Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
Painstakingly attentive to detail. Relentless in analysing previous matches. Totally football obsessed.
Dozens of pages were devoted to Unai Emery’s meticulous approach by journalists when the Basque eventually became Arsene Wenger’s heir at Arsenal earlier this summer.
Less so his character.
At the end of his reign at the club, Arsene Wenger was a highly polarising figure: deservedly or not. The biggest question facing Emery from the off, then, was this: How would he fare as a mediator between the ‘Wenger Out Brigade’ and the ‘Arsene knows best’ movement
Since day one, Emery has shown that he is of a very different cut of cloth than the Frenchman.
Still struggling with his English during press conferences, actively taking part in training sessions, present on social media – quite a leap from the stark Le Professeur who became one of the football’s most influential figures and revolutionised Premier League upon his arrival in 1996.
What, then, are the differences between the past and present managers of Arsenal Football Club?
The iconic image of the Arsene Wenger era was watching him sit in the dugout struggling to zip up his long coat. So iconic was this image that Puma used it as a theme in one of their very first ads as Arsenal’s official kit provider in 2014.
Less charming were Wenger’s angry outbursts as he watched his team being taken apart, characterised by the Frenchman throwing or kicking water bottles, looming over assistant referees or getting into the occasional pitchside fracas with the opposition manager.
Aside from the zip struggles and the meme-generating bottle kicks, though, cameramen rarely got any highlight-worthy footage of Wenger. He often watched the game emotionless – as if he was tired of the worsening relationship with the club and fans.
This jarred with the arrivals of Antonio Conte and Jurgen Klopp in the Premier League, two managers whose enthusiasm made them fan favourites.
Wenger wasn’t much of a motivational manager. He was seldom seen gesticulating or calling his players over to whisper to their ears – often leading to the fans claiming he lacked any ideas of how to improve his team’s play.
Unai Emery, on the contrary, spent almost the whole pre-season game against Atletico Madrid standing in his technical area and instructing his players from the sidelines.
Similarly, against City, his hands were constantly moving, orchestrating the Arsenal team. Even in the final minutes of the game at 2-0 down, Emery didn’t give his vocal chords any rest, shouting out instructions until the very end of the game.
The Basque might not exactly be Arsenal’s very own Conte or Klopp but his body language and hyperactive way of participating in the match makes him look on top of the game, devoted and engaged – a breath of fresh air in the Emirates dug-out.
There was no doubt that Wenger loved the club but he often felt remote to the fans, a factor which clearly led to many of the problems later in his time at Arsenal. Everything the autocratic manager, he was never a head coach and his very existence seemed to accentuate the hierarchy that the club has spent the last few years looking to dismantle.
Emery seems more approachable. Adrien Rabiot once spoke of the Spaniard as a kind of coach who is ‘closer to players’ and cherishes communication. His early days at the club seem to confirm this profile.
This can be seen in his social media usage. The online social platforms have practically become a part of football and sports in general – a place where sports people can connect with the fans, or serve them with some PR fodder to their benefit.
Emery is active on the web – his Twitter feed was brimming with excitement over the dawn of his era at Arsenal.
Now, obviously it is not the man himself posting all the pictures of him smiling, meeting fans or pondering tactics – it’s his social media team. Nevertheless, they have effectively used the illusion of intimacy and openness the medium offers, creating a positive aura and atmosphere around the coach in his beginnings at the club.
Thank you so much for your great support in our first day at home. Today we look ahead and push ourselves to work harder. And doing it together, for you to enjoy. Go @Arsenal ! pic.twitter.com/UFRpxPZsMe
— Unai Emery (@UnaiEmery_) 13 August 2018
While at Sevilla, Emery even ran his own website offering prizes for correct predictions of the upcoming starting XIs.
Wenger considered his privacy as a virtue and, as a result, he didn’t use social media at all.
The closest the Arsenal fans could probably get to the Frenchman on any of the online platforms was the ingenious parody account @wengerknowsbest – offering Wenger-style comments on team news or football in general.
“I tried to watch the Tottenham match on television in my hotel yesterday, but I fell asleep.”
“It is well known the referees are protected very well like the lions in the zoo so we have to live with their decisions.”
These are just a couple of gems reporters were presented with during Wegner’s press conferences.
The Frenchman’s pressers often attracted much attention because they could, all of a sudden, turn out to be a spectacle. His smirk when asked about transfer moves. The golden quotes that everybody remembers. The scolding of the media when they threw him a difficult question.
Emery is not a fluent-in-six languages intellectualist like Wenger. His English still needs improvement and he gives more of the impression that he is a salesman or insurance broker than a performer or a philosopher.
In addition, he is not as condescending and snide as Wenger used to be. However, similarly to Conte, who would get confused every time a question was asked in a non-standard English accent, Emery somehow elicits sympathy when he speaks.
Arsenal fans spent seasons begging for changes. Although those might not be seen in the team’s performance yet, Unai Emery is a different coach and a different person than Wenger.
The fanbase can consider their wishes fulfilled.
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