It’s the fourth loss in eight matches across all competitions for the Gunners, and their fifth time failing to win in that same span. This comes on the heels of a 22-game unbeaten run under first-year manager Unai Emery, which lasted from Aug. 18 to Dec. 16, and the rough patch includes a League Cup loss to arch rival Tottenham Hotspur and a 5-1 demolition at the hands of Liverpool.
Saturday’s goal was set up by former Gunner Samir Nasri and scored by 19-year-old Declan Rice, producing just West Ham’s third home win over Arsenal in the Premier League era and first since 2006:
The loss means Arsenal will still be on the outside looking in at Champions League spots after the weekend, and could technically fall to sixth if Manchester United continues its hot start under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Sunday against Spurs.
So things aren’t exactly great at the Emirates right now. Which is exactly why Arsenal must be patient.
To be clear, there are precisely zero rumblings that Emery’s job is in danger, or that anyone on the board is getting antsy, or even that fans are displeased to the point of rabidity. But for a club with the resources and repute of Arsenal, every loss invites intense scrutiny, both of the match itself and to a lesser extent the entire operation.
And amid that scrutiny, there’s still reason to believe Emery has the club headed in the right direction.
The 47-year-old Spaniard is winning 2.06 points per match in his debut season in the rough-and-tumble Premier League, which is a higher average than everywhere he’s been except Paris Saint-Germain (2.42). For someone who’s won the Europa League three times and done the treble in France, that’s pretty good.
And let’s take a look at his debut seasons over the years, shall we?
There’s a sense Emery’s tenure in Paris was a failure, but that only stands up if you consider the Champions League was the final frontier for PSG to conquer. Emery’s 2016-17 side faced Barcelona in a brutal Round of 16 draw, and would’ve advanced were it not for a miraculous comeback by the Catalans in the second leg.
And yes, Monaco ended PSG’s four-year run atop Ligue 1, but that team featured tons of talent that would soon be offloaded to bigger clubs like Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Fabinho, Benjamin Mendy Tiemoué Bakayoko and Thomas Lemar. Emery won the Coup de France and the French League Cup as well, so failure is in the eyes of the beholder.
In his first full season with Sevilla, Emery guided the club to fifth in La Liga and won the first of three straight Europa League crowns. That squad was ready to achieve right away, with the likes of Ivan Rakitic and Carlos Bacca in its ranks.
Emery’s first season with Valencia saw him take the club from 10th to sixth despite major financial problems, laying the groundwork for a Champions League return the following season.
Heck, Arsene Wenger inherited a fifth-place side in his first season at Arsenal, and two transfer buys later (Patrick Vieira and Nicolas Anelka), the Gunners were again contending annually for the Premier League crown.
They need the attacking style of football Emery can offer. He’s only had one and a third transfer windows to reshape the team in his image, and he’s already getting results with players he doesn’t prefer. This past month alone, he’s used five different formations, alternating between three and four at the back and mixing in all sorts of midfield and striker combinations in the setup.
Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang has been alone up top, or he’s been split out wide with Alexandre Lacazette stepping into the No. 9 position. They’ve played together as a two-strike pairing with Mesut Ozil as the No. 10. Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have revolved around them in flanking positions. Longtime fullback Sead Kolasinac has been pushed up into a wide midfield role. Emery just got veteran defender Laurent Koscielny back in mid-December, and he’s been deployed as both center half and outside back in the back three.
This tinkering is hardly a sign of weakness or indecisiveness. It’s experimentation, because Emery knows he has to get results with what he has, and the real changes won’t come until the summer. These aren’t the days of Wenger stubbornly setting up to play his game no matter where Arsenal took the pitch. These are flexible tactics with underlying tenets that give them consistency.
Emery hasn’t been afraid to make power moves, either. Ozil didn’t feature on Saturday, and Emery was blunt about why the sometimes wishy-washy attacking mid didn’t even make the matchday squad.
His arrival over the summer signaled a shakeup, with longtime Gunners like Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere being released and inconsistent performers like David Ospina and Calum Chambers being loaned out. Emery was active in the market, signing goalkeeper Bernd Leno, defenders Stephan Lichsteiner and Sokratis Papastathopoulos, and midfielders Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira.
None of them have left a scorching impact on the side, but they’ve provided stability and depth, something Emery needs as he makes the squad his own.
And Arsenal needs to give him time to do that, no matter what recent results say. They likely won’t get much better in the near-term, with EPL fixtures against Chelsea and Manchester City and an FA Cup tie vs. Manchester United in the next three weeks.
So fight the frustration, Gunners. If you do, there are almost assuredly better times ahead.
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