Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Somebody please make it stop

I’ve been writing this website for almost 18 years now. It began inauspiciously in February 2002 and basically every day since I’ve written something about Arsenal. Sometimes it’s easier than others. After games there’s usually a lot to get through; transfer windows are always full of stories; and all the stuff that goes on around a specific club, football itself, the soap opera and pantomime of sport means there’s generally enough going on to fill the gap on the page, so to speak.

There are times when it’s not so easy, quiet days in summer or during Interlulls can be a challenge, but you find a way to produce something relevant and/or interesting/entertaining. Now, it feels weird and strange, because there’s this one thing overriding everything else that’s dominating the ‘narrative’ around Arsenal, and that’s Unai Emery and his continuation in a job that he’s doing very badly.

It’s kind of maddening because every fixture, every week brings us more evidence that he needs to be replaced, but after an initial outburst it dies down a bit and we stumble along to the next game. The latest nail in his coffin – a coffin which appears to need five trillion nails by the way – is this from Opta’s David Wall:

This chart displays the shot differential between us and the opposition: basically it’s goal difference for shots. As you can see, over the course of a season we, as the kind of club expected to dominate more games than not, and as a team supposedly built around attacking principles, take more shots than we allow.

The graphic then very clearly illustrates a significant change when Unai Emery arrives for the 2018-19 season, where for the first time in well over a decade, we ended up in the negative. Not by a huge amount, 32 shots over a 38 game season is less than a single shot per game, but it’s still striking – not least because this season we’re already at -56 after 13 games. That’s over 4 shots per game.

In our 13 Premier League games this season, we have been out-shot by the opposition in 8 of them. I realise it’s not something that tells you the whole story because, for example, we were out-shot by Newcastle on the opening day and still won, but it’s illustrative about the kind of football we play these days. We invite pressure, and at this level of the game it’s usually costly because teams will punish you. Some more ruthlessly than others. Think about the chances Southampton squandered on Saturday and someone like Vardy, Kane, or Aguero etc being on the end of them. We’d have been well and truly beaten.

And yet, as our season continues to unravel, Emery remains in charge. James and I had a discussion yesterday on the Arsecast Extra about faith in the people running the club and how it’s been dented by their apparent inaction regarding the head coach. Reputations are being tarnished because this isn’t a small percentage of vociferous fans calling for Emery’s head, this the vast majority of fans anxious for change because we can all see how necessary it is.

I have a lot of Arsenal supporting friends, not one of them thinks Emery should be given more time or a chance to turn things around … not one. On my social media timelines, I don’t see any support for him at all. This is not some kind of whim, or modern day fans being too demanding, this is a reaction to our season being essentially over in November unless something is done. To be 19 points behind the league leaders after 13 games is astonishing, regardless of how well Liverpool are playing. Nobody expected to challenge for the title, but that’s still a massive gap for a club like Arsenal. To be 8 points off the top four is a big problem, and in the cold light of day I can’t believe that Raul etc aren’t fully aware of this.

They’re watching the same games, they can see all the stats, plus all the data that’s generated within the club about individual and collective performance levels, they can see the league table, they can see that our chances of getting back into the Champions League are growing slimmer week by week. They must also understand the consequences of that on a sporting level, a financial one, and what it will mean for the club in general.

So, while I’ve gone beyond the point of blaming Emery for being Emery and doing Emery things, is there a need to look above Sanllehi and the FEC for this inaction? I’m not trying to absolve them of blame or make excuses for them. Perhaps it is a case that Raul is firmly behind Emery, and is confident his compatriot can turn things around, but if that is the case he’s the single most incompetent executive this club has ever had. And I include Ivan Gazidis in that.

But what if the problem is KSE and the Kroenkes, and this is simply the way things are going to be now? How many times did we hear that under their auspices we’d be allowed slide into mediocrity as long as the bottom line was holding up? Could there be some reason why they’re not pressing for change? Like, they don’t want to pay off the few million it would take or, more worryingly, they’re just not that bothered by what’s going on – distracted by other issues within their sporting portfolio? It makes as much sense as anything else as we try to understand how long Arsenal Football Club are going to allow this rot to set in and fester.

KSE are the parents of a child who is ill yet refuse to take it to the doctor. Each week, the kid gets weaker and more infirm, but they do nothing. Relatively uncomplicated surgery will fix it, some antibiotics will help with the recovery, but they’re doing nothing and that means the rehabilitation will take longer and prove even more difficult.

People ask about the potential impact of another season of Europa League or even no European football at all. We know there are players who will want to leave because top players want to play in the Champions League. However, they can also be persuaded by ambition, by a sense that the club they’re at means business and is doing everything it can to get back to that level.

There’s nothing like that from Arsenal these days. We thought maybe our summer transfer business was demonstrative of that, but in keeping Emery they’re telling us the very opposite. It’s almost like deliberate self-sabotage – that’s why fans are frustrated, that’s why players are unhappy and no longer behind the head coach, and he himself is why results and performances are so poor which brings the circle all the way back around again.

This team needs help, and the powers that be – whether it’s Stan and Josh or Raul and his cohort – are refusing to provide it. So, we’ll chug along another day, another week, another month, the problem will remain and until such time as we take decisive action, Emery will continue to be the itch we simply can’t scratch.

Till tomorrow. And for now, here’s the podcast for your listening pleasure.


This Arsecast Extra was recorded with ipDTL

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