at playing out than Cech, but the defence is fragile and benefits psychologically from having a hugely experienced keeper behind them. Ozil completely wrecks Emery’s tactical strategy, but there’s few credible alternatives so why alienate one of his few creative players?

Torreira should start ahead of Xhaka, but both he and Guendouzi are young and unnaclimatised to the PL. Throwing them into the lion’s den together could cost Arsenal points and wreck their self-confidence. It’s much more sensible to play one or the other, leading them slowly towards a future partnership. Maybe it’s time for Torreira to start ahead of Guendouzi; although it’s possible the Uruguayan is not able to last 90 minutes and would therefore be more influential coming on when the opposition is flagging.

As Emery is fast discovering, he simply doesn’t have the players he needs to play the system he wants. The defenders struggle to play out from the back, the midfield can't press effectively, the forwards won’t track back unitarily – so what’s he supposed to do?

Emery has a vision but cannot implement it. That means he has to make do with what he’s got, try to foster some sort of team unity and get results with players that either have a lot of adapting to do or are not fit for purpose. It’s going to be a torturously long and slow process. And let’s not pretend Ozil isn’t a key problem. By coming inside he ruins the shape of the team and isolates a fragile Bellerin. He can’t hold the ball up, won’t press and can’t be bothered to track back with genuine intent after losing possession – rendering Emery’s playing style completely dysfunctional.

But there have been incremental improvements. Generally, the team has more energy, more tenacity, more unity and more desire. Players are calling each other out for making mistakes, meaning they’re being made accountable for their actions on the pitch. Amidst all the tactical indecision and indiscretions, don’t underestimate the importance of creating this environment – without it you go nowhere and compete for nothing.


Cech (6): Only had two shots to save
Bellerin: (6) A bit more solid defensively, but Newcastle didn't exploit his weaknesses
Mustafi: (6) Usual mixture of calmness and calamity
Sokratis (7): Quicker than we've been led to believe. Showing faint leadership qualities
Monreal (6): Let down by failure to cut out cross for Newcastle’s late goal
Guendouzi (6): Good at bringing the ball out from the back, but doesn’t shield well yet
Xhaka (7): Good free kick, although keeper should have done better. Was influential in second goal too
Ramsey (4): Looked completely lost
Ozil (5): Scored, although let’s be honest - keeper fluffed it. Otherwise, dire
Aubameyang (5): He’s a limited player and likely to struggle out of position
Lacazette (7): Can’t fault his desire and was instrumental in the few things Arsenal did well

Torreira (7): Changed Arsenal’s tempo
Mkhitaryan (5): Did little
Welbeck (5): See above


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Cardiff 2 Arsenal 3: Don’t blame Emery for Cech blunders

It didn’t start well. Petr Cech received a pass, panicked and clumped it towards Harry Arter who missed a sitter. The instructions to Cech are clear, play it out from the back unless you’re hedged in, in which case go long. We know that’s the instruction, because on plenty of occasions this season Cech has played it long.

Early doors, all Cech had to do was plant the ball up field two or three times – the Cardiff forwards would soon abate the press, enabling him to start building play from the back. Cech is in control, he can play it short or long - the blame is not with Unai Emery. It’s called in-game management, and Cech’s becoming an embarrassment.

It’s not really a question of him lacking agility or technique either – he’s a professional footballer. Any buffoon can do a Cruyff turn – I was doing them in competitive 6-A side games in my 40s and shafting players half my age. It’s more about composure - psychology. All goalkeepers are capable of playing it out from the back; if their technique was that bad, they would never have become pros in the first place.

More alarming in this game was Arsenal’s inability to defend other areas of the pitch. In Arsenal’s first three games, you could see a loose pressing structure that didn’t work for the most part, but there was a semblance of a plan. Against Cardiff, I didn’t see any plan for what Arsenal should do without the ball that was carried out uniformly amongst the players.

That’s because certain players seem incapable of playing that way for any duration; namely Aubameyang, Ozil and Xhaka. Mkhitaryan, Arsenal’s most creative player against West Ham, was dropped because he can’t play that way.  Bellerin’s clueless and just runs around like a headless chicken. Guendouzi’s just a kid – learning on the job.

But let’s also be realistic. A pressing game can be pretty much on point, but you’ll still give up chances. Not the catalogue of chances Arsenal are enabling, but the simple fact is, Arsenal’s defenders can’t defend. The current crop has been taught zilch since their introduction to the Premier League, which is why they have no composure and perpetually collapse under pressure. Sokratis has been thrown into a chimp’s tea party.
We’ve seen how Wenger ruined defender after defender – made them worse. Even if you bring a world-class CB into a back four, if the other three are clueless, it’s far more likely that your new man will be contaminated by the errors of others and his confidence will slowly erode.

Emery has to persist - he has no other choice. He has to work with what he has and try to, not restore – because they never had it, but imbibe a semblance of confidence into his defenders. He also has to find out which players can adjust to his playing style, as these will be the ones he can strive to build a team around.

Regarding the result, don’t start dreaming after a couple of wins that Arsenal will be playing Champions League football next season because they won’t. You should be looking for small, incremental improvements in Arsenal’s playing style and lots of setbacks – some ugly as sin.

I reiterate; the season is a write-off and I’d be amazed if Arsenal didn’t lose against Newcastle after the international break.


Cech (3): Only has himself to blame for ludicrous errors
Bellerin (4): Despite his acceleration, can’t even position himself to cut out a cross
Mustafi (6): Often incompetent, but useful from attacking set pieces
Sokratis (5): Struggled
Monreal (5): Honest pro, but as first goal proved, anarchic defender
Xhaka (4): Inability to concentrate, whether in possession or out, makes him a total liability
Guendouzi (7): Composed yet aggressive, with good passing rhythm
Ozil (5): Surprised he started. Emery playing the long game
Ramsey (6): One of the few players capable of pressing from the front; should improve
Aubameyang (6): Scored a delicious goal; not much else
Lacazette (8): Best game for Arsenal. Scored, assisted, held up the ball and worked hard to track back

Torreira (6): Looked fitter. Did well, linking up play and busy in midfield
Welbeck (-): No rating
Mkhitaryan (-): No rating


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