EPL

No defence for spineless Arsenal as Gunners' predictable fragility leaves questions of Emery

By Sports Desk October 21, 2019

In over a year at the club, it's difficult to see what impact Unai Emery has actually had on Arsenal.

Even before kick-off at Bramall Lane, there was a certain aura around the contest that had Arsenal's struggles on Monday looking entirely predictable.

Firstly, the Gunners' record in Sheffield – for what it matters – is woeful in the Premier League, having won just once against United or Wednesday and losing six.

While the Blades' pre-match position of 15th was hardly anything to be impressed by, they have been lauded for their defensive solidity, conceding the joint-fewest goals in the division with Liverpool.

If there was a team you could see a mentally fragile Arsenal struggling against in a game many would ordinarily expect them to win, it was the Blades.

The Gunners' display was reassuringly typical.

Much of the build-up play was easy on the eye, yet they were sorely lacking killer instinct and once again appeared feeble at the back. On top of that, it remains a mystery as to what Emery's plan is.

Nicolas Pepe's performance was his Arsenal career in a microcosm. The Ivory Coast international showed some nice flashes and, in fairness, was arguably the visitors' most creative player, delivering 12 crosses – five of them accurate – and crafting a glorious chance for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

But then came the moment of horror. With Sead Kolasinac's low cross played right across the face of goal, Pepe was there to tap in from about two yards out, only he barely touched the ball and he was left with his head in his hands.

United capitalised and exploited Arsenal's defensive frailty with 30 minutes on the clock. Oliver Norwood's corner found Jack O'Connell unmarked at the back post and his header was diverted home by the similarly unattended Lys Mousset in the middle of the six-yard box.

It was the 22nd goal Arsenal have conceded from a set-piece in the Premier League since the start of last season, the third worst after Everton (24) and Watford (25).

As such, Arsenal have now kept just two clean sheets in their past 14 league games.

They were the dominant force after the interval, spending much of it in the Blades' half, but it was still unclear how they planned to find a way through.

Dani Ceballos' introduction at least saw a competent ball-player enter the fray, though he didn't offer much drive or incisiveness, rather spending most of his time spraying long-range passes out to the right flank.

It's the same old story; Arsenal possess talent but lack character.

Even in Arsene Wenger's latter days one could see an identity, but now that's less clear. Emery's general system resembles that of a counter-attacking team, though most weeks they look almost unrecognisable to the last.

Of course, part of that comes down to the players being used, but at the same time that suggests Emery regularly squeezes players into roles they aren't suitable for.

As their desperation grew on Monday, Arsenal's plan B seemed to be based on hooking hopeful balls into the penalty area and that never looked like working against this Sheffield United defence.

Arsenal's lack of inspiration and ingenuity meant defeat was entirely deserved, but most alarming is how predictable their gutless performance was. It was entirely in keeping with their away record under Emery, having won just eight of 24 Premier League games on the road since he took over, recording two clean sheets.

Until Emery fixes that spinlessness, he is doomed to leave Arsenal having changed nothing.

Related items

  • Everything he touched was gold – Athletic great Susaeta hails Aduriz after retirement Everything he touched was gold – Athletic great Susaeta hails Aduriz after retirement

    Athletic Bilbao great Markel Susaeta has lauded former team-mate Aritz Aduriz following his retirement, hailing the star's longevity at San Mames and in Spanish football.

    Aduriz was given a special send-off by Athletic on the hallowed San Mames turf last week after the 39-year-old retired – the coronavirus pandemic and a hip injury prematurely ending the forward's career.

    Retiring at the end of 2019-20 had always been the plan for Aduriz, who netted 118 league goals for Athletic across three different periods and was the only player other than Lionel Messi to score in 15 successive LaLiga seasons after his stunning last-gasp bicycle kick against Barcelona in August.

    Aduriz – a late bloomer – also enjoyed spells with Real Valladolid, Real Mallorca and Valencia, while he made his Spain debut in 2010 before earning an international recall six years later at the age of 35.

    Susaeta, who amassed over 500 appearances for boyhood club Athletic before leaving in 2019, told Stats Perform News: "Aduriz always played a very good level, very good football.

    "After the first seasons at Athletic, he went to Mallorca and in Mallorca he scored many, many goals. At Valencia, the same. But when he came to Bilbao at 31-32 years of age, he started scoring goals like a crazy man.

    "Very good football level and in six years, it was amazing. Everything he touched was gold. The secret? I don't know. He is a very professional man, he ate very clean."

    Susaeta played alongside Aduriz – who did not move to San Mames until he was already 19 – as Athletic stunned Spanish giants Barca in the 2015 Supercopa de Espana, the club's first piece of silverware in 31 years.

    Aduriz scored a second-half hat-trick in Athletic's 4-0 first-leg rout of Barca before they earned a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou.

    "I remember that final," Susaeta, who now plays for A-League side Melbourne City, said. "One of the most important moments of my football career. Amazing night because winning against Barcelona is very difficult if you play two games.

    "At San Mames, we won 4-0 and it was an amazing night. Aduriz scored three goals and the other one was [Mikel] San Jose. In the second game at Camp Nou, we drew 1-1 and Aduriz again scored.

    "The last trophy Athletic won was maybe 30 years ago and this trophy was very special for supporters, the players."

    Having already decided to hang up his boots at the end of the campaign, Aduriz looked set for a fairytale farewell after Athletic earned a blockbuster Copa del Rey final showdown against Basque rivals Real Sociedad, however, the COVID-19 crisis has left the decider up in the air since March.

    "For this pandemic, coronavirus, it is a very crazy moment for the world and football," Susaeta added. "The pain for him is very strong now and he couldn't play that final. But if Athletic win that final, Aduriz is like the other players. It's his trophy also."

    While Susaeta and Aduriz flourished together on the field, it is their friendship outside of football that the 32-year-old winger cherishes most.

    "I have many memories," Susaeta said. "I am a privileged man because I've given him the most assists during his career. Always when we played together, we played good, very good years.

    "But for me, it's more important that we have very good memories outside of the pitch, outside football. We are very good friends. We usually go on holidays, for dinner with the families."

    With Aduriz now in retirement, all eyes are on Inaki Williams – who signed a new nine-year contract in August – to lead Athletic into a new era.

    Asked if Williams is the man to take Athletic forward, Susaeta replied: "Yes, because in the past he played very good football. Now he is the present.

    "Inaki Williams is different than Aduriz. Inaki Williams is one of the fastest players in the world and Athletic and him use that condition."

  • Tiger Woods' mugshot nadir 'a bizarre curio' Tiger Woods' mugshot nadir 'a bizarre curio'

    The face staring down the lens of the camera at the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office is familiar, and yet almost unrecognisable.

    With hair unkempt, eyes lifeless and the beginnings of an uncultivated beard, it is in many ways just another ordinary mugshot.

    But the man in the picture is not ordinary, far from it; the man in the picture is Tiger Woods.

    It was on May 29, 2017 that Woods reached his nadir, and the world bore witness to it, aghast as the photograph spread rapidly across news sources and social media.

    That image, captured after his arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence, demanded a second look just to make sure you could believe your eyes.

    With a countenance that betrayed his inner tumult, Woods' fall from grace was painfully apparent.

    The very existence of that mugshot, the fact that such a scenario should ever have transpired, has only become more remarkable with the passage of time.

    Had Woods not revived his life and career to such a glorious extent that he was tasting major success again by the time of the 2019 Masters, the image would have served as a stark cautionary tale, a reminder that even great talent and vast wealth cannot shelter someone from the consequences of following their own worst impulses.

    It would have plagued him, accompanying stories of further misdemeanours and transgressions to sit alongside his charge for reckless driving, having been found to have had five different drugs in his system at this time of his arrest. 

    Instead, that shot of Woods is more of a bizarre curio from an alternate reality he briefly occupied, one which would have led him to somewhere very different from the place he is today.

    For as shocking as his decline may have been, the comeback is more apt to take one's breath away. It is harder to climb than it is to fall.

    Tiger's ascent back to the peak led to pictures altogether more joyous, the celebrations that greeted the confirmation of his 15th major win captured in images where Woods – two years older than in his mugshot – looks a decade younger.

    Woods' Augusta exultation capped an extraordinary return to the top, making an impostor of the man in the mugshot. 

  • Rumour Has It: Barca and Madrid to battle for Napoli's Fabian, Inter target Lacazette Rumour Has It: Barca and Madrid to battle for Napoli's Fabian, Inter target Lacazette

    Could Spain international Fabian Ruiz be set for a return to his homeland?

    Former Real Betis star Fabian, who now plays for Napoli in Serie A, is a reported target for Barcelona and Real Madrid.

    The Spanish rivals are trying to lure Fabian back to LaLiga.

     

    TOP STORY – BARCA, MADRID DO BATTLE FOR FABIAN

    Barcelona and Real Madrid are set to battle each other for the signing of Napoli star Fabian Ruiz, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.

    Spanish midfielder Fabian has been linked with a return to LaLiga throughout the season, having left Real Betis for Napoli in 2018.

    Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Napoli are expecting Barca and Madrid to go head-to-head for Fabian – who is contracted to the Serie A side until 2023.

     

    ROUND-UP

    - L'Equipe says Inter have made an offer for Arsenal forward Alexandre Lacazette. With Inter star Lautaro Martinez linked to Barca, the Nerazzurri are eyeing alternatives, however, Lacazette is not interested in swapping London for Milan.

    - There could be some big changes at Madrid in 2022. AS Diario says Los Blancos want Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland to team up with Eden Hazard in a new strike force. The likes of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Isco will be out of contract at the end of the 2021-22 season.

    Juventus are ready to negotiate a deal for Santos teenager Kaio Jorge, according to Calciomercato. Santos are demanding €30million for the 18-year-old, though Juve are only prepared to pay €15m.

    - The Daily Mail claims Manchester City and Newcastle United have joined Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in the race for 18-year-old Penarol winger Facundo Pellistri.

    Odion Ighalo is prepared to pass on a £75m contract with Shanghai Shenhua to stay at Manchester United, reports the Daily Star. Ighalo's loan deal is set to expire at Old Trafford.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.