Emery’s Legacy? by Dan Smith
As we are playing Villarreal in the semi-Final of the Europa League, it’s only right that in the next two weeks I dedicate a few articles to our former boss.
It’s ironic that the man trusted to take us into a new era after Arsene Wenger ends up standing in our way from doing just that. Unai Emery might feel that irony is potent, given how he was treated at the Emirates?
He especially might feel he owes some of his ex-player’s some karma, and might not have too much sympathy if he breaks their hearts on the next two Thursdays.
When it’s asked why Arteta is being given more time despite a worse win/loss ratio it’s as simple as – Emery lost the dressing room. Right or wrong, when a manager loses his dressing room his position becomes untenable.
When they retire, we will no doubt get more details, but it was clear in Emery’s last few months in North London, senior players were not fighting for him.
While he’s been respectful towards us since his exit, he’s said enough to indicate he had the impression he would get longer than a season and a half to implement his ethos?
Arsenal were not just changing their coaching staff (which saw a huge staff turnover) but were re-structuring the whole set up behind the scenes.
Arsene Wenger was perhaps the last individual in English Football who had control over the majority of departments. The Gunners were taking the opportunity of a transitional period to modernise. They no longer wanted a manager but someone who would focus on coaching while recruitment, contracts, scouting would be left to specialised departments.
In that sense Emery must have felt slightly misled when the man who sold the project to him, Ivan Gazidis, soon dispatched for Milan, while others in power such as Sven Mislintat left while being critical that he wasn’t being listened to.
The Gooners who had spent months wishing for change would have been impressed by the ruthlessness of their new gaffer.
He informed Jack Wilshire he would be retracting the pay as you play contract verbally agreed, and suggested to his employers that Ramsey was not worth the salary proposed because he didn’t view the Welshman as a guaranteed starter.
Under the old regime both of the midfielders (at the club as teenagers) would have been handed new deals.
Emery’s predecessor also never treated Ozil in the manner the Spaniard did. The German would be benched for away games and sometimes not in the squad at all, as it was made clear Emery didn’t trust him tactically to follow his principles.
This style of man management was bizarre though. One week the World Cup Winner couldn’t make the line-up, the next he would be our captain. I believe a section of our fan base were trying to convince themselves the alterations were working.
Some had become YouTube celebrities by verbally abusing the greatest manager in our history so it appeared they feared losing credibility if the grass didn’t turn out greener.
You will never see a more over-reaction to starting a season with two defeats when we lost to Man City and Chelsea. In particular at the Bridge, supporters were encouraged by new tactics, in particular the high press and wanting his keeper to play out from the back (in his last year as a professional Cech found this hard to adjust to).
As mentioned, many were happy with the tough stance shown towards Ozil and Ramsey. The problem being we didn’t have another creative player and we still haven’t replaced Rambo’s goal from midfield.
Emery seemed to have preferred being conservative instead of having flair. He would select three centre backs purely based on trusting Kolasinac defensively (he’s a left back!). It’s not like we were doing this for his attacking threat either. His final ball was terrible.
At times he would have three DM in front forcing Torreira to be the furthest midfielder forward (if he played a front three, he insisted on three DM). That formation meant at times we would start with 7 or 8 defensive players with the idea that our front two could win the game on their
Even when we went 23 games unbeaten it wasn’t clear what our identity was. A crazy stat existed where Leno was facing on average 20-30 shots a game. Highlights in that unbeaten run included scoring 4 in the NLD.
I wrote at the time how cringeworthy it was the online reaction to drawing 1-1 at home to Liverpool. Many felt it was a result that proved we could now compete, when in reality it was quite common for Liverpool to not beat us away.
A truer reflection of where we stood was our annual humiliation at Anfield. At that point defensive reinforcements had been an ageing Lichsteiner and Sokratis who apart from pounding his chest and growling didn’t do a lot.
Yet, when it was clear to everyone our defence needed bolstering, the best Stan Kroenke could manage was a midfielder on loan. Apart from Man City and Liverpool all the top 4 contenders were
inconsistent in the run-in, with it turning out that Chelsea and Spurs were the best of a bad bunch.
Many accused us of having one eye on the Europa League when we rested talent against Crystal Palace but even if we had found one win it would have been enough for the top 4.
In many ways getting to the Europa League Final was the worst thing to happen to Emery. It’s not that he lost to Chelsea but more how he lost. Unlike us, Chelsea didn’t need to lift the trophy to qualify for the Cl so it was amazing how much more they wanted it then us. The occasion passed our players by.
Some still defended him suggesting we judge him when he was allowed to bring in more of his own players. He’s since indicated that’s not what happened. He claimed that his first choice was Zaha not Pepe, but because Lille agreed to a generous payment plan, we pulled out of negotiations with Palace who wanted the majority of the fee straight away.
We somehow managed to make our defence worse by replacing Koscielny with David Luiz. Monreal was sold not Kolasinac.
Ramsey’s goals from midfield were never replaced and you sensed when he left we lost our remaining identity.
Meanwhile the club had made it their worst kept secret that they were hoping to get Ozil off the wage bill. Emery was adamant that the player was not being left out for any behaviour or attitude problems. Again he didn’t trust the midfielder in away games, taking him off early at Watford and leaving him at home for the trip to Old Trafford.
As strange as it seems to write now given how his time in North London ended many started to take Ozil’s side over the managers, mainly because Emery hadn’t found another creative source.
It wasn’t that fans didn’t agree with the assessment that Ozil needed to do more, it was the fact that we had become dull to watch. Even in Arsene Wenger’s last few seasons when things were not perfect, the one thing an Arsenal side would guarantee you if nothing else was that they would make chances.
We went 7 games without a win with a whimper. We were getting well beaten at Sheffield United and Leicester. It was no longer clear what the ethos was? Whatever your opinions on the current regime, Emery had to go because he had clearly lost the dressing room.
You could tell that by the work rate Aubameyang suddenly showed the moment there was a change.
Both Xhaka and Mustafi changed their minds about leaving that January after talks with a new manager.
Arteta has too much class to be critical of the work left for him to fix but he did with his actions. First, he implied the squad were not fit enough to play the style he wanted then he referred to the club following the standards that he was used to when he was our captain. The likes of Mustafi and Ozil (at least for a while) were brought in from the cold.
In many ways, Emery’s first season at Villarreal is reflecting his first in North London. He started with an unbeaten run in Spain (18 games) but that form has fizzled out in the second half of the campaign.
He’s now almost in an identical scenario to when he took us to the semi-Final of the EL. He knows that he has to win this trophy to qualify for the Champions League.
Eventually, that proved too much pressure for us two years ago with Emery unable to sort that problem.
As a man who loves his time on the training pitch, he will be working on every weakness he remembers about his ex-players, he will be unloading on bis current squad as many details about us as possible.
Emery’s legacy at the Emirates will be it didn’t work out, but I think it stops there. He always came across as a decent bloke who wanted to succeed but simply lost the dressing room. With hindsight that’s more of a reflection on our current players more than Emery.
While the ‘Good Ebening’ mockery got mean spirited in the end, I do believe there’s zero hard feeling between our fan base and Emery. It was always going to be hard to be the man after Wenger.
He has enough belief in himself to not lose any confidence over the experience knowing it’s part of the game.
Maybe though, there might be a few ex-players and a few behind the scenes who he might have expected more support from.
He will think it’s only fitting if he gets the last laugh…
What do you think is Emery’s Legacy At Arsenal?