Wed. Jun 3rd, 2020

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MARTIN SAMUEL: Everything that looked wrong at Arsenal WAS wrong… and that includes Unai Emery

10 min read

He did not get the players he wanted, the support he wanted from the board, Mesut Ozil turned up when he felt like it, Aaron Ramsey shouldn’t have been allowed to leave and the players, even the famous captaincy group, were often mentally weak.

Unai Emery’s first interview since leaving Arsenal contrived to be absolutely fascinating, yet wholly predictable.

The words were compelling because they came from the man who was at the eye of the storm. Yet what he said, the problems he identified, the mistakes that were made, had all been detailed in real time. 

Unai Emery's interview about his time in north London with Arsenal was wholly predictable

Unai Emery's interview about his time in north London with Arsenal was wholly predictable

Unai Emery’s interview about his time in north London with Arsenal was wholly predictable

Everything it was said Arsenal were getting wrong, Arsenal got wrong. Emery confirmed it all.

Poor player recruitment? Tick. Dilettante stars? Tick. Feeble management? Tick. Mistake after mistake after mistake? Tick and tick and tick.

It has been that way for too many years now. Arsene Wenger was a manager who used to prove his critics wrong, but over time became a man who proved them right. Where once he made signings that were doubted, only to confound expectations, recruitment became a constant issue. 

The faith he showed in players such as Emmanuel Petit, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry was entirely justified; similar conviction in the qualities of Calum Chambers, Lucas Perez, Gabriel and Shkodran Mustafi was not.

And perhaps because Wenger had exerted such influence without repeating the success of his early years, when Emery arrived he found his signings vetoed by committee.

So he wanted Wilfried Zaha, but ended up with Nicolas Pepe because he was three years younger. Yet what does age matter, unless the club has one eye on a resale? That is the biggest problem for any Arsenal manager in the Stan Kroenke era. This is a selling club now. It solves the problems of its rivals, whether Juventus, Manchester United or Manchester City.

Everything that looked wrong with Arsenal from the outside turned out to be wrong on the inside, too.

And, yes, that included Emery. His rationalisation of the captaincy group in lieu of a real captain did not reflect well. Neither did his admission that Granit Xhaka’s eventual promotion was half his decision, half that of the players, a squad he admitted could lack application and commitment. So why were they decision-makers?

Emery claimed Mesut Ozil's commitment was nowhere near good enough during his tenure

Emery claimed Mesut Ozil's commitment was nowhere near good enough during his tenure

Emery claimed Mesut Ozil’s commitment was nowhere near good enough during his tenure

Nobody has forged a closer bond with his team than Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. 

One imagines, however, that he doesn’t put too many big calls to the vote. Yet again, this is nothing that wasn’t said at the time.

After losing heavily in the Europa League final to Chelsea last season, Emery booked individual meetings with his players for the following day. Ozil did not bother to show. Why does that not surprise? What is it about a sciolistic player, whose £350,000-a-week new contract was agreed without consulting the incoming manager, that suggests he might be less than engaged?

The worry for Arsenal is that so many of the problems revisited with Emery remain unresolved even now. When football restarts, will Ozil have changed; will Ramsey have been adequately replaced; will Pepe be the matchwinner that might be expected for £72million?

For years we have heard that Arsenal are a club that is run properly. That it has not bought success like interlopers such as Chelsea and Manchester City.

Emery pushed to sign Wilfried Zaha but Arsenal saw greater resale value in Nicholas Pepe

Emery pushed to sign Wilfried Zaha but Arsenal saw greater resale value in Nicholas Pepe

Emery pushed to sign Wilfried Zaha but Arsenal saw greater resale value in Nicholas Pepe

Yet when the 2019-20 campaign was suspended, the Kroenke business plan turned out to be built on thinner ice than most.

Arsenal have greatest need for matchday revenue — and their best players are angling to leave. Again. They may get that wish, too. Arsenal might generate more money than all but 10 clubs worldwide, but Kroenke’s model is self-sustainability.

It is why pay cuts and deferrals at the club included clauses covering a return to the Champions League next season.

Three consecutive campaigns outside the competition have hit finances hard and Arsenal reported a £27.1m loss in February this year.

Already out of the Europa League after a disastrous home defeat by Olympiacos, Arsenal’s only hope of returning to Europe’s marquee competition is to make up eight points on Chelsea, albeit with a game in hand, and hope the four teams separating them also stumble.

Biggest issue facing any Arsenal boss is that they've become a selling club under Stan Kroenke

Biggest issue facing any Arsenal boss is that they've become a selling club under Stan Kroenke

Biggest issue facing any Arsenal boss is that they’ve become a selling club under Stan Kroenke

Optimistic, then, at best. Fail again, and the gap between Arsenal and the rest of the elite widens once more. Despite the arrival of Mikel Arteta and shoots of recovery, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been making eyes at Real Madrid throughout lockdown, while this week Lucas Torreira’s agent announced his client would ‘love’ a return to Italy, having left Sampdoria two summers ago.

AC Milan and Napoli are believed to be the clubs turning his head. 

No other major Premier League concern encounters this problem as regularly as Arsenal and once a club gets a reputation for selling, it becomes increasingly hard to lose.

Why might Aubameyang think he can get away? His people will have noted the career paths of former Arsenal players such as Alexis Sanchez, Robin van Persie, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ramsey. Most clubs have to sell in some circumstances, yet Arsenal consistently lose players to Premier League rivals, too. Just because Sanchez’s move to Manchester United proved a dismal failure, does not make it a positive move for Arsenal?

Arsenal have become a stepping stone and now Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang could leave

Arsenal have become a stepping stone and now Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang could leave

Arsenal have become a stepping stone and now Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang could leave

They may have done well financially, but what message did it send to the rest of the squad, or the rest of football?

Arsenal become a stepping stone, not a destination. And Real Madrid think they can winkle out any player for a price. And, most probably, they would be right. The bad news bulletins were not a scurrilous invention.

‘It would have been better for the team if Ramsey had continued… Pepe needs time and patience, I favoured someone who knew the league and wouldn’t need to adapt… the club left me alone and there was no solution… some players had a mentality that said one day yes, and one day no…’

It was as if Emery was reading from a list of debates and discussions around his Arsenal tenure, or even the last years of Wenger’s time in charge. Will it be different for Arteta? Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

£429m debt, but nothing to see here

Manchester United’s debt has risen by £127.4million to £429m — a 42 per cent increase. 

Just as well it’s the sort of deficit that doesn’t interest UEFA, who are only troubled by investment, not plunder.

Manchester United announced huge amounts of debts but that won't interest UEFA

Manchester United announced huge amounts of debts but that won't interest UEFA

Manchester United announced huge amounts of debts but that won’t interest UEFA

What if we slam both windows shut for good? 

In his role as advisor to FIFA, Arsene Wenger believes the January window should be scrapped. He says that it creates disruption because if a player is left out of the team earlier in the season he switches off, waiting for January and the chance to get away.

Some do, no doubt. Others work to get back in the team. It depends on the individual.

What also works, of course, is to have no windows at all. To go back to the days when a player could be sold at any time, apart from in the final weeks of the season to ensure the integrity of the competition.

That way, anyone left out could be swiftly moved on and replaced if creating trouble, which might also serve to focus a few minds.

It will never happen, of course, because football is too in love with its rules restraining trade. There really is no other business like it.

Arsene Wenger wants to scrap January window but it would work better to have none at all

Arsene Wenger wants to scrap January window but it would work better to have none at all

Arsene Wenger wants to scrap January window but it would work better to have none at all

This game’s a real 3.7 pointer 

Promotion and relegation are ‘integral’ to the pyramid, according to the Football League. Playing matches, not so much, logic even less. So if, as is likely, League One is decided on points per game, Wycombe will receive 1.73 from their match in hand at league leaders Coventry, who will receive 1.97, making it a 3.7 point fixture.

What a pity for Doncaster, Accrington, Ipswich, MK Dons and Rotherham, who actually went to Coventry, played a real live match with real live people, got a very creditable draw, but somehow only claimed a point.

As for Tranmere, who won at Coventry on October 13, PPG condemns them to whatever hell exists below League One next season by 0.06 of a point. They were three behind AFC Wimbledon with a game in hand, but may never play it.

Somehow, this basket-case solution could be rolled out across all divisions and used to decide elevation to the Premier League. Still, he’s having a very good lockdown, EFL chairman Rick Parry. Plenty of time to think, apparently.

Research is no black and white issue 

The first case control study to document a link between smoking and lung cancer was produced in 1943. It wasn’t widely acknowledged because, well, the doctors behind it were Nazis. Literally, Nazis. One of them assisted in the euthanasia of 200,000 mental and physically disabled citizens as part of the Final Solution and committed suicide at the end of the war.

Meaning Sir Richard Doll and Austin Bradford Hill get the lion’s share of credit for establishing the link we accept as scientific fact now, even if it was seven years later. As a result of their findings, in 1954, the British Doctors Study into the effects of smoking began. It concluded in 2001.

So, it is fair to say, statistical studies in science work on a different time-scale to those that are considered worthwhile in sport. Linking smoking to cancer is not the same as proving the centre forward should run more. It takes years, often decades, for the information to be trustworthy.

So any link between Covid-19 and skin colour is in its infancy and very much unproven. Just the loose term BAME is bad science given the wide range of minority ethnic groups.

Troy Deeney is rightly concerned but the Premier League should be offering clearer direction

Troy Deeney is rightly concerned but the Premier League should be offering clearer direction

Troy Deeney is rightly concerned but the Premier League should be offering clearer direction

And if black people are more vulnerable to coronavirus, how come only 2,708 deaths have been recorded among the entire African continent of 1.216billion people? It cannot all be down to poor data collection.

The Premier League needs to be explaining this to players because, understandably, the news they are hearing is causing much disquiet.

Given what is being fed to them in bulletins and headlines, those such as Troy Deeney are entitled to be cautious.

Any player is within his rights to stay home. Yet, equally, the Premier League should be able to offer clearer direction.

Little of what we know of coronavirus is black and white, and certainly not the black and white of it.

Boris will push on in Europe 

Government quarantine regulations may yet put paid to English clubs’ participation in Europe. Believe that when it happens.

As it stands, UEFA are hoping to complete their competitions in August — almost three months away. So there is plenty of time for restrictions to be eased and special dispensations made — particularly by a populist government that sees football’s return as a panacea for those in lockdown.

The alternative is for Boris Johnson to take the blame for thwarting the ambitions of Manchester City and Wolves and for blocking a potential Champions League qualification route for Manchester United. He won’t do it.

Picking Scott for task force not strictly the smartest move

To show it is taking sport’s return seriously, the Government have wasted no time getting Alex Scott in. Maybe they think football cannot take place without her — it would certainly seem so.

Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has included Scott as a member of his renewal task force made up of the ‘brightest and best from the creative, tech and sport worlds’.

This brains trust includes Tamara Rojo, artistic director of the English National Ballet, Sir Nicholas Serota, chair of Arts Council England, former BBC and ITV chair Lord Grade, Baroness Lane-Fox, founder of lastminute.com and Mark Cornell, chief executive of the Ambassador Theatre Group, which runs 50 venues worldwide. The aim is to help football and other sports bounce back, so presumably an intimate, multi-layered knowledge of the industry is required.

Former Lionesses star Alex Scott was included on the Government's renewal task force

Former Lionesses star Alex Scott was included on the Government's renewal task force

Former Lionesses star Alex Scott was included on the Government’s renewal task force 

Yet Scott’s expertise in football is purely as a footballer. She has never owned a club, run a club or brokered a major commercial deal. She has never managed a venue or explored the logistics of football’s business. She has latterly forged a good career in the television studio and been on Strictly Come Dancing. That’s not the same as expertise.

Nothing against Scott, but she isn’t exactly Richard Scudamore. Just being on television talking about football isn’t the same as organising a sport — certainly not at a time when so much of it is in financial jeopardy.

Culture and the arts have been awarded a deep list of serious players to consider the future. Sport has a right back-turned-TV personality. It smacks of the time Loyd Grossman was charged with improving hospital food because he had his face on a jar of supermarket sauces.

Unsurprisingly, not a great deal happened. Not a great deal ever does.

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