There was one particular paragraph in Arsenal’s unofficial vote of confidence for Unai Emery that stood out. And within it, one word that spoke quite literal volumes.
It began with the ‘acknowledgement’ that Leicester – who had just beaten the Gunners 2-0 – were ‘an extremely strong side’. It continued with the suggestion that their display showed they ‘are on the right path’, that their ‘project is sound, well-planned and will bring success’, but only if ‘the external atmosphere allows it to do so’. It contained no mention of the fact that game proved only that a manager nine months in his job was two or three times further ahead in the development of his side than one with 18 months at the helm.
Then came the insult to accompany a story that did more to injure the club’s relationship with its fans than any single display or performance: the crass description of legitimate supporter complaints as “noise”.
The quote marks betrayed the wider meaning. This was no journalistic licence, exaggeration or misrepresentation. It was a message directly from the mouth of a horse that continues to be flogged well after it’s public and pronounced death.
If anything, the international break was a welcome mute button for Emery and Arsenal. The month started with the suggestion that Jose Mourinho had impressed Raul Sanllehi during a recent dinner, and will end with the Portuguese looking more comfortable as Tottenham manager than Arsenal’s incumbent ever has.
This, a home draw with Southampton secured in the final throes of stoppage time, is the point of no return. A sixth game without a win. A 19-point gap to Liverpool. A lack of perceptible direction, tactics or ideas. A manager out of his depth in relatively shallow waters.
Losing away at Leicester can be excused, but only because Emery has lowered standards and expectations to such a level. The bar cannot be lowered far enough to make scraping a point against Southampton anything other than an unmitigated disaster. And the result only tells half the story.
Southampton had nine more shots. Only three of their starting outfielders didn’t have at least one attempt; Danny Ings had as many in the first half as Arsenal overall. A team in 19th, who were beaten 9-0 less than a month ago and were locked in a seven-game winless run with statistically the worst defence in the league, were too strong, too fast, too unified, too confident for almost the entire game.
Alexandre Lacazette’s late equaliser does little but delay the inevitable. Ralph Hasenhuttl was visibly frustrated at the final whistle, James Ward-Prowse similarly affected. They did not celebrate a draw away at Arsenal; they mourned their inability to win. And so they should have.
For Emery, the ifs and buts have expired. Hector Bellerin has returned and nothing has changed. Kieran Tierney has been integrated and nothing has changed. Mesut Ozil has been restored and nothing has changed. Granit Xhaka has been ostracised and nothing has changed. The players have been swapped, dropped and chopped and nothing has changed.
So only one solution remains. Come on, Arsenal: feel the “noise”.
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