Paul Merson says Unai Emery must carry the can for Arsenal’s capitulation at Watford while questioning the insistence on playing the ball out from the back.
Arsenal repeatedly gave the ball away from their own goal-kicks while sticking rigidly to Emery’s demand to play short and through Watford’s press during the 2-2 draw at Vicarage Road.
One instance in the second half when Sokratis Papastathopoulos gifted the ball to Tom Cleverley led to the Hornets’ opener which was followed by an equaliser from Roberto Pereyra after David Luiz conceded a late penalty.
Former Arsenal attacker Merson holds Emery responsible for failing to adjust to the circumstances while his team were letting slip their two-goal half-time lead.
“I’ve got to put it on the manager,” he told Sky Sports. “People will say there were experienced players on the pitch, but he’s the manager and they’re paid to listen to him.
“You can’t have a manager give instructions on how to play and then they go out and do their own thing. There would be mutiny, so they’re listening to him and he’s not getting it right.
“His substitutions weren’t right. They needed to keep the ball in that game but they kept giving it away cheaply. The only player who didn’t give the ball away all game was Mesut Ozil. You just knew that Arsenal needed to score another goal but he was bringing youngsters on in a game when you’re under pressure.
“Since this new rule started when they can pass the ball in the six-yard box, why have they all started doing that? No one did it last year, and now they’re all doing it.
“The manager should have seen that and got the message out onto the pitch to stop that and get the ball forward. If they don’t win the first ball, they can win the second ball, and go from there. If Watford did win the ball in their own half, they have to come through three-quarters of the pitch to score. What are they trying to do?
“To get Sokratis to play out from the back… the lad can’t play.
“He’s not David Luiz. He can pass, he’s comfortable on the ball. No way can Sokratis play the same way. They need to play three at the back as they’re not good enough to play a four. They let in too many goals and make too many mistakes.
“It’s like anything in life, if you keep on doing the same things, you’ll keep on getting the same results.
“Sometimes these players think they’re something special and won’t be closed down – it’s pathetic. At Watford in the first half, it was a walk in the park for Arsenal, they’re 2-0 up and you’re thinking it’s the end of the football match. But I don’t know many other teams where the next minute, you’re hanging on.
“Watford had been beaten 3-1 at home to West Ham and 3-0 at home to Brighton. You’re pushing them out the dressing room at half-time, it’s the last thing they would want to do is go out on the pitch for the second half.
“Only Arsenal would give them a chance to get back in the game.
“The shackles came off and Watford felt like they had nothing to lose, but the manager got it horribly wrong.
“I couldn’t believe he brought Ozil off. Who else is going to open up a team except him?