Arsenal have not been at their flowing best of late but the events that unfolded in Sunday’s 2-2 disappointing draw with Crystal Palace are those with way bigger aftermaths than mere three points dropped. The fixture masked what has clouded Unai Emery’s tenure for a while now and judging from the atmosphere at the Emirates on Sunday, Emery will have more than just points to worry about at this stage.
It’s not every day you see the club captain walking off the pitch, ears cupped while clearly telling thousands of his own fans to ‘f*ck off’ as they hurled abuse in his direction as he made his way to the touchline to be substituted.
Granit Xhaka wasn’t a popular choice as skipper before Sunday’s fixture with Crystal Palace but now you wonder if irreversible damage has been done to the relationship between him and the Arsenal fans.
There wasn’t even a handshake for Unai Emery as Xhaka went off, the midfielder just stripped off his shirt and headed straight down the tunnel to the changing room as the boos rang out.
For a club of the stature of Arsenal, this was an awful incident – an embarrassing one that will be shown and dissected all around the world. But it was symbolic of all that is wrong at the club right now.
It stems from a feeling of frustration that is increasing by the week. Frustration towards Emery, the style of football, Mesut Ozil’s absence, Torreira used sparingly and out of position coupled with a run of poor results of late.
Didn't want to post these pictures but felt I had to. This is Lucas Torreira's emotional reaction to the abuse Granit Xhaka received after his substitution, in tears and inconsolable. Absolute love and respect for his captain. pic.twitter.com/ijKOvwkYx2
— Stuart MacFarlane (@Stuart_PhotoAFC) October 28, 2019
Emery called for patience following the defeat at Sheffield United on Monday night, but there is very little of that on show at the Emirates right now.
The pressure may have eased slightly on Arsenal’s under-fire coach after Nicolas Pepe’s match-winning cameo in the Europa League last Thursday but it is right back on the Spaniard now.
And in a recent column by The Athletic’s David Ornstein, it was reported that Josh Kroenke visited Emery after the draw with Palace and assured him of his position…for now at least. The same report went on to state that the hierarchy still believe in Emery’s vision and are willing to give him until the end of the season to implement his ideas further. The problem, though, is that the same support from the board is not shared among the players as Emery has lost part of the dressing room due to lack of identity and absence of clarity of instructions.
Arsenal now sit four points adrift of the top four following this draw and on current form, they look a million miles off the likes of Leicester or Chelsea. This is a club that is desperate to return to the Champions League. The business model relies on it, but it is going to take a major improvement for them to get there.
Is Emery the man to take the club forward? Is he getting anywhere near enough from this squad of players? At the moment, the answer seems to be a clear no.
It makes things even worse that Emery would have to be sentimental in dealing with the Xhaka situation. Simply put, Xhaka should probably be given some ban or even stripped off the armband for his actions but the Daily Mail are now reporting that Emery is fearing a player backlash should he decide to strip Xhaka of the club captaincy given the player’s standing as one of the most popular members of the squad. Imagine having to meet your own players first to take a decision for fear of backlash. That sends all the wrong kinds of message about the tension in the Arsenal camp right now.
The Telegraph further report that Emery is not only facing a fight to ultimately save his job, but also to convince his squad that he is the right man to take them forward. Ultimately, it all translates to how Unai Emery has damaged the Arsenal team and not just lose points alone in the process alone but a whole lot more.
Arsenal stay fifth in the Premier League, but they are now playing catch up on Leicester and Chelsea in the race for the Champions League spots – two teams who have a clear identity and a way of playing.
It’s a worrying situation for Emery. The Spaniard was already facing questions about his own future and now his captain has only added to his growing list of problems.