It had to be Ainsley Sublime-Ridiculous to assist the second goal against Huddersfield, which it was hoped would put the game beyond doubt. Lacazette finished with aplomb, as you’d expect, but Ainsley’s game was full of what you’d expect from a youngster: moments of madness followed by moments of genius. Although there’s no doubting Ainsley’s technique, I’m not always sure about his skill in knowing when to use those techniques. Anyway, it’s a learning curve, so the fans have to be patient.
Meanwhile, the opener was deflected in after a shot from the much-criticised Iwobi. The Nigeria international may have got a few critics off his back with that crucial strike, but I wouldn’t bank on it.
Strangely, unless you believe that the player is off sick, Emery elected to start without Aubameyang, who wasn’t even on the bench, and not so strangely did not even have Ozil (who apparently has the same illness and Auba) on the bench. I’m not sure Ozil Lite (Mkhitaryan) is a better option, than a sick Ozil, but at least the Armenian makes a token effort to defend.
Emery is reaping the rewards of Wenger’s policy to indulge the players, allowing them to virtually pick themselves and not defend unless they want to. Mentalities take time to change, although signing Guendouzi and Torreira were masterstrokes in increasing the team’s work ethic.
However, there’s a lot more work to be done, as was seen against Man City. Only the two industrious, relatively new signings looked the part against last year’s champions, but at least they gave Arsenal fans two reasons to be cheerful.
Against Huddersfield, the pair were less impressive with Torreira being replaced by Elneny. That did not have the desired effect and the hosts continued to dominate the second half.
That is the new worrying trend: Arsenal have slightly improved their first-half performances, but at the cost of the second 45 minutes.
Once again, Arsenal were denied a clean sheet, which is shocking given they were playing the Premier League’s bottom team. Somehow, Arsenal managed to make Huddersfield look like Barcelona at times and it was no real surprise when the Gunners conceded a late goal.
Leno and Koscielny deserved a clean sheet, as both were solid and even the much-maligned Mustafi did enough, in my opinion. We have to remember Mustafi is still relatively young for a central defender, as players often don’t hit their peak until they are around 30-years-old, when playing in that position. That’s why I’m shocked when people cane him. Another reason is it didn’t seem so long ago when he first arrived and Arsenal went on a long, unbeaten run.
Notwithstanding that, Arsenal are still woeful defensively. However, a lot of the reason for that is the team’s tendency to give the ball away cheaply.
Defending as a team is not just about the back three or four: it’s about every player putting in a shift. Even without Ozil, I’m not convinced of the industry of some of the players. Some seem content to stroll around nonchalantly, which is not really good enough.
In the end, only the three points matter, and somehow Arsenal managed to cling on against the weakest team in the Premier League to keep up the ‘pressure’, if I can call it that, on Chelsea and Manchester United. Neither team will be losing sleep, on the basis of this performance.
Interestingly, Emery recently admitted Arsenal are nowhere near the level of Man City, Liverpool and even Spurs. That really shouldn’t be the case, as Arsenal have spent more money on transfers in recent times than Spurs and the individual talent at Emery’s disposal at least matches what Pochettino has to choose from. However, Spurs are the better team right now: they gel, whereas Arsenal turn to jelly whenever a move breaks down.
Emery really needs to start earning his corn and getting this team to settle down. I’m convinced he can do it, but will he have time? Rumours suggest that he’ll be ousted in the summer, if he doesn’t achieve Champions League football. That seems a bit harsh but that’s the impatience of fans and board members nowadays.
If Emery can make these players believe in themselves more and work harder, I don’t see why a top four spot is impossible, particularly as Spurs remind us what can be done on a relative shoe-string.