Arsenal being outclassed by Pep Guardiola and Man City? Nothing new there then, right?
The first game of Unai Emery’s era in charge might have ended in disappointment for Gunners fans, however there were definitely numerous positives to take from it.
Before the clash, the atmosphere around the Emirates was at fever pitch. Hordes of expectant Gooners were filled with optimism and excitement as to what the future might bring.
The Emirates’ buoyant atmosphere, something that has become a rarity in recent seasons, was however soon deflated after City took an early lead.
Excitement and intrigue descended into frustration and anxiety, as fans watched on with disdain at what was the start of a new way of playing football in north London.
Arsenal fans, who were fortunate enough to witness some of the best football played in the Premier League under Arsene Wenger, are no strangers to possession based buildup.
The style, affectionately referred to as ‘Wenger ball’ by supporters, might have had it’s downsides, but one thing it never used to include was unnecessary risk taking, in particular by effectively using the goalkeeper as an extra outfield player.
That is something however that Gunners supporters will have to get used to. I’ll call it ‘Emery ball’ to try and coin a new phrase.
The Spaniard made his intentions of the philosophy he wants to implement at Arsenal very clear in one of his first interviews at the club.
Emery declared how he would “prefer to win 5-4 than win 1-0,” two scorelines we didn’t actually see on Sunday.
Amongst all the frustration and disillusion with the club in recent seasons, the one thing I would expect from my fellow Arsenal supporters is a willingness to see expansive football.
Especially when you know that the brand of football could potentially be in a similar mould to Man City’s blueprint that has proved so effective.
The willingness wasn’t there. It was so bizarre.
Admittedly, Petr Cech’s best attempts to score an own goal proved to be the tipping point in the patience of fans, especially in the first half, but what descended afterwards was bitterly disappointing.
Every subsequent pass between the centre-backs and Cech, designed to build an attack and draw City players out of position, proceeded to be greeted with nervous mutterings as fans had already seen enough.
The 60,000 strong crowd taunted the veteran keeper for his earlier blunder and ironically cheered when, seemingly in fear of making another mistake, he began to punt the ball long at almost every opportunity.
The behaviour of the fans was completely counterproductive to what Emery is trying to build.
Granted, there is an argument to be had that so early into Emery’s tenure and especially against a side who press as much as Guardiola’s City, it wasn’t the right time and place to adopt such a stark contrast to the previous regime.
You can also question the inclusion of players such as Cech, who, if you ask any Arsenal fan, will tell you that after his inability to save penalties, his distribution is by far his worst attribute.
With summer signing Bernd Leno warming the bench on the day, supporters were left baffled at Emery’s decision to start the ageing Cech.
Although the 36-year-old had showed encouraging signs in pre-season, with his shot-stopping standing out, his distribution was still questionable, especially in comparison to Leno.
The German stopper remained relatively untested throughout pre-season, however one area in which he did shine was playing out from the back.
Leno will almost certainly come into the team for the trip to Stamford Bridge and fans will see a composed figure that should have been present against City.
What we saw on Sunday was neither the playing out from the back of Guardiola’s City, nor was it the intense gegenpress of Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp. It was stuck somewhere in between, halfheartedly trying both.
There are however numerous lessons that Emery and his players would have learnt from the defeat and that can only be a benefit in the long-term.
Emery implementing his style of play was always going to be a marathon and not a sprint, and the one thing that Arsenal fans can do is maintain their pace with it.
The Emirates faithful have longed for a change in philosophy and now that they finally have it, they have to stick with it.
Arsenal fans can draw inspiration from the plight that City’s crowd endured when Guardiola first arrived in the Premier League.
The great manager was ridiculed by many and had his blueprint pontificated on by supporters and pundits alike. You could say that they were right at the time, but in the long-term they were all wrong.
It took a full season for Guardiola to completely get things right and the patience of City fans has since been rewarded.
They now trust the process and wouldn’t dare question a decision of their manager.
Arsenal fans need to start trusting the process of Emery and the quicker they do so, the better.
The confidence of the fans will spill over onto the pitch and help the players express themselves.
Good things come to those who wait…
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