All good things must come to an end. In modern football most managers are lucky to get two years with a club, let alone 20, but Arsene Wenger has seen them all come and go during his time with Arsenal.
He revolutionised Arsenal and massively influenced the Premier League, from the moment he joined in 1996 to peaking with the 2003-4 season’s Invincibles. In recent years though, increasing sections of the support have been on his back and, after much resistance, it looks more likely than ever now that he might leave the club, as his contract is just months away from expiration and there is no renewal in sight.
That brings us to the successor - and there’s no outright favourite at the moment. Manchester United are still coming to terms with the end of a dynasty and it’s something Arsenal’s board will want to make sure they get right. And we’re here to help.
In partnership with Football Manager, we are running a four-part series simulating what life without Wenger would be like and in part one, we’ve handed the reins to Unai Emery.
Following a playing career spent mostly in the Spanish lower leagues, the 45-year-old has, without becoming a household name, emerged as one of Europe’s most prolific coaches.
His four years with Valencia were hampered by ownership problems, but he worked with some big name players like David Silva and David Villa, helping to keep them amongst the top dogs in La Liga.
It was then, during a three-year spell with Sevilla, when he won a hugely impressive three successive Europa League titles, proving that he knows what it takes to lift silverware in Europe.
His preferred system was (and still is) a 4-3-2-1 formation that relied on a high pressing system further up the pitch and a high level or organisation in midfield.
And now, he’s been cherry-picked by big-spending Paris Saint-Germain, where he has a mammoth task of picking up where Laurent Blanc and Carlo Ancelotti left off before him to turn PSG in a footballing superpower.
But just how would he get on if he swapped Paris for London? Below is our roundup of the Football Manager simulation with all you need to know…
One main change from Wenger's XI
Emery stuck rigidly to a 4-2-3-1 formation, which focused on retaining possession, something that proved to be effective come May, as his side topped the possession charts with an impressive average of 57.95% per game.
His preferred back five was clear and their average ratings were strong. Sanchez on the left and Ozil in the middle of the three behind the striker were also permanent fixtures. The right wing and central midfield positions rotated more with nobody making the positions their own. Giroud was preferred to Lucas up front.
Generally low-key in the transfer market
Emery dipped into the transfer market early, spending £21 million on Barcelona’s Brazilian playmaker Rafinha, who went on to feature 38 times across the course of the season, scoring eight goals and earning a strong average rating of 7.07.
He also shipped out Carl Jenkinson to Watford and Mathieu Debuchy to PSG for a combined total of £5.5m, and topped up his right-back options with the arrival of Fagner from Corinthians for £8m on deadline day.
A number of the club’s youngsters joined Championship clubs on loan, leaving the club with a net spend of £23.5m. And we all know how much Arsenal fans love net spend…
The Wizard of Oz
Unsurprisingly, Mesut Ozil is as good in virtual reality as he is in actual reality, and emerged as Arsenal’s top performer. The German international contributed 14 goals and 18 assists to achieve an average rating of 7.90.
Despite conceding a few too many over the course of the season (43 to be precise), centre-backs Laurent Koscielny and Shkrodan Mustafi (as well as their backup, Per Mertesacker) also ranked highly, which might suggest that there were problems with Emery’s defensive systems and schemes rather than the personnel.
Alexis Sanchez was the club’s top scorer with a fantastic 25 goals, continuing his great run of form at the Emirates.
Giroud, Theo and the Ox struggle
Though he scored 13 goals in 31 appearances, Olivier Giroud was the stand out stinker. His average rating of 6.87 left him bottom of the pile, while another familiar face, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, only managed to beat that by 0.2 points.
Lucas and Kieran Gibbs also struggled, and Theo Walcott, who managed just 15 games, couldn’t even crack a 7 either.
It may do Emery well to ditch the sentimentality and cast off some of these players as they quite clearly held him back.
The usual in the Premier League
As always - at least in recent years - there were highs and lows, but the lows were almost painfully familiar.
The side enjoyed mixed success in the big games. Emery was held to two early draws with Man United and Everton, and they lost back-to-back games with Manchester City and Liverpool in October.
They dismantled Tottenham 3-0 at White Hart Lane and did the double with a 3-2 at home, and another double over Chelsea ensured the fans had something to shout about, but the winter period saw them drop points in games they really should have won.
They chalked up the fewest draws in the league with just five, showing themselves to be a streaky side under Emery and they ended the season in third place behind champions Manchester United and second place Manchester City - though it’s worth noting that United only won the title on goal difference.
As well as falling short in the league, there was no domestic silverware in the cups either, as Watford knocked them out of the fifth round of the FA Cup with a 2-1 win, while strugglers Swansea saw them out of the EFL Cup at the quarter-final stage.
A heavyweight blow in the Champions League
Arsenal were drawn into a tough group alongside Bayern Munich, Sporting Lisbon and Legia Warsaw. Emery used his European pedigree to qualify top of the group, chalking up a victory over Bayern in the process.
He did well to lead the side past Benfica in the knock-outs to the now-familiar quarter-final stage, but came undone in a tough draw (again, familiar) against European Cup kings Real Madrid, who managed to record a 3-1 aggregate victory over the Gunners.
Madrid won the first one 1-0 thanks to a goal from Alvaro Morata. The ratings indicated that the battle was lost in midfield as both Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla struggled.
The second leg was all Madrid. Isco scored to double Real’s aggregate, and a late goal from James Rodriguez sealed the tie. Alexis Sanchez scored a consolation at the death but it’s another trip back to the drawing board for Arsenal.
The verdict: on par
While there were some highlights, there was no silverware - but in a transitional period, trophies would have been the least of the club’s concerns. Emery managed to keep the side in the top four - last eight in Europe - and steadied the ship for a bigger platform of success in the future.
The results suggest that he’ll need to prioritise quality over quantity of options in midfield, particularly to better support the back four defensively. It’s also worth noting that Emery’s Arsenal were the highest scorers in the league while simultaneously having the first-choice centre forward being one of the worst-performing members of the starting line-up, which proves just how much potential there could be in this team with a big signing coming in to lead the line. And there are certainly enough players underperforming in his system who could be sold to make way for the new recruits.
Overall, the Spaniard fared well considering it was his first season in English football, but the same problems remain in north London, proving that you can take Arsenal out of Wenger, but taking the Wenger out of Arsenal might take him a bit more time.
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