Unai Emery believes he has the full backing of Arsenal’s board as he struggles to arrest the slump that is threatening to derail their season.
Emery has come under severe pressure following criticism of his team selection, tactics and wider strategy this campaign as Arsenal have produced their worst start to a top-flight season since 1982.
The 2-0 defeat at Leicester City on Saturday left Arsenal eight points adrift of the Champions League places and with only two league wins since Aug 17, leading to fans at the King Power Stadium chanting: “You’re getting sacked in the morning.”
Arsenal hierarchy members who watched the latest loss did so grim-faced but it is understood the club have no desire to make a change so soon into the season.
Telegraph Sport understands that the Spaniard has had no ultimatums issued to him by the board and believes his job is secure for the time being. Emery has cited wider “circumstances” such as Granit Xhaka’s public fallout with supporters and the attempted robbery of Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac as factors that have disrupted the side.
Emery will be expected to deliver improved performances in matches against struggling Southampton and Norwich after the international break, and it is believed that aspects of Arsenal’s performance at Leicester – where Emery ripped up his back-four formation and fielded a back three for the first time in the league this season – were deemed encouraging.
His 3-4-1-2 set-up meant no starting place for £72 million signing Nicolas Pepe, who went on just after Leicester’s second goal and cut a frustrated figure.
He is not alone. Last month, Telegraph Sport reported how Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette would consider their futures if Arsenal once again failed to qualify for the Champions League, and that a number of players have been left baffled by Emery’s decision-making.
Lacazette did offer Emery his backing after the Leicester defeat, saying the club’s form would pick up after the two-week Premier League hiatus. “We miss confidence at the moment, that is it,” he said. “Last season, when we won 20 games in a row [sic], nobody said anything about the coach or manager. We miss confidence and we need the international break.”
Of Arsenal’s top-four prospects, he said: “We want to be top four, of course. Now we are nine points behind Chelsea and Leicester and it is going to be hard but everything is possible in football. We still have time until the end of the season.”
Lacazette, who has been left out of the France squad, missed Arsenal’s best opportunity in the 14th minute, when the score was still 0-0, scuffing wide from six yards.
It was a rare moment of incisiveness for Arsenal, for while their new-look formation offered more defensive solidity, they delivered precious little in the final third.
The likes of Lacazette and captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had been tasked with doing defensive dirty work but that meant they rarely got into the kind of areas that could hurt Leicester.
Ozil made a rare start, centrally behind the front two, and offered some control with his technical skills but could not make an impact as his team-mates struggled.
Leicester, in contrast, were far slicker, with Jamie Vardy and James Maddison twice finishing off razor-sharp moves in the second half for the goals that secured the victory.
One question still unanswered is when Xhaka will be reintegrated into the first-team squad. The Swiss international has been left out since responding angrily to fans’ jeers after he was substituted in the 2-2 draw against Crystal Palace last month. He gave an interview to Swiss newspaper Blick on Sunday in which he said the fans’ abuse had “hit me very hard and really upset me. It was very hurtful and frustrating. At a time you are already experiencing a lot of hostility and your own football family insults you, it hurts a lot”.
He said: “If the team and I don’t play well, we have to listen and work on it. But insulting and swearing at your own captain will cause upset and a bad atmosphere for the team you are actually supposed to be supporting. That makes no sense to me.”
Xhaka insisted, however, that he has no plans to quit Arsenal in January. “You can be sure that I’ll keep fighting and putting myself out there in every training session,” he said. “I feel that last week has been dealt with and I’m ready.”