Wednesday
Jan162019

A passionate defence of Emery

The response to the defeat at West Ham is an overreaction. Bad performance no doubt, but we have to accept that certain mid-table opposition are not as far away from us as we’d like to think. Sometimes, we have to be honest enough to look at the players on the pitch and forget about the Arsenal ‘brand’. While Arsenal should be competing much better against West Ham, pound for pound our players are little better than theirs.

I’m not brushing off concerns. I accept there has been a regression recently and I’m concerned about a lack of joined-up thinking in relation to transfers (ironic considering the news regarding Sven Mislintat yesterday). However, it’s not as if the reasons for Arsenal’s recent regression are related to that - or a mystery. Our downturn in form has coincided with injuries that have further weakened a squad that needs to be uniformly fit to achieve the sort of optimal results and consistency we crave.

When players are missing or played out of position and the manager has to instill damage limitation tactics, it’s understandable that results are going to suffer. Claiming that Arsenal should play to their strengths and attack is an easy assertion to make in hindsight, but it’s got us nowhere over the past decade or more.

We have to start cutting Emery some slack. To compete for big prizes, you need strength in depth in every position. Remove one or two players from the equation and you’re likely to fall. Man City lost three games recently solely based on the fact that Fernandinho got injured, yet Emery has to field players like Lichtsteiner, Maitland-Niles, Kolasinac and Aubameyang in positions they’re not comfortable. Guendouzi was playing in French League two last season; Xhaka and Mustafi are, to all intents and purposes, shite.

Torreira clearly has fitness issues. We saw him left out at the start of the season and wondered why, and he’s been used sporadically recently following a heavy schedule. We all see his talent, but he’s obviously hitting the buffers and needs to be man-managed to cope with the physical demands of the Premier League.

Whereas Wenger would overrule his staff, routinely running players into the ground and they’d suffer because of it, we should learn from our mistakes and rest players, even if it risks costing us points.

Despite these multiple problems, which create a collective weakness that only a fool would deny substantially impacts performances, some supporters still seem to expect consistent results because ‘we’re Arsenal’. Because Arsenal ‘should’ beat West Ham, fans become emotive and stop using rational logic to analyse the problems Emery is beset with.

Let’s also take into consideration that Arsenal have pretty much lost two key defenders this season: Monreal - arguably one of the club’s best performers last season - and Koscielny. Neither player has proved themselves against top-tier opposition, but when match fit (rarely in either case) they usually raise the standard against those teams we should beat but have dropped points against recently.

It’s also time to accept that Ozil and Ramsey should only be used sparingly and stop hitting Emery over the head with a cricket bat every time they’re left out and the team underperforms. You can’t accuse Emery of lacking vision then simultaneously expect him to pander to players that have no future at the club. Indulging them does not show ‘vision’ - that’s sticking plaster tactics. Arsenal came sixth when both players were mainstays, so how can they be part of the solution?

Personally, I don’t believe Emery and Ozil have had a bust up in the traditional sense. Emery has made it pretty clear that Ozil only has a role to play against weak PL sides and there’s more than enough evidence to back his assessment. I’m fairly certain Ozil will come back into the fold at some point, but Emery knows what he’s doing. If by leaving him out, the player gets fed up and wants to leave, all well and good. In the meantime, he’ll play a role as and when needed. Clever management in my book – lunacy would be to stick a player on the pitch when you don’t even believe he can positively affect a result.

Ozil can’t win this battle. In the highly unlikely event Emery gets fired in six months, you can be sure the next incumbent won’t want the German either. The modern game has evolved; it’s all about the front press. It’s the modern, high-energy evolution of the sport that we all want to see, and Ozil is yesterday’s man. Fans should embrace change and move on, not backtrack like children every time there’s a slip up.

For me, supporters’ unrealistic expectations are starting to become an unnecessary problem – and if we’re not careful, a self-fulfilling prophecy. There’s this crazy idea that we’re still a top four club - we’re not, thanks to Gazidis/Wenger we’ve fallen off a cliff edge.

If you take a long-term view and accept Arsenal have no realistic chance of competing for a place in the top four and have to implement drastic changes to change things for the better long-term, then Emery’s decisions suddenly become a lot more palatable.

Sometimes you have to go backwards to move forwards. There will be a time when we can ask serious questions about Emery, but it’s not now.

Supporters live and breathe Arsenal; they look forward to every game and want instant gratification and progress. This is not the real world. In the real world, reinvention takes time. Releasing your frustration won’t make Arsenal’s journey back to being an elite club any quicker.

Reevaluate your expectations and you don’t have to be disappointed. Forget results – shift the lens. Embrace discreet pleasures and minor evolutions – even if they’re not immediately noticeable.  This article on Emery helps give clarity https://www.skysports.com/unaiemery.

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Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.

Sunday
Jan132019

West Ham 1 Arsenal 0: Supporter ignorance weighing Emery down

Lots of moaning about the defeat yesterday. Faintly annoying, but I have to detach myself from all the lunacy. First, I completely understand Emery’s line up. The defence is far too shambolic to be playing 4-4-2. Playing a back four would have meant utilising Maitland-Niles and Kolasinac as full backs – both of whom are savagely inept. Seeing as Mustafi and Koscielny are themselves accidents waiting to happen, a flat back four would have put Arsenal at a horrible disadvantage before a ball had even been kicked.

Unless Monreal and Bellerin are both match fit – and defending well (like that happens often), playing a back four is suicidal and there’s been more than enough evidence recently to prove it.

Emery doesn’t want to play a back five, but has no choice with the players at his disposal. Unfortunately, playing the extra defender denied Arsenal a link player up front, a situation that was exacerbated by having to play Maitland-Niles as a right wing back. You’d hope Xhaka could provide some creativity from midfield, but the dozy prick just stood there marking space and passing backwards and sideways.

This whole sorry saga demonstrates how just a couple of injuries to an already weak squad puts Emery in a position where he’s trying to compete with one hand tied behind his back. Amidst this mess, some supporters expect him to demonstrate a ‘vision’ - then in the same breath question why he didn’t start Aaron Ramsey, a player who won’t be at the club in five months. What vision would that demonstrate? They also have the temerity to complain about Ozil not being in the squad when Arsenal indulged him and won four away games last season.

For me, the line-up was the only sensible option. Keep it tight and hopefully a second-half substitution or two could swing the game – a plan that was working until Xhaka did what he does and threw everything down the shitter. I have patience for most things, but this joke of a player is seriously testing mine - definitely one of the worst to ever pull on an Arsenal shirt.

The fact is, Arsenal lost marginally to an exceptionally well organised West Ham side that’s won 5 in 6 and whose players are mostly every bit as good as ours. Supporters need to accept that – like it or not, this is our level and Emery didn’t put us there.

The only question I have is why Torreira didn’t start, but I’m not going to jump to conclusions, maybe he had a knock.

There’s been a few times this season when I’ve thought, what’s the point of blogging about Arsenal this season when we’re unlikely to see material improvement? At times like this, the discourse becomes infested by stupidity and ignorance.

Raging supporters can’t even get the right perspective on Kroenke. On the one hand they complain he’s taking out of the club – no evidence of that, then they moan the wage bill’s out of control. Now some of them want to start boycotting the club, taking the only financial resource Emery has away from him – cash to buy players with once the wage bill Kroenke overspent on is manageable.

I have no idea whether Unai Emery will turn out to be the right man for Arsenal, but what I do have is a sympathetic and rounded understanding of the huge challenges that confront him. Right now, I don’t get excited about winning nor do I get angry about losing. Yesterday was a bad day; there will be more – lots of them.

This season is not about results, it’s about observation, analysis, experimentation and placing faith in the club’s new directorial and managerial structure to re-engineer the club back to health.

I have no evidence they can, but no evidence they can’t. For the serial moaners, if you can’t live through the choppy waters without frothing at the mouth every time Emery stumbles, I suggest you find something else to do with your time and stop embarrassing the club with your laughable impatience and inept understanding of the financial equations.

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Leno (6): Good distribution, not at fault for goal
Maitland-Niles (4): Couldn’t provide any attacking impetus
Mustafi (5): Only functions adequately when insulated by players better than him
Sokratis (6): Made some good interceptions
Koscielny (6): Decent
Kolasinac (5): Frustrating that he couldn’t make hay against Zabaleta
Guendouzi (6): Passing was heavy, but did well in defensive situations
Xhaka (2): Utterly clueless from the first minute to the last and helped gift West Ham a goal
Iwobi (6): Energetic performance, but lack of wide support left him isolated
Aubameyang (4): Really poor link up play
Lacazette (6): Impressive first half hour but became increasingly frustrated as game wore on

Subs

Torreira (6): Added snap to midfield
Ramsey (6): Some nice touches, but West Ham too well organised to break down
Bellerin (5): Clearly wasn’t match fit

—oo—  

Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.

Friday
Jan112019

Emery is blameless. Some defenders can’t be coached

The question is, and this obviously relates to Unai Emery’s first six months at Arsenal, how far can a manager be made responsible for improving the players he’s inherited – in Arsenal’s case, a truly rotten (and rotting) group of defenders.

Personally, I believe, Emery should bear little responsibility for their performances until he is able to guide the board toward developing his own defensive unit and impart identifiable tactical and psychological methods.

For evidence of how powerless a coach can be to improve upon the defenders he’s inherited, you only have to look at Jurgen Klopp. When he joined Liverpool, the defence was hemorrhaging goals like a pierced aortic valve. They’d finished sixth the previous season, conceding 48 PL goals, which marginally worsened in his debut season when they conceded 50.

In his second season, as underperfomers began to slowly be phased out, the club began to see tangible improvement. Today, the transformation has been remarkable. Yet how many defenders today were first team mainstays when Klopp took control? Just the one - Dejan Lovren, who arguably has the weakest mentality.

Clyne, Toure, Sakho, Moreno, Mignolet, Caulker, Skrtel and Enrique have all been dumped from the squad or sold.

Klopp can clearly coach defence, otherwise Liverpool wouldn’t be sitting top of the table this season having conceded a miserly 10 goals. That he failed to improve the players he inherited implies the problem did not lie with Klopp but the players.

I would argue Emery has inherited the same problem, and supporters need to get off his back until he’s had time to work with the club’s hierarchy to transform the defensive unit. The fact is, some players are beyond improvement because they simply don’t have the temperament or composure to play at the highest level.

While bad coaches can definitely make good players worse - sowing the seeds of complacency and apprehension, bad scouting cannot be ruled out as an insurmountable culprit. Likewise, players can be improved, but the manager has to be given something to work with.

Although physical attributes, tactical awareness, and to a lesser extent, positional intelligence, can be honed, temperament and composer are key psychological qualities that this squad is almost completely absent of. Unfortunately, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks and Mustafi, Koscielny, Kolasinac, Jenkinson and Monreal have proven to be mentally weak, positionally dense and psychologically lacking on multiple levels.

Emery could no more improve them as players than he could have taught Philippe Senderos to be the next Tony Adams.

Bellerin, who was also inherited, is weak defensively, but could potentially improve given time. Lichtsteiner is nearing 35 – not Emery’s signing and should be given a free pass. Experience-wise, Sokaratis seems the best of a bad bunch, but he himself needs time to acclimatise to the PL.

The fact is, it’s a fallacy to suggest that coaches can always improve players and it’s preposterous to expect Emery to progress a defence that was not just inherently flawed in one position but ALL positions.

It’s interesting how Arsenal’s best defender this season has been Rob Holding – a young player that possesses some of the key attributes his defensive team mates are lacking. It’s positive that Emery immediately identified Holding as a potential fulcrum of the Arsenal defence. Yes, he still has a lot to learn and is far from the complete player – he may never become one, but the decision to place faith in him despite his age is an encouraging signal of intent.

Unfortunately, Arsenal also have a secondary problem – lack of funds/wage bill. I think we can assume that the signing of Virgil van Dijk has been the final piece in Klopp’s puzzle. You cannot underestimate how critical it has been for them to have signed a truly world-class defender.

Unfortunately, such defenders are an increasingly rare commodity and Arsenal don’t have £70m lying around to buy one. Even if they did, it would not be wise to blow your entire budget on one player when one player alone is unlikely to make a substantial difference. Van Dijk makes a substantial difference because he is playing alongside quality, reliable defenders, but half-way through his last season at Southampton he was part of a defence fighting relegation.

Like everything else, improving the defence will be a long process and there are no shortcuts. Of course, tactics play a role and confidence is crucial – and it’s yet to be proven whether Emery has the faculties to create a defence solid enough to compete for the PL, but judging him after six months having inherited a calamity that was physically falling apart at the seams only demonstrates a certain level of ignorance.

There is no agenda here. This post is not about whether I believe Emery is the long-term solution for Arsenal - it’s about giving him a realistic chance to prove it.

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Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.

Thursday
Jan032019

Ozil power struggle could get ugly

Why was Mesut Ozil given that £350k p/wk contract? Largely because Arsenal needed to save face. The departure of Alexis Sanchez on a Bosman didn’t look good for outgoing CEO Ivan Gazidis. An outstanding diplomat he may have been, able seduce any gormless fan to his way of thinking, but his tenure as Arsenal CEO has been riddled with weakness and failure – most of which was obfuscated by slick PR machinations.

However, losing Ozil under the same circumstances as Sanchez would have been a very public embarrassment, not something that could be swept under the carpet. Some say Gazidis was powerless and had nothing to do with player contracts. Even if that were true, why sign on as CEO in full knowledge your role is toothless? Why not send any old lackey to close deals you played no part in? Why resign once power had been restored? Whatever way you look at it, Gazidis was culpable on every front.

Make no mistake, Gazidis’ decision to hand Ozil that mega-contract was all about self-interest. Knowing he was leaving Arsenal, what did it matter to him if the club was hamstrung by one more act of ineptitude? It’s doubtful those interested in hiring Gazidis would have looked under the hood and measured the damage it’s potentially done.

Regardless, the past is the past and Arsenal are now lumbered with a player that no other club was keen to take a punt on. The only positive of Ozil re-signing is that, due to the German’s age, he was only given a three-year contract, which now expires in 2021.

Unfortunately, Arsenal are unlikely to have the patience to see that contract out. If there was a means to offload Ozil tomorrow, Emery and the board would grab it with both hands. The club’s wage bill is stretched to the limit and Ozil is clogging it up like chip fat down a plughole.

Sadly, Ozil’s earnings have never matched expectations. As we know, the German doesn’t turn up in big games, and now that Emery’s taken a good look at him, he doesn’t seem to want him turning up for any games.

From Ozil’s perspective, his career is largely over and he’s sitting pretty. He’s never been the type of player you want in the trenches. He won’t elevate a bad team; he’ll drag it down further. The term ‘world-class’ is frequently bandied around, but Ozil is not that. World class players make the difference irrespective of opposition. Yes they can occasionally be tactically stifled, but Ozil is so feeble he doesn’t even warrant being man marked. If anything, he’s now perceived as the weakness – any big club would gladly to see him on the team sheet.

This season, Emery and Ozil have been fighting a game of wills. Emery has a tactical vision and Ozil doesn’t fit that vision. The game has moved on – it’s all about the front press, which most clubs adopt in one way or another, therefore Ozil belongs in another era. Not only is he physically weak and lazy, but in Jose Mourinho’s words a “coward” – a shirker of challenges. There was a time when he could be accommodated; riding on the back of the physical exertions of his team mates, but that time has elapsed.

Of course, Ozil is fully cognizant of his weaknesses, but he also has his pride. Not professional pride, but personal pride based on ego. In love with himself and the adulation that a player of his doubtless technical prowess earns from supporters, he seeks to suppress criticism by going on the attack. We saw at the World Cup how he sought to modify the narrative – using a crass statement to retire from the national team before he was eliminated from the hierarchy’s thinking.

Ozil’s love of exaltation is so strong it comes at the expense of playing for a competitive club or winning trophies. Whatever you think of so-called ‘traitors’ like Van Persie or Fabregas, they left Arsenal because they had ambition. Ozil has none and he’s not staying out of loyalty. Just as Wenger wanted to cruise in and out of the club day after day, year after year without being made accountable for his underperformance, Ozil wants to do exactly the same, except on the field of play. They want to bathe in past adulations, without delivering anything today.

Ozil's aware that Emery doesn’t want him, but his latest press release sends out a clear message. It states:

“Mesut is 100 per cent committed to Arsenal Football Club. He loves the club, shares its values and does not want to be anywhere else.

“He is proud to wear the shirt and honoured to represent Arsenal on and off the pitch. He takes his responsibilities – including being selected as one of the captains this season – very seriously and has a great relationship with his team-mates, the staff and fans.”

Let’s get one thing straight, Ozil is not committed to Arsenal - he’s committed to his pay packet. He’s saying to the club, cash is king and you’re not going to push me out the door easily on what I’m now earning. Under the circumstances, the idea he’d be offered a contract extension is more a threat than a measure of intent. He’s also playing to the fan base, trying to garner sympathy and display faux loyalty in order to gain the upper hand over the new manager.

As a response to intense criticism, Ozil and his PR team are trying to win the public battle that’s being played out behind the scenes at London Colney. The overriding message to Emery is, change course. Build your style of play around me no matter what or you’re lumbered with a £350k p/wk misfit that’s more than happy to suck your wage bill dry for the next two years… and if you don’t play ball, I’ll skip matches and create more public headaches.

We’re basically witnessing a two-year long testimonial unless Arsenal can formulate a plan to get rid of Ozil in a way that satisfies his bank balance and ego. Eventually, something has to give.

—oo—  

Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.

Tuesday
Jan012019

Arsenal 4 Fulham 1: Thank god it was Fulham

They say that every performance incorporates the one before it, and on this evidence, few idioms are more accurate. In fact, despite Fulham being second bottom and shipping 47 goals this season, it was difficult to determine who had the more shambolic back line.

Following the Liverpool debacle, it was hardly surprising that Arsenal should start nervously, and it didn’t help that the back five comprised a Greek tragedy wedged between two braying donkeys, a 21-year-old right wing back being played out of position and a left wing back that is to defending what Sam Allardyce is to total football.

In front of them was perched a 19-year-old and the perpetually concussed Granit Xhaka. Everywhere those seven players looked they saw a mistake waiting to happen. Sorry, but trying to coach discipline into that lot is like to trying to win a sack race when your one’s loaded with fucking bricks.

Clearly, some of these players will never improve. Hopefully, the youngsters will, and perhaps days like today will help them in some perverse way. I mean, there was a time when I didn’t know how to read, and even though my schooling was predominantly non-existent, somehow I managed to figure it out for myself.

Watching this Arsenal side trying to play cohesive football was almost like watching a zombie sliced through the middle with its entrails leaving a bloody mess. The front portion, where the brain is, was largely intact; the rest stumbled haphazardly from one colossal cock up to the next, seemingly devoid of its own central nervous system.

What on earth is Emery supposed to do with a buffoon like Mustafi? He played like a drunk, clumping the ball upfield with such wayward crudity it was an insult to paraplegics. Neither Koscielny or Sokratis were much better; neither can play out from the back and when they gave the ball to Xhaka he treated it with the same loving care you’d give to a hand grenade stuffed in your Xmas stocking.

No wonder Emery is eyeing Banega. Guendouzi desperately needs some experience he can look up to. Someone to give him a glance, point a figure, some assurance. He plays remarkably well considering. It makes you wonder how good he might be when surrounded by, erm, footballers.

Anyway, the story of this match was that Fulham were just as bad defensively, but thankfully Arsenal have clinical finishers and they don’t. Nothing more to say - forget and move on.

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Leno (6): Received so many back passes he could probably audition for Swan Lake
Maitland-Niles (6): Did reasonably well considering
Mustafi (2): An embarrassment to his profession
Sokratis (4): You can bet he’s never played in a defence this bad
Koscielny (4): His dumbass hospital ball led to Fulham’s goal
Kolasinac (5): Has a value going forward, but you can’t seriously expect him to stay long term
Guendouzi (6): 19 years old and probably the most composed player on the pitch
Xhaka (5): Despite scoring, he was otherwise brain dead
Iwobi (6): Final ball often disappoints, but at least he had some impact
Lacazette (7): Decent performance all round
Aubameyang (6): Starting to miss a few easy chances, but still chipping in

Subs

Torreira (5): Definitely looks a bit tired, but Arsenal a little more solid with his help
Ramsey (6): Oh how the crowd sneered at Emery’s substitution of Lacazette. Oh how they should apologise
Saka (-): Not on long enough to judge

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Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.