Unai Emery: It's in our hands
Photo: Getty Images - Richard Heathcote

Unai Emery: It's in our hands

Unai Emery has insisted that the race for the top four is still in Arsenal's hands after defeat to Crystal Palace. 

mattddawson
Matt Dawson

If there was a script written before Arsenal's game against Crystal Palace today then it would likely have seen the Gunners secure an 11th successive Premier League win at home.

But, football isn't written to a script. Just ask Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Manchester United were dispatched by Everton during Sunday's early kick off and then just hours later, Arsenal would also lose.

At the moment, it seems as if no one actually wants to finish in the top four.

Today was a huge chance for Arsenal. Win and they'd overtake Spurs. They'd also well and truly cement their top hopes.

However, life isn't simple in N5. Arsenal like to do things the hard way. It was ironic that a year on from when Arsene Wenger announced he'd step down as manager, that the Gunners would put in a performance that summed up everything that had gone wrong under the Frenchman.

Emery has done a fantastic job since walking through the doors at the Emirates but this was not one of his finest afternoons.

His team selection was questionable and the defensive frailties that had seemingly been swatted away against Napoli on Thursday night were back in abundance as they lost 3-2.

Mustafi calamity

Rather unsurprisingly Shkodran Mustafi was the prime ringleader in the Gunners' defensive complacency.

The fact he cost the club £35m is laughable and if Arsenal fans wanted to see the back of him before this afternoon, then his catastrophic mistake for Wilfried Zaha's goal will have done the German no good.

Emery said after the game: "In all the season I think he has been consistent."

Either the Spaniard hasn't been watching him closely enough or it was just the most sensible answer to give. The latter is more likely to be true, but it's alarming that there wasn't a little more uncertainty to his response.

Much of the Arsenal head coach's press conference was dominated by questions about the Gunners defence. They had numerous issues from set pieces, and it was as a result of a free-kick and a corner that they conceded two of their goals from against Palace.

"Today if we were better in the set piece, we could win this match," Emery revealed.

"We are improving, we are getting better defensively and today against two strong players, they give us a lot of work defensively. Benteke and Zaha. More than in other matches but I have the confidence with our way. I want to be positive today," the Spaniard added.

Too many changes?

Having played three games in a week rotation was necessary, but this was one of Emery's most puzzling team selections to date. At home to a bottom half side, do you really need five defenders and two holding players on the pitch? Arguably not.

Emery has tinkered quite significantly in 2018/19 but in picking Carl Jenkinson, Konstantinos Mavropanos and Mohamed Elneny there was a huge element of surprise. What wasn't a surprise though, was that they were the three players to be substituted.

Responding to questions about his starting XI, Emery claimed: "We changed because we need to use some player and we are going to play a lot of matches. We have a lot of injuries, with Aaron Ramsey and we need to protect the players. Xhaka asked to change in the second half against Napoli. Today he can play but it's a big risk."

Both Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka had been doubts in the build up to the game and their absence was only heightened by the lack of tempo and penetration Elneny and Matteo Guendouzi were able to provide in the game.

Their midfield pairing against Everton was disastrous and that was evident again on Sunday.  

Given Arsenal could have really tightened their grip on the top four ahead of a potentially tricky away clash with Wolves in midweek, the amount of change only becomes even more baffling.

It was a huge chance missed for the north London club and Emery didn't need telling that. "It's a big frustration because it was a big opportunity," he commented.

He then went onto say: "We think for the next match against Wolverhampton. It's in our hands, we can continue with the opportunity."

And indeed the race for a top four place is still in their hands. After Chelsea's game tomorrow the Gunners will have a game in hand over the Blues. But with three of their remaining four games of the season being away from home it's not going to be easy.

Everyone knows how wretched Arsenal have been on the road over the last two seasons, and if they're to have any chance of securing a Champions League place via the Premier League, they'll have to improve significantly.

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