‘Victoria Concordia Crescit’, reads the Arsenal FC motto. Victory through harmony. Perhaps not a turn of phrase you’d associate with Arsenal Football Club at this moment in time.
A concoction of poor team management, inept tactics, usual squad frailties, fan unrest and apparent poor leadership in the upper echelons of the club: a perfect recipe for impending mid-table mediocrity.
At team level, the club’s failure to recognise that Unai Emery was not the man for the job looks like it has cost us any hopes of the top four this year. It has been clear for some time that, whatever the reasons, his leadership was no longer effective and was highly unlikely to turn it around.
Week after week of poor results in a season that should have been positive, building on last year’s fifth place finish with fresh additions to the squad. And it was not just the results alone: the sheer lack of ideas, energy, style, communication and efficient tactics just compounded the negativity.
With hindsight, the writing was on the wall when the team completely collapsed at the end of last season – when they only needed a single point to make the top four yet continually dropped them home and away. And the less said about that second half in Baku, the better.
However, most gave the benefit of doubt and were reasonably rejuvenated after a positive summer transfer window. But in a season where many of the traditional “big six” had started indifferently, the team’s failure to take advantage should have resulted in an earlier change of manager.
That’s not to say it was all Unai’s fault. For the record, he seems a good guy, a generally decent coach and I for one wish him well for the rest of his career. He was just the wrong man at the wrong time; the last remnant of Ivan Gazidis’ calamitous tenure.
Others must also take their share of the responsibility – players, coaching staff and especially the board and owner.
In fact, failure to act in time and save any top four hopes we might have had is entirely on the latter. They’re the ones ultimately responsible and history dictates that, if they’re inept, the rest of club will reflect that.
Some may say the season is not over, or that it’s not even Christmas etc. And it’s true – stranger things have happened. But the way we’ve been playing, the squad holes, confusing tactics and the total lack of confidence are going to take some time to fix (note to Arsenal: I’m more than happy to be proven wrong).
The club can now go one of two ways: hire a proven figure to steady the ship for potential short-medium term gain or take the chance on a young, promising coach. There’s no correct answer, of course.
If the number one choice is available, then hiring now will allow whoever comes in time to implement their system and style ready for a full season next year.
Alternatively, if the preferred choice is not available until the summer – or current options aren’t suitable – so be it. Freddie can continue in the interim, using this period to re-energise and get some of that confidence back, ready for whoever eventually does come in.
Right now, it’s just critical the club makes an appropriate appointment. This season’s main aim should be repairing the damage and stabilising the squad, attempting to finish as high as the situation allows us.
The welcome win against West Ham certainly doesn’t fix things but it will hopefully be the first step on the road to recovery. The relief was almost tangible at the final whistle and the players clearly have a lot of love for Ljungberg.
As do us fans, of course. Hopefully he can begin putting a little bit of that harmony back into the club. And maybe – just maybe – a few more victories as well.