89 minutes into his first game as Arsenal manager, Unai Emery was still gesticulating. Still urging Hector Bellerin into position. Still encouraging his tiring players to close down a rampant Manchester City.
By that point, much of the nervous enthusiasm that had swept through the ground was dead. The Gunners’ failings were all too familiar as they were held at arm’s length in a 2-0 defeat.
Arsenal were very much second-best throughout the whole game and the team did not look capable of matching City. For Emery, he has the chance to reassess his team in the coming week before going again at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
It might be a little early for Claude and Troopz to gurn down the lenses at Arsenal Fan TV, but there is a legitimate question to ask — will this season be more of the same?
Too many failings and too little money
On the surface, the answer is yes. Emery conducted his transfer business swiftly this summer, but there are too many failings and too little money to fix his depleted squad.
Bellerin — a liability at the best of times — offered another uniquely hopeless display up against Raheem Sterling on the righthand side, though the thought behind bringing Stephan Lichtsteiner to the club is perhaps so that he can offer the young Spaniard some guidance.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles, too, fared little better on the opposite flank, cuckolded by a combination of Riyad Mahrez and Kyle Walker.
The difference when Lichtsteiner came on was obvious. The experienced Swiss — charging on after Maitland-Niles’ first half injury — was calm and meticulous in closing down the spaces. He could do nothing about City’s second goal, with Benjamin Mendy’s cross meeting an unmarked and untroubled Bernardo Silva in the centre.
Granit Xhak-ing again
As the Portuguese slammed in the winner — against the run of play — Granit Xhaka stood idly by and watched.
It was something the Swiss did with aplomb last year, casting off his defensive responsibilities as though they were an inconvenience. That Emery decided to haul him off instead of debutant Matteo Guendouzi spoke volumes.
Guendouzi himself, having been superb in pre-season, was trusted to start. It was an unleavened performance in truth, with a nervous first half cooled by a more impressive second.
The players’ technical skills won’t be Emery’s chief concern. The Basque coach will be far more concerned with their focus and concentration.
Without Arsene Wenger to hide behind, the usual culprits performed as though they had more important things to think about, though Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aaron Ramsey, Bellerin, and Xhaka won’t have the luxury of an indulgent paternalist in the dugout this term.
Emery must be ruthless with them if he has any chance of ousting the rot that envelope this jaded squad.
Hangover from a decade of letdowns
He won’t be too miffed about the result itself though. Even without Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane and David Silva, City were majestic.
A fully focused, fully firing Arsenal team would still be beaten by them. The swathes of empty seats at the end of this match felt strangely reactionary, a hangover from a decade of letdowns. Gunners fans must give their new manager time because he has inherited a team that is majorly flawed.
Ultimately, this fresh start at Arsenal was given an unfortunate opening game against an elite Manchester City side who have rarely been troubled by any opponent over the last 12 months.
The new era at Arsenal should not be judged on this result and, in all honesty, Gunners fans should pretend that their season starts next weekend.
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