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.
If the match itself wasn’t miserable enough, with the likes of David Luiz ambling off after half an hour, following an innocuous looking collision, as if the Brazilian had decided he really didn’t fancy all the running around involved in this midfield malarkey, and where we watched Joe Willock taking instructions from the manager at one point. Knowing Emery is incomprehensible at the best of times, never mind trying to make himself understood from the touchline, there was an abiding sense that even our absentee landlord surely must now sit up and take notice of the inescapable evidence of the lack of bums on seats.
When Frankfurt took the lead around the hour mark, frankly I resigned myself to believing that it would be worth binning a few Europa League points, if this was likely to precipitate the Basque bodger’s imminent exit, before our few remaining star-turns completely lose patience and some of our more promising youngsters risk their confidence being permanently shattered by this car crash calamity of a campaign.
Truth be told, the writing has been on the wall since our campaign flat-lined in quite such a disappointing and demoralising fashion at the tail end of last season. The exasperation levels both on and off the pitch since the start of this season seem to have risen with each passing match, in direct proportion to the damming statistical evidence of shots and goals conceded. But then how could the Arsenal’s very own incarnation of Latka from Taxi possibly be expected to command any respect, amongst the callous banter of a Premier League dressing room, when he’d become a complete laughing stock on the terraces.
Trying to fill the void left at the culmination of Wenger’s dynasty was always likely to prove something of a poisoned chalice, but it appears Emery’s prosaic management style couldn’t possibly be in more stark contrast to the erudite genius of Arsène. Personally, I would’ve settled for Unai coming in and replacing the all too casual air of complacent indolence that had pervaded the club during the latter end of Wenger’s reign, by instilling our spineless looking squad with a bit of backbone.
Yet aside from an initial bounce from Emery’s obvious enthusiasm, the Spaniard patently failed to overhaul his listless looking dressing room. We’ve endured a season and a half of him shuffling his pack, constantly alternating line-ups and formations, seemingly throwing the cards up in the air every week, to see how they fall. Unai’s blatantly evident inability to chance upon a system, or a selection to encourage the best from our squad, was highlighted by the recent performances from Leicester and Chelsea and quite how rapidly the likes of Rodgers and Lampard have appeared to mould a team in their image.
The language barrier proved a huge difficulty. Emery is no more intelligible in English today than he was on day one. Unai’s pre-match interviews on the big screens in the stadium before home games were a standing joke, where the poor sound quality only added to the embarrassment of not being able to comprehend a single word, of what I always assumed to be a fairly standard stream of clichés. It would’ve indeed proved interesting to hear how Emery justified giving his charges two days off, after such a woefully lacklustre showing against Southampton. I wonder what the likes of George Graham would’ve made of our spoiled rotten stars being awarded with a break to “mentally recover”. A disciplinarian like Graham would’ve been more likely to have them back in for a double-training session on Sunday by way of punishment!
Nevertheless, there’s no sense of enmity felt towards the hapless gaffer, since my anger is reserved for the suits who employed him and who somehow perceived the diminutive Spaniard as having the sort of stature necessary to fill Wenger’s shoes. Success in France with the immense advantage of PSG’s financial doping was a given and any shine from Emery’s successive Europa League triumphs with Sevilla was decidedly tarnished by the recent discovery that in his last season in La Liga his side failed to win a single game on the road (sound familiar?).
Even during Wenger’s decline, Arsenal fans could at least be sure that our interminable inconsistency would be interspersed with odd moment of straw-clutching artistry. Not only has Emery failed to eradicate the habitually sloven lapses in concentration, but in recent weeks our football had become so painfully disjointed that our displays have been almost totally devoid of attacking flair.
Circumstances appeared to be deteriorating so dramatically that Emery’s departure will be greeted with massive relief, since Gooners have rapidly reached the conclusion that absolutely any alternative would have to be an improvement. At the very least, I would hope that Freddie Ljungberg’s longstanding relationship with the Arsenal’s Young Guns might afford him an opportunity to galavanise the troops. Even if Freddie struggles to sustain initial remotivation, hopefully this might afford the board time to avoid jumping out of the frying-pan and straight into the fire, by appointing another failure.
The perennial problem is that we really need to sort of confrontational new broom, who’s capable of commanding fear and respect from his dressing room, with a “take names and kick arses” type intervention. But sadly it’s hard to envisage the Arsenal ever appointing the sort of character who might risk ruffling feathers and impacting upon the smooth running of the Gunners’ global commerce.
Fortunately, only yesterday I went online at the club’s official ticket exchange to seek out a ticket for the Brighton game next Thursday, for my sister-out-of-law who’s traveling over from Dublin. I was flabbergasted to find a glut of seats available in all areas of the stadium.
Doubtless Stan Kroenke will be satisfied if the Gunners return to playing in front of packed houses, whereas I’ll settle for the Gunners turning up at Carrow Road on Sunday and putting in a fully-focused, wholehearted shift for 90 minutes, for the first time in many a moon.