What Aston Villa result revealed about how Arsenal’s season will play out…

No man, woman or child on the planet was more relieved at the final whistle on Sunday than Unai Emery.

From the slathering jaws of defeat, Arsenal snatched and clung on to victory over Aston Villa despite their best efforts to sabotage themselves and gift every advantage to their opponents.

In the end, fans left with a sense of euphoria, a feeling that even a 4-0 victory wouldn’t have come close to matching, but mixed in with it was a palpable sense of relief – from the fans right through to the players and management.

Emery’s nervousness and strained expression throughout the last half-hour was a microcosm of the emotions felt by every Arsenal fan watching. And while our emotional wellbeing may have been riding on the outcome of the game, our jobs certainly weren’t.

The same might not have been true for the Spaniard.

After an implosion at the back end of last season, the Arsenal board backed the manager with lots of money and plenty of new faces in the summer – their statement of intent clear.

To have seen the Gunners slip into reverse gear in these early stages of the season, therefore, would have been deeply concerning to them – as it was to us fans – and the pressure was approaching boiling point as Arsenal conceded a goal just 90 seconds after restoring parity on Sunday.

I said after the lamentable 2-2 draw at Watford that Emery was under pressure for the first time and I stand by that – his reaction on the touchline all but confirmed us much on Sunday.

It was so crucial, therefore, that his players bailed him out of an otherwise disastrous situation. Defeat may not quite have cost him his job at the weekend, but it would have set the clock to a few minutes from zero.

Even in victory, Emery has only pushed the timer up a few seconds simply because the performance was still riddled with errors.

The more the former PSG man seems to emphasise the need for defensive improvement in this Arsenal side the worse they seem to get, and he seems almost powerless to arrest the decline.

It’s not a question of shooting ourselves in the foot half-a-dozen times a season, it is happening half-a-dozen times a game, and for all the recruitment, all the investment, and all the time on the training ground, the manager doesn’t seem to be able to get a grip on it at the moment.

His philosophy, it would seem, has become one of simply out-scoring the opponent, however many goals they get. And while he has the attacking talent available to score plenty of goals, he is also encumbered with a defence which concedes goals and chances with alarming frequency.

While that combination has the potential for some memorable nights throughout the season, it also has the potential for some historic lows, the likes of which we had hoped to leave behind in the latter years of the Arsene Wenger era.

Given the way this team is performing, though, you can’t help feeling that a performance like those against Bayern Munich are never too far away.

For that reason, I think this season is going to be much more difficult than last and, if nothing drastic changes, I also believe it may be Emery’s last season at the helm too.

Champions League was his target last season and he came within a whisker of it on two fronts. While there was a measure of good will for the manager at the end of last season given the epoch shift he had stepped into, that same good will is rapidly running out. There is nowhere for him to hide and the aspiration of a Champions League place is now very much a necessity for the club’s bank balance.

The returns of Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney may yet bring about a measure of control for Emery in the weeks and months ahead, and the gradual easing out of Granit Xhaka may also help, but the underlying issue of his tenure will more than likely remain.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that we should all throw in the towel. Given how bad all of our rivals are performing this season, it appears we could be in the mix into the new year, but it does mean that it’s going to be a tumultuous head-scratcher of a campaign.

The opening weeks have shown us that, for all the platitudes, personnel changes, appointments, and philosophising of the summer, Emery is doubling down on his attack and to hell with everybody playing behind them.

I wish him luck because, clearly, he’s going to need it.

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