In December last year, with the season still taking shape, I did an article that looked at comparisons between former Managers George Graham, Arsene Wenger and the current Arsenal coach, Unai Emery. It asked the question ‘Is he more Graham or Wenger ?’
Since then, we have seen the development of the Spanish coach and it now appears that he has far more in common with George Graham than we first realised.
The pair are certainly single-minded in their beliefs and approach and both took charge of the club during a period of failure and mediocrity.
George Graham delivered the league title after a period of rebuilding and reinvention. So, could it be a case of history repeating itself in the form of Unai Emery.
Both Graham and Emery are tactically astute and their approach to the opposition means adjustments to the line up and formation.
Who can forget Graham’s approach to the final game of the season back in 89, when Arsenal travelled to Anfield and had to win by two clear goals without conceding. No one gave them a cat in hells chance of securing the title and the media had all but buried Arsenal.
After playing the whole season with a back four, George Graham went into the match employing a back three, which confused the majority of his side. He pushed Dixon and Winterburn forward to negate the threat of Houghton and Barnes and employed the unusual tactics of taking the team up north on the day of the match. Something that was quite unprecedented.
He was introduced to Desmond Morris’s book ‘The naked ape’ which dealt with territory and based a good chunk of his plan in reversing any psychological home advantage.
Emery may or may not go to those lengths but he is certainly someone who invests a lot of time looking at formations, capabilities and the potential weakness.
Like Graham, Emery is all about the team and less about the individual parts. Graham gave his players six weeks to prove themselves on his arrival at Highbury, after which he started to rid himself of the less productive stars and those that he deemed were not earning their wages. These included Kenny Samson, Charlie Nicholas, Tony Woodcock and Graham Rix.
Nigel Winterburn said that Graham didn’t like dealing with the so called big players and that’s very similar to Unai Emery, who at this point in time has taken to benching them, with a view to off loading them.
They both are advocates of the team ethic and anyone that isn’t showing that level of commitment is made aware of his expectations.
Even if they are earning big bucks, they aren’t guaranteed a place in the team or even a place on the bench.
Graham and Emery also base a productive attack on a strong defence and although Emery hasn’t had the time or funds to address the gunners most obvious weakness, he will come summer.
It’s something that Graham also had to resolve and the defence he assembled, is still regarded as the best they have ever had, with the possible exception of ‘The Invincible’s’ of 2004.
Arsene Wenger’s attacking flair would have failed miserably had he not inherited Graham’s back four and there are few that will argue that point.
Another similarity is their like of youth players and developing talent.
Graham liked the desire that goes hand in hand with ambitious younger players and had the likes of Tony Adams, David Rocastle, Michael Thomas and Paul Merson in his successful side.
Emery has probably the best group of Academy talent in Arsenal’s history which includes Ainsley Maitland-Niles,Emile Smith Rowe, Reiss Nelson, Cohen Bramall, Joe Willock, Bukaya Sako, Ben Sheaf and many more.
Emery is certainly not afraid of controversy. Having become frustrated with Arsenal’s highest paid star, Mesut Ozil, he removed him from the side, with no indication when or if he would return.
Similarly, Graham would take a dim view of anyone he felt was slacking or disrespectful. Paul Merson was establishing himself as a Arsenal player but during training, Graham told him to hurry up, causing Merson to Laugh. He didn’t feature in the team again for weeks.
Just how the two managers sides are viewed over time is the subject of another article in perhaps four or five seasons but the signs are that Emery has that winning mentality and a record that suggests things will significantly improve during his reign.