Why Unai Emery's one weakness can bring him down at Arsenal
Drawing parallels with Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement
When David Moyes took over the reins at Manchester United some months after Sir Alex Ferguson retired from management, it seemed like a really strange acquisition on paper.
What made people believe in the former Everton boss was the amount of belief that Sir Alex himself had in his compatriot and because of what he had built at Goodison Park. Months later, what was feared on paper came true - Moyes’ feet proved too small to fit into Sir Alex’s big boots.
There seems to be a similar aura around Unai Emery’s appointment at Arsenal. Only the aura, mind you - nothing more. Not only because news of the appointment came out quickly, but because people expected someone who they know better. Someone who is more well known than Emery, after Luis Enrique and Massimiliano Allegri apparently weren’t exactly interested in taking over the role.
It doesn’t mean that Unai Emery is a bad manager at all. The 46-year-old Spaniard won three consecutive Europa League titles at Sevilla and guided Valencia to a third-placed finish twice during his stint at Mestalla from 2008 to 2012.
While appointments for big clubs should never be judged on popularity, there seems to be an air of negativity about Emery’s imminent appointment at the Emirates. And rightly so, it isn’t the sort of appointment that the Gunners should have been after. That, presuming Arsenal want to challenge for the title and not for the top four.
Recent stint at PSG
While he was fairly successful at Paris Saint-Germain, it was a test that he failed as European glory is what the club were gunning for. And PSG was the biggest club that Emery has managed till now, but Arsenal will be a bigger challenge.
Arsenal are a bigger global brand than what PSG are, for the years of history, culture and tradition that exists there. The pressure of expectations may not be as much how much it was on David Moyes, they still are humongous merely because of the stature of the club that he is going to.
The fact that Arsenal finished sixth this past season under Arsene Wenger means that Emery will not be subjected to as much as what Moyes was subjected to, largely because United finished top of the table during Sir Alex’s last season in charge.
It will be fair to say that this will be the biggest test of Emery’s career but he would have to step up his game quickly to live up to the task. What Emery lacked in was his handling of personalities, especially at PSG. Especially after Neymar arrived from Barcelona last summer, Emery could hardly stand up for himself.
It became all about a Brazilian ‘gang’ in the side that took away Emery’s authority. So much so that players like Adrien Rabiot and Angel di Maria started getting things done on the basis of their own whims and fancies by forcing Emery into making themselves play in their prefered positions.
The bust-up involving Edinson Cavani and Neymar boiled over for the world media to know of it. Emery could never impose himself on the problem and he preferred to let the players sort it out themselves, it was an indication of his weakness in terms of managing personalities.
Emery’s attention to detail and tactical nous is unquestionable and that will go a long way in helping Arsenal not just stick to attractive football, but to dig out games when needed. They would know when to defend and when to attack, instead of attacking all the time - a problem that brought Wenger down during the late stages of his career.
The anecdote of Emery handing a blank USB to know whether a Valencia player was actually watching tactical footages in it is an indication of how modern a manager Emery is and in England, he will have an audience that will buy into that sort of an ideology.
It is a fresh breath of air at a club that was almost rotting under the imposition of ideas that weren’t necessarily old, but were found out and trampled a while back.
He analyses every team to effectively stripping every bit of their play to pieces and beats them that way. He is sure to make Arsenal a more tactically astute side and as evident from how he improved players like Presnel Kimpembe, Adrien Rabiot and Giovani Lo Celso, it shows that players will enjoy playing under the man from Hondarribia, a Spanish town on the French border.
One other thing that will suit Emery is the management structure at Arsenal. And it was one reason why he was more willing to do the job than Allegri or Enrique since the duo have not worked under an Arsenal-like director-centric system before. Emery is comfortable in it and has operated under that system almost all his career.
But what I would want to know as to what transpired after Emery got to know that the Valencia player wasn’t watching those footages in the USB. That is a question of concern because of questions that have been raised about his handling of personalities.
The 'character' conundrum
While one can certainly stand up and say that Arsenal players won’t be ganging up as the PSG players did to dominate their new boss, but what Arsenal have lacked after the Invincibles era is a gritty spine. And they have missed characters like the Vieiras and the Keowns. Characters who can put others into position when things go wrong.
While Arsenal have lacked characters all this while, Emery has always had problems dealing with such characters. And that is where the problem comes in. That’s one area where Arsenal will be scared to develop under the Spaniard and that is one of the most vital areas where Emery would have to improve.
His inability to do so was one big reason for his downfall at Parc des Princes and it would be interesting to see if he was improved in that aspect just months after having succumbed to that very problem.
This does seem like a positive appointment from the Gunners; a one that shows that they are willing to carry forward the legacy of attacking football. But there could have been better appointments than Emery. It is a progressive appointment, nonetheless, but if there is anyone who can bring Emery down at Arsenal, it will the players. One way or another.