When appointed as Arsenal manager, Unai Emery was left a mountain to climb. Succeeding one of the most successful managers in Premier League history was always going to be a big ask.
But Emery took the reins when there was palpable unrest among the Arsenal fans. Dissatisfying results and league positions led to many wanting ‘Wenger out.’ For a club so accustomed to Champions League football, FA Cup titles and league trophies, the Europa League just wasn’t good enough.
In a footballing era where managers get limited time to prove their worth, Wenger was uniquely placed and Emery has taken over with much to prove. But how has he fared so far?
The former Paris Saint-Germain boss was handed a rough start. Hosting the reigning champions in his debut Premier League game, then followed up with an away fixture at London rivals Chelsea – both resulting in losses.
Despite this losing start, Arsenal went on a 22-game unbeaten run from August to December 2018 which came to an end following a 3-2 defeat against Southampton.
While successful clubs always need an element of fortune on their side, many believe this unbeaten run was sustained by a string of lucky circumstances. It’s also thought that Arsenal’s long-standing issues haven’t been addressed. The 22-match run came to an end as a result of defensive errors – a glaring worry for Emery’s Gunners.
Not a great deal has changed at the Emirates other than a different system which, if reports are to be believed, is leaving players confused. Emery’s high press, with a demand for greater intensity, has created many spectacular goals for his side. However, with this system, wing backs have been getting caught too high up the pitch, exposing the defence on the counter attack far too often.
While can be easy to focus on the negatives, in April 2019, Emery reached his 50th game in charge of the north London club. This was the perfect opportunity to draw on some comparisons, and look into statistics.
On paper, Unai Emery has the best record of any Arsenal manager across the first 50 games in charge with 32 wins under his belt. The second in line is George Allison who was the boss between 1934 and 1947 – he recorded 28 wins. Interestingly Wenger is down in eighth position with 23.
The statistics from the Spaniard’s first 50 games as head coach read in his favour:
Won – 32
Drawn – 7
Goals scored – 97
Goals conceded – 53
That attacking record looks pretty fantastic – it’s a testament to higher levels of intensity and falls in line with Arsenal’s traditional flair for attacking football. However, 53 goals conceded across 50 games for a top six team shows Arsenal have a real need to bolster their defence.
Given Arsenal’s defensive record, ‘both teams to score’ bets should be popular. Especially when you take into account they’ve only had one clean sheet away from home all season – against 10-man Watford.
Shifting focus away from the defenders, it’s not all doom and gloom – the Gunners have showed marked improvements against the top six in comparison to the previous two seasons. For 2018/19 – in comparison to their top four rivals of Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester United – Arsenal actually sit top of the pile for head-to-head stats against the top six.
During the course of the 2017/18 season, Arsenal won just one (2-0 win against Spurs at the Emirates), drew three and lost six. This season they’ve won three, drawn three and lost four. Against Spurs, Chelsea and Man United, they’ve won three, drawn two, lost one.
It seems the red half of north London is more switched on during these bigger games, but mistakes have cost them dear in lower-profile fixtures.
A final worry for many Arsenal fans around the world is the loss of Aaron Ramsey. Along with young star Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Ramsey has been the stand-out performer for the Gunners this season. He’s captained the team during many games proving his importance among the ranks and has driven the team forward. Yet Arsenal have let him go on a free transfer to Juventus spelling predictable problems for next season without investment.
It’s not just the loss of such a key player that sets off alarm bells. Ramsey reportedly asked to be on the same wages as German attacking midfielder Mesut Ozil which is thought to be in the region of £350,000 per week. With the club not being able to afford to match this wage, Ramsey is heading to the Italian club for free which sets an unhealthy precedent. Something Emery is going to have to manage very carefully.
Through to the semi-final of the Europa League against Valencia and still vying for a top four finish in the Premier League, this season cannot be written off yet. But unless Emery guides Arsenal to Champions League football for 2019/20, it will take him two or three transfer windows to get the squad where it needs to be. As long as he’s given time, as is the Arsenal way, Emery looks to have set positive foundations to build on.
On the basis of his first season in charge, how do you think Emery’s Arsenal will fare in the 2019/20 season? The odds of them winning the league feel slim considering they need a handful of transfer windows to fix fundamental issues – but would you take that bet?