Unai Emery deserves criticism, writes Arsenal fan Jack Green, but sitting fourth in the Premier League table means this is no crisis.
“Just because we didn’t lose, doesn’t mean we won.”
That’s a line from the new series of Netflix’s Top Boy, but it could easily have been from the disgruntled mutterings of an Arsenal fan on Sunday afternoon.
While the Gunners fought back from a goal and a man down to beat Aston Villa 3-2 at the Emirates, a quick search of Unai Emery’s name on Twitter proves that, for plenty of supporters, any result prolonging the Spaniard’s time in charge is not to be celebrated.
Twitter is, of course, the home of the hot take, but the consensus is clear: Sunday’s fightback merely masks the fact that this team is broken, that the club are in crisis.
Except, they’re not.
Arsenal are fourth in the Premier League, only two points behind Manchester City.
They are three points above Tottenham and Manchester United, who are down in seventh and eighth and arguably in more trouble than Emery’s side.
Although a home win against Villa should be routine for a club with Arsenal’s aspirations, no side outside of the top two has made these matches look easy this season.
Tottenham and Manchester United both suffered defeats this weekend. Chelsea squandered a two-goal lead to draw at home to Sheffield United just three weeks ago. Even City lost 3-2 at Norwich.
Some perspective is required. A top-four finish was a realistic goal for Arsenal at the start of the season, and perhaps looks even more likely now.
There are, of course, areas in which Emery deserves criticism.
He doesn’t seem to know his best midfield (and if he does, he believes it includes Granit Xhaka), and he’s still yet to solve his most high-profile conundrum – finding a consistent place in the side for Mesut Ozil.
Individual errors have hurt Arsenal just as much as the manager’s missteps over the past few weeks, though.
They have given away a penalty or had a man sent off in each of their last four Premier League matches, with players like Xhaka and David Luiz unable to control an insatiable desire to make rash, costly tackles.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles put Emery in a familiar place on Sunday – a hole, caused by a poor decision by one of his players.
But just as he was lambasted for his substitutions when Arsenal were clinging on to a 2-1 lead at Watford, the manager should be praised for making the changes that helped beat Aston Villa.
He left Mesut Ozil on the bench and turned instead to Lucas Torreira and Joe Willock, whose energy and vigour helped Arsenal press Villa into submission even while a man down.
Arsenal must improve defensively. They can’t keep conceding 18 shots per game. Emery must find a way to gain more control in midfield.
But to claim, as many supporters seem to be, that they are no better now than they were at the end of Arsene Wenger’s tenure is simply not true.
In Wenger’s final season, Arsenal lost eight of their last 16 games of the Premier League campaign, including defeats to Bournemouth, Swansea, Brighton and Newcastle.
They improved their points tally by seven points last season and reached the final of the Europa League.
Arsenal have known crises. This isn’t one.
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