It’s the age old debate of style vs substance.
For the past 20 years ‘good football’ would have been everyone’s answer for Arsenal in a game of word association.
While such a claim was justified during Arsene Wenger’s reign, the Gunners’ reputation as bastions of entertaining football has taken a significant hit under Unai Emery.
18 months into life at the Emirates and the Spaniard has lost sight of one of the philosophies he was hired to implement.
Although results have been steady and Arsenal currently sit third in the table, fans will tell you that exciting performances have been at a premium in north London.
For a head coach who lectures about building a team of “protagonists” Emery’s style is far from what he preaches.
Arsenal are yet to win a league game by more than one goal this season and while teams grinding out three points is no rarity and often praised by pundits and fans alike, it becomes a concern when it happens every game.
The point in the season these ‘win at all costs’ performances come is also crucial.
Usually they’re more acceptable towards the end of a campaign and it’s then when fans will be more sympathetic about crawling over the line at home to Bournemouth by a single goal, not in October.
Just two shots on target at the weekend against the Cherries has left many on the red side of north London with concerns over whether Emery is the right man to take Arsenal forward.
Even the disciples of George Graham have struggled to accept Sunday’s performance as a welcome throwback to the days of ‘one nil to the Arsenal.’
The Wenger era has left supporters thirsting for entertaining football on a weekly basis.
This cry for a return to the style that became so intertwined with Arsenal under the Frenchman comes a year since fans heralded a false dawn.
No sooner had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rounded Marcus Bettinelli and fired into the back of the net before chants of “we’ve got our Arsenal back” echoed around Craven Cottage.
A 5-1 win over newly-promoted Fulham was enough to convince the travelling contingent that the Gunners’ Harlem Globetrotters style was back.
Granted they’d earlier witnessed a superb team move effortlessly dispatched by Aaron Ramsey, however 12 months on those chants now harbour a degree of irony.
Mention that afternoon in west London to any Arsenal fan who made the trip and they’ll turn as red as this season’s Adidas effort before vehemently insisting they never took part in the away end choir.
The performance at Fulham and demolition of Leicester were rare glimpses of a style that Emery is consciously ousting.
The Gunners’ stark lack of creativity has left fans even more baffled by Emery’s treatment of Mesut Ozil.
For all the German’s flaws, his distinct qualities have averted Arsenal this season and Emery’s decision to banish the club’s highest paid player is doing his reputation no favours.
Frustration is growing over why Ozil is regularly omitted from match day squads and made to watch a spark-starved side from the comfort of his home.
The consensus among fans is that Emery is not the man for the long run.
Even if the Gunners finish the season back among the top four it may not be enough to keep the wolf from the Spaniard’s door.
Unless fans see a willingness to play expansive football then Emery’s second season in north London could be his last.
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