Arsenal’s defeat at Sheffield United in October 2019 was the beginning of the end for Unai Emery and Patrice Evra didn’t hold back with his criticism as changes were made at the Emirates
Arsenal were labelled “babies” when they lost at Sheffield United in the back end of 2019.
Lys Mousset scored the winner for the Blades at Bramall Lane before Patrice Evra went in on the Gunners.
Unai Emery was into his second year by that point and had added several new faces in the summer having finished fifth in his debut season.
When Arsenal visited Yorkshire on that October evening they sat third, having lost just one of their opening eight games.
Evra played against an Arsenal side that could be bullied, at least that was the narrative at the time, and when he watched them a decade later he held the same view.
Yes they were easy on the eye, but when it came to grinding out three points the former Manchester United man felt they were a long way off.
“First of all, I’m really happy for Sheffield. They deserved the win, but I’m not surprised about Arsenal,” he said on Sky Sports.
“I used to call them my babies 10 years ago and they’re still, when I look at them, my babies and that’s the truth.
“I’m not being disrespectful when I say that, it’s just the feeling I’ve got with this team. They look pretty, they look good, but they don’t look like a winning team.
“They’re just here playing good football. When I looked at Arsenal, I was so happy to play against Arsenal because I knew I was going to win.
“Even when Robin van Persie came, and the first time I shook his hand, I said ‘welcome to a man’s club’.
“At the beginning he was upset but after one month he said, ‘you’re completely right, Patrice’ and that’s my feeling.”
The Spaniard was axed on November 29 – five weeks and eight games after the defeat at Sheffield United.
Emery has since admitted he felt that reverse was a turning point in his reign with results failing to improve.
Arsenal said the decision had been “taken due to results and performances not being at the level required”.
A crucial loss at Leiceste r, then seen as the Gunners’ top four challengers, highlighted the gulf that was being created between the north Londoners are their rivals.
Within 18 months of being dismissed Emery was leading Villarreal to a Europa League triumph – his fourth success in the competition.
Nevertheless at Arsenal things were haphazard to say the least with impressive results followed by concerning ones.
Emery was – and still is – a quality operator but he and the Gunners were simply not the right fit.
Attention turned to what next, with the Arsenal Supporters Trust being vocal in their view.
They said Emery’s dismissal was “unfortunate but inevitable” and the “more difficult challenge is to recruit a suitable successor”.
Hope under Arteta
Appointing a former player with minimal experience has been a trend around Europe and resulted plenty of success at some clubs.
Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid, before that Pep Guardiola at Barceona, so Arsenal decided to follow suit.
“We need to be competing for the top trophies in the game,” Arteta said upon his arrival.
Well he was true to his word, delivering the FA Cup within eight months of joining.
The Gunners beat Manchester City in the semi-final and then Chelsea in the final.
The Gunners looked to have stumbled across a man who could take them places.
Additions were made in the summer, Willian arrived from Chelsea, Thomas Partey came in and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang signed a new deal.
All was well.
A rude awakening
Not that it last long however. Arsenal won three of their opening league four games.
After that though Arteta saw his side win one of their next 10, a run that extended until Boxing Day when they saw off Chelsea.
Pressure quickly mounted on the Spaniard as Aubameyang’s form tailed off following his new deal with talk of a Mesut Ozil like situation quick to emerge.
New faces like Willian were unable to make an impression.
Worse than that though was the state of some of Arsenal’s performances, with defeats against Tottenham and Aston Villa highlighting the club’s deficiencies.
Arteta was able to see his side improve in 2021 with the Gunners losing just four of their final 24 league games.
However they were dealt reality checks during that period which served to highlight the gulf between them and the sides they aspire to catch.
Those at the Emirates, which includes Arteta and his technical director Edu, underwent a summer of recruitment that seemed to shift the club’s transfer policy.
An emphasis was put on youth which would compliment the players already in their team.
Well over £100m was spent on the likes of Ben White, Aaron Ramsdale, Martin Odegaard and Sambi Lokonga – all of which are 23 years old or younger
The light was shone on those additions when Arsenal lost their opening three games, conceding nine and scoring none.
Pressure quickly ramped up on Arteta, although he received a glowing endorsement from Guardiola following a 5-0 defeat at City.
Edu has come out to justify the club’s thinking and maintains he believes in their current direction.
“My job is to think about the short term but also the long term as well,” he told Sky Sports.
“How we are going to plan that kind of journey because if we now sign one or two players and we have three, four or five gaps to fill, people are then going to look to us and say to us: ‘Guys, what are you doing? You’ve spent a lot of money on certain positions, but what about here, here and here?’
“The balance is not easy to get but again, we believe in what we are doing.
Arsenal have now gone unbeaten in five, including three wins, but have drawn their last two. They sit in midtable at this early stage of the season but there is far more hope now than there was several weeks ago.