When Arsène Wenger finally agreed to end what was (for the most part) an excellent management era at Arsenal, speculation was high as to who would replace him and how long it would take that replacement to stop the rot.
Despite the mood of the club and its fans in the last couple of years of his reign, there was little doubt in most people’s minds that Wenger’s would be a hard act to follow. Over a period that spanned 1996 to 2018, the Frenchman became the longest-serving and most successful manager the club has ever seen.
Unfortunately, when he stood down at the end of the 2017-2018 season, the team was in a state of disrepair. Additionally, whoever was to take over would have to manage the Gunners through what is now generally acknowledged to be the toughest and most competitive league anywhere in the world.
The omens for an immediate improvement in the teams’ Premier League standing were not likely.
When it came to appointing a new manager, Mikel Arteta (the former Gunners’ captain and Manchester City assistant coach) was strongly tipped to succeed Wenger. However, in the end, it was Unai Emery (the then PSG manager) who was appointed.
At the beginning of the selection process, the odds quoted on him taking over from Wenger were 66-1. However, looking back on Emery’s progress to date, he has done remarkably well – and the season is not yet over.
The Gunners are sat in fourth place, just one point below North London arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Given Spurs’ poor recent form and the excellent form that Arsenal have shown, the boys from the Emirates Stadium could potentially overhaul the Lilly Whites and claim a third-place finish.
Arsenal have a relatively easy run-in to the end of the season whereas Spurs face two particularly difficult games i.e away to both Liverpool and Manchester City – so it’s all to play for as far as Emery’s men are concerned.
When Nigel Winterburn was interviewed by Sportingbet back in August, he didn’t think that Arsenal were going to break into the top four in the league but now has been proved wrong. He also stated that Emery shouldn’t be concentrating on the Europa League. However, Arsenal are still in the competition in the quarter-finals, and who knows?
Arsenal face Napoli in their quarter-final which is probably the toughest draw they could have been given. The Italians are currently second in Serie A; they are 15 points behind leaders Juventus, but 7 points clear of third-placed Inter Milan.
There is little doubt that the Italian club’s manager, Carlo Ancelotti, would love to get one over on Arsenal who reportedly snubbed him as Wenger’s replacement, after he was sacked by Bayern Munich. It will make for an interesting battle.
But if Arsenal can beat Napoli, they will stand a very good chance of winning the UEFA Europa League. Not only is that the one title that they can still win, if they succeed they will have booked themselves a place in next season’s Champions League. Even if they falter in their run-up to the end of the league season and finish outside the top four.
Unai Emery should be proud of his first season in charge of the Gunners. With 30 PL games played to date, they have amassed 60 points. If you extend that average to the season’s end, they amass a total of 76 points. In all the years that Wenger was in charge, the Gunners only topped that eight times. Emery’s rule has got off to a great start, and the good news is – it’s not over yet.