Sources at the Emirates Stadium maintain that there is belief that the Spaniard can turn things round following the Gunners’ poor start to the season
As he stood, hood up, in the torrential rain at the King Power Stadium on Saturday evening, Unai Emery looked like a dead man walking.
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Chants of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ rang around the ground with Arsenal trailing 2-0 and heading for a fifth game in all competitions without a win.
Those chants may have emanated from the Leicester fans, but there will have been far more than just the odd member of the 3,000 strong travelling support hoping that the prediction would prove correct.
This is as bad as it has been at Arsenal for years – decades in fact.
The Gunners currently sit sixth in the Premier League having amassed just 17 points from their first 12 games. They have only won four league matches and have a negative goal difference. Emery’s side are closer to Aston Villa in 17th than they are Manchester City in fourth.
This is Arsenal’s worst start to a league season since the 1982-83 campaign, and their win rate of 33 per cent is their lowest at this stage of a Premier League season since George Graham’s final campaign in charge in 1994-95.
With five minutes remaining of the game on Saturday night, the TV cameras focused on Raul Sanllehi and Edu in the directors’ box at Leicester, both sat solemnly, deep in thought as yet another match ebbed away from Arsenal.
Emery’s future rests in the hands of those two men. Ultimately, Stan and Josh Kroenke will make the final decision, but it will be on the advice of head of football Sanllehi and technical director Edu.
Both are well respected figures in the game. As director of football, Sanllehi helped guide Barcelona to the most successful era in the club’s history while Edu’s work as general co-ordinator of the Brazil nation team earned him his return to north London where he had enjoyed a trophy-laden spell as a player between 2001 and 2005.
As it stands, sources at Arsenal insist that Emery is not in any imminent danger – even after the latest horror show at the King Power Stadium.
Quite how that can be the case after what has been served up so far this season, is remarkable. In fact, it is negligent.
Emery’s remit this season is to qualify for the Champions League. The club’s entire business model relies on it, but it is clear after the opening three months of the season that is not going to happen.
A place in the top four looks well beyond Arsenal’s reach under Emery’s guidance, and though the Europa League provides another route back to Europe’s elite competition, you cannot pin your hopes on winning a knockout competition.
Arsenal’s statistics under Emery are alarming and if the club had any sort of ambition then he would already be out of a job. The fact that he is still in place raises as many questions about the hierarchy as it does about him.
How can they be satisfied with what they are watching each week? Where are the signs that a group of players who appear so totally out of touch with their coach are suddenly going to start performing to their true level?
Since opening the season with back to back wins, Arsenal have now won just two of their last 10 Premier League games – earning 11 points in the process.
They are conceding an average of 1.42 goals a game, their worst ever rate in a Premier League season. In all competitions, they are conceding on average 16.4 shots per game, more than any other season since Opta started compiling stats. Their worst prior to that? The 13.1 they faced during Emery’s first campaign in charge.
It is not just in defence where the problems are either. Other than Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal do not have a single member of the squad who has scored more than two league goals this season. In their last 180 minutes of football they have mustered just two shots on target.
And it has to be noted that Arsenal’s run of form is not just confined to this season, it goes back to the end of Emery’s first campaign in charge when they somehow threw away a seemingly guaranteed spot in the top four with a dramatic collapse over the closing weeks.
In their last 19 Premier League games, Arsenal have taken just 24 points from a possible 57. They also suffered a crushing defeat to Chelsea in the Europa League final during that time and have been knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Liverpool’s second string.
Arsenal are a mess all over the pitch under Emery. They canot score, they do not create chances and they cannot defend. The apathy that now exists within the fanbase is on par – if not worse – than it was during the final year of Arsene Wenger’s reign.
After the defeat at Leicester, Gunners legend Ian Wright said: “Two wins in 10 in the league. No definitive style or plan. Negative goal difference. No improvement in the defence. Not creating anything.
“Why would [Lacazette] or [Aubameyang] renew [their contracts?] Can’t blame them! We have to make the tough decision Arsenal! It’s not getting better!”
And that’s not a view shared by the minority – the majority now feel that Emery has to be replaced.
So if Sanllehi and Edu really do believe that the Spaniard is the right man to turn things round then they will be as much to blame for what is still to come this season than Emery.
And as Wright noted, with contract talks with Aubameyang and Lacazette so far proving unsuccessful, the risk of losing the club’s two stars strikers in the summer is growing by the week.
Arsenal do not want to go down the route taken by Manchester United following Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. They do not want to go through a series of coaches and end up with a disjointed squad that has been expensively assemble by several different figures.
But sometimes decisions have to be made and this shoud not even be a difficult one. This is not just noise or fan unrest, it is a club in decline and the statistics and data are there to prove it.
Arsenal’s head coach is the man receiving all the criticism right now, but if Sanllehi, Edu and the owners do not do what’s clearly needed soon, it will be a dereliction of duty from those in power at the Emirates and the focus of frustration will soon switch in their direction.
Empty seats and protests plagued the final months of Wenger’s reign, if things are allowed to continue as they are at present, then it will not be long until we see similar scenes in north London once again.