At Arsenal, the fear is deepening that tactically confused Unai Emery is simply not up to the job

The Gunners succumbed to another miserable result against Wolves – but this time there is only one man to blame

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Sunday 03 November 2019 10:43
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It was, for once, a genuinely eyebrow-raising quote from Unai Emery.

As with everything else in his managerial tenure at the moment, mind, you’d greatly question the exact intention behind it.

“The result was a bad result,” Emery began, at least accurate in that part about Arsenal’s latest home setback, a 1-1 draw with Wolves. What followed, however, was what was really staggering. “But tactically it worked like we wanted.”

It’s hard to know where to begin with this, as Arsenal again somehow finished a game worse than they started - and that wasn’t good. Does he really mean what he said? Did Arsenal really mean to play like that?

This was a match where they had a mere 10 shots to Wolves’ 25, and where they seemed to spend most of the play trying to defensively adjust to the opposition's approach. This was a match where Nuno Espirito Santo said his side deserved much more. This, it should be remembered, was a supposedly big-six side playing at home. And yet for all you might put that down to a one-off that occasionally happens, this is just the way it has been under Emery. This has been the norm. This supine approach is apparently - yes - what he actually wants.

It’s bad enough for a club like Arsenal on any terms, but even more mind-boggling when you have proper technical footballers like Dani Ceballos and Mesut Ozil in the starting XI. You should be letting them play. Not so.

Emery’s team again displayed absolutely no ability to actually impose themselves on a game, to take it to the opposition, to control it and master the tempo.

This is why they yet again lost a lead. This is why there are so many questions about Emery’s entire management, not least within the dressing room.

It is all connected to the greater questions about communication, especially of ideas and team identity. The players are often confused about his instructions - something Emery did deny after this game - and that couldn’t be a more fitting reaction to these tactics.

Arsenal's Matteo Guendouzi and teammates look dejected

Yes, he really does want to play like this, at home, against a notionally smaller team. It is small-team football. Hence, for the first time, Emery was directly asked whether he fears for his job.

“I am very demanding myself,” he responded. “I feel responsibility to work.”

So, he didn’t really address the question at all, neatly but infuriatingly summing up so many of the problems.

It is the same with his tactics. It is as if he is coming up with solutions just not suited to his own side, or the opposition, or any given game. He certainly didn’t respond to the questions Wolves asked of Arsenal either.

And all that is going to bring greater and greater questions for the club hierarchy: particularly about Emery’s future. Even after Saturday’s match, the word from the top of the club is still that there will be no movement until the end of the season. The present likelihood is that they won’t take the option to extend his contract then, but they still won’t take action right now.

Unai Emery gesticulates during the match

The wonder is whether circumstances will change that because Arsenal similarly don’t look capable of even winning a league game right now. Some sources say assistant Freddie Ljungberg is ready to step in as a caretaker, but they don’t plan on using that contingency. Then again, they didn’t plan a return like this, even if Emery somehow intended a tactical plan like this.

It is only validating those questions from when he first got the job, that he really isn’t up to it. The fear only deepens that he is a Europa League manager, little more. The Champions League - again - looks someway off.

Next week is a trip to one of the club’s primed to replace them in the top four: Leicester City. That could be even more telling.

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