Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Will Unai Emery's first season with Arsenal finish like Arsene Wenger's last?

Arsenal's recent form calls for a reality check

Things can change very quickly in football. Earlier this year, Arsenal were 10 points adrift of a Tottenham side who were still in slight contention for the Premier Leaguetitle. Suddenly after three defeats in 4 games for Spurs, including a draw to the Gunners amid Arsenal winning back to back games, The Emirates Stadium outfit were ahead of their North London rivals in 3rd.

All of a sudden, the Gunners find themselves in almost the same position as Arsene Wenger's Arsenal last season after 36 games; they are currently outside of the top 4 and in a Europa League semi-final, following only 1 win in 5 games, 4 defeats in 5, 3 defeats in a row and 9 goals conceded in the last 3 matches.

So what are the odds of the North London side finishing the season in precisely the same manner as Wenger's last season, i.e., mirroring a 6th place league position with no Europa League trophy (no Champions League qualification)? Or can Unai Emery salvage Arsenal's season by either getting them 'over the top 4 finish line' or winning the Europa League (thus Champions League qualification)?

Should Arsenal end up in the Europa League next season, it will be all too poetic that a manager like Emery (with his reputation, built more on Europa League success) should be at the helm of a club who have already, cemented their status as no longer being a Champions League team for the last 2 years.

Poor away form

There is one thing we can judge Emery on before the season is up. Away from home, Arsenal are not good enough. Most fans would now argue, that the number of points dropped on the road is the most contributing factor in the uncertain hole they find themselves in right now. There's so much uncertainty that predicting which European competition they will find themselves in next season is not an easy one to call.

The fact that the Gunners have recorded only one away clean sheet this season, which was in their 33rd league game, illustrates how lousy Arsenal are defensively on the road. After hammering defeats to Wolves and Leicester of late, the testing away trips don't stop at the Molineux and the King Power Stadium.

The North London side have Burnley at Turf Moor and a trip to Spain to face Valencia in the Europa League on the horizon. As most fans know, coming away with 3 points at Burnley is not often an easy task, after all, Tottenham succumbed to a 2-1 defeat at this venue this season.

Some alarming stats won't inspire a great deal of confidence in the fans. In fact, after a recent shock defeat to Crystal Palace at the Emirates, would it come as much of a surprise if they didn't have any confidence at all?

The away stats lend a shocking perspective on things

Last season, Wenger's side finished 11th in the Premier League 'Away Table' on 16 points. This season, they currently have 22 points with 1 away game to go which seems like some improvement at first glance. However, in 2017-18, they conceded 31 away goals whereas, in 2018-19, the tally stands at 34, and they currently sit 10th in the Away Table; behind teams who hammered them recently, Wolves and Leicester.

Arsenal have conceded more on the road than Wolves, Leicester, Everton, Watford, Crystal Palace, West Ham, and Newcastle as well as teams as far down the Premier League table such as Southampton, Brighton, and Cardiff!

Would you say the odds of Arsenal beating mid-table teams away are higher than winning against the likes of Tottenham, Chelsea, and United at home? In answer to that question, ironically, a lot of fans may be inclined to say they have more confidence in beating the top 4 teams at home, than winning against the likes of mid-table teams, such as Wolves and Leicester away.

After all, home form against the top 4 sides has been excellent this season. The Emirates Stadium outfit has recorded solid victories including 4-2 against Tottenham, 2-0 against Chelsea and 2-0 against Manchester United.

Will the fans be chanting, 'Emery in' or 'Emery out' at the end of the season?

Statistics can be overemphasised in football, so the question is, how much of these facts are substantial enough to alter your thought process in predicting Arsenal's finish this season? Is your thinking more optimistic or pessimistic?

Some supporters may remain within the optimistic mindset while others, will take very sloppy away form more seriously. Chelsea very well could be the team who effectively denies Arsenal not just a top 4 spot, but also Europa League glory in the final (assuming the Gunners beat Valencia over two legs and the Blues get to the final themselves).

Despite all of the praise Emery is garnering from Arsenal fans, neutral supporters and pundits alike in terms of progress and improvement since Wenger departed, the jury is still very much out. What exactly has improved under Emery, you may now ask?

The Spaniard still has every chance to make amends for the rest of the season, nevertheless, it would be fair to say that, as it stands, the odds of Emery mirroring his predecessor's 2017-18 season in the Premier League and the Europa League are very likely.

The Gunners fans may look back and think not much has changed since Wenger departed last season. Emery may well find himself on the end of a backlash from a fanbase which isn't exactly easy going when it comes to their team failing.

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