In case you missed it (as if!), the self-proclaimed “Special One” is back, after using his brief stint as a pundit on Sky Sports to issue some thinly veiled “come and get me” soundbites, he seemingly helped convince the powers that be at Tottenham that the only way to salvage their season, even this early on, was to jettison Mauricio Pochettino and allow José to come riding to the rescue in what will be his third English club and fourth Premier League managerial stint.
On the face of it, it seems scarcely credible that a club could sack a manager a mere matter of months after he led them to the first Champions League Final in their history. However a closer examination of domestic results with Spurs having only won three of their final twelve league games last season and producing an almost identical return from the opening dozen games of this campaign, was enough for Daniel Levy to pull the trigger. The fact that Mourinho’s appointment was announced just twelve hours later suggests that his recruitment had been sealed in advance.
However, what no one is saying is that there have been extenuating circumstances at play at Tottenham, while their shiny new £1 billion home is apparently the envy of world football it came at a price: an exile at Wembley for 18 months, restrictions on transfer spending which saw no signings at all ahead of 2018/19, star players making not overly subtle noises that they want out, and frustration at lack of involvement in the club’s transfer dealings that boiled over to such an extent that Pochettino ranted ahead of the start of the season: “I know nothing about the situation of my players…I am only coaching them, trying to get the best from them…This type of thing, that are going to happen or not happen, sell or buy players, extend contracts or not extend contracts – it’s not in my hands, it’s in the club’s hands and in Daniel Levy’s hands.” One can only imagine how Mourinho is going to cope in that situation!
Whether they agree with the firing of Pochettino or not, it would be difficult for any Tottenham fan to accuse the club’s executives of not being proactive, of not addressing the perceived failings and under-performance that saw them floundering in the bottom half of the table with it seemingly all to do to get back into the top four and retain their place in the all-important cash cow that is the Champions League.
Meanwhile it is a very different case across North London where Unai Emery is the very epitome of the proverbial ‘dead man walking’, well that would be the apt description if the ownership showed the least bit of interest in events on the field! To say that Arsenal have stagnated would be being overly kind, performances of individuals and of the squad as a whole are regressing at an alarming rate. The squad is very much the antithesis of the old adage with in this case the whole seeming to be very much less than the sum of the individual parts.
A comparison of Unai Emery’s first 50 league games in charge compared to Arsène Wenger’s last 50 – unquestionably the long-serving Frenchman’s worst spell at the helm, shows: two less wins, one less point gained, consistently allowing a high number of shots against and as an inevitable result more goals conceded, eight less clean sheets, fewer shots taken and as a consequence less goals scored. Not exactly the hallmarks of progress under the new Head Coach!
Perhaps most striking in Emery’s approach has been the constant chopping and changing of players selected (or not for that matter!) and the systems and formations involved. To date the Basque coach has: used a total of 35 players, the highest in the Premier League during that time; found it necessary to make a total of 32 substitutions before the start of the second half; and shown no consistency whatsoever in how he sets up his team. If rumours are to be believed the majority of the squad are simply unable to understand what he wants from them, a situation that anyone who has ever tried to fathom one of his pre or post-match interviews can only have empathy with!
Equally Emery’s man-management is baffling. The freezing out of the side’s one bona fide creative talent in Mesut Özil only to desperately bring him back in an attempt to spark an attack that boasts a genuine goalscorer starved of service in the form of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The refusal to use Lucas Torreira in the role to which he is most suited at the base of midfield. The complete mishandling of the captaincy situation which saw Granit Xhaka handed the armband by default only for him to be stripped of it after his impetuous child-like tantrum after being jeered when he was subbed against Crystal Palace. His seeming complete lack of understanding of how to use the club’s record signing, Nicolas Pépé, to integrate him and get the best out of a player who was apparently highly sought after by Europe’s elite clubs. All these issues scream of indecision at best or a lack of competence at the highest level at worst.
The capitulation at the end of last season, where from a seemingly strong position to regain their place in the top four, Emery’s charges managed to take just seven points from the last seven games, dropping points against teams that were to finish behind them in the table in: Everton, Crystal Palace, Wolves, Leicester and Brighton. A run of poor form that ultimately saw them finish a point behind Spurs. Yes the same Spurs whose end to last season combined with their start to this one saw their manager sacked!
You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who endures watching Arsenal at the moment capable of giving any good reason for Emery continuing in his role. The optimism sparked by good work in the summer transfer window has evaporated completely with the woeful start to the season that sees the club currently languishing in eighth place in the table, eight points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, having won just four of their thirteen league games this season.
In all honesty as much as anyone might want/ hope for Emery to turn things round, there isn’t the slightest hint that he has any idea how to. Another abject, soulless, performance last night in the Europa League against Eintracht Frankfurt was further confirmation of that, if any was actually needed.
Earlier in the week another statement from various Arsenal supporters’ groups under the banner of #WeCareDoYou following on from the one issued in July, outlined: “grave concerns” over the future of the club, a “seemingly inexorable slide” in performances and an increasingly “toxic atmosphere” at the Emirates. While Arsenal fans may be garnering a reputation for always moaning/ protesting, the clear unconcern of the owner for anything other than an impact on the financial bottom line will no doubt see the complaints continuing to fall upon deaf ears, unless the swathes of empty seats all too evident again last night continue to be a feature of home matches.
Football has changed over the last decade or so, gone are the long-term legacy managers, instead clubs now generally have Directors of Football and contract coaches for limited periods to try to maximise short-term impact on the performance of the squad and results. Tottenham have shown they are starting to follow this modus operandi, their new ‘boss’ has sparked things immediately with a win away at West Ham and then at home to Olympiacos in the Champions League, the key question is whether Arsenal can afford not to follow suit? The reported crisis meeting of the club’s senior figures this morning will tell us all we need to know about the owner’s ambitions.