Do not scratch your eyes or begin to pinch yourself because it actually happened. Today, Arsenal officially announced that Unai Emery has been appointed as the club’s new Head Coach. The Basque manager succeeds Arsenal’s legendary manager Arsene Wenger, who enjoyed a 22-year tenure at the North London club. Albeit the appointment may seem uninspiring to many individuals, I don’t think anyone can deny that the current project taking place at the club is interesting at the very least. Regardless of your feelings towards Emery as head coach, it’s time for the fanbase to unite as one and get behind him. I’ll admit I originally wasn’t very thrilled when news first broke out but as time goes on I’m warming to the idea of him as the club’s new head coach. I trust the club and hope Emery is a success here. The following looks at the upcoming “Unai Emery Era”.
But first, let’s look at a few facts and figures:
- Previous clubs managed: Lorca Deportiva (2004-06), Almeria (2006-08), Valencia (2008-12), Spartak Moscow (2012), Sevilla (2013-2016), Paris Saint-Germain (2016-18)
- Trophies: Ligue 1 (1), Europa League (3), Coupe de France (2), Coupe de la League (2), Trophee des Champions (2)
- Personal Honours: European Coach of the Season (2013-14), UNFP Manager of the Year (2017/18), La Liga Manager of the Month (March 2014, January 2015), Miguel Munoz Trophy (2005-06, 2006-07)
- Win Percentage: 53.5%
- Unai Emery was born on the 3rd of November 1971.
- During his playing career, Emery played as a midfielder for the likes of Real Sociedad, Toledo, and Leganes. He announced his retirement at the age of 32 when he was at Lorca Deportiva and quickly became their head coach.
- Unai Emery is obsessed with video analysis and typically makes his players watch videos on their performances as well as on the opposition.
- According to reports, the 46-year-old produced a forensic analysis report on every single player employed at the club and how he would try and improve them. It’s believed he would want to build his team around Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Aaron Ramsey.
- The Basque manager also has his own website that can be accessed here.
- Albeit his success in the Europa League is worth a mention, Emery has never guided a team past the round-of-16 in the Champions League, failing to do so with Valencia, Sevilla, and Paris Saint-Germain respectively.
- In his final year at Sevilla, Emery didn’t win a single game away from home throughout the entirety of the La Liga season.
The managerial role becomes no more.
There is not a lot of people paying closer attention to this, but it’s worth noting that Unai Emery has become the club’s new head coach, and is not a manager. Due to the various appointments being made by Ivan Gazidis including Head of Football Relations, Raul Sanllehi, and Head of Recruitment, Sven Mislintat, the entire model around the club is vastly different to the last few years of the Wenger Era. Under Emery’s leadership, the Basque manager will not inherit a significant amount of power like Wenger had during his twenty-two-year tenure at the North London club.
The former Arsenal manager played a significant role when it came to running the club both on, and off, the pitch. For example, Wenger had a lot of freedom to decide who to sign, and sell, from the club’s first team and was also able to choose who was apart of his coaching set-up. Under his head coach role, Emery will be unable to make these decisions.
When it comes to the running of the club, the 46-year-old’s primary job will be coaching the first-team and trying to get the results needed on the pitch. Although it’s unknown how much power the Basque manager will have at the club, it’ll be beneficial for all parties involved if the 46-year-old is given some say at the club, such as a “veto” vote that has been touted in some media reports when Mikel Arteta was linked to the job. When it comes to signing players and forming an adequate coaching set-up, giving Emery some say in who is brought to the club will definitely bring about more positives than negatives.
If the club were to sign players that goes against the philosophy Emery wants to bring to the team, or appoint staff that will not work well with him, it could be a recipe for disaster. This happened on multiple occasions during the 46-year-old’s tenure at Paris Saint-Germain. In his first season, the manager essentially inherited Laurent Blanc’s squad that was designed for a possession-based style of football – contradicting the philosophy Emery wanted to implement that gave him success at Sevilla. In his second season, the club’s hierarchy opted to sign mega-money powerhouses like Neymar and Kylian Mbappe rather than sign player’s the club actually needed in midfield or defence. It’s worth noting the club didn’t sign a single centre-back during Emery’s tenure at the club and were also forced into signing Lassana Diarra as a way of bolstering their options in midfield whilst complying with FFP regulations.
The 46-year-old shouldn’t have sufficient power like Arsene Wenger used to have but allowing him to have a final say (of sorts) on dealings as well as making his own recommendations will bring about more positives than negatives for the club. Arsenal are not in a position to splash the cash like Les Parisiens can and must make sure they do not make the same mistakes that the French juggernauts did.
What does Unai Emery bring to the table?
Looking at what Unai Emery could bring to the club seems rather contradictory. During his two-year tenure at Paris Saint-Germain, the 46-year-old often opted to deploy a possession-based style of football as opposed to the counter-attacking philosophy he found significant success with at Sevilla, where he won the Europa League for three consecutive years. However, it’s noting that he was forced into using this style of football by the squad he inherited from Blanc as well as his own player’s disobeying orders. The fact that there’s a track record of his own players going against him isn’t exactly something that’s worthy of praise.
For the sake of making a prediction, the below graphic is how I’d envision Emery will look to set-up the Gunners.
Albeit the Basque manager’s success at Sevilla came with a counter-attacking 4-2-3-1 system, I think deploying a 4-3-3 formation will get a lot more out of the current Arsenal squad when looking at the vast majority of attacking talent currently at the club. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Emery decided to revert to the 4-2-3-1 formation that he commonly used during the most successful time in his career, thus far, at Sevilla.
Overall, I’m beginning to wonder if the Basque manager is slowly changing his preferred style of football. The words “possession and pressing” were used by the Basque manager in today’s press conference when describing the type of football he wants his players to play, rather contradictory to how he preferred his Sevilla team to play. I’ll admit I’ve been rather harsh on the manager at times, but if he proves me wrong and plays exciting football on top of that, I’m all for it.
When talking tactically, it looks as if Emery wants to continue to use a possession-based style of football like he used for a majority of his time at Paris Saint-Germain whilst also putting a lot of attention towards pressing. Regarding the former, it seems rather obvious that the likes of Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and many others will play a key role in achieving this type of football. However, regarding the attack, the club will need to try and sign at least one new player that can play well on either flank.
In terms of full-backs, Emery likes to see these players push further up the field when on the attack. When looking at the current Arsenal set-up, this can easily be applied to the likes of Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin, who are used to positioning themselves further up the field under Wenger to provide extra width and support to the overall attack. However, it’s worth noting that extra coaching will be required for these players as it’s common for Arsenal to be exploited in these areas when the opposing team is countering.
Regarding the midfield, you could argue that the current players employed at the club offer a lot more variety to the Basque manager in comparison to what he had at Paris Saint-Germain. I’d expect Granit Xhaka to play an important role in the side, dropping deep to provide stability as the fullbacks push up whilst using his fantastic passing ability to help initiate quick attacks and find players further up the field in space. Should Ramsey remain at the club, Emery would have to do whatever it takes to fit into the side and I’d prefer him to start on the right side of a midfield trio. From here, the Welshman can play a crucial role when it comes to countering the opposition as well as providing some extra support defensively. When looking at the midfielders, it seems rather obvious that Jack Wilshere has to take the final spot in the trio, but I’d like to see a better option signed in this role in the summer transfer window,
Away from talking tactics, it’s a little worrying that Emery isn’t a fluent English speaker like a number of names that were previously linked to the Arsenal job. The Basque manager has improved his knowledge of the language over the years – as proven by his efforts in today’s press-conference – but his speaking ability could be a cause for concern in the short-term. However, it was really nice to see Emery consistently trying to speak English to the media despite his obvious struggles speaking the language. When looking at the other languages he speaks – Basque, Spanish, and French – communication with a few of his players could be a problem in the first few months of his tenure.
However, a positive that Emery will bring to the club is his integration of younger players. Unlike other managers, the Basque coach isn’t afraid to give youngsters an opportunity to impress. In his two years, the 46-year-old consistently gave chances to a handful of under-23 players at Les Parisiens like Christopher Nkunku, Giovanni Lo Celso, and Presnel Kimpembe. Considering the vast amount of talent currently at the club’s academy, from Reiss Nelson to Ainsley Maitland-Niles, working under a new manager in Unai Emery could be exactly what some of these players need to reach the next level.
In addition to this, and away from the academy, there’s a handful of young players currently at the club that looks as if they need to be introduced to different coaching methods to raise their overall game. Personally, I think Calum Chambers and Alex Iwobi are prime examples of this. Currently, they’re both good options to have at the club, but at times it looks as if there’s some sort of hidden potential that’s yet to be unlocked. With Emery now manager, it’ll be intriguing to see if there really is another level that either man can reach and if the 46-year-old is the one to unlock it.
Some much-needed changes are made behind-the-scenes.
If rumours are to be believed, the Gunners are also making a lot of changes around the club behind-the-scenes. Following the departure of Arsene Wenger, it was revealed in numerous reports that many staff members of the first-team would be relieved of their duties, although nothing has been confirmed as of writing. The staff members reportedly facing the axe are first-team coaches Neil Banfield and Boro Primorac, goalkeeping coaches Gerry Peyton and Sal Bibbo, and fitness coaches Colin Lewin and Tony Colbert. In addition to this, the remaining fitness staff have reportedly been forced to re-apply for their jobs whilst Jens Lehmann and Steve Bould have been offered contracts to remain at the club – albeit it’s unknown what role either mill will have should they agree.
Assuming all of these rumours are true, there will be some time for the club to work out an adequate coaching set-up to work alongside Unai Emery at Arsenal. When looking at who the Basque manager worked with at PSG, I wouldn’t be surprised if assistant coach Juan Carlos Carcedo and goalkeeping coach Javi Garcia also joined the club. Albeit neither man joined Emery at the French club following his appointment in 2016, the 46-year-old played an important role in bringing both men to French side the following year. Other rumours claim that Emery will be joined by a physiotherapist and also a video production specialist.
Apart from this, there’s been a lack of information regarding who else will be joining Emery’s coaching set-up. Judging by his interviews to the media, Arsenal legend Robert Pires seems desperate to get a job with the club and could be appointed as a coach to provide extra experience to the set-up. In addition to this, when Jurgen Klopp’s assistant Zeljko Buvac was linked to the Arsenal job, a few minor reports actually claimed the club was talking to him about joining the club as a coach. Although I highly doubt anything would happen, I wouldn’t exactly rule it out either.
Key quotes from Unai Emery’s first press conference.
Ivan Gazidis on the managerial process.
- “Those who know won’t speak and those who speak won’t know.”
- “After a degree of analysis we came up with a long list of 8 people, all of those people we targeted were interested in the position, they all took part in extensive interviews with the three of us (Gazidis, Mislintat, Sanllehi) and none of them withdrew their interest.”
- “Our first interview was conducted on the 25th of April, the last interview was on the 15th of May. We interviewed Unai on the 10th of May as part of that process. We made our unanimous recommendation to the board on the 18th of May.”
Unai Emery on his English.
- “My English is not very good now but I want to make an effort to speak with you, to the supporters to explain my ideas and ambitions. To explain that I’m very excited for this job.”
Unai Emery on the style of football he wants to bring to Arsenal.
- “My idea is to be protagonists, all the match. The history here is one thing: they love to play with possession of the ball. I want a squad very very intense for pressing. Two things are important: possession & pressing.”
Unai Emery on the man he succeeds, Arsene Wenger.
- “Thank you, Arsene Wenger, for your legacy”