The last few seasons of the Wenger era were characterised by several things.
The most notable being the steady decline of the quality of the football, the occasionally inexplicable transfer policy and the growing division in the fanbase. When Arsène stepped down the one thing that almost every fan agreed upon was that there would be change at the club. Whether that change was going to be – or indeed needed to be – in the form of a revolution or an evolution was open to debate.
Just over a season into Unai Emery’s tenure, are we actually facing a third alternative, one where very little has actually changed at all?
The need for change
No matter what side of the Wenger fence you pinned your colours, when the Frenchman hung up his manager’s coat it was clear that the new man would need to do something different – to be something different – in order to not just step out from Wenger’s shadow, but to move the club along. Early signs were promising. Unai Emery came with a reputation of not just getting his teams to play good attacking football, but also of being something of a disciplinarian. His role was also classified as that of head coach, a first for Arsenal and again an indication that things were being changed.
The main changes that were needed were fairly plain to see. The team lacked the robustness to go to tough venues and grab all three points. They needed some steel to go with their silk. They needed leaders and they needed the proverbial boot up the backside to go with the arm around their shoulder.
If we just look at the statistics, do they tell us if the change of personnel at the top has filtered down into performances and, most importantly, results?
During the last two seasons under Wenger, Arsenal finished fifth and sixth, picking up an FA cup and reaching the semi finals of the Europa. Emery’s first season in charge saw him achieve a 5th place finish and a runners up place in the Europa. On the surface that was a good start, especially when compared with the likes of Manchester United and how they have managed the transition from their long term manager. Delving a little bit deeper gives us a clearer picture.
Comparing the last 44 games under Wenger and the same number under Emery, the Spaniard gleaned 81 points to Wenger’s 78. Points won against the big six – something that was seen as a failing of the latter years of the Wenger era – sees 13 against 9, again in Emery’s favour. Both managed 24 wins in those 44 games, but the next three statistics prove a little worrying. Wenger’s side scored slightly more goals, (87 compared to 84), but also conceded fewer (55 compared to 61). In those games, Wenger managed 16 clean sheets, whereas Emery just 9.
Another barometer of where a club’s at is how the bookmakers rate their chances, i.e. their odds on a weekly basis. You will find that Arsenal’s odds practically the same now as they were during those supposedly tumultuous seasons under Wenger.
The Nitty Gritty
Emery has had three transfer windows, the number that most people allow a new incumbent to stamp their own identity on the club. Despite it being plainly obvious what the team lacks and what it needs (and the main stick that Wenger-outers beat the former manager with) Emery has not addressed those issues. In fact if Arsène had conducted those windows his knockers would have had a field day. Yes, he went out and bought a defender, and there is no doubting Luiz’s abilities, but he is as far from the domineering Steve Bould or Tony Adams figure that they need as could be.
The fact Arsenal have five captains on rotation is not an indication that there are a surplus of budding skippers in the side, but a sign that none of them deserve it full time. The Ozil quandary appears to be no nearer to being answered or dealt with, and the energy and attitude on the pitch is as questionable as in the worst of Wenger’s matches. No one expected overnight miracles, but after 18 months at the helm there should be signs that at least something has changed, not just the initials on the manager’s coat. The jury is still out on whether or not that is the case.