With the fixture list ever-so-unkindly throwing up Manchester City and Chelsea as their two opening opponents, it was never going to be an easy start for Arsenal under new manager Unai Emery.
And so it came to be. Irrepressible Premier League champions City came to the Emirates on day one and comfortably dominated against a Gunners side very much in the nascent stages of learning Emery’s style of play – intense pressing and playing out from the back.
While playing Pep Guardiola’s side is always a tough test however good you are, Arsenal’s fresh approach to tactical instruction gained admiration from many – but not from one particular man.
Sam Allardyce/Big Sam/Fat Sam (take your pick) reckoned Emery had to shoulder the blame for Arsenal’s struggles in their 2-0 reverse. Speaking on talkSPORT, the former England manager (ha ha – that still makes us laugh) said: “This is the manager’s fault. It’s his fault.
“Don’t ask somebody to do against Manchester City what you shouldn’t do, and you should not play out like that against Manchester City. What do Manchester City do? Press, press, press. So why do you try and play out when they press, press, press?
'We are OBSESSED with this STUPID way of playing!' ?
Sam Allardyce isn't a fan of teams playing it out from the back…
What do you make of Sam's comments? ? pic.twitter.com/iKSjNZUnt5
— The Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast (@SportsBreakfast) August 13, 2018
“Even the Arsenal crowd cheered when they dropped one in the opposition half. You cannot just force the only way to play is this way in this country. We are getting obsessed with this stupid let’s play out from the back, split the centre-halfs, either side of the 18-yard box and go and play from there… it’s utter rubbish to play like that all of the time.”
Wisely ignoring Allardyce altogether, Emery stayed true to his system and it served Arsenal much better the following week against Chelsea.
Despite ultimately falling to defeat at Stamford Bridge, the improvement was tangible, and on another day they could have taken home all three points.
Reviewing that game for Monday Night Football, Gary Neville took Allardyce to task over his comments: “I saw Sam Allardyce’s comments after the first game where he talked about, ‘You can’t do this and you can’t do that’”, said Neville.
“Unai Emery’s not trying to get eight points from five games to try and avoid relegation. He’s trying to build a team to win a title. He’s trying to build a team with a style to win a title – not lump it long and get in behind it.”
Ouch. Has anyone got some ointment for that burn?
Allardyce has history when it comes to bigging up his own abilities up. Back in 2010, the then-Blackburn manager stated his belief that he would win title after title at the big clubs: “I’m not suited to Bolton or Blackburn, I would be more suited to Internazionale or Real Madrid,” he said, with a completely serious face.
“It wouldn’t be a problem to me to go and manage those clubs because I would win the double or the league every time. Give me Manchester United or Chelsea and I would do the same, it wouldn’t be a problem. It’s not where I’m suited to, it’s just where I’ve been for most of the time. It’s not a problem to take me into the higher reaches of the Champions League or Premier League and would make my job a lot easier in winning it.”
"Gary thinks he's always right – but he's not right."
Sam Allardyce hits back at @GNev2 for dismissing his playing out from the back comments.
Who’s right? ? pic.twitter.com/0FT5ZzwsMm
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) August 23, 2018
Unsurprisingly, this gave him the nickname Sam Allardici among fans – mainly those who couldn’t stand him.
Since then, the Englishman has failed to hold down jobs at West Ham, Sunderland, England, Crystal Palace and Everton – but that clearly hasn’t put him off sharing his supposed big club expertise.
So it got us thinking: just how would Arsenal’s season play out if they were to pull the trigger on Emery and call in the Premier League’s safest pair of hands? We dusted off the Paddy Power crystal ball to find out…
Whilst hoovering up a Big Mac in his local, Allardyce gets the call to say Arsenal have come knocking for him. In his announcement interview, he reveals his primary target is to keep the club in the Premier League – with anything more a mere bonus. He can’t fail that way, right?
Allardyce gets straight to work and enjoys yet another of his new team “bounces” to help steady the ship.
Keeping it tight with five in midfield, he nicks a 1-0 home win over old club West Ham in his first game – the only goal coming from a set-piece.
The good start continues with generally solid results throughout the autumn, but his first bump in the road comes in the League Cup. Allardyce loses to League One opposition as he plays the U18 team, allowing the seniors to rest for the long, hard road to Premier League survival.
The Gunners stumble through their Europa League games, but there is a loudening noise of complaint over the team’s dismal style of play – particularly when they fall to defeat at newly promoted Fulham. The first anti-Allardyce AFTV rant – titled Allardyce Has Got To Go Innit, Blud!!! – hits a million views overnight.
Despite his self-proclaimed tactical nous against the big teams, Allardyce’s Arsenal fall to a humbling 4-0 home defeat against Liverpool when lumping it up to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fails to pay off for some bizarre reason.
They pick up points against lower sides, but fans’ anger reaches fever pitch when the team falters against other usual suspects Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City.
Gooners’ hopes of an FA Cup run to salvage a season rapidly descending into a soul-destroying hell are extinguished when they crumble away at Stoke, while their Europa League journey ends with defeat to a team of Romanian postmen. You know, just to add a dollop of salt in those gaping wounds.
Allardyce’s problems on the pitch threaten to make their way it them, too. Big Sam is caught with what appears to be a pint of wine in a restaurant once again, deep in conversation with his fellow diners. Fears he was telling even more people how to bend FA rules are allayed, however, when it is proven he was simply deep in discussion about how many starters and chow meins to order.
This is very much Big Sam’s winter of discontent – made all the worse when Piers Morgan uses national television to launch a campaign to get Arsene Wenger back in the Arsenal dugout.
Sales of A4 paper and biros skyrocket in North London as Arsenal fans flock to make their very own #AllardyceOUT signs.
Protest marches dominate the sporting news agenda and has just about every rival fan pointing and laughing at what’s going on at the club.
Enough points are picked up to keep the Gunners in the top 10 mix, but performances are as dreary as the fans’ mood. An under pressure Allardyce does get some respite, however, when he picks up three points at Tottenham away.
It’s a fixture which ends up being played in a local community park given it’s the only available venue Spurs can find on that weekend whilst their stadium combats another year of delays.
It appears Big Sam is just more suited to Sunday League.
Arsenal’s miserable end to the season ends with a draw against Brighton and defeat to Burnley, which is enough to secure 8th place in the Premier League.
Despite zero silverware and no promise of European football next season, Big Sam hails it as a roaring success: “Another year in the Premier League, what more do these fans want?!”
He’s promptly sacked by owner Stan Kroenke, who does away with his infamous silent reputation to utter his first words in Britain: “Who the f*ck was that guy?!”
With another payout under his belt, Allardyce treats himself to a new villa on the Costa del Sol – naming it Emirates Stadium Villa in tribute to his latest P45. Once rested, relaxed, and with his tan fully topped up, he lies in wait ready for the next faltering Premier League side to come calling.
And then he gets to do it all over again….