In recent weeks, Unai Emery has constantly kept surprising Arsenal faithfuls with his starting eleven and on pitch tactics on match days. This time, it was against BATE in Europa League and the Spanish coach once again had a bitter result to show for it. The “not so famous side” from Belarus defeated the Premier League top flight club 1-0 and registered their second ever win over an English opposition in their history.
Adding further grief to Unai Emery’s present predicament, several big names on the Gunners Board were reportedly watching the encounter against Bate from the stands. The list includes the honourable trio of Head of football Raul Sanllehi, Managing Director Vinai Venkatesham and Chief Contract Negotiator Huss Fahmy.
The trio of Arsenal’s decision makers travelled with the squad all the way to Belarus expecting a clean victory for the London side. They started the match with all smiles which gradually turned into a collective of annoyed and disappointed faces towards the final minutes of the game. Deep frustration forced them into an early exit before the final whistle.
After their initial 22 matches unbeaten dream run, Arsenal had never been the same. The London side is are presently in the fifth position behind the “motivated Manchester United“ with 50 points. The battle for the top four spots has now become much more competitive and tough especially after the rebirth of the Red Devils under Ole Gunnar.
Last time when they faced BATE, the Gunners thrashed Belarus side with a one-sided scoreline of 6-0 under legendary Arsene Wenger. The shocking result this time around has completely showed how Emery still has a long way to go before even coming close to making this team any better than last season, let alone challenge for the trophy.
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Emery placed the duo of Xhaka and Guendouzi in the central midfield. Although both of them are incredibly hardworking, they clearly lack creativity in their play.
It is ironic to say that your team is lacking creativity in midfield when you have a player like Mesut Ozil on the bench most days and somedays right at home simply because of a stubbornness from the managers part in playing him.
Addition of Denis Suarez from Barcelona and return of Mkhitaryan from injury would serve as a slight relief to Emery. The departure of Ramsey to Juventus is a done deal and as things stand, Ozil is most likely to follow down Ramsey’s path in the next transfer window.
Champions League qualification is the primary target for Emery and he has two ways in front of him to go about it. Either go for Europa League title or fight for a top four position in Premier League. Both are not too far away and can be achieved with proper gameplay and a better and refreshing mindset.
After being knocked out from the FA Cup by Manchester United, the next major title available for Emery was always going to be the Europa League. Given how things stand at the moment, progression to the next round in itself seems like a long shot let alone claim the trophy.
Emery has all the time in the world to fully concentrate on the second leg next week and he will surely hope that he can regain the loss of face and the damage to his reputation suffered by redeeming himself in front of the power holders at Arsenal.
Given how each of them had reacted to the defeat last time around, it will certainly take a show of strength and a much needed statement win from Arsenal if they are to proceed to the next round and save Emery’s job. In my opinion that is only possible when you play Arsenal’s best player rather than forcing him to sit on the bench and bear spectacle to the debacle happening in front of him week in and week out.
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Meanwhile, Lacazette is not available for the second leg against BATE at Emirates due to the red card incurred in the game. The French striker was all alone and didn’t get many effective passes to create any sort of impression in the game whatsoever. Frustration haunted him till the end which probably resulted in the red card. Personally, I respect him as a player for his dedication and hard work on the field and its really illogical pinning most of the blame on him if you hardly have any creators in the team.
Honestly at the moment, it seems it is better for Emery to prioritise winning the Europa League title in order to qualify for next year’s Champions League. Maybe Arsenal can overturn the deposit at Emirates in the second leg against BATE, but the bigger question here still remains: Is that all Arsenal should be aiming to do ?