Saturday 14 December 2019

Emery moves closer to an Emirates exit as Gunners crumble

Arsenal 1-2 Eintracht Frankfurt

Arsenal manager Unai Emery looks dejected. Photo: Reuters
Arsenal manager Unai Emery looks dejected. Photo: Reuters

Sam Dean

By the end it was hard to avoid feeling some sympathy for Unai Emery, standing in disgust on the touchline, looking for all the world like a man who could smell something rotten.

His critics will argue that it is his team which is decaying, of course, and those voices of dissent will only grow louder after this latest night of disappointment.

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Make no mistake, the end is coming for Emery, now seven games without a win despite fielding a stronger-than-usual side in the Europa League. Emery is a dignified manager who has always carried himself well, even when the mood has shifted, but this was not a dignified night and at this rate it will not be a dignified exit.

In front of what was probably the lowest-ever attendance at the Emirates, Arsenal produced a second-half collapse that summarised their current malaise.

Gruelling

If anything, it was made more gruelling for Emery by the fact that Arsenal had started the match impressively, taking the lead, through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, against an Eintracht Frankfurt side which took 50 minutes to realise how vulnerable their opponents might be.

Eintracht Frankfurt's Daichi Kamada celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates. Photo: Action Images via Reuters
Eintracht Frankfurt's Daichi Kamada celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

When Frankfurt pushed, Arsenal crumbled. It was not the performance of a group of players who are fighting for their manager.

It was not a performance that will help Emery's cause, his future at the club already hanging by a thread. The sight of a half-empty stadium, losing to the 10th best team in Germany with the returning Granit Xhaka filling in as a makeshift centre-back, could well be the lasting image of the Spaniard's reign.

Given Emery's perilous position, it was tempting to view the diminished crowd as a reflection of his unpopularity with the Arsenal fanbase.

To do so would not be entirely fair, though, because of the extenuating circumstances that had prevented Arsenal from selling their usual allocation.

Eintracht Frankfurt's Daichi Kamada scores their second goal. Photo: Action Images via Reuters
Eintracht Frankfurt's Daichi Kamada scores their second goal. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

The Frankfurt supporters had been barred because of disturbances during their match against Vitoria last month, but it was arguably Arsenal who were being punished the most.

The club had to sell a reduced amount of tickets through fear of Frankfurt fans gaining access with tickets to the home sections.

It all left the Emirates feeling a little barren.

Even pre-season friendlies have more of an atmosphere than this, although there is generally more optimism around the team at that stage of the year.

Nevertheless, Arsenal started relatively well. Emery had called for the side to be more "compact" and in practical terms that meant the inclusion of David Luiz as a defensive midfielder.

Alongside the Brazilian was the returning Xhaka, whose name was largely cheered when it was announced before kick-off.

Five games had passed since Xhaka's last appearance, when he was booed off the pitch by his own supporters. There have been no wins since, which serves as a straightforward explanation for Xhaka's inclusion here.

With Emery's job on the line and Norwich lying in wait on Sunday, it felt like this was laying the groundwork for the midfielder's league return this weekend.

If Luiz as a midfielder was the grand masterplan, it was just Emery's luck that he had to be substituted after only half an hour following a painful whack to the chest.

Arsenal could have been a couple of goals up by then. Gabriel Martinelli twice went close, Aubameyang headed wide and Bukayo Saka had an effort saved as the home side dominated the early exchanges.

Saka had another attempt before half-time, following good work by Joe Willock. Calum Chambers had a shot from range, too, before Aubameyang finally made the breakthrough.

Martinelli's low cross had skidded across the box and Aubameyang's first-time effort bounced into the roof of the net via the goalkeeper's foot and the crossbar.

Xhaka was enjoying himself on his return, for a brief time. He nearly scored at the end of the first half and then created a fine chance for Chambers at the start of the second with a sumptuous piece of skill near the corner flag.

Costly

It proved to be a costly miss from Chambers. Frankfurt had made two changes at half-time and their improvement was swift. Daichi Kamada soon twisted on the edge of the box before firing low into the far corner.

The smattering of celebrations across the Emirates had shown that the ban on German supporters had not been entirely effective, to say the least.

They had another opportunity to celebrate a few minutes later.

Again it was Kamada, again it was from the edge of the box. The shot was powerful, sliding into the same corner as his first.

What did it say about the support for the team, which Emery had pleaded for in advance of this match, that the Arsenal fans were now being outsung by a team who supposedly had no supporters in the ground? Emery can probably guess at the answer.

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