As Arsenal lost 2-0 to Manchester City on Sunday, much felt familiar.
The sight of a half-empty Emirates as full-time approached, the mistakes in midfield and defence and the anonymity of Mesut Ozil all conjured uncomfortable memories of late-period Arsene Wenger.
Even the debutants seemed touched by the hand of Arsene. Midfielder Matteo Guendouzi, signed from Lorient, from whence Laurent Koscielny once came, is the type of signing Wenger used to cherish, an Abou Diaby, a Francis Coquelin de nos jours. He careered round the field in chaotic style.
Socratis Papastathopoulos, the experienced central defence signed from Borussia Dortmund, did not look much of an upgrade on Kosielny or Shkodran Mustafi, his partner for the day; Wenger latterly made a habit of signing defenders of serviceable quality but not highest grade.
That Mustafi, a huge disappointment since costing £35m from Valencia two years ago, is still around revealed no little of depth of the task new manager Unai Emery faces. And so did the performances of Granit Xhaka as one of Guendouzi’s midfield partners and Petr Cech in goal.
Both selections suggested something of Emery giving each player a rope to hang himself. Cech’s problems with playing the ball out of defence as prescribed by his new boss ended up precipitating a Twitter row between the veteran goalkeeper and the Bayer Leverkusen Twitter account.
Less trivially, Cech’s fumblings took place with a readymade replacement, Bernd Leno, once of Bayer, sat on the bench.
Having paid £19.3m for the 26-year-old German international, it surely cannot be long until Emery gives his new keeper a go. Cech’s irritation at the Twitter bantz very probably owed much to his discomfort with being under serious pressure.
A player nowhere near the imperious level of Chelsea peak years is not yet a liability, but his time to be phased out approaches inexorably.
Xhaka meanwhile put in his now habitual performance of mistimed tackles, wayward passing and failure to track back. The Swiss miss, still lionised by a considerable yet dwindling group of xG-loving Gunners fans, was replaced on 70 minutes by Lucas Torreira, the Uruguayan World Cup midfielder signed for £26.4m from Sampdoria, and this was surely another pointer to the future.
While Torreira may not possess the passing range of Xhaka at his best, he is a far more solid option in midfield.
Emery the training ground obsessive, a devotee to the DVD dossier, represents the opposite of Wenger’s laissez-faire regime, but the evidence of Sunday, while admittedly against the best team in the land, suggested it will take time. And in not immediately throwing in his new additions, with Stefan Lichtsteiner also kept on the bench, Emery began with a gentle touch but a lingering threat.
That raft of imminent selection decisions are part of the quiet revolution Emery must undertake at Arsenal, a club attempting to delicately peel itself away from playing an entire generation under Wenger without being wracked by too much turbulence, though expedient, cut-throat decision-making will have to be employed.
The Basque’s job title, head coach, is a strong indicator of the desire not to have a manager as omnipotent as Wenger, at a time when Stan Kroenke is acquiring total control of the club by buying out Alisher Usmanov’s £550m worth of shares, and building up the club on the lines of the American sporting structure he has been used to.
Last season, Wenger shrugged as figures like Sven Mislintat, head of recruitment, and Raul Sanllehi, head of football relations, were grouped around him. He seemed almost as bemused as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, graduates from Mislintat’s former Dortmund employers, were added to his squad.
These appeared and proved to be a club laying the foundations for a future beyond its manager, trying not to repeat the mistakes made by Manchester United in parachuting in David Moyes when Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure had pulled the rug from under his club.
Wherever Wenger is watching on from, he might be equally confused by his former employers’ move this week to attempt to quieten Arsenal Fan TV, the fan-generated YouTube channel that was a thorn in his side, and riotous entertainment for just about everybody else who does not support Arsenal.
A ‘cease and desist’ order has been sent the way of Robbie, Ty, Claude et al, such that they have been forced to rebrand as AFTV and remove all branding mention of Arsenal.
Dissent against the new regime being unravelled at the Emirates will not now be as tolerated as it once was. It is another step from an institution moving in an ever colder, more corporate direction as it forges on from the manager whose presence defined the club as a whole for so long.