Yesterday’s shaky, and at some times turbulent, performance against West Ham suggest Arsenal will not only struggle against the top teams this season, but the mid-table ones too. At least for the first half of the 18/19 season.
The home game against City proved Arsenal sub-par to the best team in the league, the away game against Chelsea showed that on a better day they could draw against a top four contender, and yesterday’s performance suggests Arsenal’s defence is still leaking and the build-up play is very much work still in progress against mid-table team West Ham.
Top four is highly unlikely, as this season will be a year of transition and evolving for Emery and Arsenal. As far as overall results, this campaign could end quite similarly to Arséne Wenger’s last season: 5-6th place in the Premiership, maybe a good run in either the FA Cup or Carabao Cup, and hopefully, a long run in the Europa League – this time winning it for a spot in the Champions League next season.
Anything more than that will be a nice but unlikely surprise. Arsenal’s squad can only really compete with Tottenham and Manchester United’s, and having to go through this long, transitional phase, will set this campaign back significantly. Chelsea are in the same predicament with Sarri but seems to take their managerial change easier which, in all fairness, they should from experience…
Too many balls to juggle
And that’s about where Emery’s Arsenal should realistically be at this point. Once he arrived in London, him and his team had to grab about 20 juggling balls and throw them up in the air to see just how this club operates, how the players react, what needs changing – from the cantina menu to evaluating players and staff. Then they had to implement their brand new philosophy, tactics and training regime to about 30 blank faces. All along a limited spending budget of £70m and a squad containing several struggling players such as Mustafi, Bellerin, Iwobi and Xhaka.
81 days after his first official day at Arsenal they met Man City for the first game of the season. Emery and co had to catch those 20-odd balls they had thrown up in the air earlier, something they understandably couldn’t do on the first try. So now, we’re seeing the effect of them picking up the ones they couldn’t catch in the first place, and trying again.
Those balls have “defensive structure” and “transitional play” written all over them. That’s what this season will be mostly about for Arsenal: evolving into Emery’s philosophy. Next summer, when this should be sorted, will be a time for big spending. Getting exactly the players needed for the tactic to make Arsenal title contenders once again, through a clear progression – taking one step at the time while asking for patience.
So Arsenal fans, do yourself a favour: limit your expectations.
(Photo: Stuart MacFarlane)