Yes, Arsenal are still the overwhelming favourites to reach the Europa League round of 16. And, yes, they will probably end up beating BATE Borisov quite handsomely at the Emirates next week. So why does last night’s dismal 1-0 defeat in Belarus feel quite so significant? And why does this result already feel like a genuine milestone in the fledgling Unai Emery era?

Perhaps it is because, against a side playing their first competitive match in nine weeks, it was so incredibly difficult to decipher exactly what it was Arsenal were attempting to achieve. They were wasteful in attack. They were sloppy at the back. And Emery appeared to have absolutely no idea how to fix either of those quite considerable problems. And, in light of this result, it would not come as a great surprise to learn BATE have lined up another friendly or two, given what obliging pre-season opponents Arsenal ultimately proved.

What is so striking about this turgid performance is that there are so few reasonable excuses. Not even a dream team of Trinny and Susannah working alongside Gok Wan would be able to dress this dire result up. This was simply a wretched evening for Arsenal. A wretched performance from a wretched team on an equally wretched pitch. At least, Emery may reflect, his team will flee Belarus without any further injuries. Although in Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s case, it is difficult to work out if that is a blessing or a curse.

The truly worrying thing is that Arsenal weren’t guilty of thinking they simply had to correctly navigate their way to this remote, rural stadium — admittedly no small feat — to win this game. That would have been regrettable. But it would also have been somewhat understandable — and easily fixable. Instead Emery selected his big guns. Without exception, they all misfired.

At the wonderfully named Borisov Arena, just about every one of Emery’s decisions seemed to blow up spectacularly into the biting Belarusian air. The three man defence was a stumbling, stodgy mess. His two defensive midfielders failed to get the ball forward. A furious Alexandre Lacazette was repeatedly left isolated. And Mkhitaryan, who last made a significant contribution to a game in an age before electricity and the internal combustion engine, was anonymous. Again.

The extent of Emery’s forward planning seemed to be to hit Sead Kolasinac on the overlap, who had been handed his usual license to blithely blunder forward at every possible opportunity. But while good on the front foot, he continues to be a liability on the back, beaten at the near post for BATE’s winning goal by a player half-an-inch shorter than him and about half as broad.

With five minutes left, it all proved too much for Lacazette to take. The frolicsome Frenchman has not been shown a red card in over six years, and appears to spend the time he is not cheerfully larking about on Instagram choreographing extravagant goal celebrations, and yet — frustrated and isolated — he could not resist petulantly swinging his elbow into Aleksandar Filipovic, UFC style.

And — really — who can blame him for losing his cool? Let us not forget that Arsenal won 4-2 here last season, in a match where Arsene Wenger decided to give all of his big dogs the evening off. Jack Wilshere started. Theo Walcott started. Olivier Giroud started. All three already feel as if they were part of some impossibly distant bygone age.

Back when Emery strolled into London Colney last summer, ending Wilshere’s Arsenal career with one curt conversation, it felt as though there was a plan in place. A vision. And yet, almost 100 days later, it is no easier to work out what Emery wants his Arsenal team to be.

Most worryingly, everything we thought we knew about Emery is still up for question. Those enterprising Arsenal supporters who dutifully read up on Emery when he was appointed — or who were privileged enough to have the free hours and several costly subscriptions necessary to watch his teams in La Liga and Ligue 1 — learned that he was a tactical pragmatist who kept things tight at the back, with an outstanding reputation in continental competition.

But, as Arsenal’s players trudged wearily from the pitch, evading the chewed-up pitch’s dents and divots like a motorist driving around potholes, those qualities seemed less certain. Emery has experimented with different formations, but seems stubbornly committed to playing three at the back, a system which simply isn’t working. Arsenal have never conceded more goals at this stage of a Premier League season and only Bournemouth and Fulham have conceded more away from home. And there will be precious little chance of a fourth Europa League title if he fails to address his side’s dismal away form.

The result in Belarus was bad enough. But more alarming was how Arsenal slid there. The question marks hanging ominously over this ramshackle team continue to multiply and, pretty soon, Emery must begin producing some answers.Yes, Arsenal are still the overwhelming favourites to reach the Europa League round of 16. And, yes, they will probably end up beating BATE Borisov quite handsomely at the Emirates next week. So why does last night’s dismal 1-0 defeat in Belarus feel quite so significant? And why does this result already feel like a genuine milestone in the fledgling Unai Emery era?

Perhaps it is because, against a side playing their first competitive match in nine weeks, it was so incredibly difficult to decipher exactly what it was Arsenal were attempting to achieve. They were wasteful in attack. They were sloppy at the back. And Emery appeared to have absolutely no idea how to fix either of those quite considerable problems. And, in light of this result, it would not come as a great surprise to learn BATE have lined up another friendly or two, given what obliging pre-season opponents Arsenal ultimately proved.

What is so striking about this turgid performance is that there are so few reasonable excuses. Not even a dream team of Trinny and Susannah working alongside Gok Wan would be able to dress this dire result up. This was simply a wretched evening for Arsenal. A wretched performance from a wretched team on an equally wretched pitch. At least, Emery may reflect, his team will flee Belarus without any further injuries. Although in Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s case, it is difficult to work out if that is a blessing or a curse.

The truly worrying thing is that Arsenal weren’t guilty of thinking they simply had to correctly navigate their way to this remote, rural stadium — admittedly no small feat — to win this game. That would have been regrettable. But it would also have been somewhat understandable — and easily fixable. Instead Emery selected his big guns. Without exception, they all misfired.

At the wonderfully named Borisov Arena, just about every one of Emery’s decisions seemed to blow up spectacularly into the biting Belarusian air. The three man defence was a stumbling, stodgy mess. His two defensive midfielders failed to get the ball forward. A furious Alexandre Lacazette was repeatedly left isolated. And Mkhitaryan, who last made a significant contribution to a game in an age before electricity and the internal combustion engine, was anonymous. Again.

The extent of Emery’s forward planning seemed to be to hit Sead Kolasinac on the overlap, who had been handed his usual license to blithely blunder forward at every possible opportunity. But while good on the front foot, he continues to be a liability on the back, beaten at the near post for BATE’s winning goal by a player half-an-inch shorter than him and about half as broad.

With five minutes left, it all proved too much for Lacazette to take. The frolicsome Frenchman has not been shown a red card in over six years, and appears to spend the time he is not cheerfully larking about on Instagram choreographing extravagant goal celebrations, and yet — frustrated and isolated — he could not resist petulantly swinging his elbow into Aleksandar Filipovic, UFC style.

And — really — who can blame him for losing his cool? Let us not forget that Arsenal won 4-2 here last season, in a match where Arsene Wenger decided to give all of his big dogs the evening off. Jack Wilshere started. Theo Walcott started. Olivier Giroud started. All three already feel as if they were part of some impossibly distant bygone age.

Back when Emery strolled into London Colney last summer, ending Wilshere’s Arsenal career with one curt conversation, it felt as though there was a plan in place. A vision. And yet, almost 100 days later, it is no easier to work out what Emery wants his Arsenal team to be.

Most worryingly, everything we thought we knew about Emery is still up for question. Those enterprising Arsenal supporters who dutifully read up on Emery when he was appointed — or who were privileged enough to have the free hours and several costly subscriptions necessary to watch his teams in La Liga and Ligue 1 — learned that he was a tactical pragmatist who kept things tight at the back, with an outstanding reputation in continental competition.

But, as Arsenal’s players trudged wearily from the pitch, evading the chewed-up pitch’s dents and divots like a motorist driving around potholes, those qualities seemed less certain. Emery has experimented with different formations, but seems stubbornly committed to playing three at the back, a system which simply isn’t working. Arsenal have never conceded more goals at this stage of a Premier League season and only Bournemouth and Fulham have conceded more away from home. And there will be precious little chance of a fourth Europa League title if he fails to address his side’s dismal away form.

The result in Belarus was bad enough. But more alarming was how Arsenal slid there. The question marks hanging ominously over this ramshackle team continue to multiply and, pretty soon, Emery must begin producing some answers.

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