The weeks of speculation about who would replace Arsene Wenger finally came to an end on Wednesday morning. Unai Emery, formerly of PSG and Sevilla, was confirmed as Arsenal’s new head coach.
The feeling among Arsenal fans has been one of slight dissatisfaction and anti-climax, but the 46-year-old’s record and coaching methodology suggests that he could be just the man to lead Arsenal into this daunting post-Wenger era.
The supporters’ sense of frustration is understandable. They had been teased with candidates like Max Allegri, Mikel Arteta and Patrick Vieira.
The first of those is a superstar name. He would have been a huge coup but was never a realistic target. Given the Gunners’ current predicament, moving to the north London club from Juventus would be a substantial step down.
Arteta and Vieira, on the other hand, would have represented a leap into the unknown, an exciting new project to shatter the staleness that has surrounded the club in recent years.
Emery falls into neither camp. After failing to take PSG past the round-of-16 in the Champions League he has not projected himself into the echelon of world-class coaches alongside the likes of Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, Jurgen Klopp and Zinedine Zidane.
He is also not a young up-and-comer; a blank canvas onto which Arsenal fans can project their hopes and dreams.
His achievements, however, speak for themselves. He is still just 46, the same age as Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, and has already lifted five domestic and three European trophies.
Admittedly, the domestic silverware was all won with a PSG side that are expected to dominate in France. But looking back to his work in Spain is more instructive when predicting how he will do in his new role.
In his first high-profile job, he led Valencia to three consecutive third-place finishes in La Liga, on each occasion only coming in behind Spain’s big two.
Then came a triple crown of Europa League titles with Sevilla, a magnificent achievement given the budget constraints faced at the time.
If rumours are to be believed, Arsenal have just £50m to spend in the summer. Emery, with his track record of making the most of what he has and improving the players at his disposal, will be the perfect man to cope in this situation.
The likes of Ever Banega, Vitolo, Ivan Rakitic and Juan Mata could all testify to how much he helped them develop.
Like Wenger, Emery is a football obsessive. Unlike the ex-manager, however, he unrelentingly transmits that obsession to his squad.
In Spain, he was renowned for his attention to detail and one of his ex-players, Joaquin, even jested that he “ran out of popcorn”, such was the number of videos that Emery showed him.
At times over the last five years, the Arsenal team has looked desperately in need of more structured work on the training pitch. Everybody knows how thrilling they can be when everything is going their way. Emery can teach them to be far more resilient when things are not.
The new man’s willingness to accept a less wide-ranging role also differentiates him from his predecessor.
He is very much a head coach, rather than a manager, and will have to work alongside Arsenal’s head of recruitment Sven Mislintat and director of football relations Raul Sanllehi.
Emery has operated under a similar structure before, standing him in good stead. At Sevilla his working relationship with Monchi, who signed the players for Emery to develop and mould into a cohesive unit, was famously fruitful.
If he is to succeed at Arsenal, though, Emery must do the one thing that he did not manage during his spell in Paris: change the team’s style.
At Sevilla his sides were built around a muscular central midfield pairing and were renowned for their hard work. They constantly got forward in numbers but also fell back to defend as a unit when required.
With personalities like Neymar and Cavani, and various cliques in the dressing room, he was unable to convince his players at PSG to do the same. He eventually fell back on Laurent Blanc’s 4-3-3 and neat passing game, which did not serve them well when they came up against top-level opposition.
At Arsenal, however, the situation is different. The egos are not as big, and the players will be more receptive to his ideas. After all, what they are doing currently is not working and they will be just as desperate as the supporters to be back eating at the top table of European football.
“Fans”, Emery once said, “want their emotions to come to the surface and the only way to make that happen is to give them a team that transmits emotion: intensity, attacking, scoring goals, competing, fighting. That awakens them.”
As Arsenal drifted through the last few years of Wenger’s reign, it felt as if that intensity and fight had seeped away and the fans had lost interest.
Emery, with his commitment to hard work and passion for the job, could well be the man to finally wake the Emirates faithful from their slumber.
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