What will be telling is just departed Dublin manager Jim Gavin next step. Does he withdraw from public life, J D Salinger-style, never to practice his hard-to-define sorcery again? Or, does he do the circuit? asks
Standing shooting the breeze at half-time on Thursday night, in a humiliatingly half-empty stadium, the like of which we’d not seen since the inauguration of the Gunners new home in 2006, it couldn’t have possibly been more glaringly obvious that Unai Emery’s number was up.
A warning to all those disenchanted Arsenal fans heaving a sigh of relief that the Unai Emery era has drawn to a close: while there are a number of credible candidates who could take his place, I don’t think there is a manager out there possessed of the kind of magic wand which would be needed to cure all the club’s ills overnight. Or, for that matter, any time soon.
On a night when two giants of the European game, and a heady mix of youngsters and world superstars, served up one of the games of the season, it was left to a 20-year-old from Cork to make the telling contribution in the penalty shoot-out.
The pressure is on Unai Emery to deliver at Arsenal this season. Failure to finish in the top four or win a trophy could signal an abrupt end for Arsene Wenger’s successor at London’s biggest club. Wenger’s early success and general brilliance ultimately afforded him 22 years running football affairs so replacing him was always going to be a challenge despite fortunes waning towards the end of his reign.
Before this season, only five teams in Premier League history had broken the 90-point barrier. The list of exceptional sides who missed that mark includes Arsenal’s Invincibles, Manchester City’s first title-winning team in 2011/12, and Manchester United in 2006/07, who had eight representatives in the PFA Team of the Year.
Quite why United felt it necessary to confirm his announcement before the end of the season is unclear, given that everything was going so well before then. His permanent appointment has coincided with another dismal run of performances.
While most Gooners would’ve bitten your hand off for a draw in advance of last week’s encounter, there was no escaping the huge sense of disappointment, coming away from Wembley, having failed to capitalise on such a prime opportunity to silence our increasingly noisy neighbours.
I’d love to be able to blame our humiliating annihilation on the numbskull responsible for dressing us in a green kit, upon a grass pitch, but frankly that’s a feeble excuse. Saturday’s demolition served as a timely reminder of the enormity of the task facing Unai Emery.
Between defeat at Chelsea in their first away game under Emery and mid-December, Arsenal took 14 of a possible 18 points on the road, but face trips to Brighton and Liverpool having been haunted by the ghost of seasons past against Southampton at St Mary’s.
With football’s powers that be seemingly intent on garroting their golden goose, with increasingly relentless, wall-to-wall live TV coverage, it's somewhat of a relief that unlike our disappointingly underwhelming midweek cup win, an Arsenal v Liverpool Premiership outing, under the floodlights, remains a sufficiently portentous encounter to set Gooner pulses racing and pack out the Emirates.
Unai Emery has set a mean stall out. On Arsenal’s pre-season tour of Singapore, the team coach drove by the hotel from the airport and straight to the training ground. A signal of intent to his new players, perhaps, and certainly an instant contribution to the ‘narrative’.