Arsenal: Unai Emery letting down his young players

Arsenal's manager Unai Emery Sheffield United v Arsenal - Premier League - Bramall Lane 21-10-2019 . (Photo by Richard Sellers/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images)
Arsenal's manager Unai Emery Sheffield United v Arsenal - Premier League - Bramall Lane 21-10-2019 . (Photo by Richard Sellers/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images) /

Arsenal struggled to a last-minute comeback win over Vitória de Guimarães on Thursday night relying on two moments of Nicolas Pepe magic.

With Arsenal 2-1 down with 15 minutes remaining, Pepe produced two inch perfect free kicks to give Unai Emery a third consecutive Europa League group stage win.

However, it was far from a positive evening for the under fire Spaniard and represented further evidence that whatever he is doing on the training ground is not working.

In the first half Arsenal were so open in the middle of the park, with neither Joe Willock nor Ainsley Maitland-Niles appearing to know where to stand or where to move.

Both showed some moments of skill, but alongside Lucas Torreira and Emile Smith-Rowe, the midfield was disorganised and disjointed.

Ahead of them appeared to be two strikers in Gabriel Martinelli and Alexandre Lacazette, but such was Arsenal’s dysfunction it was hard to pinpoint exactly what formation they were supposed to be playing.

For a second time in a week Willock was hooked at half time, which cannot possibly be good for his confidence.

For a young player that looked so promising in pre-season, Emery seems to be doing a really poor job managing his season.

Willock played as a deep-lying playmaker in a double pivot in this match and a number ten on Monday, neither of which you would describe as his best position.

As a result, Willock hasn’t been able to show off the skills that have been so evident when he has played in a formation that complements his talents.

Such mismanagement can be damaging for a young player and with so many academy prospects coming through, it is vital that Arsenal have a coach in place who can nurture them properly.

One player that certainly hasn’t been nurtured properly is Maitland-Niles, who was all over the place on Thursday and looks like his spell at right back has had a profound influence on his game.

Maitland-Niles seemed to be confused as to where he was playing and it is looking like his development has really slowed in the past six months.

He made it clear that he didn’t want to play right back, but it doesn’t seem Emery knows what to do with him otherwise.

With Martinelli and Lacazette often acting as a strike partnership, his space looked limited high up on the right, and he was too often looking to pick the ball up in deeper central spaces.

Whether Maitland-Niles was not following instructions properly, or they weren’t given to a sufficient standard, the net result was a really weak performance that was ended at half time.

The fact Arsenal came back to win is almost irrelevant, barring the boost it will give Pepe, because of the insignificance of the fixture and the level of Arsenal’s performance.

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For so much of this season Arsenal have been incoherent with the ball and disorganised without it.

Regardless of the player combinations selected, the distances look off and the intention appears muddled.

Players are not playing with confidence or conviction and given how long this has been the case, responsibility must rest at the feet of the coach.

The club have rebuilt behind the scenes since the end of the Arsene Wenger era and successfully transformed the playing staff.

Young players are now coming through to fill out squad and starting roles, and things should be looking bright.

However, the man in the dugout is looking more and more incompetent as the weeks go by and now the club must take decisive action, before it’s too late.