Unai Emery will fill the super-massive void left behind from Wenger’s 22-year-long reign at Arsenal. A hole so deep that past successes and vast knowledge about the game of football don’t suffice on their own. Although helpful, Emery’s expertise in tactical analysis and work ethics is only half the work ahead of him.
The succession plan
Unite with the players
Emery has to make sure that the squad is onboard with his philosophy for the club, his tactics, his training regime and other changes he will make in the next couple of months. Without trust comes apathy. It’s therefore reassuring that he said in his first press conference that he will talk to every player individually. The most important talks will be with the leaders in the dressing room, which there are few of consequent of Mertesacker’s retirement and Koscielny’s long-term injury and predicament considering his future contribution to the team. Cech, Ramsey and Özil are the remaining leaders in the squad. Gaining their respect and full cooperation will be pivotal.
If Emery succeeds in this, we could see the camaraderie and success he shaped at Sevilla. If not, we could witness the same issue he faced at PSG, where the players protested his tactics which resulted in Emery having to compensate in his strategy.
Find the right tactics
The Spaniard has to combine his general philosophy, which is, based on his press conference, about attack with possession and intense pressing without it while being the main character of every match, with what the squad can realistically achieve.
I don’t think the fans or the players want to see a very deep defensive line. Will a strategy of intense pressing accommodate players such as Özil and Aubameyang through the entire season? Considering the pace in attack, will he reduce the importance of ball possession to utilise this weapon?
Emery has to look at the squad carefully and complement it with a tactic that is most appropriate in regards to what players Arsenal have, what will work against the strongest and the weakest teams in the league and what facilitates our best players. Because it’s unrealistic that he will be able to replace too many players this summer, and a good first season in the Premier League often determines if you make it or not.
Fix the defensive issues!
Arsenal’s Achilles heel last season was their structure without the ball and poor defensive performances, collectively and individually. The Gunners conceded the most amount of goals in the Premier League of the top seven teams, but only Man City and Liverpool scored more goals. Arsenal are standing on one leg.
The attack is one signing from being adequate. But the defence needs two new centre-backs and possibly a back-up righ-back behind Bellerin. The only centre-backs left in the squad after Mertesacker’s retirement and Koscielny’s injury are Chambers, Holding, Mavropanos and Mustafi. Although I don’t think we’ve seen them at their full potential yet, and that might change under the new head coach, they are currently four unreliable parts of Arsenal’s foundation.
Signing two new centre-backs who can have an immediate impact on the team as well as tactically stopping the leak in defence is essential.
(Photo by Stuart MacFarlane)
How it might crumble before it really starts
A poor start
A lot of excitement has accumulated in the Arsenal sphere from the thought of a new head coach at the Emirates. After over a decade of mediocrity and finally replacing Wenger for someone fresh, especially someone with an impressive CV such as Emery’s, it’s like buying a new phone; you’re brimming with enthusiasm because you can’t wait to see what it can do.
This amazing enthusiasm could have an equally devastating effect if the phone doesn’t live up to your immediate expectations, however. If Emery hasn’t charged the phone to 100% and downloaded all the necessary applications in time, the players and the fans could turn on him, fast.
Ramsey and Özil
If Emery fails to align himself with the two, or if Ramsey leaves this summer, squeezing Arsenal into the top four again will become substantially more difficult. Two leaders in a team with only three-and-a-half (Cech and Koscielny) has the power to change to mood quickly, not to mention their dedication and talent is dependent on.
That being said, Ramsey and Özil aren’t troublemakers. Unless Emery completely misjudges the situation, he should be fine. After all, he has managed arguably the most egotistical player in top football, Neymar, with some success.
The good outweighs the bad. There’s no doubt Emery is a good coach and a brilliant football mind. He will succeed as long as he establishes his philosophy early, creates a positive relationship with the squad and fixes the most pressing issue at the club: the defence.
Interview and profile of James “Gunnerblog” McNicholas: James McNicholas: The football writing/acting chameleon, and the back side of sports journalism