Don’t let the preposterous VAR decision to overrule Sokratis’ late match-winner or Granit Xhaka’s behavior shroud the main takeaway from Arsenal’s dire performance against Crystal Palace on Sunday.
Those incidents were periphery to the situation surrounding Unai Emery, a manager whose time is running out thanks to a slew of negative results.
Here’s a look at 10 reasons why Arsenal should sack Emery immediately:
1. Frequent collapses: Arsenal are making a habit of capitulating under Emery. Including Sunday’s result, the Gunners have now dropped points in each of their last two matches where they’ve snatched a two-goal advantage, which includes their 2-2 draw with Watford in September.
Up 2-0 against Palace, instead of stepping on the Eagles’ wings, Arsenal sat back and invited pressure from a side that treats possession like a game of hot potato. Winning positions have been a curse for an Arsenal side that has the players to see out results, but not the manager to do the job.
2. Awful in attack: Imagine having two world-class forwards in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, and one who has the skill set to reach that level in Nicolas Pepe, and your expected goals in the league (12.7 for the season) is 10th-best and somehow worse than Southampton’s.
Not so long ago, Arsenal created chances for fun and only failed to convert because of Olivier Giroud’s poor finishing rate. Now, the likes of Aubameyang are feeding off scraps and, frankly put, Arsenal are lucky to have players of the ilk of the Gabonese international and Lacazette. From free-flowing attacking football to relying on set-piece goals: the Emery way.
3. Xhaka captaincy: Emery’s decision to name Xhaka as club captain after initially proposing a rotating five-man fellowship has proven to be a disaster to the surprise of absolutely nobody. Turgid on the ball with an on-pitch intellect that creeps at a glacial pace, Xhaka was never right for the job.
Even with Xhaka’s cries of “f— off” in response to jeers from the Arsenal faithful during Sunday’s draw, the Swiss midfielder has been gifted a role by Emery that he was never fit for. Was Xhaka’s reaction childish? Yes. Were those at the Emirates unfair to boo him? Yes. Is all of this Emery’s fault? Most certainly.
4. Ozil decision: That brings us to Mesut Ozil. The chants heralding the playmaking whiz during the Palace stalemate were inescapable, and even the most ardent doubter of the World Cup-winning German would posit that the £350,000-a-week man deserves to be in the Arsenal squad, at least sparingly.
Emery said Ozil wasn’t working hard, then he said he was, and that his omissions from the squad were tactical. Instead of inserting Arsenal’s best creative player, Emery opts for the likes of Joe Willock, Dani Ceballos, and Lucas Torreira in a central playmaking role. Ozil’s absence isn’t the entire problem, but it’s a symptom of a losing battle Emery continues to inexplicably wage.
5. Man management: On the topic of squad supervision, Emery has swiftly and idiotically transformed Torreira from a tireless bulldog and poor man’s replica of N’Golo Kante into a No. 10. The Uruguayan was the ball-winning spark Arsenal desperately needed a year ago, but now he barely gets in the team.
And when he does, it’s out of position as a playmaker. Torreira isn’t technically gifted enough for the role, nor does he have the vision to do the job. When Xhaka was yanked off versus Palace, it was a change that screamed for Torreira’s possession-snatching influence. Instead, Emery brought on 18-year-old winger Bukayo Saka. There’s losing the plot, then there’s this.
6. Team selection: If Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin were fit enough to play in a near-meaningless Europa League match with Vitoria Guimaraes, then the defensive duo should’ve instead been selected to face Palace. The decision speaks to Emery’s awful team selection.
Either Emery hates creative football or he’s an ornery fool. Both can be true, and for some reason the Spaniard despises starting a proper central creative force. Full credit to Willock, but the young academy product isn’t the player to helm the No. 10 role versus Sheffield United coming out of the international break when Ozil wasn’t even included.
7. Terrible tactics: Passing out from the back is all the rage in football, but if you’ve not got the parts to do it, adjustments have to be made. Not every team is Manchester City. Playing out from the back is supposed to afford increased space for the attacking players while setting a tempo.
A necessary variable is a midfielder, specifically a No. 6 or 8, who can move the ball quickly. Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets is the prototypical pivot. Xhaka is not. When the Swiss international drops between the two center-backs to receive the ball, he rarely looks forward to note the position of the attackers, nor is he aware of man markers closing him down. What a mess.
8. Defensive frailties: Since the start of last season, Arsenal have conceded the third-most set-piece goals (22) behind noted defensive misfits Everton (24) and Watford (25). Only three teams in the league have allowed as many shots per match as Arsenal, and two of them (Villa, Norwich) are promoted sides.
Following the 1-0 defeat at Sheffield United, a stat emerged that depicts just how poor Arsenal have been under Emery: The Gunners have kept as many clean sheets away from home as the Blades under Chris Wilder. Arsenal have played 24 league matches away from home. Sheffield United have played four. The Gunners have also conceded a league-high four penalties in 10 matches.
9. Lack of identity: At least under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal were an exciting attacking team that was a treat to watch bombing forward. Under Emery, it’s not exactly clear what Arsenal’s identity is, and after nearly a year-and-a-half in the job, it should be clear by now.
Arsenal have the pieces to regain the Champions League status that was the norm under Wenger, but the football doesn’t reflect that. You’d assume that a shift in focus from an attacking ethos to a more balanced brand would result in better defensive play, yet the Gunners conceded 61 goals and kept nine clean sheets in Emery’s first 44 league matches compared to 55 and 16 under Wenger.
10. He’s just not good enough: Catastrophically poor performances litter a run of six wins from 17 in the league, and with a top-four spot sitting on a platter, Arsenal bottled last season’s run to miss a coveted Champions League spot by a point.
The scars left by the Europa League final battering to rival Chelsea remain fresh, as does getting outshot 31-7 by a still-winless Watford, or needing a Pepe miracle to come back from a losing position against a Portuguese side that was bounced from a domestic cup days earlier by a semi-pro team.
The continent’s second-tier tourney beckons for a fourth straight season, and for a coach praised for guiding Sevilla to three Europa League titles, perhaps that’s Emery’s level. With him at the helm, perhaps that’s Arsenal’s current level. Emery is the architect of his own fate, and the results confirm his worth.