When Unai Emery was appointed as Arsene Wenger's successor at Arsenal, it was always going to be difficult. He was left a squad of average players including Aaron Ramsey, whose contract was expiring, and Mesut Ozil, who had recently signed a ridiculously generous contract. It was also a team that had no distinctive game plan, no defensive structure and no stomach for a fight when things went wrong.
Given the above, my expectations of Emery weren't too excessive in terms of league position and cup success. However, what I did expect was an improvement in five key areas. And right now, they're falling short.
1. They don't have a structured game plan
All good teams need to have a structured game plan when in possession. When I watch most Premier League teams, I can identify their game plan. How they get the ball from back to front, when they look to switch play, whether they cross at every opportunity or try to be more inventive in the attacking third and repetitive patterns of play are easily recognisable. This shows that the coach has a clear idea what he wants from his team and the necessary work is being implemented on the training ground.
Yet I don't see this with Arsenal. Apart from last season's home matches against Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea and Napoli, there doesn't seem to be a distinguishable structure to their play. After 14 months in charge, I'm no closer to understanding what Emery's footballing philosophies are than when he took over. Either he doesn't have any or he can't get the players to implement them.
2. Their defensive shape is missing
This should have been the easiest area to improve due to the complete lack of defensive understanding Arsenal had under Wenger in his final seasons. In those games I mentioned above, Arsenal defended with desire, knowledge and tactical understanding. They pressed the ball at the right time as a team, they stayed compact when required and if their press was beaten, the angles and pace of their recovery runs were excellent, all of which suggested to me that Emery had put a defensive game plan in place.
However these were isolated games because on too many occasions, Arsenal have been easy to play against. The players seem unsure of what they are they are supposed to be doing when the opposition have possession. Are there trigger points when to press? Are they trying to lock teams in down one side of the pitch, and do they know when to drop off or hold a high line?
The fact that they're unsure suggests a lack of work done on the training ground or an inability to convey what Emery requires.
3. They're not hard to beat
If a team has a structured game plan both in attack and defense, they will be hard to beat even when they aren't playing particularly well. The best teams still win games when not at their best because they trust their basic game plan. Yet when Arsenal aren't playing well, they don't have a default mode they can revert to. Therefore, they become disjointed, erratic and easy to play against when experiencing tough periods in a game, as we've seen this season against Watford, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace.
There is also the constant accusation that there aren't any leaders out on the pitch; this might be true but from my experience, the most important leader is the manager and the plan that he has put in place.
4. Where's the discipline?
Under Wenger, player discipline was a big problem. I'm not talking purely in terms of yellow and red cards, but also in the way players lacked patience and awareness in a tactical sense. What made it worse was Wegner's reluctance to address it. Ramsey, for example, would make dynamic forward runs but didn't show the same desire to go the other way, while Wenger's full-backs would start to break forward before Arsenal had gained secure possession.
Yet Emery doesn't seem to have improved that since taking over at Arsenal. During his reign, there have been some easily avoidable dismissals along with petulant behaviour from certain players, notably captain Granit Xhaka. This season, they currently have the worst disciplinary record in the Premier League and the behaviour of Matteo Guendouzi epitomises much of what's wrong. He will be a brilliant midfielder for Arsenal for years to come, if given the right guidance, but at the moment he mistakes arguing with officials, confronting opponents and committing fouls as showing spirit and fight rather than a lack of discipline. His rugby tackle on Wilfried Zaha against Palace should have seen him see red.
5. Uniting the club
The final years of Wenger's leadership saw fans fighting among themselves during away games and there was a toxic atmosphere on numerous occasions at Emirates Stadium. For a while, it seemed as if Emery was reuniting the fans and players following the games against Spurs, Chelsea and Liverpool. Cries of "We've got our Arsenal back" were ringing around the stadium, but following the game against Crystal Palace, the atmosphere is once again volatile. It hasn't been helped by his decision to omit Ozil from his squad and continue with Xhaka as his captain. While I understand the first decision, I don't understand the second.
Unfortunately, in all five areas in which I expected him to improve Arsenal, there has been little or no change. For how much longer will that be acceptable?