Unai Emery and Marco Silva are agents of evolution, not revolution, and so should be given more time
It is difficult to imagine two more commonly derided figures in football than Sam Allardyce and Arsene Wenger. Perhaps unfairly, both men have in recent years become frequent targets of Twitter parody accounts and football satirists everywhere.
Thus it was that fans of both their respective clubs celebrated their departures in the summer. Allardyce's sacking was a very welcome end to an brief and ugly marriage of convenience, whereas Wenger's was far more bittersweet, an amicable break-up after a long and initially happy relationship, in which the early passion of the Henry and Bergkamp years had faded away amid the monotony of away defeats at Stoke and countless disappointing transfer windows.
A new start or a false dawn?
Suddenly, both clubs seemed infused with a vigour in the summer, a sense that anything was possible now that they were in the hands of two bright young things from the continent, Messrs Unai Emery and Marco Silva.
For Arsenal in particular, there was real excitement; some fans had never lived to see their club play under a man not named Arsene Wenger.
And yet, as the curtain fell on 2018, both clubs found themselves in depressingly familiar territory. Arsenal were predictably dismantled 5-1 by a rampant Liverpool team, and while their 4-1 win over Fulham has gone some way to hiding their blushes, they still sit in a rather modest 5th position, 13 points off the top and and a full 8 points behind their North London rivals Spurs.
Everton can be found a further 5 places down the table, with 0 goal difference, more losses than victories and trailing behind the likes of Wolves, Watford and Leicester. Their recent form speaks of rampant inconsistency – their one win in four was a 5-1 mauling away at Burnley, while the three defeats consist of two home losses, including the 6-2 defeat to Spurs, and a drab 1-0 away at Brighton.
And thus it is that we ask – has anything really changed? Looking at the statistics alone, the answer is no; Everton have the exact same 27 points from 21 games and Arsenal are only 3 points better off than at the same point last season.
Worrying trends from the former regimes appear to remain prevalent in both team's performances too. The shambolic nature of Arsenal's defence in their hammering at Anfield was eerily reminiscent of when a Raheem Sterling-inspired Liverpool also beat them 5-1 in 2014.
Likewise, Everton had only two shots on target in their staggeringly flat performance against Leicester, a statistic that wouldn't have looked out of place among the harsh conservatism of Allardyce's reign.
Are we expecting results too quickly?
Ultimately though, the real answer is probably that change doesn't happen overnight. Both managers have made improvements upon the performances of their predecessors, if only slight.
Arsenal's 22-match unbeaten run prior to their defeat against Southampton has shown that they have an added resilience seldom seen under Wenger, and their 4-2 derby victory over the Spurs was a genuine quality performance that was all too rare in the last few years. Their recent drop in form can be attributed to various factors.
Injuries seem to have cost Emery dearly in recent weeks, with Rob Holding in particular proving a big loss. Laurent Koscielny seems as if he was rushed back from injury too soon to fill the hole at centre back, while Shkodran Mustafi looks every the bit the type of second rate Wenger signing that Emery will look to move away from in the future.
The truth of the matter is that Emery has inherited a patchwork, inconsistent squad from Wenger, but improvements have been made. Lucas Torreira looks a genuine quality addition in the middle while Matteo Guendouzi has shown fantastic potential at the tender age of 19.
Emery has also developed players already at the club, notably Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is level with Harry Kane on 14 goals scored this season. With another couple of transfer windows and a reliable top quality centre back under his belt, it is not to difficult to imagine that Arsenal will be a vastly improved outfit at this point next year.
Silva's underwhelming performance is perhaps harder to justify, given the weighty outlay on players over the summer. However, it must be considered that Silva is picking up the pieces from a club lacking any real sense of identity or style since the sacking of David Moyes five years ago.
The flamboyant gung-ho approach of Roberto Martinez was sharply at odds with the subsequently stodgy regimes of Ronald Koeman and Allardyce, and has resulted in an uneven squad that was heavy on attacking midfielders but devoid of a proven, natural striker and with a creaking backline of over-30 players.
Silva has sought to address this, and Richarlison has surely begun to recoup some of his eye-opening fee with a solid first half of the season and his first cap for Brazil. Silva has also sought to address their ageing defense, with the seemingly eternal stalwarts of Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines finally being moved to the fringes of the squad this season, while Ashley Williams is now safely away from the first team on loan at Stoke.
There is also an exciting batch of youth at the club, with Ademola Lookman, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, Jonjoe Kenny and Tom Davies all 21 or younger.
Their downturn in form has been alarming, to be sure, but is perhaps to be expected of a young squad after the heart-breaking nature of their last minute defeat at Anfield. Despite recent results, they are still comfortably mid-table and thus it seems sensible that, like Emery, Silva should be afforded the time to refresh his squad and develop an identity for the club as a whole.
Unfortunately, because of the short-term, reactionary nature of modern football fans, it seems that one or both of these managers may find themselves under pressure if there is no tangible improvement to be seen by the end of the season. But fans of either team would do well to reflect that change takes time.