Arsenal have appointed Unai Emery as their new head coach. This is a sentence a large number of the club’s fans have never experienced before, which makes Emery’s appointment even more significant.
Arsene Wenger, whom Emery is replacing, was appointed Arsenal manager almost 22 years ago in September 1996 and guided the club to three Premier League titles, seven FA Cup titles, the UEFA Cup final in 2000, the UEFA Champions League in 2006, 19 consecutive appearances in the Champions League group stage, a new stadium, and a status as one of the most valuable and popular football clubs in the world.
These achievements will remain a major part of Arsenal’s history and be part of a benchmark for future managers in the eyes of the Arsenal board starting with Emery, who reportedly signed a five-year deal with the club.
Emery would be expected to get the 60,000-seater Emirates Stadium consistently filled to capacity again, seeing as how the numbers began to dwindle towards the end of Wenger’s reign.
This was due to the club dropping out of contention for a coveted top-four spot in the Premier League over the last two seasons, having dropped from being serious title contenders in the previous years – one would have to go back 10 years for when Arsenal last challenged for the league title and even then, they were not exactly favourites to win but were simply title pretenders.
Expecting Emery to win the league title in his first season would be a massive over-reach, considering the highly competitive nature of the league and coupled with the fact that his main priority would be to get Arsenal back into the top four in the league and back into the Champions League as a result.
What Emery has going for him is his meticulous approach to games – involving 12 hours of opposition clips chopped (by Emery himself) into an hour-long video analysis for his players to study.
He also comes with the experience of coaching at clubs where the expectations are modest or always high, and has also coached players with various levels of ego in that time.
All these will come in handy for him with the crop of players he will meet at Arsenal – two highly rated strikers coupled with dependable supporting strikers, a handful of talented midfielders, and a backline that can be far more solid if organised properly.
However, it would be better for him and Arsenal to make some transfers in the off-season to improve the defence considering Laurent Koscielny has become injury-prone, Petr Cech isn’t getting any younger, and Shkodran Mustafi who though has become error-prone, can still become a prime defender under proper guidance.
Hence, defensive stability would be the most important work for Emery to get Arsenal back to the top four at least. The Gunners have regressed steadily in the past two seasons and have conceded less than 40 goals in just two of the last five seasons – conceding a whopping 51 goals last season which is their joint-worst defensive record in the league under Wenger and ranked as eighth best last season behind the top five and disappointingly behind Burnley and Newcastle United, too.
In attack, Emery can only get better out of Arsenal considering the Gunners have ranked in the top three for goals scored in the league in 12 of the last 15 seasons – the exception being the 13/14, 15/16, and 16/17 seasons.
Maintaining that tendency to score goals and adding a much needed solidity in defence would ensure Emery becomes a crowd favourite with the Emirates Stadium faithful, more so beca the 46-year-old’s style of football sees him demand a high-pressing, possession football from his players along with an effective counterattacking style which is blistering and leaves opponents scrambling back to position – a style Arsenal fans became accustomed to during the peak Wenger years.
But those years are now over and replaced by a confidence in a coach who just won league title in France, has won three Europa League titles, and has shown in previous spells at Valencia and Sevilla how well he can perform with a pious budget (Arsenal reportedly will make only £50 million available for transfers).
Clearly a lot of work to be done but in Emery, Arsenal have got a manager that can get it done.