The safe choice: Arsenal’s new boss Unai Emery still a risk

Appointing Unai Emery over Mikel Arteta was seen as the 'safer choice.'


 REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Chief executive Ivan Gazidis promised Arsenal fans a “bold and brave” choice to replace outgoing manager Arsene Wenger, with persistent links to Manchester City coach and former captain Mikel Arteta.

The Spaniard would have been a left-field appointment, but in a period of tumult and uncertainty perhaps Gazidis was opting for a safer choice to steady the sinking ship and bring the Gunners back on course.

Ultimately, the club unanimously decided on Unai Emery, with the former Paris-Saint Germain boss available after being let go by the French champions at the end of the season.

Is Emery, however, the former Sevilla boss, that much safer?

An experienced manager?

It’s as plain as day where Gazidis’ thought process eventually led him. Himself and the rest of the Arsenal board need an improvement on their current stock in Europe and Emery does seem the man to do so.

The Spaniard was a serial winner at Sevilla, winning three consecutive Europa Leagues from 2014 to 2016, in addition to a domestic treble with Paris Saint-Germain last season.

REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

By contrast, Mikel Arteta has never managed a club match in his life, despite serving as a coach under one of the world’s most talented manager. Irrespective of Emery’s success, his appointment is, nonetheless, risky, albeit less so than Arteta in this sense.

The 46-year-old has never managed in England, which is markedly different from Spain and France, plus he doesn’t have a fluent command of the English language, which could prove problematic in a multicultural dressing room when English is likely the common tongue.

Arsenal’s Achilles heel

In fairness to Wenger, he might have struggled domestically last season, but he made some smart signings to negate the inevitable loss of Alexis Sanchez and leaves Emery in a strong position at the start of the season, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

One issue persists, though.

What Wenger never seemed overly interesting in fixing was Arsenal’s defence, and their long-term Achilles heel will remain as such when Emery takes charge.

REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

The Spaniard, however, is cut from the same cloth as Wenger in this sense. He favours a more expansive style of football, compromising defensive solidity and organisation.

His defensive record at Sevilla and PSG speaks for itself. In La Liga, Ligue 1 and the Champions League, Emery took charge of 136 games, conceding 179 goals. That’s a worrying rate of 1.31 goals per game.

By contrast, across 130 games in the Premier League and Champions League between 2015 to 2018, Wenger’s Arsenal conceded 162 goals at a rate of 1.25 goals per game.

This statistical comparison doesn’t necessarily suggest that Emery is going to provide a solution to the Gunners’ defensive crisis. This explains why Emery is still perceived as a risk.

Emery’s stars

When Neymar moved from Barcelona to Paris for a £200 million world record fee, such a big personality in the previously star-studded Parc des Princes dressing was naturally going to cause a slight ripple in the natural pecking order.

First there was the fallout with Edinson Cavani over penalty-taking duties, then followed an argument with manager Emery.

Could this have been the reason Emery was shown the door this summer? When you spend £200 million on a player, said player is hierarchically higher than the manager, certainly.

REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

What this demonstrates, more importantly, is that Emery struggled to manage Neymar’s big personality. Perhaps this is a deeper-rooted issue with the Spaniard than with Neymar himself.

Does this mean, therefore, Emery will struggle to control the slightly maverick personality of Aubameyang, or the entitlement of Mesut Ozil?

The clock’s ticking

Ultimately, it’s clear what Arsenal chose in their hunt for a manager. They opted for experience and a CV littered with trophies in the hope of immediate success. A manager capable of achieving glory on a limited budget by coaching the current squad.

In terms of comparison with Arteta, Emery is undoubtedly the safer option, but the fact of the matter is that the Spaniard is still a risk.

Emery’s risk, though, is calculated as opposed to emotional.



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Oli Stein

Oli graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in History and has worked with RealSport since September 2016.

Currently assistant football editor and Tottenham correspondent.

Follow him on Twitter: @steinoliver_

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