Learning from failure is the single biggest contributor to success. In making a number of swift and decisive decisions, Unai Emery looks set to avoid what undermined his time at Pars Saint Germain.
Though it would be unfair to label Emery’s stint in charge of PSG as a failure, he wasn’t able to take the Parisians to the next step – namely, Champions League glory. Qatari attempts to use PSG as a political pawn to exert influence and soft power is well known, with the record-shattering deal for Neymar and loan of Kylian Mbappe by-products of this. What concerned Emery was not the geopolitical aspects of these deals, but how to fit his medley of stars into an effective and conquering outfit.
Yet what came to define Emery’s final year in Paris was the constant stories of unrest and conflict within the club. Neymar naturally gravitates towards the limelight and it appeared his demanding nature sucked everything into his orbit. It was no longer Emery’s PSG, but Neymar’s.
Neymar does what Neymar wants
Club President Nasser Al-Khelaif’s vanity-project – the £200 million purchase of the Brazilian – meant Emery’s attempts to stamp an authority on his team was doomed the minute Neymar signed on the dotted lines. The forward’s decision to simply up-sticks and leave France when injury threatened to derail his World Cup bid was indicative of how Neymar does what Neymar wants. Try managing the egos of PSG’s other stars in light of one player’s complete control.
While PSG triumphed to Ligue 1 success, Emery’s fragile hold on his side told in the Champions League. A galvanising performance was required against Real Madrid in the second leg, but instead, the lack of togetherness was laid bare. The Parisians were disjointed and mechanical.
Emery is determined not to make the same mistake twice. If his first weeks at The Emirates tell us anything, it is that the Spaniard is intent on making a team from the collective, rather than a side that serves one player.
Where his rule was questioned amongst the warring personalities at PSG, Emery has sent a clear message to his new squad. He is not afraid to make difficult decisions if he thinks they’re the right ones.
Goodbye to the old guard
Jack Wilshere’s impending departure is perhaps the biggest indication of this. The Englishman is still, and has been, a very good footballer, but his time at Arsenal has been characterised by over-indulgence. Emery’s high-intensity style of play needs dependable midfielders who are able to cope with the pressing and industry desired. Wilshere’s history of injuries has not only hamstrung his career, but has been a deciding factor in Emery’s decision to allow him to leave.
Petr Cech arrived with the promise of winning 10-15 points a season, but has failed to live up to expectation. Arsene Wenger’s stubborn persistence with the Cezch was not only a poor footballing decision, but a reflection of who Wenger had become in the last decade: unwilling to accept and adapt to change. As in the case of Wilshere, Emery has not been slow to address the issue, bringing in highly-rated Bernd Leno. The additions of Stephan Lichsteiner and imminent arrival of Sokratis Paspastathopoulos – can’t wait for Paul Mersen to say that one – will also help to solidify what had been a porous back-line.
What’s left in the in-tray?
The early signs are promising, but Emery still has a number of problems to resolve. A priority will be on retaining the services of Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman has yet to sign a new contract and having seen Mesut Ozil win a war of negotiation by securing himself a major upgrade to his salary, Ramsey will be in no rush.
Ramsey can thrive under Emery and it has been reported that the Arsenal boss is keen to build his side around the craft and vision the 27-year-old possesses. The only time a team has been geared towards Ramsey was during Wales’ remarkable Euro 2016 campaign – onlookers often mistook Chris Coleman’s tactics as a way of getting the best out of Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale, but it was actually designed to give as much freedom and creative liberty to Ramsey as possible. The no.10 was named in the Team of the Tournament, provided the most assists and his exclusion from Wales’ semi-final defeat was widely lamented as a crucial determiner in Portugal’s victory. The evidence speaks for itself.
Emery probably needs to acquire one more centre-back and central-midfielder. Lucas Torriera looks close to signing permanently, but is currently involved with Uruguay at the World Cup and rumours of Caglar Soyunucu switching Freiburg for Arsenal will not go away.
Where Arsenal have been slow and hesitant in the transfer market before, they’re now swift and decisive. Where Emery had his rule questioned at PSG, his authority now appears absolute. Despite the existence of a Technical Director and Head of Recruitment, Emery has final say.
As the World Cup rumbles on in a land dripping with historic uprisings and upheaval, Emery is conducting his own quiet revolution in North London.