Tuesday
Apr302019

Impatient fans have less backbone than the players

Not that I’m the oracle on anything, but let’s go back to my post of Monday, 9 July 2018:

"The changes the club are making and need to make are not cosmetic but profound. There’s likely to be a lot of disappointments along the way and progress is not going to be defined by trophies.

"I’m fine with optimism, but at the same time, let’s be reasonable. Emery is not superhuman, but neither is he incompetent, which is a major step forward. If the Spaniard scrapes Arsenal back into the top four, he’ll have done an amazing job considering his starting position. Personally, I find that unlikely, but I’m looking forward to finding out and fully behind the team."

I’ve stuck to that view from day one, and in my opinion the season has planned out roughly as expected. I’ve not been disappointed by Emery, neither have I been overly excited by him. I happen to believe a new coach needs two seasons and four transfer windows to implement his ideas and ensemble the players to appropriate them.

Even that may be harsh, as there’s rarely a lot of movement between clubs in January and you have to take into consideration that a manager’s first transfer window is about adding players to a squad he’s been unable to assess. After his first season, he will have infinitely better understanding of his squad and specifically what’s needed to improve it, but those new players will still require a year to acclimatise and transition to a different style of play.

That’s why I stick to my theory that, barring serious underachievement, a new manager cannot be fully assessed until at least two years, three months into a new job. Therefore, I won’t be making definitive judgments on Emery until around October 2020.

Clearly, a lot can change in football in one week. Too much in my opinion. On the morning of the 21st April, Emery was doing a fantastic job. Arsenal had finished off a highly rated Napoli in the Europa League quarter final with relative ease and conceded a paltry 8 goals in 14 games.

There’s no doubt the wheels have come off the wagon in the space of eight days, yet I’m supposed to believe Emery is now some hapless idiot. Is it likely that all the things he was lauded for across 50 games - squeezing blood out of a defensive stone, changing tactics rather than sticking to a predictable one-dimensional style,  responding to events rather than sitting on his hands - are suddenly fallibilities after three?

I’m not buying it, but at the same time we cannot hide from the fact the last three results have been a disaster. The question is, why?

In my book, it’s fairly simple – fatigue. Emery has over-performed this season in one respect, and it’s a crucially important one. We cannot deny that physical performance levels have vastly increased on match day – not every game, that’s unrealistic, but as a general rule. The effort expended by Emery’s players has redoubled, and that has forced Arsenal over the line in many matches where they would have previously sunk.

That’s why Emery likes to rotate players, before and during games. Some people struggle to understand the reasoning behind his line-ups and substitutions, but they typically revolve around fitness. He wants players on the pitch than can push physically for 90 minutes – to be able to physically compete in what is a physically competitive league.

That job has been harder for Emery than most managers, because he’s inherited the worst possible squad to perform those functions, not just in terms of playing style, but attitude. Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang, Xhaka, Ramsey – whatever you think of them technically, none of these players could press their trousers.

That’s why Arsenal’s front press is dysfunctional; the players work a lot harder but their ability to carry out Emery’s instructions is neutered because they were not specifically purchased to perform those roles.

You also have to take into consideration that Arsenal have played eight games this month and clearly that level of output is going to have a serious effect on fitness levels. Seriously, if you think these players are capable of performing to optimal physical levels three games a week for a month – in April, you’re bonkers. Don't give me rubbish like, why aren't Liverpool's player's tired? (1) Klopp bought players with the physical attributes necessary to fulfil those specific roles. (2) Their technical ability/physical endurance is vastly superior across all areas of the pitch. (3) He acquired players that can defend, using income from the sale of world-class players that Arsenal don't possess.

Without that energy, the ability to press the opposition dissipates, the players return to being what they are - beyond ordinary. Confidence drops; the mental deficiencies we all know were hiding in plain sight return with a vengeance. What you’re now seeing is basically Wenger’s squad of last season – the same squad that lost seven PL away games in succession. 

Emery has few options in terms of rotation. The bench is pitifully limited. Injuries and suspensions cost him prohibitively.

The defence has declined since last season due to senior players such as Koscielny and Monreal being asked to do too much. As players, the end is near for the pair of them – no PL club would seriously consider taking then off our hands next season. Add to that season-ending injuries to Bellerin and Holding, and the defence has been stripped of its youthful energy.

Meanwhile, the full backs are not qualified to defend or effectively support attacks, placing further burden on forward players to create chances for themselves whilst physically drained.

It’s all really very explainable. However, what most supporters also appear to miss is the quality of Arsenal’s opposition. I put that down to pure arrogance.

Just because “we’re Arsenal”, we’re expected to roll over teams that are ‘supposedly’ grossly inferior to us. Well, the plain fact of the matter is, they’re not. Wolves, Everton, Watford, Leicester are not that far behind Arsenal. Look hard at their players – half of them are better than ours. Would Ozil, Iwobi or Mkhitaryan make any of those sides better? Would they even get in the first team? No.

Adjust your expectations. Understand how low Arsenal sunk under Wenger. We weren’t sixth by accident; we were sixth because we’re garbage compared to our supposed peers. Don't intellectualise it, accept is as fact, because it is a fact! Until you accept that, you will continue to have unrealistic expectations and be unable to critique Emery's performance in a sane and objective manner. 

Emery will have learnt a lot in his first season, about his players and about the Premier League. Forget the stupid shit people write about him not winning an away game with Sevilla in La Liga, as if it means anything. If you’re going to adopt such a simplistic analogy, then you have to admit Emery has already superseded Wenger, as Arsenal have a better away record than last season.

By the way, to knock more nonsense on the head, I don’t support Emery just because he’s not Wenger. I’m not going to stubbornly back him to the death because I petitioned for Wenger’s departure for so long. Emery has to be given time to build a side in his own image, and whether he manages that or not, it’s quite frankly impossible to do in one season.

Neither do I think finances are an obstacle and neither am I going to blame Kroenke. You can’t claim Kroenke hasn’t funded Arsenal adequately when our wage bill is virtually equivalent to Liverpool and £1.3m higher than Spurs, that’s a cheap excuse. He entrusted Wenger and Gazidis, gave them the money and they royally fucked everything.

On top of that, for as long as STCC rules are in place, no club can buy their way to competitiveness anymore. That’s the whole point of it, and that’s what the clubs signed up to - so Kroenke cannot be our financial savour even if he wanted to be, which he clearly doesn't. If you want him gone, for whatever reason - and I'll concede there are more than a few, paying for a season ticket and sitting in the stadium guzzling Arsenal beer like a gutless chicken for 10 years like you did under Wenger won't change a lot. Bearing in mind a new owner would be unable to pump exorbitant funds into the transfer kitty for reasons already explained, that in itself is not a solution.

Besides all that, look who’s in the semi-final of the Champions League, Spurs and Ajax – so stop using lack of finances as an excuse for where Arsenal are. 
The club will have to be built back up brick by brick. Is Emery the right man? Who knows, but he’s better than the last man. Even if he fails, I’ll wager the next manager will be much better off than Emery was after Wenger.

—oo—  

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

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

Sunday
Apr282019

Leicester 3 Arsenal 0: Top four hopes hang by a thread

I warned things could get nasty in my previous blog, and unfortunately that was the case as Arsenal meekly surrendered to Leicester City. It would be easy to blame everything on the harsh second yellow card to Maitland-Niles that saw Arsenal reduced to ten men in the first half, but the Gunners were already riding their luck prior to his sending off.

The long ball to Vardy was always going to be a threat, so Emery had Arsenal sit deep, stay compact and try to sneak in through the back door in the hope of gaining a semblance of confidence. It seemed sensible under the circumstances and, with that in mind, I felt the home side was deliberately allowed possession. Although there’s a strong argument for saying Arsenal’s defence is too weak to justify playing that tactic, it’s also unrealistic to expect Arsenal’s forwards to high press when it’s their eighth game in a month.

Arsenal have played double the games of Leicester this April and 12 more matches than them this season overall. Anyone who thinks that statistic is not factored into performance levels needs a word with themselves. Any complaints about lack of effort or ‘bottling it’ only displays an ignorance of the physical demands placed on a shallow squad, lacking confidence and physical attributes.

From that perspective, you have to be sympathetic to Emery during this brutal fixture pile-up. He simply doesn’t have the squad depth to rotate without fielding players that are substantially worse than those already out there.

A morsel of credit should go to Arsenal for attempting to fight their way back into the game with ten men, even though they were bound to lay themselves open to the dreaded counter-attack feared right from the start. Having said that, a goal should never be conceded from a goalkeeping punt. Koscielny lost the flight of the ball allowing Vardy to get ahead of him. The Foxes striker’s first attempt rebounded off the bar, while the Frenchman could have rescued the situation but inexcusably threw in the towel.

Whatever way you want to wash it, the plain fact is, too many of these players are not good enough to play for Arsenal. You can’t trade on Arsenal’s history and use that to justify why we should be beating teams like Leicester. As miserable as it is to concede, the likes of Leicester, Wolves, Watford and Everton have a lot of players that are better than ours. That has to be accepted as FACT. Why would you expect Arsenal to turn up and beat teams away from home when those teams have superior players in a plethora of positions?

The collapse is painful, and it would be easy to make knee-jerk criticisms of Emery whilst floundering for answers, but as far as I’m concerned he’s not equipped with the tools to fulfill Arsenal’s top four objectives.

He tried to rotate against Palace, but the squad was too weak and got turned over. He tried to attack his way to victory against Wolves and was 3-0 down at half-time. He tried to defend his way to three points against Leicester; the end result was just the same. I suspect no matter what he tries, he‘s doomed to fail with this group, and it’s questionable whether any other manager would do any better due to the obvious inherent lack of quality: physically, mentally and technically.

Having said that, due to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, Arsenal are still only two points behind an underperforming Chelsea whose two remaining games are more difficult. Absurdly, the race for top four is still alive, and if Valencia are as bad as Napoli, Arsenal could significantly boost morale if they can retort to the comfort of winning at home in the next two games.

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Leno (8): A string of brilliant saves more than made up for his performance against Wolves
Maitland-Niles (4): Was unlucky, but also showed his inexperience. He's not a wing back and probably never will be
Mustafi (4): Total mess on set piece situations
Sokratis (4): Suspect on many occasions
Kolasinac (5): Put the effort in, but struggled in a chaotic backline
Torreira (6): Ran around like a headless chicken trying to put out fires, and did it quite well
Xhaka (4): Has cut out some of the silly mistakes, but doesn’t offer nearly enough playing in a midfield two
Iwobi (5): Arsenal’s only credible creative outlet, but when he had a big chance to score I think we all knew he’d mess it up
Mkhitaryan (2): A Premier League flop that was only signed to save face. Dismal
Lacazette (4): He’s expected to press, create his own chances and score them. Not realistic
Aubameyang (4): He’s a fox in the box and very effective at that, but without the service he’s pretty much useless for anything else

Subs:

Koscielny (2): The way he gave up on Vardy was a total disgrace
Guendouzi (4): Hard for him to genuinely affect the game
Nketiah (4): Ran around

—oo—  

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

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

Thursday
Apr252019

Wolves 3 Arsenal 1: Abject defeat requires rational analysis 

Last night’s result was not particularly surprising, at least not to me. The game was completely dead by half-time, so I turned it off. Why waste another 45 minutes of my life? However, I did not feel much emotion or experience the typical pain of defeat.

Rational, objective analysis pretty much explains the performance and result. You can go through the team player by player and see the fault lines that contributed to another wretched away performance. In goal, Leno was exposed and crumbled under the pressure. Koscielny is playing way too much and struggling badly. Monreal and AMN offer no genuine agility, width or guile to support attacks – few people acknowledge the importance of this.

In midfield, Xhaka is too slow to play in a two. Rushed back from injury, he was well off the pace. That left Torreira to firefight in midfield alone – a player that is clearly not fully fit and seemingly cannot complete 90 minutes.

Up front, the normally aggressive Lacazette looked tired. Iwobi has some qualities but can’t be relied on in any situation. Mkhitaryan and Ozil are utterly feckless – we know that already don’t we? What should we expect from players that have never produced consistently?

The squad is stretched, has played 7 games in 23 days and, on top of that, you have the question of mentality. 8 out of the 11 players are still from the old regime and already labelled as serial underperformers. Under that lens of low expectation, and considering the issues pertaining to fatigue and all-round lack of quality, defeat was obvious against an excellent Wolves side that was given the incentive to win after a slow start.

Looking at the bench, there was not a single player on there that Emery could utilise to change the game.

Very few of the players are ‘lazy’, that criticism is reserved for Mesut Ozil. He’s not good at winning tackles, but could stop others from playing by closing them down. His token efforts to do that are pathetic.

Arsenal are only in the top four race due to the underperformance of other clubs that have far superior squads. Taking that into consideration, Emery is overachieving where other managers are underachieving. The margin of improvement this season is, admittedly, small, but with Arsenal’s budgetary constraints and the type of additions made in the summer, huge progress should never have been a given.

To be honest, things could get very ugly from here on in. The games are unrelenting, morale is low. Emery has often forced Arsenal over the line against the odds, through a mixture of rotation and physical exertion, occasionally, rare signs of willpower. But when rotation is no longer an option and exhaustion sets in, at the end of the day we’re still left with Wenger’s feeble, mentally deficient busted flush.

Until most of these players are cleared out, there will not be substantial improvement. New players – past and future - will need to acclimatise. With that in mind, Emery’s journey has just begun. No defining judgments need to be made, nor should they.

If you’re angry about last night’s performance, it’s because Emery has given you unrealistic expectations in the first place. A small crumb of comfort, perhaps, that progress is being made.

—oo—  

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

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

Monday
Apr222019

Arsenal 2 Mustafi 3: Bearded knobend chucks the match

First, domestic situations rendered me unable to watch the first half against both Napoli and yesterday’s game against Crystal Palace, hence no player ratings. With that out of the way, I can focus on why Arsenal were beaten by Palace. It’s late April and Arsenal are amidst a brutal run of fixtures – half way through 12 games in around 5 weeks.

Unfortunately, Emery has to rotate players within a squad that isn’t good enough to be rotated. Exacerbate an injury now and the likelihood is you’ll lose that player for a few weeks and by the time they come back and regain match fitness the season will be over – Ramsey being an unfortunate case in point.

Therefore, rotation is a necessity. As for who is picked and who is dropped, Emery has to place his faith in the medical team and their diagnosis on players - decisions we are not always party to. What’s clear is the manager has very few options to play with. The squad is paper thin, and the remnants of Wenger’s shat hangs heavy in the air, ready to soil everything when called upon.

Clearly, Emery had to gamble to some extent. That failed at Palace, but at least the Spaniard reversed the game with his half-time changes.

At 1-1, Arsenal were seemingly in control. As if the initial line-up never happened, there was little excuse not to go on and make a fist of it, until the bearded quim struck again. At fault for all three goals, quim face is without a shadow of a doubt the worst centre half to ever play for Arsenal and, in my opinion, personally responsible for this defeat.

Quelle surprise? Not really. I predicted all this following the defeat to Everton. Recap: “As I’ve said many times, it only takes a few cogs in the wheel to be absent and Arsenal are as average as the line-up looks. Achieving a place in the top four is more about how prone Arsenal’s competitors are to misdemeanours.”

Arsenal’s route to the Champions League next season will be as much decided by the weaknesses of others than anything we do. The Gunners face Wolves in three days’ time – a team that’s responded badly to their FA Cup semi-final defeat. CL qualification is still in Arsenal’s hands, but you can be sure they’ll be looking for hand-outs.

—oo—  

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

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

Tuesday
Apr162019

Watford 0 Arsenal 1: Supine Arsenal crawl to victory

The hope was that Arsenal would fly out the traps against Watford and give them a reason to fear for their physical well-being prior to an FA Cup final in four weeks. If anything, the reverse was true. However, the game was turned on its head within a matter of minutes. First, Aubameyang chased down Ben Foster so hard, the goalkeeper didn’t see him coming and played the ball off his instep – 0-1.

A minute later, after publicly speaking of how he likes to leave his mark on Arsenal players at the start of games, Troy Deeney got himself sent off for shoving his forearm in the direction of Torriera’s face. The moment was almost satirical and well worth a good, hearty laugh.

At this point, one might think the God’s were on our side - gifts from the heavens that would enable Arsenal to stroll this game and enable Emery to rest players for Thursday’s away day at Napoli. Nothing could be further from the truth. For the remaining 80 minutes, Watford were the better team. They played with more aggression and, I’m aghast to say, were better technically too.

I warned of Mkhitaryan and Ozil playing in this match. Although Ozil didn’t start, he replaced Torreira at half-time to, presumably, enable Arsenal to take advantage of the extra man and waltz our way to victory. If anything, the substitution equalised Watford’s disadvantage as they bullied the German and Mkhitaryan out of the game and continued to exert pressure.

Can any doubt remain as to what an utterly feeble and impotent specimen Ozil is? Practically anonymous, he strolled around like a lame duck deliberately avoiding all physical battles, offering only aimlessly passive flicks of the boot. A genius in his own deluded mind, yet a rancid stain on Arsenal’s financial accounts, the man is not serious – a practical joke.

Question is: what choice does Emery really have? There was nobody else on the bench that could provide any creative impetus - this Arsenal side desperately requires flair players. Emery tinkered repeatedly to find a solution that would allow Arsenal to get a grasp of the game, but nothing worked. At times, it looked he was managing two games – this and Napoli, yet he somehow pulled it off.

However, despite Arsenal’s wretched inability to control the game, and while there may or may not be question marks over Emery’s tactical substitutions, he’s weaved miracles squeezing blood out of a defensive stone. That’s five clean sheets in six for an aged, car crash defence consistently riddled with injuries and suspensions.

We have to admit there are certain factors in this squad that make it impossible to perform consistently away from home. These factors have been there for many years and are something we’re going to have to accept for the remainder of the season until Emery can attack the transfer market. Until then, we have to hope last night’s defensive spirit and a bit of luck can achieve our objectives.

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Leno (8): Made several vital stops and is starting to look the real deal
Mustafi (7): A rare decent performance
Mavropanos (6): Made some rookie errors, but was very much thrown in at the deep end
Koscielny (7): Marshalled the defence with distinction
Monreal (7): Showed character, but lacked the pace to be an effective attacking outlet
Torreira (7): Did well in the first-half, but substitution made sense on multiple levels
Xhaka (7): Tough return to PL action. Made some mistakes but put in a shift
Ramsey (5): Lost the physical duels and lacked creativity
Iwobi (6): Created a couple of chances that weren’t finished off
Mkhitaryan (4): Didn’t hide, but end product was often appalling
Aubameyang (6): Props for his goal, but missed numerous other chances and hold-up play non-existent

Subs

Ozil (2): Patheticallly feeble
Guendouzi (6): Uncultured performance, but battled like a demon
Maitland-Niles (7): Did well. Made one fantastic defensive block

—oo—  

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

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

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