Having already done a post about the positives of the season, it’s only right and fair to do one about the negatives. It’s what’s called balance. Like how you get someone on a TV or radio show to discuss racism but then you get a racist on to show both sides of the argument! Hang on … that’s not how it should work. Why do they keep doing shit like that?
Anyway, this is about the football, so let’s go wallow in some Arsenal related misery, and these are the things I haven’t enjoyed so much about the 2018-19 campaign.
Clean sheets 8
Goals conceded 51
Goals conceded per match 1.34
That’s this year compared to last season which was:
Clean sheets 13
Goals conceded 51
Goals conceded per match 1.34
Remarkably similar, except we have five fewer clean sheets. When you add to the fact we’ve allowed more shots on goal that last season – which tells you the issues aren’t entirely with the defenders – it’s not as healthy as I’d have expected under the new coach. We can all see there have been issues with personnel, some of them have been injured, some of them simply aren’t good enough or too error prone, but I thought we’d have seen some measure of improvement with Unai Emery, and I don’t think we have.
Better organisation higher up the field can take the burden off the defence, so stopping supply lines and not allowing your midfield to get bypassed by a single long ball would have been a help, but we didn’t see much of that. I suspect the constant tinkering with formation and line-up played a part in our defensive record being so poor too.
Style of play
Sometimes we played some really lovely stuff, but those tended to be moments of exceptional quality rather than performances in general. Of course there were games when it clicked and we looked as if we’d found the way, but a formation change for the next game as Emery picked his team based on what the opposition might do would often see us grind our way through it.
That’s a positive in itself, I think. There’s no doubt this is a team that can win while playing poorly – it had to do that many times throughout the course of the season – but eventually that catches up with you and you drop points. This isn’t even about a desire to play attacking football full of flair all the time, but I think Emery started the season with something that looked like a clear philosophy, but over time it got muddled. Perhaps due to pragmatism, perhaps some self-doubt or a lack of belief in the players to do what he wanted to do, but after a full season we’ve become lop-sided, almost entirely dependent on two strikers to make us an effective attacking team, and it’s something that requires greater clarity next season.
I will mention this briefly only because every time I think about it it makes my heart hurt. Time will tell how much of a stain this will leave on Emery’s first season, because a win in the Europa League final will offset just how awful it was. Without success in Baku though, this will become a real measure of the manager as we’re trawling our way through another Europa League campaign against the third best teams in Bazijibaijan, Syldavia and The Independent and Glorious Republic of Kroll.
I know, I know. You can’t do good deals in January. We don’t have very much money so we’re better off waiting until the summer when we can get some real value in the transfer market, blah blah blah. However, when you lose Danny Welbeck in November, Rob Holding in early December, and then Hector Bellerin in mid-January, you need to do something about that. I really feel like Emery was left hung out to dry a bit here, because any manager who lost those three players would have struggled.
However, the head coach was clearly a driving force behind our pursuit of Denis Suarez, a move which saw the Barcelona man arrive completely unfit, look completely lightweight when did get on the pitch for a few brief minutes, and the miss the rest of the season because he strained his goolies. All that cost us somewhere between £3.5m and £4m.
We were also linked with Ivan Perisic and Yannick Carrasco in January. Maybe not players who would have completely tickled your fancy in an ideal world, but might they have done more than a bloke who had barely all season and perhaps scored a goal or two or three which might have affected our final league position? We’ll never know, it’s pure speculation, but if you were going to give what we did in January a mark out of 10, I’d give it ebola.
The departure of Sven Mislintat
It’s obvious that Arsenal can’t compete at the top level of the transfer market for reasons we all understand. Therefore, to be competitive, we need to be smart, and having a Head of Recruitment who is a little ahead of the curve was for me a really positive thing. His connections helped bring us Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (also Mkhitaryan to an extent but if you want to pin the blame on the worst swap deal football has ever seen go to Milan, knock on the front door of the San Siro, and ask for Ivan), and his recruitment last summer was pretty impressive.
Unfortunately, the role of Technical Director he wanted wasn’t forthcoming, and power plays behind the scenes saw him depart in February. Our January business was an illustration of how much he’d been sidelined. He wasn’t a fan of Denis Suarez but Raul Sanllehi and Unai Emery were keen so that was that.
Mislintat brought us Leno, Sokratis, Torreira and Guendouzi. Raul wasted millions on Suarez. That’s why I have some genuine fear about this summer. Some people would have you believe Sven was a problem, he didn’t fit in, too interested in doing his own thing, but that’s primarily because he was someone with personality and a desire to do his job as well as possible beyond the strict confines of suits and boardroom influence.
I’d have felt much more confident about the future if he were still identifying our transfer targets, and the fact we’ve yet to replace him – and made a complete hash of at least one attempt do so – remains a real worry.
Not getting there, that’s great, but getting there. Literally. This is our first European final since 2006, in the Arsenal world they’re sadly much more rare than we’d like, so for UEFA to make it basically impossible for the majority of our supporters to see their team play that game is a a genuine disgrace.
What a shame it is that this decision was made with literally no thought about what it would mean for fans who want to follow their team. Financially it’s prohibitive for so many, and the lengths those who can commit the money to the trip have to go to get to Baku is absurd.
This shouldn’t be just another one of those things football fans complain about and then it’s forgotten. It ought to be a line in the sand, something that fans of all clubs can come together and address, but sadly I think it will be the former and the back-handers that drive decisions like this will continue to happen.
Our away form
It was slightly better but remains a huge area of concern. It’s a weight, a millstone around the neck of this team, and the squad possesses ‘too many crumblers’ who can’t cope when things go wrong. It played a significant part in our final league position.
KSE taking full ownership of Arsenal
Not one I need to expand on, I wrote about it at length back in August, but remains a real negative of this season. News of our massive £40m transfer budget is completely and utterly at odds with their stated ambition when they took over which was, to remind you:
KSE’s ambitions for the Club are to see it competing consistently to win The Premier League and The Champions League, as well as the major trophies in the women’s senior game and at youth level.
Can anyone see how we can achieve those things the way we’re being run right now and by the people running us? No, me neither. They make me very worried about the direction of this club. This summer will be their first in 100% ownership, let’s see how much they sanction to help us realise those lofty ambitions.
Righto, on that cheery note I’ll leave it there! As yesterday was the 15th anniversary of winning the league without losing a game, we made a previously Patreon-only podcast available to everyone looking back at that 2003-04 campaign. You can find it in your favourite podcasting app if you’re subscribed to the Arsecast, check it out on site here, or listen below.
More from me tomorrow with a brand new Arsecast too.