Unrest in the Arsenal camp is growing amid poor results, disciplinary issues, and supporters growing increasingly frustrated by the Unai Emery regime.
The Gunners’ unbeaten run in the Europa League came to an end with a 1-1 stalemate away to Vitoria Guimaraes thanks to an equalizer in the 91st minute.
Yet again, as has happened several time this season, Emery’s team failed to protect a lead.
Last Saturday, the Spaniard’s team walked off the pitch to a chorus of boos. This time it was thanks to Wolves, who deservedly claimed a point at the Emirates in another 1-1 draw delivered late by Raul Jimenez.
Against Crystal Palace last month, Arsenal flew out of the traps and gave themselves a two goal lead within nine minutes. Almost inevitably it all went downhill from there, and Palace hit back to square the game.
Yet it was a match remembered for the ill-tempered confrontation between captain Granit Xhaka and his own supporters. Xhaka was substituted to the applause of the home fans. He reacted by sarcastically waving and cupping his ear. As a newly appointed captain of the club, it didn’t land well. He was then stripped of his captaincy by Emery.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has now taken over as the Gunners’ skipper.
Arsenal’s League Form a Concern
Arsenal’s league form has not been calamitous. They have only lost two EPL games so far this season, and one of those defeats was at leaders Liverpool.
The discontent stems from the lack of progress in Emery’s second season.
Arsenal are currently fifth in the EPL, but six points off the pace for a Champions League place, which would have been a basic target as the season started.
On current form, it hardly seems likely that they can break into the top four. Above them are inevitably Liverpool and Manchester City. However, Emery’s men are six points behind a resurgent Chelsea under Frank Lampard and high flying Leicester City.
This Saturday sees the Gunners visit the King Power stadium in what will be a crucial game for them to make up ground in the race for a Champions League spot. A defeat would leave Emery’s men nine point behind Leicester, a wide margin to reduce.
The leads that Arsenal have failed to hold, which again happened in September at bottom club Watford, are a symbol of a soft underbelly that can be exploited.
It’s a weakness that was apparent in the final years of Arsene Wenger’s reign, and so far has been anything but rectified. After eleven EPL games last season, Arsenal had won 23 points, six more than this season.
Arsenal Transfer Decision Under Scrutiny
Arsenal’s transfer dealings have also provoked debate this season, as the squad appears to be top heavy in attacking talent.
There is no question that Lacazette, Aubameyang, and the surprisingly mostly ignored Mesut Ozil would find a place in most teams across Europe.
Yet the signing of Nicolas Pepe, for a club record £72 million from Lille, has created the most contention. Pepe was bought to create more penetration on the right wing. Emery seemed to believe that it was a problem position, as he previously targeted Wilfried Zaha before he bought the Ivorian.
While its still early days for 24-year-old, its fair to say he has had a very poor start to his Arsenal career. Pepe was dropped to the bench for the visit of Wolves.
Defensive solidity has been the main problem. While the signing of 22-year-old Kieran Tierney from Celtic at left-back might help shore up that problem in the longer run, the purchase of David Luiz certainly has not.
Luiz was an economical purchase at just £8 million. But despite his experience, he was never going to provide the steel that Arsenal badly need at the back.
Using the money for the Pepe signing would have been better placed towards a commanding centre-half.
The Candidates to be Next Arsenal Manager
If Unai Emery was to fall on his sword, there are many potential applicants for the Arsenal hot seat. Here are the most likely contenders.
A former midfielder of the club for five years, winning two FA Cup medals under Arsene Wenger before he retired from playing in 2016.
Since then he joined Pep Guardiola’s revolution of Manchester City, where he has helped them win back-to-back titles and last season’s domestic treble. There is no doubt that Arteta has experienced one of the best football management educations under Guardiola. His current tutor also believes that Arteta would make a great manager.
Yet even though the 37-year -old has no management track record, and would represent a gamble, Arteta was thought be a strong contender last year when Emery was awarded the job.
As a former player he would be a popular amongst most of the fans. And you would expect him to play in a Wenger like style, but perhaps that would not be such a good thing.
Allegri is a name that is being touted for all the top jobs across Europe. He is currently out of work after leaving Juventus last summer, where he won five consecutive Italian Serie A titles, and four Italian Cups in a row.
After Bayern Munich sacked Niko Kovac this week, if Arsenal are serious about appointing Allegri, they might need to work fast.
Tactically Allegri would unquestionably turn Arsenal into a tougher opponent than what they currently are. However, it may be a little too pragmatic to fully fit in with the Arsenal ethos.
Allegri may need a club that is almost guaranteed Champions League football to tempt him to UK shores.
The Portuguese has not found another suitable position since his sacking at Manchester United nearly a year ago.
Like Allegri, his style of play would make Arsenal harder to beat. However, Mourinho’s negativity may be unpalatable to supporters and owners of the club alike.
His relationship with Arsenal has generally been a sour one, which has included several spats with Wenger, one which even led to touchline blows.
A further issue with Mourinho is that has his style of play may now be past its sell by date in terms of winning trophies. Out of his eight titles won in four different countries, and two Champions League victories, all but two of them came in 2010 or before.
Mourinho’s second spell in English football has been littered with bust-ups with staff and players. His handling of players to the press has left a lot to be desired at times.
The current hound dog demeanor of Mourinho is a far cry from the charismatic “special one” figure that entered into English football 15 years ago.
After a successful spell in Scotland, Rodgers is now working minor miracles with Leicester City.
Having already sampled big club life with Liverpool and Celtic, it appears that it would only be a matter of time before the Ulsterman is offered another high profile club.
The 46-year-old is without question ambitious, but would moving to Arsenal now really be that much of a step up from where he is currently employed? Leicester have wealthy owners, and the transfer budget that Rodgers received last summer was only £32 million less than Emery was allowed to spend.
A figure that certainly would have been the case, even without the sale of Harry Maguire to Manchester United.
Rodgers might now concede that he took the Liverpool job too early, and could be wary of making any rash moves. Yet he will know how things can change in football management, and still may plump for a historically bigger club if he was given the choice.
The former heartbeat of the most memorable sides of the Wenger era, Viera would be welcomed with open arms by many of the Arsenal faithful to manage the club.
His contribution as a player was invaluable in winning two league and cup doubles, plus being a member of “the invincible” side of 2003/4.
Like Arteta, he began his coaching career with Manchester City, albeit with the youth team as a coordinator. He then was promoted to managing the under-21 side.
After two years managing New York FC, who are also part of the City Football Group, he is now in charge of Nice in Ligue One, who were bought by billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe.
So far Nice are in 13th place, although it would be harsh for Arsenal’s owners to judge him after just a few months.
Similarly to Arteta, he would be a gamble down to his lack of experience, but would eclipse the Spaniard in the popularity stakes by far.