The right choice – Emery’s arrival at Arsenal

UNAI Emery was not a failure at Paris Saint-Germain, not by any means. But his time in Passy, the 16th arrondissement of Paris, was never going to last long given the impatience of PSG’s owner to become European champions. The taxi to Gare du Nord was ordered as far back as March 8, 2017.

Impatience is not a quality you would normally associate with Arsenal, hence they tolerated relative under-performance for a long time, much to the disgust of many of their followers. Some may now be a little disappointed by Emery’s appointment, especially as a former Arsenal favourite, Mikel Arteta, was being touted as the most likely choice. It is understandable they didn’t opt for an untried young buck to replace Arsène Wenger, for Arsenal need success quickly and they need someone with a European pedigree. It is arguably a safe choice, a man with European silverware on his CV, young enough to have his best days ahead of him and smart enough to combat the alpha males of Premier League management.

Although he has never beaten either Pep Guardiola or José Mourinho, Emery represents the best of the new breed of Euro-coach. He is at the forefront of the second tier that will eventually be the most sought-after football managers in world football, hence Arsenal’s choice has foresight and demonstrates, as it did in 1996 when the unknown Wenger was appointed, that they can “think out of the box”.

Arsenal had the chance to pick the best of all the available coaches, a short-list of eight and each and every one fancied the Emirates project. They are not “jobs” any more, everyone, including Emery – the club’s first choice – at his unveiling, referred to the “project” in hand, emphasising football management is a very temporary stint at the majority of clubs. Rest assured, no matter how well the new man does, he won’t be doing a Wenger-style innings at Arsenal.

Unai Emery (born 3-11-1971)

Win ratio at Sevilla 51.7%
Win ratio at PSG 76.3%
Ligue 1 2017-18
Europa League 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16
Coupe de France 2017-18
Coupe de Ligue 2016-17, 2017-18

Of course, Emery said all the right things at his inaugural press conference, expressing his gratitude to the Arsenal management, his faith in the players (always good to get the dressing room onside) and his excitement at landing this particular project. Mutual love was shown on the part of Ivan Gazidis, who confidently predicted the players would respond to “the new energy that Unai brings to Arsenal”. At the same time, he said sixth place wasn’t good enough, even though he believed the post-Wenger transition was one of the biggest challenges the club faced. “This club’s motto is ‘forward’ and we will take it forward…with confidence,” he said.

Emery later revealed he would sooner win games by 5-4 than 1-0, suggesting the Emirates would, once more, be an attractive place to visit in 2018-19. Certainly, his old club, PSG knew how to score goals (108 in 38 Ligue 1 matches in 2017-18), but their budget was multiples of most teams in Ligue 1. Perhaps he should not be judged on his time at PSG because it was a surreal environment and two last 16 UEFA Champions League exits indicates the French club is not yet ready to challenge the very best. It was the 2016-17 capitulation at the hands of Barcelona that probably signalled the start of the end for Emery in Paris.

Arsenal’s Ivan Gazidis and new manager Unai Emery (left) during a press conference at the Emirates Stadium, London. Photo: PA

Arsenal, too, have ambitions to mount the winners podium, with the Premier League and Champions League primarily in their sights. Both Emery and Gazidis said they wanted the club to become “candidates” to win at home and in Europe. Arsenal, once more, will not be playing in the Champions League in 2018-19. But they will be in the Europa League, a competition that Emery became an expert at winning with Sevilla, in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

His record at Sevilla was impressive given that any Spanish club has to contend with two mighty opponents in Barcelona and Real Madrid, and now a third contender in Atlético Madrid. In the last three seasons with the Andalusian club, Emery took them to fifth twice and seventh, in addition to their three Europa League triumphs.

How much time will he get to turn Arsenal into genuine contenders again? Gazidis said that money will be available, as it has always been, to the club’s manager, but Emery expects to get more out of the current squad. “I am demanding of myself and I want people around me who are also demanding,” he said. Doubtless he will observe the resources available and then bring in the players he needs. Whether that will include out-of-contract Jack Wilshere and Mesut Özil remains to be seen, but Emery wasn’t going to be drawn on the future of Wilshere and merely acknowledged the German midfielder was a big talent.

As Gazidis said, the arrival of Emery represents a “new page, a new chapter” for Arsenal. “We want to be one of the best teams in Europe, we want to make the fans even more proud of their club,” added Emery. “I cannot promise we will win, but I can promise we will work hard with emotion….this is a challenge for me, but also a dream come true.”

He may not have the dentistry of Jürgen Klopp, or the coolness of a Pep Guardiola, but Unai Emery’s arrival in London – “a great city” – will surely shift the staleness that has descended upon Arsenal in the past few seasons. If he does for Arsenal what Klopp has done for Liverpool, who will complain?


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