Monday, April 22, 2024

Wednesday round-up: Benzema, Emery, Pablo Mari

Morning, some quick Wednesday thoughts in a very quiet midweek from an Arsenal perspective.

I was very glad to see Karim Benzema do his thing again last night. That head. It’s really something. It looked for a while like Chelsea might do something remarkable at the Bernebeu, but thankfully the Frenchman’s goal, and a sensational pass from Luca Modric meant it didn’t happen. That outside of the boot assist for Rodrygo was sensational. Somewhere, wherever he might have been, Tomas Rosicky stood in his living room and applauded the TV.

Elsewhere, Villarreal knocked out Bayern Munich which is fantastic. I like it when teams like that lose. Of course it sparked a lot of ‘Oooh, look what Unai Emery can do and Arsenal lose to Brighton’ stuff, which is the most fatuous load of guff ever. I’m glad for Emery that things are going well for him at Villarreal, a town with a population the same size as the number of players Bayern have signed from Borussia Dortmund in the last ten years, but this false equivalency nonsense is just really tiresome.

He did his best at Arsenal, but he was the wrong man at the wrong club at the wrong time. It happens in football all the time. With managers and with players. It doesn’t mean they’re terrible, it’s just that they need something different. Think Dennis Bergkamp at Inter Milan or Thierry Henry at Juventus. Two of our best players ever who were at the wrong clubs at the wrong time. When they changed scenery, things improved.

That’s very much the case for Emery at Villarreal. With hindsight, I think he was always going to struggle at Arsenal and despite frustration with how we ended his first season, not least the Europa League final, what was going on behind the scenes really wasn’t healthy. Wenger’s departure, a power vacuum filled by the wrong people, some rather questionable recruitment decisions, and a club struggling to come to terms with the hole left by the manager who had been there for 22 years.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but when you’re the head coach and you ask for specific player – a right footed winger who has Premier League experience and plays on the left (Zaha) – and the Head of Football gives you the exact opposite, a left footed winger with no Premier League experience who plays on the right (Pepe) – you probably know you’re not being set up to succeed the way you want. You need a central defender and they spend £28m on an 18 year old with barely a dozen senior appearances to your name and tell you ‘You still have Mustafi’.

It’s not to excuse him, because I think he made some big mistakes during his Arsenal tenure but I have some sympathy based on the circumstances he found himself working in. He also beat Man Utd to win the Europa League, which is a big tick in his favour after we failed to make the most of the semi-finals last season. Villarreal will take on Liverpool or Benfica in the semi-final, while it’s either Man City or Atletico Madrid for Real in the other one. Tasty.

Elsewhere, Pablo Mari says he’s happy in Italy and would like to stay there on a permanent basis. He was loaned to Udinese in January, and appears to be doing well, which is nice for him. He’s another example of our somewhat odd recruitment, the strangest career path to Arsenal I think I can remember, but it looks like the slightly slower pace of Serie A is suiting him.

To be honest, and without being funny, I’d kind of forgotten about him, and it made me think about what we did in January because it gets referenced a lot. How much do we actually miss the players we let go?

Pablo Mari: not very much.

Calum Chambers: perhaps a little but again not massively.

Sead Kolasinac: not at all, even with the Nuno Tavares troubles right now, I’d still worry about his inclusion in the side more.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles: I think you could say we miss him a bit, given his versatility, providing cover in midfield, and at full-back. There was a period in January where he would have been especially useful. He’s not exactly tearing it up at Roma though. He’s been firmly rooted to the bench since February.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: Quite a lot. Which isn’t to open up that whole debate again but our striker woes at the moment make you pine for him. But to be quite honest, they also make me pine for anyone at all. Marouane Chamakh. Nicklas Bendtner. Julio Baptista. Kaba Diawara. Chris Wreh. Steve. Let’s hope Mikel Arteta finds a solution quick, because my goodness we need it.

Right, let’s leave it there for this morning. For your listening pleasure, if you haven’t had a chance already, there’s a bonus Arsecast with the one and only Ian Wright, chatting about the last week, Lacazette, Nketiah, Pepe and lots more. I should advise you there is some mild swearing, and by mild I mean monstrous amounts of it. Enjoy!

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