Saturday, 26 May 2018

A new chapter

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On Wednesday morning Arsenal’s managerial recruitment process officially came to an end with the club announcing Unai Emery as Arsene Wenger’s successor.

The decision to appoint the Spaniard came as somewhat of a shock with the general consensus having been that former Arsenal captain Mikel Arteta was the front runner for the role.
As the news broke on Monday evening that in fact Emery would be appointed, several media outlets and former players proclaimed the move as one of panic and desperation. The common theme was that Arsenal had been set on Arteta but then panicked at the last minute and went for Emery instead. However as Ivan Gazidis opened the press conference to announce the new manager, he set things straight by not only outlining the meticulous recruitment process which the board had undertaken to identify the right man for the job, but also by uttering a phrase which resonated so well with Arsenal Football Club as a whole, “those who know won’t speak, and those who speak won’t know.” This is the way Arsenal have always chosen to conduct their business, quietly and methodically, only making announcements once everything has been finalised. There is undeniably a touch of class to this method and one which should bring a sense of great pride amongst the Arsenal fan base.

This is what the appointment of Unai Emery is all about. That sense of pride which comes with being an Arsenal fan had slowly but surely evaporated last season, replaced by apathy and indifference as the Gunners repeated the same mistakes time and time again. Emery’s arrival breathes fresh life into the club and reenergises it. Arsenal fans can once again be positive about the future and must now unite and collectively get behind the team after years of internal fractions and disharmony amongst the fan base.

In his first address to the media, Emery did much to foster that air of positivity. In a move which echoed the class of the club, the Spaniard thanked predecessor Arsene Wenger before outlining his excitement and pride at securing the job and his preferred style of play. The fact that he chose to conduct the press conference in English, despite acknowledging that his English would need to improve, also spoke volumes about the man and confirmed that in fact his level of English is sufficient for him to communicate with his new players. Of course this will need to be improved upon before the new season starts but Emery clearly has a good foundation from which to build upon.

The new manager described his style of play as one in which his side is the protagonist with the ball while also working extremely hard without the ball to press and win back possession. This was music to the ears of Arsenal fans the World over. In recent years one of the main criticisms of this Arsenal side has been their lack of work without the ball. Far too often they would lose possession, switch off and then find themselves under severe pressure. It would appear that Emery will not allow his new side to continue in this vein. The players will need to work and work hard for a coach who described himself as very demanding. Those who have witnessed his work describe a man utterly dedicated to football, meticulous in his approach, analysing the opposition with detailed videos and drilling his players with double training sessions. If the players accept and buy into his methods Arsenal could well be a club rebooted.

Great changes have already taken place at a senior level with the manager’s sole focus being on the team while Sven Mislintat and Raul Sanllehi along with Gazidis will focus on transfers. This may be a new model for the club but it is one in which Emery thrived with Sevilla, winning three Europa League titles in a row. There are some journalists who have described his time at PSG as disappointing as the Spaniard failed to mount a challenge for the Champions League trophy with a squad which had been lavishly supplemented but in many ways it is his work in Spain which is most relevant to Arsenal.

Of course the club sees itself as one which should be challenging for the biggest prizes in the game, but at the same time they do not have the unlimited funds of PSG to lavish upon the squad. Emery will have to work with a limited budget at Arsenal, as he did at Sevilla and Valencia. He will therefore not be able to buy the best players in the World and will largely have to work with the players he has, improving them and bringing through youth team players into the first team. Emery’s track record in this regard is most impressive and it was his detailed knowledge of the club, the players he will inherit and his comprehensive analysis of how he will be able to improve them, which so impressed the recruitment team during his interview. In many ways he is the perfect fit for Arsenal, a man who will seek to address many of the failings which for so long have undermined the team’s progress.

There are many who have described the job at Arsenal as an impossible job because in their eyes the players are simply not good enough and a massive squad overhaul is required. Yet this is a team whose home record last season was second only to runaway leaders Manchester City. They therefore clearly have the ability. What is needed is a new approach and a new energy to raise their game to a higher and consistent level. The forward line does not need much work. Arsenal have a superstar in Aubameyang while Lacazette, Mkhitaryan, Ramey and Ozil on their day can be exceptional. It is the midfield which needs supplementing with an energetic defensive midfielder to help screen the defence. Should Arsenal sign such a player and if Unai Emery can instil a focus and determination amongst the side to press the ball and work hard for the collective benefit of the team, then the defence will no longer be left exposed as often as they were last season and the number of goals conceded will reduce significantly. In this regard, a new goalkeeper is also a must, while another centre back, with Koscielny out until at least December, will also be required. Should Arsenal recruit successfully and Emery’s methods work, then Arsenal could well improve considerably and quickly next season. After so many years, Arsenal fans can finally be positive about the future once again. 

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