After Arsène Wenger’s announcement that he would leave Arsenal the carousel of potential successors was in full swing before finally landing on an unexpected name.
So how did Arsenal end up picking Unai Emery and now that the dust has settled, what can Arsenal fans really expect from their new manager in the new season?
Arsenal’s chief executive Ivan Gazidis outlined a surprisingly specific brief when talking about the kind of candidate he would like to entrust the job to – some of the key points from this brief were for the next manager to stay true to the values of the club by having an attacking philosophy and bringing through youth players to the senior team.
It wasn’t just Gazidis on the panel to decide the new manager. He was joined by former Barcelona head of football relations, Raul Sanllehi, who was involved with the hiring of Pep Guardiola.
The last seat was taken by former Dortmund chief scout Sven Mislintat known in Germany as ‘diamond eyes’. Mislintat was involved in a number of hugely successful Dortmund signings, the most recent of which being Ousmane Dembélé who has since moved to Barcelona for a Dortmund club record fee.
It was widely reported that they each had their personal favourites.
Sanllehi favoured Spaniard Luis Enrique whom he had previously worked with at Barcelona. The interest in Enrique seemed strong before the Arsenal hierarchy were allegedly put off by excessive wage demands.
Mislintat coveted two of his countryman in Schalke’s German-Italian manager Domenico Tedesco and Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsmann. Nagelsmann has made incredible waves after taking them from near the bottom of the Bundesliga table to two consecutive top four finishes while currently still being only 30-years-old.
Another name that popped up frequently was that of the Italian schemer Massimiliano Allegri.
Although the Turin-based coach didn’t seem to fit what Gazidis had outlined for the role he is undoubtedly an elite manager. Winning four consecutive league and cup doubles in Serie A and in the same time taken Juventus to two Champion’s League finals. Allegri is a frantic master tactician and an authoritarian that takes no prisoners. Appointing him would have been a complete U-turn from Wenger but it was what a lot of Arsenal fans wanted.
Gazidis seemed the favour a more romantic choice as he clearly championed Mikel Arteta.
The former Arsenal captain is well liked within the Arsenal fan base and although he has no managerial experience, the work he’s done as part of Pep Guardiola’s backroom staff has made many sit up and take notice. Guardiola himself credits Arteta for big developments in Sanè and Sterling’s game after he took them for extra sessions. Mauricio Pochettino also spoke highly of Arteta in his recent book “Brave New World” saying he’s sure he’ll make a fantastic manager.
Arsenal clearly saw this in Arteta too and it seemed all but done that he would return to The Emirates before what looked like an 11th hour bombshell arrived in the form of recently departed PSG manager Unai Emery.
It is reported that Emery went into a meeting with the Arsenal recruitment team and blew them away. He spoke with passion, vision and with a remarkable knowledge of not just what the current Arsenal squad is like but how he’ll improve them. He also showcased amazing knowledge of all of their specific injury histories.
But who is the Basque tactician known as ‘El Maestro’?
And what will he bring to Arsenal in what is certainly a very sensitive time, both on the pitch and in the stands?
Emery is meticulous.
Where Wenger was all about coaching his team to play with freedom, Emery is much more of a details man. His training regimes are intense and demanding which is something the Arsenal players certainly won’t be used to.
He is also a video analyst obsessive.
A commonly-told anecdote about him is that he gave many USB sticks of clips to his players and if he suspected anyone wasn’t watching them, he’d give them a blank one and later ask them what they thought of it.
His former player, Joaquin, who spent two seasons with him at Valencia, joked Emery loaded him with so much information in the two years he coached him that he doubted he’d have been able to take a third.
While still a player in 2004, Emery suffered a knee injury at Lorca Deportiva and while injured he was offered the vacant manager position. He accepted, curious to see if he was good enough to make a career in management and immediately lead them to promotion to the second division of Spanish football for the first time in the club’s history.
He then moved to Almería where he helped them gain promotion to the top flight and an unprecedented eighth-place finish in La Liga. Following this was his move to Valencia, a club in disarray because of huge financial troubles. Emery lead them to consecutive third-place finishes in the 2009/10 and 2010/11 seasons despite losing many players like Juan Mata and David Silva during this period to Chelsea and Manchester City respectively.
In 2012, Emery had a short spell at Spartak Moscow, but a string of early poor results was compounded by a 5-1 derby loss to Dynamo Moscow that saw him sacked by late November.
It was his return to Spain that saw him start truly building his philosophy.
In January 2013, Emery joined Sevilla and lead them to a fifth-place finish in his first six months at the club. The following season, he won the Europa League with Sevilla, the first an historic three-in-a-row.
His success at Sevilla was built on a counter-attacking pressing orientated 4-2-3-1 system.
The midfield was comprised of two deep-lying central midfielders, at least one of which a physically imposing player (Krychowiak/M’Bia) with an “8 and a half” playing as the attacking midfielder in Ivan Rakitic.
The two wingers were inverted playmakers that would sit narrow to drag the opposing team in and create space for the onrushing wingbacks that characteristically were allowed to venture very high up the pitch.
The striker was usually a counter-attacking threat, a player whose game was based on movement in transition and running into space. Emery’s teams are known for a high tempo pressing game, another big difference from Wenger whose ability to coach consistent pressing was fleeting, at best.
Emery tried to employ this style in his next job with French powerhouses PSG and even though in his first game they beat Lyon 4-1 to lift the Trophèe des Champions with a performance that saw PSG play with more intensity than ever before, he failed to convince the players to commit to his philosophy.
Results began well, but after a few losses, Emery was forced by the senior figures in the PSG dressing room, Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti in particular, to revert back to their safe and slow possession game that they built their recent success on.
This worked well in the league but it wasn’t what Emery wanted to use in Europe and perhaps contributed to them getting knocked out by Barcelona in 2016/17 after an incredible comeback saw Barcelona overturn PSG’s 4-0 first leg victory, a performance that was ironically lead by Neymar Jr. himself.
They also got knocked out by Real Madrid the following year – a result that would prove to be the last nail in Emery’s coffin as the Paresian’s head coach.
Emery’s inability to really command the complete respect of the PSG high profile players, a theme that only worsened after PSG signed Neymar from Barcelona, is something he will hope to repair at Arsenal.
It will be interesting to see what style Emery will look to bring to Arsenal.
Will it be the transitional, heavy pressing counter-attacking system from Sevilla or a more patient possession game that he became accustomed to at PSG?
The only certainty is anything following Arséne Wenger will be a surprise.