This article was published before Emery was announced as the new manager of Arsenal.
After weeks of speculation that Arsenal would replace Arsene Wenger with former Arsenal captain Mikel Arteta, the BBC’s David Ornstein is now reporting that former PSG and Sevilla boss Unai Emery will be appointed as the club’s new manager.
Given Ornstein’s track record, it is relatively safe to assume that Emery will be Arsenal’s new manager. With that in mind, it is a good time to evaluate what Emery brings to Arsenal, how he compares to the other candidates, specifically Arteta, and whether the move is a good one.
Emery started his managerial career with a season at Lorca Deportiva and two seasons at Almeria but really started to make a name for himself at Valencia. Succeeding Ronald Koeman, Emery’s side finished sixth after finishing 10th the prior season. He then led Los Che to third place in three consecutive seasons before leaving the club after the 2011-2012 season. He then had an ill-fated spell at Spartak Moscow which saw him fired only a few months into his tenure at the club.
Emery really started to boost his reputation at Sevilla, where he managed from 2013 to 2016. While he never propelled Sevilla to a top-four finish in La Liga, he established a reputation as one of the better knockout tournament coaches through his success in the Europa League, winning the tournament in three consecutive seasons.
Much of his success in Europe was put down to his meticulous planning and attention to detail, specifically when it came to analyzing the opponents’ strengths and having multiple plans to exploit them, something Wenger was criticized for not doing in recent years. He played a relatively defensive counter-attacking brand of football, but his results in Europe seemed to speak for themselves.
This reputation as a European specialist led to Paris-Saint Germain hiring him after the French side had been knocked out of the Champions League in the quarter-finals in four consecutive seasons. His tenure in Paris was not a successful one. PSG failed to win Ligue 1 for the first time in five years, falling eight points short of champions Monaco, despite having significantly more financial resources. In Europe, they finished second in their group behind Arsenal, seeing them draw Barcelona in the round of 16. They put in the perfect first leg performance winning 4-0 and looking sure to progress to the round of 16 and putting out one of Europe’s premier clubs. Then they were on the wrong end of the biggest comeback in Champions League history, losing the second leg 6-1, seeing them go out in the round of 16, even earlier than they had in the previous four seasons.
His second season in Paris saw the likes of Neymar, Dani Alves, and Kyllian Mbappé brought in to take another shot at the Champions League, but once again they failed. While they returned to the top of Ligue 1, they were brushed aside by Real Madrid in the round of 16, again failing to even make the quarter-finals, much less advance past them.
Emery’s lack of a top-four finish at Sevilla, his failure at PSG, and his reputation for playing defensive football are some pretty big strikes against Emery going into taking the Arsenal job. Emery would bring experience that Arteta lacked, but, considering some of the other names that have been floated since Wenger announced he’d be stepping down, such as Max Allegri, Leonardo Jardim, and Luis Enrique, his main edge seems to be his proven success in the Europa League, a competition the Gunners will be hoping to win as a route back into the Champions League next season.
Emery is not the worst manager Arsenal could hire, but it would certainly be underwhelming. The reports about the hiring process should arguably be more worrying for Arsenal fans. If the reports are true, something we will likely never know for sure, they raise some major questions about the Arsenal hierarchy’s competency going forward.
According to a report from the Mirror’s John Cross, the Arsenal hierarchy was prepared to give the job to Arteta, but grew concerned about fan backlash and made an 11th-hour U-turn, seeing them turn to Emery. If the fan reaction was a factor in the decision-making process at any level, the people that made that decision should no longer be making decisions. That is the worst case scenario and, hopefully for Arsenal, is just a nonsense rumour. That said, even if that is not the case and talks with Arteta simply broke down, going from a manager like Arteta to someone so drastically different like Emery does not show a real coherent plan in place. His track record also indicates he does not play the “exciting and progressive football,” that CEO Ivan Gazidis said he was looking for in the new manager.
While an underwhelming hire now, Emery could work out at Arsenal. His more defensive attitude could improve the squad and push Arsenal back into the top four and maybe win the Europa League. Or maybe he won’t, we’ll find that out over the coming months. If nothing else though, the reports about the process that went into his appointment should concern Arsenal fans going forward.