Unai Emery Can Hope For Support From Arsenal Fans, But He May Never Get It
We're here. The Premier League is finally upon us, and everything that comes with it. There will be one thing, though, that will be very different.
The same fans will fill up bars and sell out stadiums, players will line up in their colours, managers will tread nervously on the touchline... There will be one thing, though, that will be very different.
We might see Aaron Ramsey finally fulfil his potential, we might even see Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ape Thierry Henry, maybe even Mesut Ozil will, no longer just for the sake of a song but for the sake of reality, be "Better than Zidane"...
There will be one thing, though, that will be very different.
Unai Emery, Arsenal's new manager - will take some getting used to that... Arsenal's new manager - will be succeeding One Arsene Wenger on the touchline this season for a club whose only constant has been the man he will be replacing.
That one thing, though, may just be all too different.
Build you up, to let you down
Half of my life has been a struggle in trying to come to terms with the modus operandi of the board at Arsenal Football Club. The last sensible thing they did was back in 1996.
Since then they've oscillated from the utterly incomprehensible to the devastatingly ineffective - nothing in between.
Arsene Wenger was left solely in charge of the administrative affairs of the club, whereas the board was more than keen to oversee a financial mismanagement of biblical proportions.
There, too, the manager broke precedence to help carry the burden, quite literally leveraging his own good name to help broker loans from banks who sought assurances from the club that Wenger would stick around at Highbury for the foreseeable future.
Even Madrid came calling but a man stays true to his word. And Wenger is some man. The top players left, new ones never came, and it was once again Wenger who was left holding the hefty cheque - for years of incompetence shown by the board.
Those who shout the loudest are often heard the most, and there's hardly any entity in existence that yells harder and longer than Arsenal FanTV. Stan Kroenke was awoken from his cryogenic sleep and, as he often tends to, proceeded to make a decision with the wherewithal of someone who ought to have much rather been buried alive.
Arsene Wenger was shown the door at the very Stadium he helped build.
Look, so you won't have to leap
I wonder what's in store for those of us who demanded heads roll, without giving the depleted resources under the manager so much as a passing glance. One passing glance would have told you the problem lay with quality in the side. Or the lack of it.
Two, and you'd have figured that Wenger was being sent into battle armed with a couple of paper clips and a hand towel.
And what did he do with it? 16 consecutive years in Europe's most elite competition and three FA Cups.
That is genius. Instead of taking our hats off to him, we harried the chap, ridiculed him for his results and scoffed at his beliefs.
And what'd he do? Serve.
Then, all it took was one statement asking him to step aside.
And what'd he do? Stepped aside.
Look everywhere around you and you'll see disgruntled managers vilifying their own club for the lack of transfer activity, filling up column inches in newspapers with suggestions for owners instead of picking up the telephone and calling them.
The public display of abhorrence for their own employers, past and present, is all too common in modern football.
But Arsene Wenger was cast aside from the very club he gave an identity to. And what'd he do? Thank us.
We still haven't found what we're looking for...
For the sake of rationale and not emotions, I must concede that Arsenal has been in a state of paralysis for the past couple of seasons. As much as the results were pathetic, the performances in some of the games last season were bordering on the indecent.
The lack of heart shown on the road, and at home, in 2018 was symptomatic of Wenger's dwindling influence on the players and the club.
Lists of potential contenders were drawn up for, seemingly, England's most sought-after job. The biggest names were thrown about in studios and in the boardroom.
As the days ticked by, it seemed like a pick between the inimitable Massimiliano Allegri and a candidate out of left field - Mikel Arteta.
We'd all hoped that Wenger's departure would help heal the wounds and divisions at the club and among the fans, but the two choices seemed to only further drive a wedge between the two section of supporters.
Those who wanted to focus on the football on the pitch and not worry too much about the results or, simply put, carry on with the Wenger way, sided with the former Arsenal captain.
I surprisingly found myself on the other side of the fence craving for some much needed defensive solidity and team cohesion - the only two components missing from Wengerball - with a focus on attacking football - very much a component of Wengerball.
Somehow, the board faced with two contrasting options sure to piss the other side off, managed to split it right down the middle and went with Unai Emery, pissing the whole lot of them off. Only the board at Arsenal Football Club, folks.
Neither does he come with his own brand of exciting football and neither can he be attributed with the success of bringing a team together to function as a unit.
Of all the Carlo Ancelottis and Thierry Henrys and Patrick Vieras in the world, we went with the man who somehow contrived to lose the farmer's league to AS Monaco a couple of seasons ago and has won the Europa League. Thrice. Woah! Stop the press.
The Arsenal Philosophy
With the modern-day uncertainties of the shifting geopolitical alliances, when we seem to have lost complete touch with our basic human values when states seem to alienate their ideals for petty gains, don't you think the world can find relevance in the leadership provided by Wenger?
We may not have had all that money or influence - the financial might of oligarchs and princes - but we had principles. In a world where nothing was the way it ought to have been, Arsène Wenger was our knight in shining armour.
We lived through the Tony Adams and Martin Keown farewells, the Barcelona blow in the Champions League, the moving blues, Thierry Henry, Ashley Cole, Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri and Alexis Sanchez's departures.
We lived through Birmingham in 2011. All because we had our saviour. What now, Stan? What now?
We've seen perfection under Arsene Wenger; despite all the lengthy silverware droughts, the constant injury concerns, the lack of basic game-management even, nothing but the best would do.
Because, for all the heartache that comes from watching your team bottle it when it matters the most, the constant faltering every February, the fizzling out of our title challenge year after year, every once in a while we go through an entire season unbeaten.
Every once in a while, we attain perfection. Every once in a while, we become Invincible.
Unai Emery, are you up to the task? Go on, show us what you've got. But remember, we're only used to the best.
We're only used to Arsene Wenger.