Inside Arsenal's Revolution: How Unai Emery wasn't the Gunners only big change

Jens Lehmann could hardly hide the snide in his message. The former goalkeeper had only returned to Arsenal as a coach last summer, but as he would explain, the German was no longer required at the Emirates Stadium. “It was a good experience working with the players as one of the assistant coaches,” he wrote. “But the attitude from our 2004 group is not needed there anymore.”

Of course, Lehmann isn’t the only Arsenal legend to have been cast aside by the north London club. Arsene Wenger might not be on Twitter to throw shade, but if he were he would have surely echoed his former goalkeeper’s saltiness in being forced to leave at the end of last season. The Frenchman put on a smile, shook hands and signed shirts as he witnessed his own funeral, but beneath the polite, well-mannered surface there was evident contempt. He didn’t want to go.

Wenger’s exit was necessary. Arsenal had stagnated under his charge, with the Gunners slipping further and further away from the top with every passing season. Finishing the 2017/18 season in sixth place, Arsenal actually finished closer to the Premier League relegation zone than the champions, Manchester City.

But while Wenger might have been the head of the snake, there was much more to be addressed at Arsenal. The club was rotten on the inside, hollowing out the sort of ambition the move to the Emirates Stadium was supposed to help foster. The symbolism of Wenger’s resignation, forced by protest and unrest from the stands, was significant, but it offered only a hint of the changes taking place.

In effect, the departure of Wenger didn’t mark the start of the revolution at the Emirates Stadium, it was the final act of a process that had taken place for more than a year. At times last season, the Frenchman must have looked around and felt alone. Systematically, he was outnumbered by new backroom appointments.

Ivan Gazidis uttered the words “catalyst for change” as far back as April 2017 following Arsenal’s disappointing 2016/17 Premier League season, with the phrase since enshrined by the club’s fans who demand a return to the top of the English and European game. It might have taken a little longer than expected for real change to be implemented, but nobody could argue Gazidis’ overhaul to date hasn’t been comprehensive, at least in terms of personnel.

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The hiring of Sven Mislintat from Borussia Dortmund was the most public appointment made in the revolution before Emery’s arrival. Indeed, the German has already made his mark on recruitment at Arsenal, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Bernd Leno three players Mislintat knows well from his time in the Bundesliga.

But there was also the appointment of Raul Sanllehi as the Gunners’ head of football operations. He arrived in February from Barcelona, where he was key in putting together transfers for the likes of Neymar and Luis Suarez. His background working for Nike also gives him a grounding in the commercial side of the game, which may already be evident in some of the new sponsorship deals struck by Arsenal over the past few months.

On top of these two appointments, there was the hiring of Huss Fahmy as a contract negotiator from Team Sky as well as the promotion of Darren Burgess to a role overseeing the club’s medical and sports science department. Given Arsenal’s track record in injuries suffered by key players over the years, this could prove to be more significant than is initially apparent.

Richard Allison arrived from Qatar as a performance nutritionist, with Tom Allen poached from Aston Villa as lead sports scientist and Lee Herron lured to the Emirates from Reading as football operations manager. Per Mertesacker was also promised a position as Arsenal’s academy boss, which he will take up this summer following his retirement.

Arsenal started to put in place the structure for the post-Wenger years well before Wenger had even left. Now, Unai Emery has been hired as the Frenchman’s replacement, but the job he has been handed is very different to the one his predecessor carried out. Sure, Emery will pick the team just like Wenger did, he will coach the players on the training ground, but other responsibilities have been delegated elsewhere.

Football has changed drastically in the 22 years since Wenger’s arrival at Arsenal. Back then, one man could completely change the culture of a club. Wenger, in much the same way Sir Alex Ferguson did at Manchester United, had complete freedom to mould everything in his way. Arsenal came to reflect the personality of their manager. That, ultimately, became a bad thing.

Wenger’s biggest impact at Arsenal was in the way he modernised the club. In fact, so profound was the Frenchman’s influence, he modernised the Premier League and English football as a whole. But ironically, his system, his methods and ways, became outdated too. One man can no longer have so much power at a modern football club and so Arsenal have wisely taken measures to ensure this.

Emery has been hired as a coach in the purest sense of the term. He is only one component of a greater infrastructure, which should help him in the early days of his new job. There are fail-safes in place, stops and checks to prevent the sort of mistakes made by Wenger over the latter part of his tenure. Questions of transfer policy will be directed above Emery’s head, at least easing some of the pressure heaped on the Spaniard’s shoulders.

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Arsenal have long been considered a distinctly continental institution, with all their French stars and sexy football, but now their coaching and management structure also reflects that. Now, they are more like Southampton or Borussia Dortmund than Manchester United – and going forward that will stand them in good stead.

If Emery fails, Arsenal should avoid the sort of turmoil experienced by most English clubs in light of a managerial departure. Their identity should not be dictated by one man in the dugout, but by the principles and values put in place by a group of figures from different backgrounds all providing something different in their own way.

And now that system has been established, it should self-sustain for years, decades even.

The flip side of this is luring the very best dugout talent to the club could now prove difficult. Mikel Arteta hasn’t even taken his first step into senior management yet, but a lack of control and freedom, particularly in the transfer market, promised by Arsenal put him off the vacancy at the Emirates before it was filled by Emery.

Nonetheless, Arsenal must have faith in their new system. The club might be out of the Champions League, they might be scratching around the transfer market bargain bin for signings like Stephan Lichtsteiner, but the Gunners are in better shape than they have been for a long time. Many have billed this summer as the start of a much-needed revolution at Arsenal following the exit of Wenger and the arrival of Emery. In truth, the revolution started quite some time ago.

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