A Year After Emery! By Dan Smith
It was 12 months yesterday that Arsenal sacked Unai Emery. The manager has said a few things since to defend his reign, suggesting he didn’t get his chosen targets. The Spaniard might feel vindicated a year on, as he’s third in La Liga while the Gunners remain far away from the level they used to be at.
There needs to be some context though. Three months of 2020 there was no football due to the Pandemic, meaning Arteta hasn’t been in charge of as many games as he would have normally been come December.
Some will also argue that comparing pre- and post- Emery is unfair as football now looks very different. Unai never had to play in an empty Emirates for example.
There was a moment where many gooners thought the club had refound it’s ethos and identity, but the fanbase is becoming divided again after our worst ever start to a Prem season.
This time last year it was obvious the dressing room had been lost. Let’s see how Arteta got it back – but how it’s losing its confidence again…
In typical Arsenal fashion, there seems zero contingency plan now that Emery is sacked. Unlike Spurs, who switch Pochettino with Mourinho inside 48 hours we wait 3 weeks to hire a new manager.
We choose our ex-captain, who’s in the uncomfortable situation of being Man City’s assistant as they destroy us at the Emirates, even though it’s strongly reported it’s when, not if, he gets the Arsenal job.
His first 2 games ever as a manager is a Boxing Day draw at Bournemouth and a home loss to Chelsea.
A key change to the previous regime, is the work rate of the strikers who are pressing, but it’s hinted that players are currently not fit enough to do that for 90 minutes.
Arteta’s first ever win as a manager is an impressive 2-0 win against Man United (he draws his other three League Fixtures).
Key changes in the squad see Mustafi start in the League having not done at any point for Emery that season. Xhaka also plays for the first time since throwing down the arm band at home to Palace. Our manager later admits 1 to 1 chats convinces both to stay, with both admitting to the mental pressure constant criticism was causing.
Ozil also starts every game till lockdown having been rotated previous.
For the second year running, the club can only afford loans. We bring in Mari and Cedric although both are strangely injured.
Successive wins over Newcastle and Everton put us 7 points behind 4th and 4 behind 5th which could now be a Champions League qualifying position.
Arteta then experiences his first adversity as manager, being knocked out of the Europa League by Olympiakos despite having won the 1st leg in Greece.
Little do the fans in attendance for our win over West Ham realise, that this will be their last game they are allowed to attend this year (apart from the lucky 2000 I guess?) Little does Ozil realise as he assists the winner, this will be his last game in 2020.
The night before our game at Man City, it’s announced Mikel Arteta has tested positive for Covid. On the 19th March, the season was postponed till April.
The FA agree to extend the season past June when the government suspend all sport indefinitely.
The majority of Prem clubs seem adamant to finish the season no matter what, due to fulfilling television and sponsorship contracts. Loss for the entire top flight is estimated at over a billion if the season finishes with zero match day revenue.
Arsenal are one of the hardest hit without matchday revenue, especially with it not clear if they will have the added income of European Football.
Arsenal’s squad is asked to take a 12.5% wage cut, money to be repaid if certain targets are met.
Project Restart is confirmed for June, so players are allowed back into social distanced training which gradually builds to contact training.
Some clubs fail to have relegation removed but the idea of neutral venues is changed. The League propose to complete the 92 remaining fixtures in the space of 6 weeks.
Due to the congested schedule subs are increased to 5.
Arsenal, the only unbeaten English side left in 2020 lose 3-0 at City, then 2-1 to Brighton. Guendouzi’s initial reaction to the latter is to boast about his salary. He hasn’t been in an Arsenal squad since.
Despite losing without him, Ozil is dropped completely. He becomes a meme as he sits in the stands at Southampton under his umbrella.
Arteta receives praise for how he beats Liverpool, and in particular Man City in the FA Cup Semi Final. The manner of how organised the team is seems to prove his man-management skills.
Dropped points though at Spurs and Villa means we have to win the FA Cup to be in Europe. Arteta maintains Guendouzi and Ozil are being left out for footballing reasons despite clubs being allowed 9 subs.
Arsenal win a record 14th FA Cup with this time Arteta tactically out thinking Frank Lampard, only the 18th man to lift the cup as player and manager. Ozil and Guendouzi were asked to stay away from Wembley.
Just three weeks later at the same venue we beat the Champions in the Community Shield again with Arteta’s tactics credited.
Off the pitch, 55 staff are made redundant. It’s reported this upsets players who feel they agreed a pay cut on the pretence they were saving jobs. It’s bad PR when in the same month it’s believed that Willian and Aubameyang sign contracts in the region of 200,000 pound a week.
Ozil says it validates why he wanted more details before agreeing to a wage cut, and hints that’s why he’s been frozen out.
Mirroring Emery’s League start 12 months previously, Arsenal win their opening two games before easily getting beaten at Anfield. Arteta insists everyone this season has a clean slate but still Ozil and Guendouzi are still left out.
Surprisingly, the manager declares Saliba is not ready, the defender who cost 30 million.
In the last hours of the transfer window we activate Thomas Partey’s buyout clause. It’s suggested we couldn’t offload as many players as possible due to their high wages.
The decision to not include Ozil in domestic and European squads is questioned when Arsenal lack creativity at Man City and home to Leicester.
Our first League win at Old Trafford in 14 years was viewed as a mentally huge moment, but we haven’t won in the Prem since. Home defeats to Villa and Wolves and a draw at Leeds again have been apparent in their lack of creativity.
This isn’t an excuse, but it is noticeable that the hectic schedule makes our concept of time in football not the same reality. For example, our start to the season was two months ago.
If you go to the start of September, some gooners were predicting a title challenge and claiming we had a better manager then Pep Guardiola. So it doesn’t feel right that two months later those same opinions could be the opposite?
Some will look at things as black and white as Unai Emery’s win/loss record compared to Arteta’s. The reality is it was clear Emery had lost the dressing room. Once that happens a manager has to go.
The current squad has lost its confidence, but that doesn’t mean they have lost faith in the manager. There is talk that morale could be low due to certain decisions, some that go over a coach’s head. Ozil and Guendouzi are popular members of the team, while in general there’s been a high staff turnover.
Ultimately, I think we have players not as good as some fans think. Even top names such as Aubameyang. Is he the leader you need when things are going wrong? Ahead of next weekend’s Derby, how many of our talents can you count on to have the right mentality?
If you sacked Arteta tomorrow I would say it’s unfair.
He would have had one window where we signed two players. In my opinion his most creative players had been dropped in a decision over his head and is the last 12 months a fair environment to judge a rookie coach.
His year has been half of which we were playing for nothing, one window with limited funds (and only a few games to work with them) and the majority of a year of empty stadiums and a hectic schedule.
It would be unfair to hire someone knowing they have zero experience, then give up on them, after not just a year but this year of all years.
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