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Sheffield United 1 - Arsenal 0: unacceptable


Sheffield United v Arsenal FC - Premier League
I’m getting really tired of seeing dejected Arsenal players after poor results.
Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

A match against a lesser team. An uninspired performance. A complete inability to generate scoring chances when trailing. Points dropped. Does this script sound familiar?

How many times does it have to happen before there are consequences? As is often said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Arsenal Football Club are insane.

Time and again Unai Emery trots out two defensive midfielders, nobody to link up the play, sets up the side to absorb pressure, and tries to hit on the counter. Usually, Arsenal concede in the first half because of a developmental-soccer-level mental mistake. Emery then brings on Dani Ceballos, and to nobody’s surprise, Arsenal look at least marginally better with somebody linking up the play.

Sometimes Arsenal score on the back of hero-ball from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or somebody else making an extraordinary individual play. The goals, when they happen, do not come as a result of any attacking plan. Sometimes, like today, Arsenal don’t score (or don’t score enough to win).

Wash, rinse, repeat.

The poor results would be more palatable if you could see improvement in the side. If it felt as though Arsenal were on the verge of breaking through, of taking a big leap forward, I would have more patience for the dropped points. Teams have bad games, I get it, but they also have good ones.

Arsenal look bad way too frequently. I am concerned that today’s performance is the rule, not the exception.

There is no identifiable attacking or defending system. To be fair, I’m sure Unai Emery has a plan for every match and specific things he wants to see out of each player. Unfortunately, something is getting lost — the players aren’t getting the message, the players are ignoring the instructions, the players are incapable of executing them. It’s impossible to know to know which it is, but none of them are sustainable.

Arsenal Goals For / Against

Season xGF xGA GF GA
Season xGF xGA GF GA
2019-20*** 53.58 58.56 55 51
2018-19 69.05 59.04 73 51
2017-18 74.34 49.48 74 51
2016-17 68.96 48.54 77 44

***The 2019-20 season numbers are projected out over 38 matches based on the current pace.

Arsenal are trending in the wrong direction. The team has gotten worse on attack under Unai Emery, particularly to start this season. That decline would be acceptable if it were balanced out by a defensive improvement, but Arsenal are, once again, on pace to concede 51 goals (and the xGA trend paints an uglier picture). So the Gunners are consistently starting 2 defensive midfielders and have banished Mesut Özil to the hinterlands to what end?

The blame does not fall squarely on Unai Emery; the players deserve a good deal of criticism as well. Take Sheffield United’s corner kick goal. There were 5 attacking players and 8 Arsenal defenders in the area, yet somehow the Gunners give up a free header to Jack O’Connell that fell to an unmarked Lys Mousset. That shouldn’t ever happen. That’s squarely on the players for failing basic marking.

At one point in the second half, Sheffield United pressed Arsenal in the defensive third into turning it over for a throw. On the sequence, Matteo Guendouzi had dropped between Sokratis and David Luiz to receive a pass, and the only other Arsenal player in the frame was Bernd Leno. Is it Unai Emery’s fault that nobody was making themselves available for a pass to progress the ball up the pitch? No. Professional footballers should be able to recognize the space between the lines, identify that their teammates need passing outlets, and move into the space.

Arsenal have a lot of problems right now. They are in dire need of improvement at multiple positions and need players to play up to their potential. At the end of the day, it is easier to fire a manager than to replace an entire roster, and Unai Emery hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory. The season is salvageable. Arsenal are in desperate need of change to save it. A manager change won’t fix everything, but it’s a start. It’s time for Unai Emery to go.