Unai Emery's obsessive intensity could be the alternative to Arsene Wenger that Arsenal need
While the former Paris Saint-Germain coach may not be the obvious, or romantic, choice to take over at the Emirates Stadium, his past experiences may well make him a suitable appointment
If Arsene Wenger and Arsenal seemed a case of nominative determinism, Unai Emery and the Gunners appear to have plenty of common denominators.
Between them, they have exited the Uefa Champions League in the last 16 11 times in the last eight seasons.
But Emery has won a hat-trick of Europa Leagues and, for a club exiled from the continental elite and whose best chance of returning to the Champions League may come via its unloved sibling, that feels pertinent.
Arsenal and their imminent appointment may share a sense that their stock has fallen in the last two years.
The London club were not able to attract one of the established top-grade managers, such as Massimiliano Allegri, Luis Enrique or Diego Simeone. Are they a second-tier club and manager now, finding consolation with each other?
Emery won Ligue 1 once with Paris Saint-Germain, his first league title, but also finished behind Monaco, who had a fraction of his budget, and twice departed the Champions League ignominiously early.
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Given the criticism Wenger received for his habit of losing major matches, Emery’s defeats to Barcelona and Real Madrid may bode badly.
So, too, the fact that his Sevilla side once went an entire season without winning an away league game; even Arsenal’s timid travellers did not do that.
And yet there is the possibility that PSG represents such a unique, dysfunctional club that failing there – which, in comparative terms, Emery did – should not disqualify him from positions elsewhere.
There should be a concern that the 46-year-old has been a great overachiever with Spanish clubs Valencia and Sevilla, but not abroad, with either Spartak Moscow or PSG.
But the star vehicle in the French capital, with priorities distorted by the circus surrounding Neymar and imbalanced squad, is unique, even if Arsenal also have a top-heavy group after concentrating their spending on attacking players.
Yet if some of the similarities with Wenger are superficial, differences may be more meaningful. Emery has established a reputation as a master of detail, a meticulous planner whose use of videos is infamous.
His attitude bears comparison with his compatriot Rafa Benitez’s, and at a point when Arsenal have become increasingly ragged, an obsessive has appeal, even if some may not buy into his methods.
“I used to play a lot of chess,” Emery told World Soccer in 2010. “I love the strategy, the sense of planning and out-thinking an opponent.”
In that same interview, he reflected on the lack of tactical work done in England. “They don’t mechanise the game so much and they don’t study opponents as much. It’s striking that they have great facilities and don’t really use them to their fullest.”
If that was the case at Arsenal, it won’t be any longer. Emery’s intensity could be a culture shock. It may also be what Arsenal require, given defensive lapses and inconsistency.
A capacity to improve players, which was most apparent at Sevilla, is auspicious; the recent impression is that some have had to leave Arsenal to get better.
Emery formed a productive (and profitable, given the fees some of the players they sold commanded) partnership with Sevilla’s sporting director Monchi, his coaching prowess dovetailing with the latter’s legendary ability as a scout.
It suggests he could slot into the new structure at Arsenal, where Sven Mislintat is heavily involved in identifying and recruiting targets.
With Arsenal’s summer transfer budget reportedly only around £50 million (Dh247.1m), progress will have to come from coaching and tactical prowess.
Emery is not the romantic appointment Mikel Arteta’s would have been but, with a greater track record than a rookie, it represents less of a risk. Yet there is intrigue nonetheless.
Updated: May 22, 2018 02:50 PM