Neil Humphreys: Arsenal do not deserve top-four spot
Emery's good work cannot mask poor quality of Gunners' squad
Unai Emery is more of a magician than a manager.
|(Phil Jagielka 10)|
Through sleight of hand, he shows Arsenal's audience something that is not really there.
The Spaniard presents the illusion of a top-four side, but their dreary 1-0 English Premier League defeat at Everton last night revealed a more dispiriting reality.
Arsenal have benefited from Chelsea's inconsistency, Manchester United's managerial merry-go-round and Emery's box of tricks to confuse the eye and confound the senses.
The Gunners may still finish in the top four, but they are not really a top-four side.
That's not a criticism of Emery, but rather his predecessor. On the contrary, Everton's dominance reiterated Emery's heroics.
If he manages to hoist this lot into the top four, then he's a contender for Manager of the Year honours.
The Toffees needed only 10 minutes to highlight their opponents' shortcomings.
An hour before kick-off, Phil Jagielka wasn't playing.
Ten minutes after kick-off, the Everton veteran was wheeling away from dumbstruck Arsenal defenders, celebrating the game's only goal.
From Lucas Digne's long throw, Arsenal's defence had ample time to check their positions, but pulled on blindfolds instead, running around like toddlers at a birthday party.
Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin irritated petrified defenders long enough for Jagielka to stab the ball home.
The 36-year-old started only because Michael Keane was ruled out with a virus, but the centre-back showed more guile than his Arsenal counterparts.
The Gunners had prevailed just once in their previous eight away trips, thanks to a fractured defence that feels like a hangover from the Arsene Wenger party.
Emery will have a shopping list longer than Paris Hilton's in the summer.
Until then, the Spaniard is stuck with a patched-up rear-guard, which has now failed to keep a clean sheet on the road all season, leaving him reliant on a forward line that toiled against the Toffees.
Mesut Oezil was given his first start in an away game since Boxing Day, but spent 74 minutes justifying Emery's lack of faith.
The German was anonymous, participating in a surreal competition with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mohamed Elneny to see which midfielder could have the least impact.
It was a coin toss between them.
Whatever else happens between now and the end of the season, Emery deserves credit for slapping a plaster across Wenger's squad, covering old wounds and presenting a fit and able line-up capable of challenging for the top four.
Thanks to his absurd salary of £350,000 (S$618,000) a week, Oezil may suspect he's immune to prosecution, but he can't continue to churn out such laboured performances and expect regular selection.
Nor can Mkhitaryan.
From the clumsy Sokratis Papastathopoulos to the inconsistent Elneny, Oezil and Mkhitaryan, Arsenal's spine could be replaced entirely next season.
Sead Kolasinac could join them. The list of potential departures is a long one, which only emphasises Emery's achievements and perhaps the lack of acknowledgement.
IN POCHETTINO'S SHADOW
All season, he has operated in Mauricio Pochettino's shadow, the media darling on the other side of north London. But Pochettino has twice the squad and garners twice the publicity for his alleged achievements.
Emery, on the other hand, has made the most of limited resources, but even he couldn't inspire a comeback at Goodison Park.
At half-time, he removed Elneny and Kolasinac and brought on Aaron Ramsey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
But the hosts continued to dominate, profiting from slapdash Arsenal defending and finding space to carve out excellent counter-attacking opportunities.
Still only 22, Calvert-Lewin shows promise, but if Everton boasted an experienced striker, they would've ended up with a margin of victory that their superiority deserved.
In desperation, Emery swopped Oezil for Alex Iwobi, presumably fed up with the German's lacklustre outing and eager for any kind of attacking impetus, but it never came.
Arsenal got what they deserved. Nothing.
Any more performances like this one and they won't deserve a place in the top four either.
Pickford, Coleman, Jagielka, Zouma, Digne, Gomes, Gueye, Richarlison (Walcott 79), Sigurdsson (Davies 90), Bernard (Lookman 88), Calvert-Lewin
Leno, Sokratis, Monreal, Mustafi, Kolasinac (Aubameyang 46), Guendouzi, Elneny (Ramsey 46), Maitland-Niles, Mkhitaryan, Oezil (Iwobi 74), Lacazette
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