Fresh from a mauling in Sheffield, the comedy roadshow known as Arsenal Football Club returned home to the Emirates to take on Crystal Palace. The two sides certainly share recent history, after Arsenal transfer-target Wilfried Zaha netted last season as Palace crushed the Gunners’ top-four dreams. In this article, I will pick out the major talking points of this season’s first encounter.
The divisive Swiss International provided the major talking point of the game without question. Arsenal’s club captain, seemingly Emery’s main man, found himself being substituted on 61 minutes. The Swiss international has become something of a scapegoat this season, in the absence of fellow scapegoats Shkodran Mustafi and Mesut Ozil. The announcement of his departure resulted in several cheers, followed by boos as he slowly trudged off. In my opinion, the supporters responsible for this should be seriously ashamed of their actions.
Like Xhaka or not (for what it’s worth I like him but not at Arsenal), no fans should boo their own players. Xhaka’s response, conducting the crowd before storming down the tunnel, was unprofessional. However, he is only human, and the abuse he has been receiving both on match days and on social media (to the extent where he has had to disable his comments), is frankly disgraceful. I am a firm believer in supporting the players through thick and thin, and Xhaka’s performances simply do not warrant the level of abuse which he has been receiving.
Emery being hounded out?
Unlike players, who can I feel be a victim of a bad system, I have far less patience for stubborn and tactically inept managers. Nor, it seems, can much of the Arsenal faithful. This week, the atmosphere at the Emirates stadium reflected this. Earlier in the week, Emery had explained his position on Mesut Ozil, claiming that the decision to ostracise the German is one made with the backing of the club.
Clearly, however, the Arsenal fans have had enough. In the final minutes of the game, with the score remaining at 2-2, the German World Cup winner’s name was being loudly sung around the ground. It is becoming increasingly obviously personal, as Arsenal again lacked the creativity required to break down a very ordinary side.
Of course, if the football being played was better without Ozil, there would not be an issue. The problem is, it is far worse. With the situation at present, it is looking ever more likely that Mesut Ozil will outlast his manager at the club, as you feel the situation must give one way or another in the coming days. If Emery doesn’t yield, and in doing so completely undermine his own position, I honestly cannot see him being tolerated for much longer.
Three players stood out
After dissecting the negatives of the game, I think it is only fair that I briefly comment on the few positives shown on the pitch. First and foremost, I must continue to heap praise on Matteo Guendouzi; playing in a static and one-dimensional midfield, he continues to stand out week-in, week-out. His passion, determination and desire to work hard have made him a firm fan-favourite, and yet with Arsenal on their current trajectory, he is almost certain to join a better club.
Other than the twenty-year-old Frenchman, I thought that new signings Nicolas Pepe and Kieran Tierney were also impressive. Tierney, making his Premier League debut, looked a constant threat down the left-hand side, and his early crossing caught our forwards out as much as the Palace defence. The decision to substitute him Although it remains early days, the Scotsman looks a bargain at twenty-five million.
Finally, credit has to be given to Nicolas Pepe. The Ivorian has endured a difficult start to his Premier League career but has this week shown glimpses of why Arsenal forked out £72m for him. He was the brightest spark in the Gunner’s defeat at Bramall Lane, before rescuing the team with two superb free-kicks on Thursday night.
Again today, he looked threatening from the right flank, as well as providing a series of fantastic corners from which Arsenal ultimately scored their two goals. He is getting better with each appearance and is one small positive which Arsenal fans can take from another lacklustre team performance.
Sunday’s game could yet prove a watershed moment in Arsenal’s and Unai Emery’s season. Another poor performance has left him on the precipice, or over it, in the eyes of many fans. Equally, it will be intriguing to see how Granit Xhaka is dealt with and responds after his spat with the crowd. In my opinion, the Spanish coach is on borrowed time, and he simply needs to find a way to turn it around. If that means swallowing his pride, so be it.