19 games in; we are half way through the season. Won 11, drawn 5, lost 3. So how is Unai Emery getting on?
“Very well” is my simple answer.
He has come in for some criticism in recent weeks after a couple of poor displays, but this is from fans who forget that this is a rebuilding season. We surely weren’t expecting him to build a title winning side in 6 months?
A 58% win ratio in the league is not to be sniffed at. It is the first 6 months of the new era.
There has been some brilliance. The 22 game unbeaten run. Some fabulous goals and attacking football.
There have also been some disappointments. The home game v Wolves. The away games against Southampton and Brighton. But in a rebuilding phase, you have to expect some poor results. Just look at Chelsea.
At times Emery has looked a bit muddled. A lot of chopping and changing.
It feels he does not know what his strongest XI is; or what formation he wants to play.
We have seen 433, 4231, 343, 3412 and 4222 this season. He is clearly a man still trying to work things out.
Emery was not helped by pre-season. Missing half his first team who were at the World Cup hampered the progress.
Injuries have then caused him to chop and change. Mainly injuries at the back.
The only time Emery was able to consistently play the same back 4 saw a huge chunk of that unbeaten run happen. Consistency is important at the back and Emery has not been able to have it.
We have played 11 different players in defence this season in a multitude of combinations. You build a team based on a solid foundation and Arsenal have not had that solid foundation this season.
I actually feel the defensive problems has caused Emery to become a little bit negative.
He realises that we are conceding too many, so make the decision the play Lucas Torreira, Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi against Brighton – hoping that they would give the side more defensive cover.
Against Liverpool maybe he should go the other way? Go all out attack. See if we can outscore the Premier league leaders.
Liverpool doing well is actually a positive for Arsenal.
Yes, if they win the league we will see the media go OTT, that Liverpool fan in the office who never go’s celebrating, and it will be annoying. But what it will show is that with good coaching, staying loyal to that coach, and good recruitment, you can build a title challenging team.
That is what Arsenal and the fans need to keep an eye on.
Jurgen Klopp finished 8th in his first season. Before this year, Liverpool’s highest finish under him was 4th. He has yet to win a trophy. But they trusted he was the right man.
It took him 3 seasons to build this team. Emery has had 6 months.
If we finish 4th this season – and 4th must be his minimum target – we will be ahead of where Liverpool were when they invested in Klopp.
Between now and the end of the season we will fail to win games we should win. Emery may continue the battle to find his strongest XI. But that is part of rebuilding.
It is going to take about 6 transfer windows and another £350m to fix our squad.
One reason Emery is struggling is there are so few players in the squad that he trusts. That he believes are the right quality. That will change.
We have already had 2 transfer windows since Sven Mislintat became Head of Recruitment.
In the time we have seen the club sign the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Lucas Torreira, Berd Leno, Sokratis and Matteo Guendouzi. All have been fabulous signings.
If we sign similar level players over the next 2 transfer windows, that will be 40% of the squad turned over in 18 months. Emery needs that support.
In the second half of the season we have the Europa League, FA Cup and chasing Chelsea for 4th to look forward too.
Like when building the Shard, you will not see an instant change to London’s skyline. That does not mean work is not happening.
You have the enabling works and the groundwork’s. You can only see these up close. They are the beginning of a building project. And then the foundations go in. Without good foundations the building will collapse.
Arsenal is a bit like that at the moment. We might not see the huge change want straight away, but there is plenty changing.
Emery has got the players fitter, installed a team spirit not seen in a decade. Now he just needs to sort out the foundations of the team. The defence.
I would grade Emery’s first 6 months at Arsenal as an A- Most agreed that a good season would be a return to the top 4. 3rd place would have been an exceptional but realistic finish.
We are in a battle with Chelsea for 4th. We get that and it will be a solid A at the end of the season. Finish 5th and it is a B.