When Arsene Wenger stepped down as the manager of Arsenal after over two decades of service, Ivan Gazidis – the then club CEO – promised to bring in a man who’d carry the tradition and ideals of the club. Though the name Unai Emery came up as a shock last minute candidate, Gazidis assured the fans he’s the man who’d protect the brand of football and the trend of nurturing young prospects in North London.
The Gooners got the change they demanded for years. But despite being severely underwhelmed by the appointment, almost everyone got behind the Spaniard, hopeful for a brighter future.
However, 36 Premier League fixtures and embarrassing exits from the EFL Cup and FA Cup, the Arsenal faithful stand divided yet again. A section of the fanbase stays adamant that Emery should be given time for his rebuild and the rest argue he should’ve done better given his situation. The topic is very polarising, but maybe, the latter may speak more truth; as harsh as it may be.
Unai’s early days:
The former Sevilla boss started off with a harsh pair of fixtures against defending champions Manchester City followed by Chelsea, losing both matches by 3 goals.
However, despite criticism and consecutive defeats, the Spanish boss stayed loyal to his philosophy and went on an impressive unbeaten streak, which included a resilient draw against Liverpool at the Emirates. Moreover, the 4-2 decimation of Tottenham Hotspur almost had him rise to a cult hero status.
However, it has been almost completely down hill since those days.
Treatment of players and questionable starting line-ups:
After their win against Spurs, Emery was questioned about Mesut Özil’s absence which prompted a reply that heavily implied that the player did not make the cut to feature in a big fixture like that in his eyes.
In the following games, Özil was dropped from the matchday squad or benched more that he was given game time. What made the whole situation dodgy was the German’s social media posts saying he’s ready for the game only to be not included in the starting XI.
Now, this is pure speculation on my part, but it could’ve been Özil hinting that he was actually fit but being dropped due to inside matters. What adds fuel to this theory was when the former Galactico was seen to have liked a comment by a fan who said the boss was ‘dumb.’
Mesut Özil liked this comment on Instagram…? pic.twitter.com/oCS5LT0lqA
— Connor (@TikiTakaConnor) February 14, 2019
It was at this period that reports about the Arsenal higher-ups wanting the former German international to depart the club arose. Apparently his wage has been putting the club under financial pressure. Emery had been reportedly tasked to “squeeze” Özil out of Arsenal slowly.
However, the whole ordeal backfired as the North Londoners conceded too many loses, every game screaming for a creative player’s involvement. Naturally, the fans weren’t exactly happy that certain decisions cost the club that heavily.
Moreover, the players also shared the feeling that the boss’ decisions are hurting the club.
Mokbel: Belief within Emery's squad that the manager's reluctance to integrate Ozil into his plans stems from his sour relationship with superstars (e.g. Neymar at PSG). Members of the dressing room believe the team is missing the German's creativity.https://t.co/8E3ujqQlTe
— Arsènic™ (@MrArsenicTM) February 16, 2019
BBC Sports’ David Ornstein would later on confirm that the club are actively trying to offload the ex-Schalke star.
However, the playmaker has been integrated back into the squad as Emery may have realised his worth.
Emery tried to make an example of Özil by excluding him for not meeting his 'work work work' philosophy…but Özil made an example of Emery, as this gross mismanagement has clearly affected our results. Unai tried a power play after Neymar damaged his reputation…failed.
— ∞ (@TheFalseNein) January 12, 2019
Additionally, Aaron Ramsey was confirmed to have accepted a new contract at Arsenal. The gaffer had publicly said he wanted to build a squad around him but ended up withdrawing the offer out of the blue.
A new + improved 4yr contract was recently agreed between Arsenal & Aaron Ramsey. But #AFC withdrew offer, are now not in a position to proceed. Most likely he’ll leave for free next summer, unless the perfect opportunity for both parties arises in January https://t.co/5EXUoIsZx2
— David Ornstein (@bbcsport_david) September 27, 2018
Eventually, the Welshman signed a pre-contract with Juventus, becoming one of the highest paid players in the world.
Letting the club’s highest scoring midfielder go for free is nothing short of a mistake. Ramsey had been vital in his side’s success in the silverware department and is one of the few No. 8s in the world who can do what he does on the pitch.
The management of the club’s star players has been nothing but shambolic to say the least.
Moreover, the Spanish manager is infamous for his feud with players, one prime example being his stint at Paris Saint-German.
By the end of his tenure at PSG, Emery was reportedly a laughing stock in the dressing room – he succeeded in ruining captain Silva's confidence, Neymar no longer listened to him, Dani Alves was bemused by his treatment of Ben Arfa, Ben Arfa had an all out war with him… (2/4)
— Get French Football News (@GFFN) January 14, 2019
Style of play:
Gazidis has already ratted off to AC Milan after promising the fans glorious things, but his words still remain in their minds.
The Englishman assured the quality of football will not be allowed to drop. And as we know in today’s time, that has been a very, very grey area as the Gunners have been seen to play top-notch fluid football but have also been seen deploying five defenders and two holding midfielders in the starting line-up, playing like prime Chelsea, minus the results.
Sadly, the latter has been the majority of the cases, the latest ones being against Wolves, Crystal Palace and Watford in the league; only one of which they won, barely.
Arsenal currently sit 5th on the Premier League table, heading into their second leg of the Europa League semi-final with a 3-1 advantage and eliminated from the EFL and FA Cup in early stages.
The Londoners have recorded 66 points, just 3 points better off compared to last season with 2 more games to go, whilst recording just 8 cleansheets, out of which only 1 came away from home.
On the other hand, Arsenal have recorded wins against Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham.
They also defeated Valencia 3-1 in the UEL semi-final first leg following a 3-0 aggregate win against Napoli in the quarter-finals.
There’s no doubt that there has been a slight improvement from last season. But there’s also no doubt that Arsenal should be in a better position than they are now, if not for very questionable decisions from Unai. A lot of very questionable decisions.
However, being adamant on playing a back 5 formation despite the players not being able to completely adapt to it, dropping players on purpose and ultimately affecting the club negatively, insisting on starting Shkodran Mustafi despite his consistent sub par performances and letting go of a world-class midfielder for free are issues that outweigh the 3 improved points he has won.
Fortunately, Emery and his men are favourites to win the Europa League alongside Chelsea. And nothing could be a silver lining to this season than silverware. And this silverware should be considered his life line at Arsenal.
After what Emery has cost the club, the higher-ups really do need to think hard about his future. He must be presented with a verdict — to win the Europa League or to be shown the exit door.
All things considered, it wouldn’t be an unfair decision to make.