At the start of the season, if you had been told that by January Mesut Ozil would not be in the Arsenal starting line-up and Aaron Ramsay had agreed a deal to join Juventus, you would have assumed that Unai Emery had been able to forge ahead and enjoy a hugely successful first five months at the Emirates stadium.
Alas, you would be very wrong indeed.
Despite Arsenal casting aside two of their most talented players, they are currently stranded in fifth place, 16 points behind the leaders Liverpool. After the 1-0 defeat to West Ham last Saturday there were even ridiculously premature murmurings of ‘Emery Out’ among some frustrated Arsenal fans. The Spanish manager can sense this growing dissatisfaction, and addressed it this week.
“When a club changes manager, it is because they want something new,” he said. “The challenge is to identify the good things, but also obviously, there were lots of things to change and improve here.”
Ahead of Chelsea’s visit to the Emirates on Saturday evening, one of the most pressing issues Emery needs to improve is the lack of creativity in his side.
It makes the absence of the club’s highest paid player Ozil even more mystifying. Without him at West Ham, Arsenal never looked like scoring after they had fallen behind and managed just two shots on target all afternoon.
The Arsenal players are not blind to what is unfolding in front of them, with Sokratis Papastathopoulos commenting,
“It is not about the two shots on target. Look at how many chances we would have had if we had done better with the last pass. This is the problem.”
Arsenal’s midfield trio at the London stadium was Granit Xhaka, Matteo Guendouzi and Sead Kolasinac who have just four Premier League assists between them so far this season, and don’t appear capable of providing the required chances for Arsenal’s potentially world class forward line of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette. All three of these midfielders featured in the top six of Twelve’s leader board for Arsenal errors in that defeat at West Ham.
The fact Arsenal’s leading assist maker this season Aaron Ramsay, who has six to his name so far, is in his final few months at the club before he leaves for Turin is another mystery only Emery is capable of explaining.
If the Arsenal manager has committed himself to a future without Ramsay or Ozil then it would be expected he was looking to make large investments in the transfer market, possibly as early as the January window, but Arsenal have made it clear they do not have the funds to sanction this at the moment.
And so in the short term, and until he can bring in reinforcements of a similar quality, it would seem Emery has no other choice than to swallow his pride and reinstate Ozil and Ramsay at least until the end of the season.
Arsenal’s issues at the back need solving too
Emery’s problems are not consigned to a lack of creativity in midfield, but also exist in his defence, which has already leaked far too many goals this season.
Arsenal have conceded 32 goals in the Premier League, a rate that is simply not good enough to push them in to the top four, with it being more than three times as many as leaders Liverpool, and also nearly double as many as Chelsea and Manchester City have allowed.
Indeed Arsenal have even conceded more goals than Crystal Palace and Brighton, both of whom are clubs with the main priority of simply avoiding relegation.
At this moment Arsenal still probably lack the commanding central defender capable of tightening up the back four and stemming the flow of these goals.
This Arsenal defence will be be severely tested on Saturday afternoon by Eden Hazard and his Chelsea team-mates, and it is their ability to deal with the Belgian playmaker that could determine the outcome of this crucial match.
While Arsenal have failed to win away from home in their last five Premier League games, and only taken two points, they are a different proposition at home where they have won their last four games by an aggregate score of 12-3.
It is seems ludicrous that a manager who oversaw a 22-game unbeaten run earlier this season is suddenly under pressure, but Arsenal also did not expect to find themselves so firmly outside of the top four in the middle of January. A win against Chelsea will narrow this gap to the top four to just three points, whereas a defeat will widen it to a painful nine.
If Emery reintroduces the banished Ozil and Ramsay to provide a better service for his prolific strikers against Chelsea he will give himself the best chance possible of claiming a vital win on Saturday evening.