When Unai Emery arrived at the Emirates Stadium back in May 2018 he was supposed to be the change to make Arsenal a safe bet for the top four and, eventually, have them competing for titles once again. Fast forward to today, and the Gunners are no closer to being a top side then they were in Arsene Wenger’s latter years. Arguably, Arsenal might be better off to move on from Emery sooner rather than later.
The Gunners squad, on paper at least, is blessed with firepower that should rival the best attacks in the world. That said, the summer arrival of £72 million Nicolas Pepe from French side Lille hasn’t worked out – although, to be fair to Pepe, it’s still fairly early days – and even if the Pepe, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette trio starts to deliver then the big problems still haven’t been addressed by Emery.
First up, you have the Mesut Ozil puzzle, which currently sees a £300,000 per week salary often not even on the bench when, in truth, if managed and motivated correctly he would be creating chance after chance for the forwards. Beyond that, there is a huge weakness in the Arsenal backline, which has gone unaddressed for many years now.
In a summer window where Manchester United signed Harry Maguire to break the world record fee for a defender and Leicester found an able replacement in Caglar Soyuncu, who has received rave reviews since moving to the Premier League, Emery opted for a cut price move for David Luiz who was down the pecking order at Chelsea.
Nobody was doubting Luiz’s ability to play as we all know he’s capable of spraying the ball forwards like a quarterback trending in the NFL Superbowl wagers. Yet, his defensive capabilities are limited to say the least, and most pointed that out at the time. Needless to say, the Brazilian has played a big role in North London and his performances are a huge part of the Gunners’ vulnerability.
Perhaps Emery should have left Luiz alone or at least tried to bring in another truly defence minded centre back and there are plenty of them about – Nathan Ake at Bournemouth and Jamaal Lascelles of Newcastle are two very realistic options already adapted to England who would jump at a move to Arsenal and both would improve the stability of Arsenal’s back four no end as well as contribute to a long term plan.
They’d also be a step in the right direction to combat the lack of leadership amongst the Arsenal squad. Emery went under the microscope a couple of months back when he asked his players to hold a vote to determine who should form part of the ‘captains elect’, which is five players who are seen as leaders.
In itself, that system alone suggests there isn’t a standout skipper but things turned even more sour when one of the five, Granit Xhaka, fired a foul mouthed tirade towards the Gunners crowd as he left the field as a 61st minute substitute versus Crystal Palace. Emery hardly covered himself in glory with the manner in which he handled the fallout of that situation either as the unrest rumbled on for a few days.
If you cast your mind back to Wenger’s most successful period, you’ll see a team full of leaders; Tony Adams, Sol Campbell, Patrick Vieira and the list could go on. The trouble is, Wenger never replaced those qualities in his team, which was one of his biggest failings and it eventually contributed to him leaving his post and Emery is making the same mistakes.
With Arsenal now looking like big outsiders for a top four finish and showing all the signs of a latter years Wenger side perhaps it is time Emery went before the atmosphere at the Emirates turns toxic.
That’s something that could happen quickly given he doesn’t have credit in the bank like Wenger did and, after all, a change of gaffer could propel Arsenal back towards the top providing they get it right. Just look what one-time link Brendan Rodgers is doing at Leicester and ask yourself again if Emery is showing enough to justify more time and more funds.
We suspect the answer from most Arsenal fans would be ‘no’.