View from the stands: Emirates reaches boiling point
Disappointment filled the Emirates as the final whistle blew. 21 shots conceded to a team sitting in 19th place in the table had resulted in two goals conceded, and Arsenal were lucky. In the final 15 minutes, Southampton could’ve and probably should’ve, had 3 or 4.
Shots from Sofiane Boufal, Nathan Redmond, Shane Long sailing wide, over or simply into Bernd Leno’s arms. Arsenal’s clash against Southampton on Saturday truly embodied the last few exasperated breaths of a frustrating and disappointing 18 months at the Emirates.
At one point, to my left, fans beckoned Southampton to score more, urging them forward in what seemed to be a desperate attempt to hurry up the Manager’s sacking. This was accompanied by an atmosphere that almost felt tragicomic.
As the Arsenal players delivered repeated feeble attempts to break down the Southampton deep block, they were met by a combination of groans, cries of frustration, and even some laughter. Some fans (and stewards) seemed to forget what, and who, they were watching for a brief moment and just laughed at the horrorshow unfolding before their eyes.
The ambience in the first half had felt quite positive, considering the current mood around the club. The defence fell asleep and Danny Ings swept in the opener in the 8th minute, a goal that felt all too similar. Arsenal responded well though, and Alex Lacazette got the equaliser. A ball crossed in by Arsenal’s summer signing, Kieran Tierney, was met by Aubameyang who saw his shot blocked before the ball fell to Lacazette, who poked home.
The goal was met by a strong celebration by the Emirates, filled with belief and promise. Maybe this would be the day for Arsenal. The day Unai Emery straightened out his men and the Gunners would dispatch a weak Southampton side. Predictably, it wasn’t to be.
Half-time came and went, and the home fans eagerly returned to their seats. Nicolas Pepe was introduced and met with a positive roar. He had an instant impact and should’ve scored shortly after. Upon being sent through by Lacazette, he dithered and tried to play the ball across the box instead of taking the shot. The cross was blocked by the defender, and the chance wasted. The obvious lack of confidence is not a usual characteristic of the player who scored 22 for Lille last season and is something that is often associated with the so-called ‘Emery effect’.
For what felt like the 1000th time, the crowd groaned with disbelief.
Next came a moment of sheer bewilderment. Sokratis with the ball at his feet inside the Arsenal penalty box attempted to dribble. Something we have seen repeatedly this season from Emery’s side is the insistence on playing out from the back, and in turn, we’ve also repeatedly seen mistakes.
Cedric immediately pounced on the sight of a player not exactly known for his dribbling prowess attempting to do just that in the Arsenal box. Incredibly, Cedric managed to overhit his 5-yard square ball, and Arsenal somehow survived.
The pressure continued to mount, however, and as the Arsenal fans watched on nervously, sensing the inevitable, it happened. A penalty. The fifth conceded this season, to be exact.
Leno hadn’t saved a penalty since 2016 and not any of the 11 he’d faced for Arsenal. So to say the home crowd wasn’t confident as James Ward-Prowse ran up to the spot would be an understatement. However, a brief moment of jubilation and disbelief ensued as Leno dived the right way, saving the low shot with his feet. The only problem being the parry fell straight back to Ward-Prowse who ran to the away end and celebrated with the famous ‘Siu’ coined by Cristiano Ronaldo, further adding the embarrassment of the fans who undoubtedly hoped their seats would open up to envelop them.
The dreaded last 15 minutes. Signalling not only the ending of the game but also of Emery’s Arsenal stint. It is often said that once you lose the fans, there is no return. Emery had lost the fans.
“We want Emery out, say we want Emery out”
“Sacked in the morning, you’re getting sacked in the morning”
Chants signifying the displeasure of a toxic mob filled the air, undoubtedly chilling the skin of the man standing on the touchline.
Even a last-minute equaliser from Lacazette felt completely irrelevant.
Lacazette himself and his teammates engaged in a sort of awkward half celebration as they trudged back to the halfway line. The fans giving a small ripple of celebration at gaining a point against the second-worst team in the league, some even thinking the goal had been ruled out due to the sheer lack of celebration from anyone in the stadium.
Boos pierced the November sky as the final whistle was blown. With everything caving in on Emery, you feel it is rather a matter of when rather than if for the Spaniard’s job, and it won’t be long before we see someone else standing on the touchline, hoping to restore the joy in the Arsenal fans that had only been seen fleetingly in the past year.