Emery is turning Arsenal into a mediocre side while superstars Ozil and Torreira are being wasted
SURPRISE, surprise there was no Mesut Ozil or Lucas Torreira for Arsenal and surprise, surprise there was once again no cutting edge at the London Stadium.
It was another case of a lethargic opening 45 minutes and things did not get much better after half-time.
Declan Rice’s first West Ham goal – just two days before his 20th birthday – settled this lacklustre game with a neat finish.
Felipe Anderson did well but Arsenal failed to get rid and the young midfielder punished them.
And there was no way back as Arsenal look set to fall further behind the top four later on this weekend.
Their fans have had to get used to slow starts under Unai Emery – who is not doing himself any favours with his team selections, it has to be said.
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He has an excellent, talented squad at his disposal, no matter what anyone might say, but he is simply wasting it by leaving some of his best players out.
The Gunners have led at the interval just twice in the league this season, including last time out on New Year’s Day against Fulham.
Today, though, it was back to business as usual to the frustration of those that made the trip across the capital.
They had very little to cheer about. Alexandre Lacazette, the Gunners’ only bright spark for much of the game, went close a couple of times early on including with a speculative volley.
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But it feels like this Arsenal record is well and truly broken as a lack of creativity was the theme of the day, stuck on repeat and showing no signs of being fixed any time soon, especially with no purchases in January..
What does Emery expect, though, when he leaves Juventus-bound Aaron Ramsey – a move which makes Arsenal look frankly stupid – on the bench and Ozil out of the team completely.
Ozil had trained all week, was fit and, judging by his social media, raring to go today.
Emery had other ideas and was made to pay for it.
One incident with quarter of an hour played summed it all up, really.
The ball fell to Matteo Guendouzi on the edge of area and his task was simple: pass to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the Premier League’s top scorer would be one-on-one with Lukasz Fabianski.
But he fluffed his lines, Aubameyang had to stretch for it and within a moment the chance was gone.
If only Arsenal had someone who could play in the No10 and thread a neat pass when it mattered most. If only…
The first half petered out for the Gunners, who were lucky not to fall behind when Anderson struck narrowly wide.
Now he is a player that would add something, some much-needed flair and quality, into this Arsenal team.
He has certainly been better than Henrikh Mkhitaryan this season and proved it when he got the better of Lacazette in the build-up to Rice’s goal.
There are no doubt plenty of pros to the 3-4-3 formation Emery started with but oh boy there are some cons.
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It does not lend itself to playing a No10 without crowding out the attack and that is the problem for Ozil, who can only really play in that role.
You would think, therefore, that the Arsenal boss would maybe opt for one holding midfielder and one midfielder who is going to create a bit more as his pair.
You know, like Torreira and Aaron Ramsey, for example. Oh wait…
It wasn’t until the hour-mark that those two were finally introduced in place of the ineffective Granit Xhaka and defender Shkodran Mustafi as Emery switched to 4-3-3.
You can’t say he doesn’t mind shaking things up. The problem is he shouldn’t have to: Arsenal fans are well within their rights to expect him to get it spot on from the outset.
This is Arsenal Football Club, after all, not a struggling Premier League side unfamiliar with the division, although they looked that way for parts of this game.
Suddenly, with Torreira sitting in the middle, Guendouzi by his side and Ramsey pushing on, Arsenal looked far better.
They had a new energy about them. Funny that.
Ramsey almost set up an equaliser within minutes of coming on, looking to get the faintest of touches on a cross-field pass that sent Alex Iwobi through.
But as is so often the case with the Nigerian, his end product was just off the mark – this time he dragged his effort across goal and just wide of the far post.
It really makes you wonder how the result and – just as importantly – the performance would have differed if Torreira and Ramsey started.
But the most pressing issue is not what would have happened had they started but why did they not.
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