Unai Emery is building his legacy at Arsenal
After 22 years, 1235 games, three Premier League titles and sevem FA Cup triumphs, Arsene Wenger bid goodbye to Arsenal, the club he had come to embody for the better part of two decades.
May 13, 2018, was a day to celebrate the end of the era of one of English football's most iconic managers who achieved the unthinkable by going a full season without recording any defeat in the Premier League.
He was the longest-serving and most decorated manager in the history of Arsenal FC.
His legacy is not only Arsenal based. Lee Dixon in an interview after Arsene stepped down said
"There is no doubt he changed the face of English football. He was the first. It was all him. His legacy is English football based because of where the game was when he came in and how clubs and players operated. The physiological side of the game, the social side, training and everything. He came in and ripped up the handbook. Everybody asked who he was and the next minute they were all copying him".
"Arsene who ?" was the headline of The Evening Standard upon his appointment. Wenger would go on to show English fans and the rest of the world who he was and why they were wrong to question him.
The Wenger era that started out so gloriously tapered off unceremoniously. Years without a trophy, lack of ambition and a general feeling that the manager had lost his touch contributed to the great decline of the Wenger era.
This decline was marked by mass protests, the tepid atmosphere at the Emirates and low attendance. Fans and pundits became fiercely divided into 'Wenger Out' or 'Wenger In' factions.
Wenger out factions was quick to point out the ongoing years without a league title while the Wenger in factions reminded everyone to be careful what they wished for and consider Post- Ferguson's United as a lesson.
A sense of uncertainty was the predominant feeling among supporters, onlookers and pundits as the summer came and there was no one at the helm yet.
Candidates like Laurent Blanc, Leonardo Jardim, Antonio Conte, Eddie Howe and even Mikel Arteta were at one point or another considered favourites to replace Wenger.
The sense of unease was quickly growing among supporters with each passing day bringing a new 'favourite' for the job.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Emery was the front-runner for the job after expectedly being axed from PSG for not coercing enough big-game performances from his all-star cast in the champions league. His appointment to the job of Arsenal head coach was met with as much hesitation as fanfare.
Fans, onlookers and pundits didn't really know what to expect from the man tasked with taking command from the forcibly pushed out general.
The predominant belief among all was that it would take time for Emery to get anything out of the Arsenal squad that has been lacking competitiveness for years.
Six months on from his appointment, Emery is looking like the masterstroke for this side. It was always going to be difficult to pursue a different philosophy after one had been panelled into a club for 22 years but the three-time Europa league winner has done it bravely.
He has shown he is not afraid of making the bold calls and his players have responded terrifically. Arsenal has won more points from losing positions than any other side in the division.
They are in the top three for distance covered per match and goals scored in the second half of games.
There is grit, competition and determination in this Arsenal side as well as style. Oft-maligned players like Granit Xhaka, Mesut Ozil, Bellerin and Mustafi have played vital roles in a generally positive season for Arsenal.
The key to this fresh impetus at the Emirates is hard work and attention to detail which Emery is famous for.
Former Spain winger Joaquin in an interview with the Guardian said "Emery put on so many videos I ran out of popcorn! He is obsessed with football. It is practically an illness".
This illness is a trait other great coaches like Pep Guardiola and Marcelo Bielsa have been famously acclaimed to possess. Iwobi goes on to reveal how training under Unai Emery has been.
"He demands a lot. He's a lot more intense, a lot of high pressing and keeping the ball so that it benefits us if we have the ball. It is making me feel a bit sharper; I'm doing things with a bit more intensity. It is not just me, I feel like I'm helping this team a lot more."
This intensity is an ingredient that was sorely lacking at the Emirates during Wenger's last days.
Emery's tactical nous has also been an essential ingredient of the Arsenal revival. He is willing to make halftime substitutions and in-game tactical alterations that will cause a change in the game.
These substitutions have been positive and have yielded more goals and assists than any other side in the division.
''Sexy football" in the words of Mesut Ozil as seen in the games versus Leicester and Fulham coupled with hard-fought comebacks in games against Liverpool and Wolves has shown what Emery is about in a microcosm.
Work remains to be done in several areas like the defence, controlling a game for 90 minutes and the generally languid first half displays. All this notwithstanding, Emery has put a new- look about the place that hasn't been so in a long time.
Unai Emery will probably need a couple of years and transfer windows to properly panel this side into his image but with what he has done so far, nobody should bet against him building a legacy to compete if not rival that of the legend he has so graciously replaced.