Former PSG and Sevilla manager, Unai Emery, looks set be unveiled as the next Arsenal manager, after weeks of comings and goings in the quest for Arsene Wenger’s replacement. Former Arsenal and Spain midfielder, Mikel Arteta, had been the front-runner for the role, but it now appears that the club made a late u-turn away from the City coach.
With such a considerable rebuilding job required at The Emirates, this is a surprising development, with many pundits raising eyebrows and claiming a left of field appointment. But although Emery is not without risk, his appointment is in many ways a move that makes sense, and he should give Arsenal fans some cause for genuine optimism.
Success with financial limitations
Emery, while not being the popular choice, is in truth a very strong candidate for the sizeable Arsenal re-build. His reputation is one as a coach who gets close to his players and adopts a meticulous approach for match preparation with extensive video analysis.
Pundits have rightly pointed to his treble of Europa League wins with Sevilla as prove of his pedigree, however a closer look at his CV points to a man who can work very well within tight limitations. First at Deportivo Lorca and subsequently at Almeria, Emery led both clubs to new heights while working in the tight financial constraints of lower league Spanish football. His work at Valencia is also vastly underappreciated, as he guided Los Che to three third place finishes in four years, despite the club facing severe financial hardships and losing its best players. How useful would Champions League football have been to a club in dire need of the money? Sounds familiar, doesn’t it. Perhaps this is what has turned heads in North London.
With rumours of only around fifty million being available to a new manager at Arsenal, Emery would not be working with an astronomical budget. At Sevilla, he constantly had to stride forward despite the dive-bombing raids of predatory clubs on the hunt for the talent at his club.
Arsenal may not be able to work with or keep hold of their superior talent over the next few years if money is tight, and Champions League football becomes irregular at best. They may need a man who is capable of winning trophies on a tight budget, and with an eye for talent spotting. Emery ticks both of these boxes.
No managerial appointment is infallible
Emery is known to allow his players a lot of leeway. There are plenty of stories of a partying culture at Seville and he was rumoured to have been struggling with the egos at PSG during his brief reign in the French capital.
Arsenal is a club in dire need of an injection of stern discipline and character building. The Premier League is littered with examples of talented groups of players undone by lax attitudes to discipline and professionalism. Fans will not tolerate their under-performing players being allowed an easy ride.
Emery’s poor command of English has been cited as potential stumbling block, but this is surely unfair and overcautious. Conte, Benitez, Ranieri and Pochettino all arrived with less than fluent English and none can fairly be dismissed as anything other than successful Premier League managers. This really shouldn’t be a concern for Arsenal fans.
His clubs do, though, have a history of leveling off and being unable to take the next step. At Valencia, the proud fan base grew restless as Emery failed to build on third place in La Liga. His PSG team blew a big Champions League lead against Barcelona, which while not fatal to his career, is still a dramatic blemish. Ultimately though, no managerial appointment is infallible and there are no guarantees in football. As far as Emery is concerned, the positives categorically outweigh the negatives.
A move too soon for Arteta
What is perhaps the most surprising aspect of this story is the timing of the change in approach from the Arsenal board. Arteta was the favourite and appeared destined for his former club. He will be as shocked as the rest of us, as it appears he is back in Manchester City’s fold for now.
Arteta is clearly well thought of by many in the game. Guardiola speaks very highly of him as a key member of his coaching set up at the Etihad, and Wenger endorsed him potential appointment as his successor.
He is seriously lacking in experience though and that is likely to have made Arsenal flinch last minute. Is a gamble with a rookie coach really what they need at the moment? Perhaps Arteta would be best taking a leaf out of Emery’s and take his chances at a lower club, building himself up from there. It’s a well trodden and surer path for a coach of such obvious talent and potential.