Many people have that one ex by which they measure every new partner. It doesn’t mean they want the old partner back, they just use them as a gauge to determine how well the new one stacks up. So it is with Arsenal and Arsene Wenger and, by that measure, Unai Emery’s first season shows promise, improvement, decline and frustration.
There have been two very distinct Arsenals this season – European and Domestic. European Arsenal are capable of spanking four past Valencia in their own back yard to win a European semi-final after scoring seven goals. Domestic Arsenal crumble at the merest hint of pressure.
Therein lies one of the problems with Unai Emery’s first season. He has shown in big matches an ability to get the best out of this bunch of morons we call Arsenal players but seemingly encouraged peak stupidity when the lesser lights roll into town. A team that failed to win against Brighton, Leicester, and Crystal Palace in recent weeks shouldn’t be able to go to the Mestalla and thrash a team most said were Champions League level before the game kicked off.
Or is it the reverse? A team that can do that shouldn’t be averaging 1.22 points away from home in the league? Either way, it’s messed up and a major problem.
But football supporters, myself included, are fickle. It can often be all about the last match you played and for Arsenal, that was a cracker. Never mind that most of us expect to lose on Sunday at Burnley, somehow this bunch of wastrels are off to another final – and a big one at that. A European trophy no less, worth much more around the continent than just the Champions League qualification that comes with it, even if it’s not appreciated in England.
Arsenal will finish the domestic season with more points on the board than last season and higher up the table but that only tells part of the story. Away from home Arsenal have continued to struggle badly. Over the course of the last two seasons, they’ve managed to claim 30 points from 37 away games. That’s actual relegation form.
We’re scoring fewer and conceding more than we were under Wenger in his worst season and it’s hard to see a coherent strategy emerging from the dust of his legacy. After a full season in charge, we should know more about what Emery is trying to do.
It’s still hard to definitively call Arsenal’s season good or bad until we know the result in Baku. A trophy and Champions League qualification or nothing and another go at the Europa League? We just don’t know.
With all these English teams in the European finals, it makes for some confusing qualification permutations… pic.twitter.com/Uqf9UyYOmX
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) May 10, 2019
That all has a knock-on too. Fail to beat Chelsea in Baku on May 29 and Arsenal will have a paltry £40m to spend in the window. This squad needs ten times that to get it challenging properly again.
So much hinges on what happens in Azerbaijan, not least Unai Emery’s ability to go into next season without major questions hanging over his head.
Rarely can you genuinely say that an entire season comes down to one game but for Arsenal, that is very much the case. The feeling around the club will change totally depending on how the Europa League final goes.
It probably shouldn’t be that way, but it is. We called for the removal of Arsene Wenger because we needed change. If all Emery is going to deliver is more of the same with fewer goals and worse football – and we are prepared to accept that – then what was the point of moving the Frenchman on?