There’s been some thought that Arsenal’s performances would improve when Alexandre Lacazette returned to the squad, when Kieran Tierney came into the side, when Pépé became more acclimated. And yet Arsenal’s performances remain consistent. Indeed, today’s 1-1 draw against Wolves wasn’t remarkably bad. It wast just mediocre, another mediocre performance of a side with a mediocre head coach who, over his last 21 league games, has taken 31 points with a goal difference of one, the textbook definition of mediocrity. Indeed, under Emery, Arsenal are gaining consistency: they are consistently mediocre, and the performances, and the things that Emery says, tell us that is what he wants.
For example, today, in his post-match press conference, Emery said today’s game was tactically what they wanted:
We worked on different tactical situations well today. We didn’t concede a lot of chances on the transition. We created some chances to score the second but we needed to be more efficient in those actions. When we were winning 1-0 we knew in one moment they could score and they did. But we controlled the match a lot like we prepared. Then they equalised and we started to get into their box. We didn’t create big chances and we were closer to the second goal, but we didn’t do that. The result is a bad result, but tactically I think we worked how we wanted.
Let’s be very clear: a match where Arsenal were outshot 23-10 was one where they worked how Emery wanted. Wolves’ 21st shot produced their equalizer; it could’ve come earlier, when Bernd Leno made some very good stops, it could’ve come in the first half, it could’ve come before Arsenal went 1-0 up. When Wolves equalized, Arsenal had had 9 shots, despite leading for close to an hour. They had one shot in the final fifteen minutes, as the head coach left his £72m signing on the bench, and switched left backs.
Emery keeps telling us this is who he is: he believes Arsenal deserved more from games against Crystal Palace and Sheffield United, and was happy with the tactical work tonight. He wants his team to be edge games. But to dominate games? That comes with too many inherent risks. Indeed, the aversion to risk is why Emery started with three central midfielders behind Mesut Özil, needing a security blanket. But in doing that, Emery limited Özil’s effectiveness, taking away width, with the only width coming from Tierney, and Calum Chambers, who is a good passer but not a fullback. Ultimately Özil was effective—often because he dropped deep, assisting Guendouzi in progressing the ball from back to front.
There are numerous tactical problems with this team; they do not press. Emery breaks the units of the team up in such a way that they cannot press; if they lose the ball in transition, Lucas Torreira is high up the pitch, and so Matteo Guendouzi, or Granit Xhaka, or whoever the midfield tasked with being the number 6 is left exposed. There is a lack of connectivity in Arsenal’s play. Relationships exist between certain players, but there isn’t any organized pattern of play, aside from playing out, which always end with Sokratis under pressure.
Unai Emery has produced a culture of mediocrity at the club. The club can no longer allow the season to drift. At time of writing, Arsenal are about to fall 6 points behind Chelsea. They could be 6 points behind Leicester City, their next league opponents, by tomorrow morning. Unai Emery keeps telling us this is who he is. It is time for Arsenal to show who they are, that they are serious about improving the club, and dispense with the head coach.