Crunch Time Come Early for Emery

A quick glance at the fixture list reveals an opportunity for Unai Emery to spend a considerable amount of time with his squad at London Colney. Arsenal see out February with three home games in succession (BATE, Southampton, Bournemouth), followed by an ‘away’ day at arch rivals Tottenham on March 2nd.

Despite having trouble procuring creative solutions on the pitch, and home form considered, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying progression in the Europa League remains probable, if a little less obvious.

Should Arsenal make it to the round of 16 in their last remaining attempt to prise silverware from a mucilaginous season and are drawn first out of the pot; or indeed, if the unimaginable was to happen and BATE prove the first leg was not a one-off result by eliminating the Gunners, then this run of home games would be extended further.  

Essentially, Emery now has his team together physically, if not united mentally, until at least March 2nd and quite possibly to March 10th. This provides the Spaniard with three solid weeks of largely uninterrupted training ground drills, tactical implementation, and video reviews, which he is most renowned for. The outcome of which will be quite telling…

It’s sometimes said that football fans have short memories and while that may be the case at times, it’s often a result of being absolutely absorbed and entrenched in the day to day activities and stories that encapsulate our club at any particular moment.

It’s this submission to the unknown, the handing over of our emotions to those brave enough to embody the values we hold in such high regard, which makes it incredibly difficult to maintain a meta perception. It’s like being severely myopic while riding the world’s largest, most vacillating roller coaster. There will be times when your heart rate is climbing and you’re exhilarated, or perhaps more often, anxious beyond belief, followed by slices of relative serenity and calm. 

That said, we must only look back to mid-September 2018 to find a period which might help us draw conclusion over what to expect for the remainder of the season. On August 25th 2018, Unai Emery’s team began a 22 game unbeaten streak with a 3-1 win over West Ham. More importantly, from September 20th to October 22nd only one of seven games were played outside of London as the coaching team embarked on an intense period of training ground activity.

It may be a complete coincidence that our best performances under a new head coach, as limited as they have been, came during and shortly after this time but I’d be more inclined to think it was a result of the work being put into practice, or more appropriately, the practice being put into work. And so, with a similar opportunity for Emery beginning as soon as the flight back from Borisov touches down in London, I think it would be fair to look at the coming three-week period and the games that follow, as one which will be quite revealing.  

The level of intensity, which has dropped off considerably in recent weeks, should be expected to rise again. Any new ideas the coach wants to implement are now presented with a window of opportunity to get right. Denis Suarez can spend less time travelling and more time working on his fitness. There will at least be an attempt to bring any stylistic nuance that Emery envisions into being and to iron out any frustrations that exist within the squad which are now beginning to emanate above the surface.

Should this time prove productive with the team battling for fourth and reaching the later stages of the Europa League then we can all march safely into the summer transfer window with confidence in Emery’s ideas and a clear understanding of problematic areas of the squad which require long term investment.

On the other hand, should there be no improvement between now and May, I think it would be appropriate to ask not only ‘is Unai Emery’s vision for the first team is one which is raising the ceiling of potential accomplishment?’ But also, ‘is this project showing signs that the apparent abandonment of individual creativity in favour of more industrious, conservative probing is one which suits the club’s values?’

Gavin Binding

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