Unai Emery admits Arsenal missed an opportunity to make good headway in the Premier League when they lost to Sheffield United on Monday but he’s played down suggestions his project at the Emirates is coming off the rails.
The Gunners delivered yet another lacklustre performance on the road as they went down 1-0 at Bramall Lane – a fifth defeat in 10 away games in the league – raising questions about whether the club have improved since the Spaniard took over in the summer of 2018.
Ahead of Thursday’s Europa League game with Portuguese side Vitoria, Emery was in bullish mood, citing a changeover in playing personnel as a reason to be patient.
“In my career, it’s normal to have criticism of our work in the difficult moments, of my job, our team, the players,” he told his press conference.
“On one hand, we have the supporters and their opinion, and we need to accept that. My focus is improving in the next match, seeing how we can improve on things.
“Also, it’s how we can little by little get ahead, doing our steps in that way, progressing and achieving our immediate target. That’s winning tomorrow. We also want to improve things.
“We are at the beginning of this season and we have won two matches playing very well in this competition [the Europa League], with very good results.
“We lost a very big opportunity in the Premier League on Monday to finish third in the table. We are now fifth, so we have another chance on Sunday. We know we can improve and we need to improve, so we have to get better in our way.
“It’s one process and here the most important thing is our strategy. Our strategy is, when I was watching the games in my office last season, we changed 10 players out of the 24 players we had. That’s 40 per cent, more or less.
“We are now using new players and some young players to give them chances, to give them confidence playing for the future. We want to have that performance with them. With that process, I’m happy.
“I’m disappointed in the result on Monday because we had a very good opportunity to win three points. We are in our way and we need to have one strategy.
“The most important thing is the team and the club, and also that our objective is clear. It’s about where we want to get to, where we want to arrive.
“We are at the beginning and I am very confident. I have belief in the players, in our work, the club’s strategy, in every player and in our way with our job.”
Pressed on whether criticism hurts, Emery seemed to draw comparisons to the reaction he experienced when Arsenal capitulated 3-0 to Wolves at the tail-end of last season.
It’s tough to say for sure, but he almost appears to suggest that our defeat on Monday was some form of progress, at least when it comes to attitude.
“I remember last year at Wolves, a very similar system at 5-3-2,” he reflected. “Different team, but defensively very strong. We spoke about that.
“Last year we lost 3-0 at Wolves, and we lost all our balance in 30 minutes. On Monday, the first penalty was clear and then the chances were for us. If we scored one goal, maybe the match is different. But they scored it because we conceded a lot of corners to them.
“We had a lot of corners, 12, but then we lost in the balance of seven corners for them, and they scored. Then we tried, and we had chances to score and get a minimum of a draw – but we didn’t do it. The 90 minutes happened but we can’t predict what will happen.
“Our response could be better, but we had a good attitude, a good mentality. Now we have to show in the next match that we can improve.”