Emery’s destination made clear, but the journey is important too

Hello everyone and welcome to Interlull Friday.

There’s still not a lot going on as you might expect. Maybe some of the players have been given a few days off while their colleagues are away with their countries, and given we don’t play again until Monday week, training is likely to be pretty light anyway. The only interesting thing doing the rounds are some quotes from Raul Sanllehi from last night’s Fan’s Forum meeting.

Via @RedActionAFC, he said of this season’s goal, “We said to Unai that we just missed out on qualifying for the Champions League last year, but this year with a stronger squad, we expect you to do that.”

I guess there are a couple of ways of reading that. My first thought was that Raul is referring to a top four finish because that would obviously demonstrate some progress in terms of our final league position. The 38 games we play in the Premier League are the real marker for making judgements about the team and how it has performed.

Of course there is another way into the Champions League, and that’s via the Europa League. We had that avenue open to us last season too, but the shambles of the final in Baku put paid to that after we’d blown it domestically. However, I think there has to be a bit more to what’s expected of Emery than simply CL qualification. For example, if we finish 10th in the Premier League but win the final, you could argue that’s he achieved what he was asked to, but I doubt very much if his reward for that would be another season in charge.

I don’t expect us to finish 10th or anything, but those are circumstances in which Emery’s primary goal will have been completed. It’s sort of like ‘Well, we won, so what does it matter how he played?!’. Nobody could genuinely make a case for him prolonging his stay if it happened like that.

The end of last season left scars for me, I have to say. To miss out the way we did, against the teams we dropped points to, was truly disheartening. For me it was an abject failure considering the position we were in, exacerbated by Baku, but the club obviously decided there was enough mitigation for it. Injuries, Emery’s first season, the fact they didn’t really back him in January when, in hindsight, one half decent player might well have been enough to make the small difference between Europa League and Champions League, so this summer they backed him in the transfer market in a big way.

The transfer record was broken by a considerable margin to bring in Nicolas Pepe from Lille; we got a Real Madrid midfielder to replace the gap left by Aaron Ramsey; a top left-back in Kieran Tierney; a centre-half; and an exciting young forward. Raul’s comments make it clear that there is no hiding place anymore, no excuses, because as a club we cannot spend another season in the pox-ridden slums of the Europa League. And I say that even after thoroughly enjoying the win over Standard Liege, but once we get into this Thursday – Sunday grind, it’s hard to find any goodwill towards this competition regardless of how much fun the young players are.

I suspect that even if we finish top four, we could see a change of manager going into next season. Much depends on how we get there. If we see obvious improvement in our performances and the team start to gel, then that’s one thing. If it’s another 30 games of mind-numbing football in which we scrape our way to enough wins to finish above some of our rivals undergoing struggles of their own, I think the people in charge of football matters at this club won’t be shy in going in a different direction.

I was struck by something Dennis Bergkamp said in the interview with Ian Wright this week. He was talking about how he came to join Arsenal, and touched on the way the game was played in Italy:

“When you come from Italy, you have to realise that football is more like a job, like work from 9-5. You have to get one point, or you have to get three points. I sort of lost the feeling of what football is all about. It’s a game, you’ve got to have fun.”

It feels quite relevant at the moment, because it’s something that missing from Arsenal in the Premier League right now. Remember too, this isn’t some bloke who just wanted to have a laugh and mess around on the training ground – this is Dennis Bergkamp, one of the greatest players in our history. A player whose dedication and professionalism was an example to seasoned pros like Wrighty and to all the young players at the club who grew up around him. Someone who lived his life to maximise his talent, and you can’t tell me that he didn’t want anything else than perfection when it came to his own performance, and that of the team.

Basically what he’s saying is that there is a correlation between enjoying the game, being entertaining and also being effective on the pitch. The two things go hand in hand, and so far this season – despite that backing in the transfer window – Emery hasn’t managed to find it in the Premier League. That’s why I think it won’t just be where we end up this season that will define him, it’s how we get there.

Righto. I’ll leave you with a brand new Arsecast, chatting a bit about Emery the coach, communicator and tactician with Alex Kirkland of the Spanish Football Podcast (@tsf_podcast), and Tim Stillman chats with Arsenal Women defender Leah Williamson. Listen, subscribe, do the thing.

Enjoy.

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