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The Arsenal hierarchy's tolerance of Unai Emery's mediocrity is doing supporters a disservice

The Arsenal hierarchy's tolerance of Unai Emery's mediocrity is doing supporters a disservice

The Gunners' decision to stick by their man is creating an avoidable negative atmosphere around the Emirates.

THE final vestiges of the Wenger reign were very draining for Arsenal fans. Either supporters had wanted the manager to leave for so long that frustration had built to a crescendo, or else they maintained a deep well of respect for Arsene and the atmosphere of rancour pained them silently. His eventual departure was a relief on many levels.

The thundery skies over the Emirates cleared and a new era breezed through the corridors. The stale atmosphere was lifted. I recall the first game of Unai Emery’s premiership at home to Manchester City. I walked into the pub I always frequent before home games and the air was alive with chatter, there was standing room only and even the occasional song filled the lungs of the clientele.

I had forgotten what that was like and it struck me like a shovel to the face. Several groundhog seasons under Arsene had worn down the sense of optimism that the football fan feels in August. The supporters were ready for a new era and they grabbed hold of it with both hands. Arsenal looked a bit disjointed in those opening weeks but that was ok, because everybody knew Emery had inherited an unbalanced squad and it would take time for his methods to resonate.

In early October, the Gunners thumped lowly Fulham 5-1 at Craven Cottage. The sense of optimism spilled out into cavernous away stand at Craven Cottage. “We’ve got our Arsenal back!” cried the away fans, drunk on the optimism of a new era. The chant was premature and maybe even a little naïve- I think it felt it at the time and it maybe even felt a little disrespectful to the outgoing coach.

Around this time, articles began to circulate from the football analytics community forewarning that the underlying metrics suggested Arsenal were benefitting from a large slice of serendipity. Many shouted down the articles, the truth was that many Gunners fans were totally bought into the new broom and all of its associated optimism.

Arsenal’s season eventually fizzled out and a thrashing in the Europa League Final sent fans into the summer weary and unwilling to talk or think too much about their club. Strangely, Emery escaped a lot of censure in those weeks because supporters needed a holiday, frankly. The summer transfer business reinvigorated the fan base and that buzz was back again at the Emirates Cup, as Dani Ceballos made his debut and news circulated of Nicolas Pepe’s imminent arrival.

The optimism returned but incredibly poor performances this season have quickly punctured the balloon and the atmosphere has soured quickly at the Emirates. Granit Xhaka felt the full force of Arsenal supporters’ discontent against Crystal Palace and the stadium has been a curious mix of the semi-engaged the permanently grumpy and the plain just not there. Boos began to ring around even before the final whistle against Southampton on Saturday.

Arsenal fans have a reputation for lugubriousness and it’s not entirely unwarranted. But they really didn’t want the Unai Emery era to descend into such sourness. The sag towards disquiet has been precipitated by the club’s refusal to do the necessary and remove a coach that is so obviously not up to the mark. Arsenal’s new structure was so exciting precisely because it was meant to be independent of a monolithic manager.

Yet the new structure of Raul Sanllehi, Edu and Vinai Venkatesham appears to have frozen in the face of its first serious test. Instead they have paid deference to the coach and shown a reluctance to act. With that, optimism has drained quickly from the fan base as poor performances have been tolerated and left to fester.

All of which is to say that Arsenal fans did not want it to be like this. They wanted to believe that Unai Emery and the executive structure above him represented a brave new world, they wanted to buy in and believe that they had their Arsenal back. The recrimination and bitterness of the end of the Wenger reign suited nobody and nobody wanted to go back to an atmosphere of acerbity. This was all so avoidable too, but ultimately Arsenal fans are left staring at the shattered remnants of more broken promises.





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Tim Stillman
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