Buy some Defenders
You don’t have to be an Arsenal fan, or even watch them too closely to know that the defence is a huge issue. The current slew of injuries and half-fit players obviously worsens matters, but having kept the same amount of clean sheets as Huddersfield (3), and less than the likes of Bournemouth, this is a problem that has been persistent throughout the campaign; in fact, it stretches back beyond the beginning of Emery’s tenure. The tactical flexibility, switching between a defensive 4 and 5 is a great tool to have, but I don’t think Arsenal currently have the correct squad composition or personal in order to successfully pull this off for an entire season. An ageing Koscielny, the soon-to-be retiree Lichsteiner, the inexperienced Mavropanos, and the ‘Mustafi-ying’ Mustafi do not fill me with confidence should they be relied upon regularly. Whilst Sokratis has come into he squad and been impressive, martialling the makeshift backline well and showing impressive pace for a player north of 30, the fact that an injury to Rob Holding has derailed the backline says all you need to know. There is also a need to reinforce the team with a more natural winger, due to the poor form of Mkhitaryan and Ozil, the defence will continue to hamper Arsenal’s top 4 ambitions unless it is reinforced.
In terms of names, Gary Cahill has been suggested as a short term fix, which is perfectly fine to paper over the cracks. Yet, if the problem is to even approach solved in the near future, long-term signings are needed. Surprisingly, Bailly had been linked whilst Mourinho was still ‘in charge’ of United, but his departure probably quashes the slim chance of that deal happening. Likely it will be a U-23 player from the continent, but the Real Valladolid centre half Calero, who has a very attainable £10 million release clause, was reportedly in London for talks recently. I can’t claim to have seen much, or even any of him in action, but he can hardly make the situation worse *touches a forest’s worth of wood*
An Emery Identity
The heavy defeat to Liverpool at Anfield left a lot of Arsenal fans seriously worried. Apart from the obvious humiliation, it forced a lot of introspective and retrospective analysis of the Spaniard’s time in charge of the Gunners so far. I think, because of the nature of the defeat, this was done with the opposite of rose-tinted spectacles, with a lot of supporters airing significant frustration with Emery. This is fine, in fact given the staunch defence some offered of the previous manager regardless of circumstances, questioning the manager isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The extent of this at times has gone too far, in my opinion, but the one thread I do agree with is the sense of a lack of identity about Arsenal at times. Even though we were frequently seeing score lines against the big sides like the one over the festive period, there was always the feeling that Arsenal would try to play attractive, expansive football. Occasionally, it feels like the side isn’t able to translate Emery’s message onto the pitch, which I think has caused the fans a lot of confusion as to what exactly we ‘are’ as a team. Where I think some of the criticism is misplaced, is the fact this appears to be solely laid at Emery’s door. For me, the fact that the message is being slightly lost in translation comes down to two major factors. Firstly, Emery is not working with a squad he is happy with in terms of personal. Look at the players he was able to bring in and integrate into the first team – Sokratis, Torreira, Guendouzi, Leno – and you can see that their Arsenal career to date has been largely positive, and their characteristics illustrative of how Emery wants to set up his side. Secondly, the injuries that, whilst coming to a head now, have niggled away at squad depth all season, have meant to me Arsenal still haven’t fielded their strongest XI all season. I don’t think Emery has had a fully fit squad to select from so far, and given he may not be entirely satisfied with the make-up of the squad in the first place, that has to be a huge mitigating factor.
So my hope would be, with players returning to fitness, Emery is able to transmit his message to the players in a way that is born out more consistently on the pitch. Aided by a couple of ‘his’ signings in the January transfer window, and we could see a more cohesive Arsenal in 2019
The £350,000 a week Elephant in the room. After a traumatic Summer, on and off the pitch, it was hoped the German would return to London Colney more motivated than ever to prove his critics wrong. There were promising signs, with Emery publicly stating he wanted to make Ozil feel at home at Arsenal. I was unsure as to how he could fit in, but I was able to convince myself that perhaps a more structured system could see Ozil thrive, as he did under Mourinho at Madrid. Other than a few fleeting moments, it appears even this modest expectation was too ambitious. The Leicester performance was arguably the stand out match by any one player so far this season, but undoubtedly he has failed to justify his extreme wages. Having signed that contract extension only 1 year ago, and with reports emerging that he wants to stay in London, the chances of him moving on appear slim. Yet Emery has decided that the enigmatic playmaker doesn’t feature in his long term plans, and Ozil is left out of squads with increasing regularity, to the point where Emery is no longer avoiding the elephant in the room, and has refused to rule out on numerous occasions the chances of Ozil leaving.
The two have had at least one ‘training ground bust-up’, and are only likely to have more public disagreements as the season continues. This is not helpful for the club, let alone both individuals, and quite frankly the public pettiness doesn’t paint either in a great light. If I had the choice, I would prefer to back the manager. I think in general, the role of the ‘number 10’ which Ozil wants to play is just not viable in modern football, let alone in the intense press Emery wants to deploy. How the situation is resolved, I honestly don’t know. As things stand, it looks like Arsenal would have to subsidise his wages in any transfer or loan move, but if he isn’t going to be a nailed starter in every match I think that has to be seriously considered. Without a move away, it appears the fringe status is something Ozil will have to get used to; what’s worrying for him, Emery doesn’t look like he’d lose any sleep over it.