Welcome, new season!
While the Club is busy launching the new home kit, which will finally see us leave Puma and embrace Adidas, I am reflecting about the upcoming season and the expectations that go with it.
The recently leaked (was it, though?) commercial about the new home kit has gone viral for various reasons, the main one being its ability to reignite some pride and sense of belonging among fans, still at the lowest point since the terrible end of last season.
The commercial, absolutely brilliant, also signalled the start of something new, which prompted me to think: are we ready to swipe the slate clean for Unai Emery?
Last season was initially meant to be a transitional year, a first rebuilding step towards a more tactically modern setup, but ended with calls for the head coach to be sacked and a heavy sky above our heads.
I went through some of the articles I published on my Italian blog before the start of last season and found this: “Should we somehow get into the Champions League and have a good run in the Europa League, I would consider this a successful first season”.
How many of you had the same level of expectations, one year back from today? I guess I wasn’t alone in my assessment of what it would make it a positive or successful debut season.
At the end of the day, we stayed in the race for a top-four finish – even top-three, at some point – until the end of the domestic campaign and went all the way in the Europa League, losing the final in Baku; it’s hardly a season to remember but surely not one that would end in the head coach getting the boot.
The way results panned out really made the difference in the way we perceived the season as a whole, because the very Spursy end-of-the-year collapse made it look much worse that it actually was.
If we rewind the 2018/19 season tape, we’d notice that we had a three-faced campaign with some very good stuff from September to November, some mixed stuff through winter and the very bad stuff in spring; if we mix up these three periods and, say, start well, had a terrible winter and finish with some progress – although not sufficient to get Champions League football – the whole perspective would change; again, if we start with the ugly and improve as the season unfolds, the way last season is perceived would be very different.
Of many ways to fall short, we chose the worst one and Unai Emery seems to pay an unfair price for that.
Upon his appointment last year, Unai Emery often spoke of his desire to have an aggressive team that chase the ball and the opponents relentlessly, as well as putting more focus on the defensive setup to build a stronger, more drilled block; although we are still waiting for some serious improvements on this side, I do believe that next season will be different and we will start seeing a better organised team because the coach had a first season to assess his players and highlight the squad needs.
Unai Emery’s most unforgivable sin probably was adapting to the players he had at his disposal and try to figure out ways to make them click, instead of imposing his tactical ideas and beliefs; the Spaniard took a huge gamble with the mid-season change of attitude, with players no longer playing out from the back, Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey redemption, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette playing together upfront, in an attempt to sneak into top-4 and/or win the Europa League thanks to the sole talent at his disposal, leaving the “project” aside but it didn’t work and exposed him to the most ferocious critics.
A reason why I’m cautiously optimistic is that, according to reports, we are closing in on a left full-back and actively chasing wingers and wide forwards, as well as working on new centre-halves, which suggests to me that we might see Unai Emery reverting to his favorite 4-2-3-1 formation for the next season.
No more square pegs in round holes, no more endless patience with underperforming players but the ruthlessness we were promised and shown – although only in glances – at the beginning of last year; it looks to me that Unai Emery learned a very valuable lesson from last season and is determined to bite back, after disowning some of his principles in the quest for an immediate result.
Next season will be make or break for the Spaniard, whose contract expires in June 2020, and he seems determined to go his way, all the way.
So, I am asking you again: are you ready to swipe the slate clean for Unai Emery?