Arsenal – Unai Emery Survival Map
A couple of years ago, when the schedule for the CONCACAF Hexagonal World Cup qualification came out, I looked at the first two fixtures of the USMNT (United States men's national soccer team) – Mexico, and away to Costa Rica – and feared that we may not get off the mark, jeopardizing our chance of qualifying.
It was déjà vu all over again when I saw Arsenal’s opening two fixtures this season. The parallels don’t end there. Both teams feature a porous defence and an inability to win away from home (based on Arsenal’s last season). Eventually, the US missed because they couldn't muster a single point at last placed Trinidad and Tobago.
Our last fixture is at Burnley, who very nearly took our Europa spot. One hopes that solitary point is for Champions League qualification, not Europa.
While we have lost both the opening fixtures, there isn't quite the same level of panic as the Manchester United's 8-2 drubbing that finally prodded Wenger into some panic buying. Well, if the window was still open, I’d be all for some panic buying by Unai Emery.
Indeed, I am hoping for some harvesting of capital for the January transfer window and am panicking that not one of the players has been offloaded. If Welbeck isn’t going to make it on the pitch, why keep him? (I would hang on to him because he is the closest thing we have to a tall target if we have to play long ball). Of course, I suppose one has to first find Carl Jenkinson before one can sell him!
My DVR decided to go on the fritz on Saturday, so I only have second-hand accounts of the game against Chelsea. Last time that happened, we were being thumped 6-0 at Chelsea, so I feared the worst.
However, by all accounts, there were many encouraging signs, even a spell towards the end of the first half when a couple of blown sitters, by Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang of all people, might have sewn up the game for the Gunners.
Okay, the only positive signs I took from the Manchester City game were that they didn’t tromp all over us like last season, and Matteo Guendouzi can play against the big boys. On the negative side were not just the defensive errors, but Emery’s decision to play a very high line with a very slow central defence.
So, while no one is calling for Emery’s head yet, this Saturday must loom large over his head. Showing an ability to pose a speed bump to Manchester City, and a competitive loss to Chelsea may be forgivable, but anything except 3 points at home to a struggling West Ham side would push everyone’s panic button.
On paper, it seems a fairly straightforward W for the Gunners. However, if you look at the speed up front for Westham- Marco Arnautovic, Michail Antonio, or Arthur Masuaku down the side, the weekend doesn’t look quite so relaxing anymore. Emery’s survival map begins here – 3 points on Saturday, ugly will do.
The next milepost on the road is the end of September. Two winnable fixtures against Cardiff City and Newcastle United will tell us whether the away woes of last year continue to fester. Most fans will be looking for two wins, but a draw at Cardiff would push the panic button, a loss would bring out the knives.
Anything less than 4 points from these two games would spell trouble for Emery. The following two games are at home, but neither team is a pushover. Home form was the saving grace last year, and Emery must do more than pray to keep that going. Collectively, anything less than 9 points in September would be the first nail in his coffin.
Decisions get made in December, so a new man can buy in January. October brings Fulham away, Leicester at home – a must 6 points, though Jamie Vardy may have other ideas. We close away at Crystal Palace, a tough one against a team that has the double threat of speed (Wilfred Zaha, Andres Townsend) and size (Christian Benteke) up front.
Next up, Liverpool, likely a loss despite it being at home – they pose the same challenges as Man City. Wolves at home and Bournemouth away – another must 6 points. The points tally going into December would be 24 points.
If Emery though August was tough, wait till he sees the December lineup. Insane doesn’t begin to describe it. Spurs at home and Man United away, almost a replay of August. The difference is that he must win both games.
From the 30 points against other top 6 opponents, having ruled out points against Manchester City and Liverpool, and having dropped 3 against Chelsea, the Gunners have to find at least 3 wins and two draws (11 points) to mount a credible challenge for a CL spot.
Dropping points to Spurs at home could easily deflate the fans beyond recovery, and a home beat is essential for the immense mountain Emery has to climb. Getting the 6 points would also create a steamroller for the next four, potentially winnable games – Huddersfield at home, Southampton away, Burnley at home, then Brighton away.
One hopes the Europa first round would be sewn up by then, so he can rest players, and we draw Cholmondeley in the Caribou Cup. Allowing for one stumble, besides the L against Liverpool, December must net 15 points in a month that features an incredible 9 games!!
At 39 points on December 31st, Unai Emery lives to fight another day.