At the end of last season, it was announced that Arsene Wenger would be moving on from Arsenal after being such a great servant to the club, the Frenchman joined the Gunners in 1996 and enjoyed success. He led his side to an invincible Premier League triumph, a feat that may never be seen again, amongst other honours.
With speculation as to who would take the helm at the Emirates high, it was eventually Spaniard Unai Emery who was given the position. With big boots to fill and little money to spend, the task at hand was certainly greater than many may think.
Out of the Champions League since the 2016/17 season, Emery was faced with the task of steadying what appeared to be a sinking ship. After arguably out staying his welcome at the club, Wenger’s final year at Arsenal was threatening to turn toxic to say the least. Numerous questions were asked not just in regard to the Premier League legend’s ability in the current age but also towards the hierarchy’s commitment to the club.
Never the less, Emery joined the club after ending his reign as Paris Saint Germain manager. The start of his reign in London proved to be far from ideal. A new era began with two successive losses at the hands of the Champions Manchester City and arch rivals Chelsea. Little did that seem to worry the past Europa League winning gaffer though, the response so far this season has been outstanding and possibly undetected.
The Gunners have seven games remaining and 21 points left to fight for, if you think of the fact that they remain in pole position to secure a Champions League spot after season’s out, the job Emery is doing so far is nothing short of fantastic.
As things stand, Emery’s side sit in fourth place having played a game less than anyone else within the top six and they are just the one point behind North London rivals, Spurs. A side that spent less in the summer than already relegated Fulham, have reacted well to any test so far this season. Monday night’s victory over Newcastle also saw them achieve 10 successive league wins at the Emirates for the first time.
A lot of talk as of late has been directed towards the resurgence of Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Manchester United, while Emery’s Arsenal have gone about their business quietly. The former Sevilla boss has though caused controversy a couple of times this season firstly allowing Aaron Ramsey to join Juventus on a free transfer, and then the treatment towards World Cup winner Mesut Ozil has been questioned. It has been questioned in the past as to whether Ozil’s work rate of the ball is good enough and it seems that Emery has looked to rectify the problem himself, it does seem to be working in truth.
The smiles are there for everyone to see and it looks to all intent and purposes that the players are enjoying life under their new leader.
Money as of late hasn’t really been free for Arsenal managers to spend and it has meant that the quality of recruitment has had to be spot on.
In recent times, it hasn’t been the best but with Emery addressing what he feels were the issues it seems to have improved the squad. Although, there are still issues going into next season defensively for Emery to look at, it does appear he is monitoring it closely. Most of his summer signings were actually defensive minded. The Bundesliga signings of Bernd Leno and Sokratis Papastathopoulos have looked rather solid, nothing special in truth but they have helped just keep things steady for the time being while Emery looks to build. In addition to those two signing, Arsenal brought in Lucas Torreira from Sampdoria a player who has been fairly consistent for the club so far. All in all, Emery has recruited just the six signings. The other three being, Stephan Lichsteiner, Matteo Guendouzi and Denis Suarez.
Faith in youth
If you were to survey Arsenal fans on their favourite player this season, it wouldn’t be wide of the mark to suggest that a couple of young names would be mentioned at least a few times.
Naturally a midfield player, Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been utilised much of the season as a right back, especially after a season ending injury to Hector Bellerin. In addition to Maitland-Niles, fellow teenagers, Matteo Guendouzi and Edward Nketiah have also been given chances.
As well as that if you take into consideration the improvement of 22-year-old Alexander Iwobi, the future isn’t looking to bad for Arsenal at the moment.
The Gunners are well placed to regain a spot in Europe’s top competition next season, having already matched last season’s points tally. Add to that, a Europa League quarter-final tie against Napoli to look forward to and I’m sure Arsenal fans will be happy.
What are your thoughts on Unai Emery’s first season in England?
By James Miller