Renovating the rubble that had been left behind following Arsenal’s rather catastrophic collapse in the final years of Arsene Wenger was never going to be an overnight fix.
There was so much wrong with the Gunners when Unai Emery walked through the doors of the Emirates Stadium that even finding themselves in a position last term where they were in a European final was impressive.
It might not be a giant leap but baby steps are being taken in driving Arsenal in the right direction.
Whether or not you’re in support of the Spaniard, time must be given. There isn’t a quick solution here and the defensive mistakes that lie embedded in the club like a fossil on a cliff face won’t disappear quickly.
After all, the basic errors Arsenal’s defenders are making are almost so appalling it’s impossible to undo them from their game.
Since Emery walked through the door, the Gunners have given away ten league penalties, a Premier League high during that time frame.
They’d conceded the most shots on their goal this season in Europe’s top five leagues a few weeks ago and there have been 14 individual errors leading to goals since the new head coach arrived.
It’s a remarkable record but there are also problems in attack where the system and tactics seem disjointed.
£72m man Nicolas Pepe has been playing up front instead of in a favoured wide role while a defensive looking midfield has been preferred. This is as far from the entertaining football you might have expected when Ivan Gazidis unveiled the former PSG boss.
“We had some clear criteria that we were looking for in our selection, the first was progressive, entertaining football, a personality that fits Arsenal’s values,” he said.
That, however, is not what Arsenal now are.
Things may be entertaining, but for all the wrong reasons, and that’s been cited by many a pundit as chaotic uproar ensues around the Emirates.
After drawing 2-2 with Watford, Graham Souness said on Sky Sports, via the Express: “It was as if this was the first team in the first half but the second team in the second half. They capitulated.
“Proper teams don’t play like that. Proper teams don’t have a half like that in the first half then play like that in the second half. Proper teams just don’t do that.”
It said a lot about just how Emery sets up his team, and the usually vocal Paul Merson has also weighed in on the debate. He wrote the following in one of his Sky Sports columns:
“Arsenal were commended for not collapsing at Liverpool the week before, credit where credit’s due, but nothing has changed. It’s like Unai Wenger is running things at the moment.”
That final line is perhaps the most damning of all – this isn’t a side that’s shown too much development despite a new man at the helm.
Arsenal fans have expressed their disillusionment towards Emery at times as well, while talkSPORT’s Simon Jordan and The Mirror’s John Cross appear to be swaying towards the Emery Out camp as well.
But are we not overreacting here? Yes the defence is a colossal issue and there’s no hiding that. However, Arsenal need to believe in the project at hand and they need some extra stability.
Big moves have been made in the transfer market and there was a certain ruthlessness to their transfer business in shipping on deadwood like Henrikh Mkhitaryan that we haven’t seen before.
The major reason for allowing time, though, is because Emery has spent large periods at Arsenal having to patch a team together. Last term he spent the vast majority of the season with Wenger’s squad while he also missed some key performers.
Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin’s ACL injuries last campaign were monumental blows – especially for a team that aren’t good defensively.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles has documented that he’s not a defender, showing why Bellerin has been a miss while Holding was also crucial.
During a run of ten successive games in the side in 2018/19, the centre back failed to lose a single match.
That tells you all you need to know about his influence.
As sluggish as the attack sometimes is, they won’t ever gain the confidence to play their natural game all the time until the defence is patched up.
Holding and Bellerin will help with that significantly, as too will Kieran Tierney who missed the opening seven matches of the season.
It might be a stretch too far to suggest they can save Emery’s tenure but they can certainly lend a huge helping hand.
Their returns should allow for more solidity and that’s why further time is needed.
Maitland-Niles, Sokratis and David Luiz have had clumsy starts to the campaign but three quarters of the defence could be about to change.
If Arsenal continue to underperform with three major players back, criticism will be more understandable and perhaps a degree of chaos can be allowed.
For now, however, it’s better to reserve judgement until later in the season.