No Ceballos, no Torreira, Holding, Tierney, Ozil or Bellerin and the first thought that came to mind was that if Sheffield United pressed hard with the defensive line up of Arsenal, consisting of Chambers, Sokratis, Luiz and Kolasinac, there would eventually be some reward.
Quite how Emery views team selection on occasion is similar to a blind man picking peaches in a supermarket. You sometimes end up with a bag full of juicy fruit but there’s a chance you can end up with something rotten.
United had kept 24 clean sheets, the most of any team in the English leagues and in previous encounters, Arsenal had a winning aggregate of 9-0 in the league cup. So on paper, it appeared to be the gunners attack against the robust defence of the home side.
Yet, there was an unnerving feeling about this contest that could see Arsenal stall or advance in the premiership. As Liverpool showed at the weekend, an abundance of quality and class sometimes means nothing against decent tactics and a healthy work rate.
The game plan of Chris Wilder would surely be to stifle and restrict Arsenal by closing the space and requesting his side put in the odd firm tackle to remind the North Londoners were in a battle for three points.
If it was purely down to experience, Arsenal would conquer but these things aren’t exactly a scientific process and with the shaky VAR now in full swing, each game has become a bit of a lottery.
After a period of mixed fortunes for both, Pepe should have put the gunners ahead with an excellent cross from Kolasinac from out on the left flank.
Pepe was in space and unmarked but with confidence low, he slashed at the chance and scuffed it wide. That was a bad omen and at this level chances need to be taken, something that was illustrated when Norwood’s corner was flicked on by the head of O’Connell, which found Mousset to poke it home. Chances again but Sheffield took theirs on the half hour mark.
At this stage the game was crying out for Ceballos because Arsenal just weren’t creating enough to get back on terms. It’s baffling why Emery refuses to start with the Spaniard who he claims to admire.
However, Arsenal kept going but you sensed they would depend on Aubameyang again who must have secretly been wondering when Lacazette was going to relieve the burden.
Just before the half finished, Aubameyang combined with Pepe who turned like an absconding cat burglar and it fell to Xhaka to pull the trigger from distance but it was beaten around the post by a grateful Henderson.
Emery is becoming the mad professor in the lab, experimenting when it’s not absolutely necessary and then having to recalculate his findings to produce a cure. So at half time, I thought it likely that he would ring the changes. The situation merited a double change from the bench before Sheffield got further ahead.
Ceballos came on for Willock, who had made little impact on the game as Arsenal looked to create more frequently. Pepe looked as if he wanted to make up for his earlier punt, with every Arsenal fan waiting for the eventual fireworks that are overdue.
There followed a lot of huffing and puffing without the desired result and Arsenal lapsed into bad habits at the back with acres of space for the blades to run into and it almost cost them a goal around the 52nd minute but a handball came to the rescue.
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The nerves were rattling as fans looked for a saviour and it was fairly clear who that would be but nothing had come to him yet and he had spent the evening dining on crumbs with just one chance.
Arsenal just appeared to be reasonably clueless and it looked like the foot was off the gas. There was an overwhelming feeling that another substitution would be required for them to get level. Lacazette came to mind.
In the 69th minute with little else going on, Lacazette came on for Xhaka, who had gone through the motions yet again and produced nothing apart from another thunderbolt.
Pepe’s performance had been spluttering and a few naff touches meant that the fidgety away supporters were willing Emery to explore his other options.
He must have sensed it and in the 73rd minute his free kick was dealt with by the competent Henderson and he followed that up with a long range effort from about 20/25 yards but it was wide of the frame.
It was his last contribution as Emery rolled the dice (78) and threw Martinelli on to create havoc, yet somehow, you felt that it was ten minutes too late .
Emery has to learn that you can’t pull a wheel on the car once it’s moving and his decision to constantly persist with a weaker formation will get him hung.
He has far better players than the ones he insists on playing and one in particular who was watching from the comfort of his sofa. Arsenal got what they deserved, which was absolutely nothing and it’s hard to draw any positives from this insipid display.
On the evidence of these continuous humdrum performances, without one decent showing under the belt, my enthusiasm for this new Arsenal ebbs away. There’s nothing particularly encouraging and nothing that suggests they are any closer to a top four finish or that the gap is closing.
Arsenal supporters were served a cold dish of unappetizing slop on a broken plate minus the utensils. Welcome to cafe Arsenal.
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